Juho Hanninen will start next week's Neste Rally Finland chasing his second Production Car World Rally Championship win of the season, a success which would keep the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver's PWRC title aspirations firmly on track.

The Evolution is the most popular choice of car for Neste Rally Finland, the first WRC event back after the series' summer break as, through complete field, there are no fewer than 26 such Mitsubishis, eleven of which will be gunning for Production honours.

Current PWRC leader Andreas Aigner will start the rally, but is not registered for PWRC points having opted to drop Finland and Japan to reach his six nominated events. The Austrian's non-championship status means he has to run further down the list of starters, in what are likely to be more unfavourable road conditions, as he monitors the inroads his rivals make on his 16-point pre-rally championship lead.

Hanninen, amongst others, will be determined to slash into that lead. He arrives at his home round full of match practice, having won the recent Rally Russia, which runs across similar terrain to the famous flat-out yumps lining the route in Finland. Having only competed on two PWRC rounds this season - and already 'counted' his two dropped scores - Hanninen will tackle every one of the four remaining rallies but knows that, if he's to overturn Aigner's PWRC lead, he has to bag a big score at home.

"Of course, I like this rally - everybody likes to drive at home," he said, "But, at the same time, it's not the easiest rally and, sometimes, 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."

As usual, the weather will play its own part in proceedings. The run-up to the rally has left the Finnish roads awash after heavy rain, but it's not unknown for that to turn into 30 degree heat and sunshine by the time the cars leave the start.

Running right behind Hanninen on the road will be Fumio Nutahara. The multiple Japanese champion has never competed in Finland before, but his acknowledged ability to judge pace with consistency should stand him in good stead to add to his tally of PWRC wins on his debut at the event known locally as The Finnish Grand Prix.

Nutahara, like Hanninen, has only competed twice this season, but his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX has turned in a brace of fourth places which ensure him a solid foundation for the remainder of the season. Nutahara's British co-driver, Daniel Barritt, is more than confident in his driver's abilities.

"Fumio and I are really looking forward to the challenge of Rally Finland," he said, "It's going to be a big test, we've all heard a lot of stories about the speed and the jumps, but now we can't wait to get out there, get into the Lancer Evolution and start rallying."

Not only is the Lancer Evolution the most popular car on the entry list, but it is also building an enviable record of winning at the highest level of showroom category sport, having not been beaten in Group N since Rally Ireland last November. With a record like that, it comes as no surprise that both Finnish wildcard entries for the PWRC round are using Lancer Evolutions.

Juho Salo and Jussi Vallimaki are each well capable of getting into the fight for a PWRC podium this weekend - and the list of contenders doesn't stop there. Last year's Rally Finland Group N winner, and rising Swedish star, Patrik Flodin will also compete in a Mitsubishi on the Production Car World Rally Championship's first visit to Rally Finland next week.

The event starts with a superspecial stage around the Killeri trotting track just outside Jyvaskyla on Thursday evening, but the 2.06km test will have little bearing on the overall result of the rally, even if it gives the thousands of Scandinavian fans something to cheer ahead of the start of the main competition the following morning.



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