Citroën duo Petter Solberg and Kimi Raikkonen are fired-up to produce a strong performance on Rally Finland this weekend – and are sure to be amongst the crowd's favourites on what is widely-regarded as the most spectacular event on the World Rally Championship calendar.
Since the most recent round of the 2011 campaign in Greece last month, Solberg has been enjoying a well-earned rest to recharge his batteries, but the former World Rally Champion is now pumped up to shine in the high-speed, treacherous Finnish forests through which average speeds in 2010 measured 120km/h.
Nicknamed 'The Grand Prix of Gravel', the eighth outing of the season boasts the largest entry of any of the rallies thus far in 2011 with 125 cars, and is characterised by a series of fast-and-flowing, smooth gravel stages with big jumps – meaning drivers need to place total confidence in their co-drivers.
Add to that a buzzing atmosphere provided by the throngs of enthusiastic spectators lining the stages, and Solberg – who has twice finished on the podium in twelve previous appearances on Rally Finland, albeit not since his title-winning campaign of 2003 – is eager to get going.
“It was good to have a few weeks off between Greece and Finland,” confessed the 36-year-old Norwegian. “I have spent time just being with my family, and of course we have done some cross-karting. I also really enjoyed the flying-high experience in Switzerland with Breitling – that was really amazing!
“Finland has always been a great event for me. I really enjoy the stages, the atmosphere and just being in Jyväskylä. We spent two days testing in the area, and I hope the 300 kilometres we did will help us get the best possible set-up for all the stages.”
Like experienced fellow Scandinavian Solberg, 2007 F1 World Champion Raikkonen will benefit from the support of Citroën Racing Technologies behind the wheel of his Citroën DS3 WRC in Finland. The Finn currently sits eighth in the drivers' title chase – three spots behind Solberg – and the pair have spent two days apiece testing in preparation for the upcoming hostilities.
“We worked in similar conditions to those of a works team,” reported Benoît Nogier, Citroën Racing Technologies team principal. “There was a combination of humps and wide, quick sections. The roads were comparable to the ones we'll race on [on Rally Finland].
“Our drivers were a bit worried about how the car would handle at very high speed, [but] this test session has reassured them about the balance of the DS3 R3. Petter was very happy with our set-up. We did a good job to help him start Rally Finland as a potential victory contender. The fact that he's got to grips with the car means he can tackle this rally in a confident frame of mind.
“Kimi loves his country and his rally. He really enjoyed his two-day test, and he got the car to handle to his liking. He has a logical approach. He was his usual self, did not get excited and kept his unflappable calm. We hope he'll drive a consistent rally and close the gap to the front-runners.”