FINLAND - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is gearing up to launch another five-strong attack on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship on Rally Finland this week.
The majority of Finland’s stages are smooth gravel roads allowing this year’s crews to push their Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 cars in excess of 180 kph through sweeping corners often containing crests and jumps. The high speeds make for little room for error as the majority of the flat-out sections are lined by rally-ending ditches and trees.
The jumps and speed of Rally Finland make it the most spectacular rally of the season, attracting crowds from around the world. Drivers with experience on Rally Finland’s roads are certainly at an advantage: smaller jumps aren’t so obvious during recce and have been known to catch inexperienced competitors out in previous years.
After making history with a five-car line-up in Portugal earlier in the season, the team is ready to do the same again in Jyväskylä where Finnish countryman, Jari Huttunen, will join the Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 ranks. It is an exciting opportunity that is being treated as a learning exercise for both Huttunen and the team. There are no major expectations set for Huttunen’s appearance either to create a low-pressure environment for him to experience life at the sharp end of WRC. The Finn will be running car number 68 alongside co-driver Mikko Lukka, as a tribute to his mentor and manager, Marcus Grönholm.
The team has found Huttunen to be a dedicated and professional driver; his collection of podiums in a Rally2 give a hint to his potential in Rally1 machinery. He joins a long, storied tradition of fast Finns in M-Sport Ford cars, following in the footsteps of drivers such as Juha Kankkunen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Mikko Hirvonen and Grönholm himself.
Frontrunner Craig Breen will use his 2021 Rally Finland podium finish to bolster his confidence heading into the event, hoping to build on his experience on the similar smooth gravel surface in Estonia.
After finishing sixth and seventh overall respectively last year, Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux will both look to use their knowledge of the event to build pace and support a good result for the team.
Pierre-Louis Loubet will continue his campaign with M-Sport in Finland, after four promising outings so far and a flirtation with a podium result in Sardinia, the young Frenchman will gain valuable experience on the demanding and fast-paced rally often referred to as the gravel grand prix.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“To me, Finland is one of the most exciting events on the WRC calendar. It’s full of everything that makes rallying so great: long flat-out sections that demand straight-line speed from the cars, and a lot of jumps and crests that give great action shots whilst demanding immense commitment.
“Our crews have a range of experience in Finland, and I think having Jari as part of the team will be a huge asset. Craig has a lot of experience here so I think he’s in a good position to lead the team to a good overall result.
“The fans in Finland are particularly special, and I’m looking forward to seeing big crowds out in support of all our crews. There’s always such an amazing atmosphere in Jyväskylä, that’s what makes it so special.”
Craig Breen, said:
“Finland is a place that has served me well in the past as we’ve had two podiums there. I really enjoyed the event last year; we had a really good run and led the rally briefly at the beginning. I always feel good on this event and on these types of roads. It’s probably the event I’ve done most in the World Rally Championship now, so it’s nice to go back every year.
“Estonia was good in some respects; our pace was strong and I’m looking forward to having a fresh go at it in Finland and seeing what we can do.”
Gus Greensmith, said:
"Rally Finland feels a bit like home for me, what with so many people I've worked with throughout my career being Finnish. I've got some good connections with Jyväskylä itself, it's one of the most beautiful places we visit in the year, and the rally hosts some of the most beautiful stages in WRC too. So we're looking forward to getting started and making some improvements on what we did in Estonia."
Pierre-Louis Loubet, said:
“I’m super happy to be going to Finland, it’s the most incredible rally of the season. In the Rally1 car it will be very special. I’m looking forward to hopefully doing well and feeling comfortable in the car, we’re making some adjustments after Estonia and I think this will take us in a good direction.
“Let’s see what happens, it will be important to continue our season as well as possible and to hold maximum focus on such fast roads.”
Adrien Fourmaux, said:
“We are happy to be back in Finland with the really fast roads, and it’ll be nice to go on the back of a good event in Estonia. I’m excited to go back and do such a famous rally in the Finnish forests with the big jumps we had last year. It’ll be my second time with four-wheel-drive in Finland and we want to get a solid result like we did in Estonia.”
Jari Huttunen, said:
“It is a very special moment for me to be able to make my Rally1 debut on my home event in Finland. There will be, I’m sure, an amazing atmosphere with the fans and it’s always a fantastic event to compete on.
“I have a lot of experience on this event at a Rally2 level, so it’s really exciting to make the step-up to Rally1 here. We did some testing last month, and the car feels good, so we’re looking forward to getting out there and seeing what we can do.”