The FIA World Rally Championship makes its return to Europe for the fastest and most spectacular round of the series, Rally Finland this week [August 6-8].

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team will once again be fielding two Lancer WRC04s, Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstrom joining Gilles and Herve Panizzi for the fifth time this season.

"We undertook a one week test in Finland two months ago which highlighted the areas where we needed to focus," commented the team's technical director Mario Fornaris. "We have worked hard to find solutions and feel as confident as we can ahead of this very technical event. But, we know it will be very tough because it is such a difficult and fast rally, and also because there are a lot of world rally car entries and a host of local drivers who always go well on their home event. For Kristian I expect there will also be a little bit of extra pressure, and for Gilles is it a question of gaining more experience in Finland."

In an event renowned as Mitsubishi territory, no fewer than 13 of the 70 accepted entries are Group N Lancer Evolutions, despite the event being a qualifying round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship. 'Gigi' Galli, fresh from a highly-competitive debut drive in Argentina, will also be back behind the wheel of his Lancer Evolution competing on Finnish soil for the fifth time in his career.

Gilles and Herv? Panizzi have amassed a trio of outings in Finland - 1998, 1999 and 2001 - and although they finished on each occasion they have yet to conquer the high-speed stages famed for their stomach-churning jumps.

"I like this rally but it is always difficult and you are always behind the Finns!" said Gilles. "The roads are extremely fast and the surface is quite like New Zealand, except for the huge jumps! Being Finnish, this rally will be the biggest of the year for Kristian but I think he can do some good times. Finland requires a very different set-up but we have found some solutions during our test."

Team-mates Sohlberg and Lindstr?m will undoubtedly be buoyed by competing on home territory, but surprising Sohlberg has only contested the event on three occasions. A retirement in 2000 was followed by a withdrawal the following year. However in 2002 the Finn finished second of the production car contenders in Mitsubishi machinery en route to second overall in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.

"It will be great to drive in front of all my local supporters and friends; for sure there will be extra horsepower in the car because of this!" commented Sohlberg, who was chasing fourth position in Argentina two weeks ago. "All the same, it will be difficult because I have never done the event in a world rally car; I know the roads well, but it's still hard to push when your experience has been in less powerful machinery. But we will be trying our hardest for a good result in our home country."

Finland is perceived by many as the home of rallying and the event provides some of the most spectacular action seen during the year. It is technically challenging and while the almost tarmac-like roads are wide, fast and flowing, they require a courageous driving style unmatched the world over. Historically, local experience has proved the key to success, although Estonian Markko Martin pulled off a momentous victory last year and became only the third non-Nordic driver to win the event in more than 50 years. With average speeds in excess of 130 kph, the challenge is supreme and the jumps - many over blind crests - breathtakingly awesome.

The 54th Neste Rally Finland starts on Friday August 6 and the opening leg takes in 10 stages and 118.16 competitive kilometres, all run to the west and east of the rally base in Jyv?skyl?. The second leg, to the southwest, is by far the longest and takes in another eight stages and 169.21 competitive kilometres, while the closing day of competition on Sunday covers just four stages and 69.96 kilometres. In total, Rally Finland will be contested over 22 special stages and 357.33 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 1,506.59 kilometres.