Paddon ready for 'the most incredible rally of the year'
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The World Rally Championship powers up again following its seven-week northern hemisphere summer break and heads to its most spectacular event this weekend.
WRC Rally Finland is a high-speed sprint on roller-coaster gravel roads which demands maximum commitment and precision pace notes.
As the eighth of 13 rounds it begins the back-half to the 2018 title chase which sees Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (Belgium) out in front with 149 points chased by defending champion Sebastien Ogier (France) on 122 points.
From seven events each driver has won three times while third placed Ott Tanak (Estonia) with 77 points has been the other rally winner in his Toyota.
But it’s the Toyota squad that will start favourites this weekend. The Yaris WRC cars have been developed nearby the Jyvaskyla rally headquarters by Toyota Gazoo Racing under the leadership of former world champion Tommi Makinen. Last year Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi (Finland) won the event after a early duel with team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) which ended when Latvala was delayed by an electrical fault.
In contrast to Toyota’s winning debut the Hyundai team has yet to taste success in Finland. The Korean marque is without a podium finish in four prior visits to Finland although Neuville sprayed some champagne in Finland with a runner-up effort driving a Ford Fiesta in 2013.
Ogier also has form in Finland with a 2013 win putting him among a select group of non-Nordic drivers to have won the event. Ogier will have an updated rear aerodynamics package on his M-Sport Fiesta this weekend.
Finland's Esapekka Lappi was the 2017 winner in Finland. Photo McKlein/Toyota Gazoo
For Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon the Finnish event is the fourth of his seven scheduled WRC outings this year. Paddon has always shown strong pace on the fast Finnish roads and a second-place finish behind Tanak at Rally Estonia earlier this month has been a valuable warm-up.
‘‘For me, Rally Finland is the most incredible rally of the year,’’ Paddon said.
‘‘Not only are the roads, the jumps and the pure speed impressive, but also the atmosphere is electric.’’
The line-up of R5 machinery in the WRC2 category totals 18 cars. Series leader Pontus Tidemund (Sweden) and second placed Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic) aren’t competing in Finland, offering a chance for third-placed Ole-Christian Veiby (Norway) to strengthen his title bid.
A 15-strong field in identical Ford Fiesta R2 cars is contesting the fourth round (of five) in the Junior WRC with the Kiwi crew of David Holder and Jason Farmer chasing another strong finish after a podium last time out in Portugal.
There’s a fresh look to the Finnish event this year. A considerably revised route comprises 23 special stages totalling 317.26km with organisers estimating 65 per cent of the route is altered from last year and 40 per cent is entirely new.
The rally begins with a Thursday evening blast through the 2.31km Harju mixed surface super special stage near Jyvaskyla. There are 10 stages on Friday —mostly to the west of the host city. Saturday is the longest day with 142.86km – split into eight stages – to the east-east near Jämsa. A short Sunday run has four stages totalling 45.72km with Ruuhimäki as the rally-closing Power Stage.
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 13):
1 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai, 149pts
2 Sebastien Ogier (France) Ford, 122pts
3 Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota, 77pts
4 Esapekka Lappi (Finland) Toyota, 70pts
5 Dani Sordo (Spain) Hyundai, 60pts
6 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Hyundai, 56pts