On its second World Rally Championship appearance in 2011 on Rally Finland this weekend, the MINI WRC Team has set itself the target of getting both cars to the finish to gain valuable competitive mileage – as a 'rally-hungry' Kris Meeke admits that he will treat the event with 'caution' and 'respect'.
One of the fastest and most spectacular – and by extension, therefore, most demanding – outings on the annual WRC calendar, Finland is sure to provide a stern test for the two MINI John Cooper Works WRCs. Both Meeke and team-mate Dani Sordo have undertaken an intensive testing programme in Northern Italy, Germany and Finland since the car's official debut in Sardinia back in May – where the Spaniard finished an encouraging sixth – as well as participating in the recce for the Acropolis Rally in Greece in June.
That has seen the duo cover approximately 3,000 kilometres on both tarmac and gravel surfaces, and as the team prepares to embark upon the second event on its six-rally schedule this year, it can take heart from MINI's success in Finland in the past, with home hero Rauno Aaltonen ascending the podium back in the 1960s. The 73-year-old rallying legend will be there in support of the Prodrive-run operation this weekend.
“Finland is a specialist event, which always suits the style of the local Scandinavian drivers,” explains team principal David Richards. “This early in our programme, our primary aim is to put more competitive miles on the cars and to get both drivers through to the finish in strong positions.”
Buoyed by his Sardinian result, Sordo is in confident spirits arriving in Finland, where he has twice finished fourth with previous employer Citroën. There will be six 'new' stages in this year's edition – not seen on the event since the 1980s – but the 28-year-old insists he is ready for the challenge.
“Finland is a really nice rally, and what I would call typical of the sort you would expect in a World Rally Championship,” he mused. “I think I have done it about five times, and I always enjoy it. I also like the fact there are always lots of spectators, I think maybe the most on any rally in the championship.
“It is an exciting rally to do as the roads are fast, we have lots of crests and there are big jumps. You really have to concentrate on all the stages as you are driving flat-out, and in many ways, it is like being on a race circuit. I was really happy after our test last week in Finland as the car felt good, so I am going there with a lot of confidence for our performance on this rally.”
“I have been to Finland twice before, but never in a WRC car,” added Meeke. “You have to treat this rally with respect; it is most specific with regards to knowledge and I don't have that knowledge, so I am going to treat it with caution. On some events you can make the pace notes and then drive 100 per cent, but not here as there is a third dimension with the jumps.
“However, I am rally-hungry and can't wait to get back after the long gap since Sardinia. The three-day test we did last week went well, and I had a good feeling coming away from it. At the end of the day, that is what this year is all about – getting to know the car and the events.”