Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team:

[Gigi Galli, car #7 and Henning Solberg, car #8 and Matthew Wilson, car #16]

Galli and Henning nominated.

Gigi Galli will be out to try and get a 'good result' this weekend on the Rally Finland after a frustrating end to the first half of the year, with retirements in Greece and Turkey.

Despite those failures to finish though, the Italian has still notched up 17 points thus far - following five points results from eight, including a third in Sweden - and he is currently the top Stobart pilot in the drivers' championship, in seventh place overall, 1 point up on his team-mate, Henning Solberg.

Now he will want to defend that position and he will be keen to get in the top five, on what will be his eighth outing on the '1000 Lakes'.

"I can't wait to get back rallying after this long break," said the likeable Italian, who missed the event in 2007, but was fifth in 2006 and won the Group N class in 2004. "I have been annoyed sitting at home and not being able to go rallying!

"We have done this rally many times before and I know it well. It is a bit of a shame that the famous Ouninpohja stage has been cancelled this year because it is one of my all time favourites. It is not going to be easy either because Mikko [Hirvonen] and Jari-Matti [Latvala] will be lightning fast.

"But we will try our best and the pace has been very good for us over the last three gravel events, now we just need a bit of luck and a good result.

"Finland is also a famous rally for all the spectators and there will be lots of Italians there because it is the vacation time in Italy so hopefully most of them will be supporting me."

Henning Solberg meanwhile believes that a podium finish could be within his grasp come the finish. The Norwegian, who will compete in the second Stobart team entry and who will be nominated to score manufacturers' points, has the most experience of the '1000 Lakes' of all the three Ford 'B' drivers' with eight starts under his belt.

He will be eager to do well too, especially as it is a 'home' event of sorts and very close to his native Norway: "I have done this event many times before and it is one I love because of the fast speeds and massive jumps. For the last two years we have finished in the top-five so hopefully we can achieve this again and maybe even finish on the podium," he noted. "Finland is not so far from Norway so this is an important event where lots of people come from my country to watch and this will help having them there."

Munchi's Ford WRT:

[Federico Villagra, car #9 and Luis-Perez Companc, car #10]

Final event for Luis-Perez Companc.

Munchi's Ford World Rally Team founder Luis Perez Companc will contest his final event in the WRC on the Rally Finland this week.

Companc, who made his debut in the sport on the Rally Argentina, his home event, back in 2001, has notched up 6 points to date, his best result coming in Japan last year when he finished fifth.

The Rally Finland will mark his 30th outing in the WRC, after he scaled back his programme this season due to business commitments. The Jyvaskyla-based event will be only his second outing in this year's championship, after he had to pull out in Jordan at the last minute.

Despite his lack of miles though, he is looking forward to the event: "I am very anxious about Finland because it is almost my first event of this season," admitted Luis, who has also been competing in the FIA GT Championship this year with Advanced Engineering in a Ferrari 430. "I retired in the first leg of Rally Argentina and when I was in Jordan I had to return back home so I am looking forward to jumping into the rally car!

"Despite some changes to the stages I am going to Finland with much more confidence than last year. This is a rally that I like because it is fast and has all those jumps that make it very interesting.

"This year for me it is going to be of great help with the regulation that does not change the order on the road from one leg to another; that way I can follow the lines and breaking points of the cars in front of me. All I want is to have fun and enjoy the event and to retire from WRC competition in the most important event with the best drivers of the world."

Companc launched the Munchi's Ford WRT at the end of 2006, and thus far it is the only WRC manufacturer team to hail from South America. After leading the outfit in 2007, he handed the reins over to Federico Villagra this year and his fellow countryman hasn't let him down, scoring manufacturers' points in Mexico, Argentina, Jordan and Turkey.

Indeed to date this season the 'ice cream' team has scored 19 points - 5 more than was managed in '07 - and the squad still has four of its ten events to come.

Companc was quick to pay tribute to Villagra's efforts this season - and to thank Ford for its support: "It was very positive to have chosen Federico this year and he has proved that we made the right choice," he continued. "Since the team came into the WRC there has been a big progress in finishing events and scoring points for the driver and manufacturer championships.

"I think that the Munchi's will have a place in the history books as having been the first Argentine team to compete in the WRC. We have achieved more than what we thought we could and this was also because of all the support we received from Malcolm Wilson and Ford during these years. For sure, when the WRC arrives to Argentina, the people want to see the Munchi's in action with its drivers that represent the team and country."

Companc's co-driver Jose Volta, who has contested 40 WRC events, meanwhile has also decided to retire from active competition. He will now play more of an organisational role within the Munchi's outfit but will still leave himself available as a reserve co-driver for the team should they require one.

Suzuki WRT:

[Toni Gardemeister, car #11 and Per-Gunnar Andersson, car #12]

'New' car boost for Suzuki.

The Suzuki World Rally Team ran the second evolution of the SX4 WRC car for the very first time on Monday, as the team gears up for the start of the second half of the season and this week's Rally Finland.

The Paris-based outfit has been working hard during the break in order to prepare the latest changes to the SX4 WRC, which will be seen for the first time on the ninth round in the WRC.

"As well as adding extra speed to the car, the accent has been placed firmly on adding reliability in order to consolidate the progress that was made throughout the first half of the season," read a statement to the media.

"In addition, the team has been building two brand new SX4 WRCs from scratch - which incorporate some important weight-saving gains in the bodyshell without compromising strength or stiffness.

"The test on Monday will put all these new components through their paces and act as an extra shakedown for the new cars, whilst giving Suzuki the chance to run on the soft compound Pirelli control tyres that are being used for the first time this year in Finland."

The SX4 WRC 'B' features 'a raft of new parts designed to improve efficiency and performance' and the team is hopeful that the new parts will make the SX4 WRC not only lighter and more reliable, but also increase its level of competitiveness.

"When we test the Suzuki and its new parts on Monday, we will have a better idea of where we are," said number one driver Toni Gardemeister, who unsurprisingly is looking forward to his home event.

"Realistically, many of our rivals still have an advantage over us in terms of engine power - which is quite an important factor in Finland - but also our local knowledge helps.

"We've always had good speed in Finland in the past, but equally we've been a bit unlucky. I'm feeling confident though: if we can set some times inside the top five I think that shows we are making progress."

Suzuki team boss Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima meanwhile is eager to see what his two drivers - Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson - can achieve on what is one of the best rallies in the WRC.

"Our campaign on the World Rally Championship so far has taught us many tough lessons - which have been a vital part of the learning experience. We now look forward to putting some of these lessons into practice with the latest improvements to the SX4 WRC, on what is the fastest and probably the toughest rally of the year!" he summed-up.

Junior WRC:

Round 4.

Suzuki's Michal Kosciuszko could seize the lead in the battle for the Junior World Rally Championship crown on the Rally Finland this weekend, providing he wins and takes the maximum ten points.

Kosciuszko, who took his maiden win in the J-WRC in Sardinia back in May, the last event in the Junior championship, currently trails Sebastien Ogier by 8 points.

However with Ogier not nominating the '1000 Lakes' as one of his six points scoring events, the Pole now needs to capitalise, as he will be in the same position later next month, when he 'skips' the Rallye Deutschland.

"I like Rally Finland a lot and I'm feeling confident at the moment after winning the last Junior round in Sardinia. I was third in Finland last year, so I believe that we are well-prepared," said Kosciuszko.

"We're in a good position with the championship now, so the most important thing is to have a consistent rally and then make sure we are there at the finish; hopefully with some useful points on the board."

Kosciuszko isn't the only person however that could knock Ogier off his perch, as Shaun Gallagher is also only 8 points behind following a sixth place in Mexico, a second in Jordan and a fourth in Sardinia.

"I've got good memories from my participation on this event last year, and I'm feeling quite confident heading into the final gravel rally of the year. After the good results we obtained at the start of the year, I hope to continue on the same track and I hope to finish in the top three by the end of the rally," said the Irishman, who was eleventh in Finland in '07 in a C2-R2.

Other contenders for the class honours meanwhile include last year's Finland J-WRC winner Patrik Sandell in his Renault Clio S1600, plus the likes of Jaan Molder, Aaron Burkart, Alessandro Bettega and Martin Prokop.

Prokop will be especially determined to do well, after leading comfortably last year until an off on day 2 in SS14. He was also battling for the class honours in Sardinia too, until disaster struck when a fuel pressure problem forced him to stop mid-stage in the penultimate test and he lost 29 minutes.

The Czech is looking ahead though, not back: "I love the Rally Finland. Even though this is my fourth participation, I start just as motivated - if not more so - than ever. After some disappointing results at the start of the year, Finland will be a new challenge for us," he confirmed.

In total 17 runners will be able to score Junior WRC on the '1000 Lakes', including Kalle Pinomaki, who is entered on his home round as 'wildcard' in a Suzuki Swift Super 1600.

Production Car WRC:

Round 5.

Rally Finland is the fifth round in the PWRC and with runaway championship leader Andreas Aigner not nominating it, it will give his rivals a chance to try and make up some ground.

Jari Ketomaa and Juho Hanninen, who are 16 and 18 points adrift respectively, will both want to exploit their home advantage and take the maximum ten points.

Hanninen goes to Finland fresh from winning the IRC event in Russia and he has only competed on two PWRC events so far this year and as such will take in all four remaining rounds.

"Of course, I like this rally," said Hanninen. "Everybody likes to drive at home. But at the same time, it's not the easy rally. And some times there can be a little bit more pressure when you are at home. But let's see. It's going to be an interesting fight - especially with what the weather might do."

Finnish 'wildcard' entries Juho Salo and Jussi Vallimaki will also no doubt be in the running for a PWRC podium, as will last year's Rally Finland Group N winner and rising Swedish rally star Patrik Flodin. All three compete in Mitsubishi Evos.

In total 18 runners will be able to score Production Car WRC points this weekend and Aigner - who will be in action in his Mitsubishi and just competing for Group N honours - will be watching with interest to see how things turn out.

Whatever happens though he will go to the next PWRC event in New Zealand still top in the P-WRC points thanks to those three wins in succession in Argentina, Greece and Turkey.

"To be honest I'm very happy to be ineligible for points this time because I've already seen which perils await you in Finland during last year's recce. The smaller jumps are very difficult to assess in particular," said the Austrian. "During the recce you are approaching them at 70 kph, but in the rally itself it's up to 170 kph. This is a perfect training for me, but at the same time I'm going to keep an eye on [Juha] H?nninen's and [Jari] Ketomaa's performance in their home event and how many points they'll collect in the final account.

"The overall PWRC classification is looking very good for me at the moment, but it's certain to change to my disadvantage after Finland. Let's wait and see what's really going to happen."

Other significant entries:

108 crews set to start.

108 crews are due to start the Rally Finland, which means the '1000 Lakes', as it was formerly known, is the most popular round to date this season, with Turkey the previous standard setter with 76.

In addition to the usual World Rally Car entries, there will be another five runners in WRC machinery, taking the total number to 22. Four of them will compete in Ford's - namely Andreas Mikkelsen, Matti Rantanen, Jukka Hiltunen and Jouni Arolainen, taking the total number Focus WRC's in the field to eleven, while Mads Ostberg is out in his usual Adapta-run Subaru Impreza.

Of the rest, in addition to the 17 entrants in the J-WRC and 18 in the P-WRC, 2007 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally champion Guy Wilks will be in action, as will Andreas Aigner and Sebastian Ogier.

Aigner is competing in the PWRC this season, but Finland is not one of his nominated events and so he won't be able to score Production points. Similarly Ogier is contesting the J-WRC, but Finland is not one of his nominated events either, so again he won't be able to score Junior points.

Aigner's Red Bull team-mate Bernardo Sousa was due to compete but has had to pull out due to an old shoulder injury.


For the second year almost half the route is new, although the rally remains in its traditional central Finland base of Jyvaskyla. Organisers have focused on ensuring the roads are durable enough for an entry boasting more than 100 cars.

After the traditional Thursday evening super special stage at Killeri trotting track, Friday's action is based west of Jyvaskyla.

The major changes are centred on Saturday's second leg which contains virtually half the competitive distance. Traditionally regarded as the year's classic day of competition, it is again based on wide and flowing roads near Jamsa, but five of the 10 stages are new from last year. The awesome Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster section of road full of sweeping bends, blind crests and jumps and viewed as rallying's ultimate test of skill and bravery, will not be used for safety reasons, although parts of the stage are incorporated into another test.

Sunday's final leg covers three tests east of Jyvaskyla. Drivers face 340.42 kilometres of action in a 1461.58 kilometres route.

Last year:

Marcus Gronholm won in Finland last year and in the process re-wrote the record books by becoming the first driver to win a WRC event on seven occasions.

Gronholm took the lead from Mikko Hirvonen on the second loop on day one and although he was unable to pull out much of a gap on Friday, he still ended the first day on top - 4.4 seconds up, despite having to run first on the road, something he reckoned was a disadvantage.

During the second leg, Gronholm managed to start to ease away - and although Mikko pushed him hard and really made him work for it, in the end Marcus finished the day with a 20-odd second cushion and well placed for the short final leg. On Sunday Gronholm continued to set the standard winning all three tests and eventually taking the victory by 24.2 seconds.

Hirvonen for his part also enjoyed a very good event and while he only won 4 stages, compared to the 17 took by Gronholm, that doesn't tell the whole story. Indeed the two were very evenly matched throughout the three-day event - and it was best illustrated in SS6 on Friday, in the 13.72 kilometre-run through Mokkipera 2, when they tied for the quickest time.

Loeb for his part never looked likely to challenge the Fords and finished over a minute off Gronholm - only beating the Finn on the first test on Saturday. Other than that the Frenchman was always pretty much third best.

Chris Atkinson brought his Subaru home in fourth place overall after a very solid drive, while Henning Solberg was content with fifth place, followed by Xavier Pons in sixth, Urmo Aava in seventh and Mads Ostberg in eighth. Guy Wilks and Matt Wilson rounded out the top ten.

A number of drivers' had problems during this event and of the 'works' aces, four failed to make it to the end, namely Jari-Matti Latvala, Manfred Stohl, Daniel Sordo and Petter Solberg.

Latvala was the first 'works' retirement, when he went off the road on Friday in SS7. On Saturday, three more 'big' names joined Latvala on the sidelines. Stohl rolled his Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC in SS13, while Sordo stopped in SS15 when his Citroen C4 developed an engine problem. Petter pulled out after SS15 due to severe handling problems.


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