Chris Birkbeck [Birkbeck Racing] and Luca Pregliasco [Astra Racing] will each run a Ford Puma in the Junior WRC in Finland this weekend - Birkbeck with Guy Wilks and Pregliasco with Abdo Feghali, here they talk about their aims for the event, the absence of drivers Martin Stenshorne and Beppo Harrach and more...



Q:
Luca [Pregliasco], have you had experience of Rally Finland before?
Luca Pregliasco:
Yes, in 2001 when Finland was still part of the JWRC calendar. Alessandro Galanti and Martin Rowe were our two Puma drivers and Alessandro scored his first championship point there.
Q:
Will it be a tough rally for the Juniors or something they will be able to master easily?
LP:
Finland is a tough event for JWRC cars because of the nature of the roads and the front running WRC cars do tend to form channels in the stages that can be hard on the underside of the cars. This and the suspension, which takes knocks from the jumps Finland is famous for, needs constant attention when they come into service. It will be tough on the car but I think the Puma will cope well. On this rally the feeling the driver has with the car and the way they perform as a unit, is as important as how the car performs on its own.
Q:
Have you done any testing since the Acropolis Rally?
LP:
We will be testing the car in Finland this weekend [3/4 August] on a stage 100 km from Jyv?skyl?. We will try to find the right set-up for Abdo [Feghali] and give him a head start with prior experience of the type of stages he will face. He will be able to go into the recce with an idea of how the car will react on the stage which will be a great help to him.
Q:
Abdo is still fresh to gravel stages, what advice will you be giving him?
LP:
That combined with his first time in Finland means he has to get the right feeling with the car and take it easy on the first leg. He needs to pay attention and go just fast enough to be able to make a mistake and recover rather than forfeit his place in the rally. Progress can be a slow process - basically he has to take it stage by stage, day by day. I know he is eager to show his capabilities so finding a happy medium will be best.
Q:
Are you happy with his performance so far?
LP:
I was happy with him in Monte Carlo. In Turkey we had a few problems but he persevered and finished. Greece was a little disappointing with the problems we had with the car but he was doing well against the competition. We can expect a lot more from him on his favourite surface, tarmac, in San Remo and Catalunya, so there is more to come.
Q:
People will notice the absence of Beppo Harrach in the Astra Racing line-up?
LP:
Astra Racing made the decision to discontinue Beppo's contract after the Acropolis Rally for reasons I cannot go into at this time.
Q:
Chris [Birkbeck], after a year out, Finland has returned to the JWRC calendar. Is it a welcome addition?
Chris Birkbeck:
I think so, it's a good rally. One of the classics that has been on the calendar forever and is expected to remain so. It is good for the JWRC drivers' experience as it is very specialised and their pace notes have to be good. It's a rally where they need to put everything they have ever learned into practice.
Q:
Another gravel event, how does it differ from Acropolis?
CB:
A majority of the stages are smoother and more flowing, full of notorious crests and dips - so it's full of character. It won't be as hard on the cars as the Acropolis and there aren't the ambient temperatures to contend with but in 2001 the Finnish field was reduced from 21 starters to seven finishers.
Q:
People will notice the absence of Martin Stenshorne in the Birkbeck Rallysport line-up?
CB:
Martin has injured his back and has been advised not to compete.
Q:
The rally is very hard for newcomers to do well in. Some of the JWRC drivers have driven the stages before. Who will prevail? The bravest, the fastest, the most experienced...?
CB:
The regulars will still be fast, [Daniel] Carlsson, [Brice] Tirabassi and Finn [Kosti] Katajam?ki who will be used to the type of surface. I am also expecting Guy [Wilks] to do quite well though, we have a new engine spec that has made the car more driveable and I am optimistic for a good result. The recce will help them and providing their pacenotes are OK, they should be fine. Precision is key and Guy is a good technical driver who thinks about what he is doing.
Q:
What is the best way to tackle the 409km of competitive stages for success?
CB:
Guy will be advised to pick one of the top five drivers and concentrate on their times to improve his own. It would be silly for him to set his sights on someone like Carlsson but a placing in the top five is possible.
Q:
Is it a rally that will suit the Ford Puma S1600?
CB:
The Puma is one of the more suitable cars for Finland. Power isn't so important as somewhere like the next two rounds in San Remo and Catalunya. A good and consistent rally will win results.
CB:
Guy had an exasperating Greek rally but gathered important points to lie fifth in the JWRC. How do you see his chances of gathering more points in Finland?
CB:
I definitely see a chance for more points, there is no reason at all why he shouldn't.

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