Kimi Raikkonen will make his maiden competitive appearance for Citroën on this weekend's Arctic Lapland Rally – and in the celebrated home of Father Christmas, the Finn is hoping to keep a cool head as temperatures dip to an anticipated -20°C and daylight lasts for just five hours.
Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindström will join fellow Citroën C4 WRC crew Dani Sordo and Marc Marti for the annual Rovaniemi-based event, which will run over two legs on Friday, 29 January and Saturday, 30 January, covering twelve challenging special stages totalling 214km.
The Arctic Circle-based rally – the opening round of the Finnish Rally Championship – is being treated by Citroën Racing Technologies as an opportunity to prepare for the traditionally icy and snowy Rally Sweden a fortnight later, marking the beginning of the 2010 World Rally Championship (WRC) campaign.
“I got to know the C4 a little bit during a test session close to the Citroën Racing workshops,” reported 2007 F1 World Champion Raikkonen, who in the absence of being able to secure a front-running seat on the grand prix grid this year has instead pledged his future to the WRC, in the short-term at least. “This rally is a very good opportunity for me to work with the team in competitive conditions and continue my learning curve with the car. I took part in this rally last year with Kaj, and as the route is largely the same I think that could help us a bit.”
Twelve months ago, indeed, the Finn finished 13th behind the wheel of a Tommi Mäkinen Racing-prepared Abarth Grande Punto S2000 on his Arctic Lapland Rally bow, his first outing in the discipline. Both he and Sordo will clearly be hoping to do rather better than that this time around.
“Time has been dragging a bit since the end of October, so I'm really looking forward to starting a rally again,” confessed the Spaniard, who has not competed for three months since securing third place in the final 2009 WRC standings behind record-breaking Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb and Ford rival and last weekend's Monte Carlo Rally winner Mikko Hirvonen. “Up to now I have only taken part in five events on ice and snow. By racking up a few more kilometres on this specialised surface before Sweden, I'll be able to increase my experience in these conditions.
“I love driving on ice, but I feel that I still need to step up a gear in order to challenge the top drivers on snow events. There is only one winter rally on the WRC calendar this year, and I intend to be as well-prepared for it as possible!”
“This experience will be as useful to the team as it will be to the individual crews,” concluded Benoît Nogier, Citroën Racing Technologies team manager. “Kimi will drive a C4 WRC in identical specification to the one that he will race over the season. Similarly, the crew of technicians in Rovaniemi will remain on his car for the remainder of the year.”