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Ford's Flying Finns aim to extend victory run at home
Ford's all-Finnish pairings tackle their home fixture this week, determined to maintain the momentum that has propelled the team to three straight wins in the FIA World Rally Championship and into the lead of the drivers' standings.

Rally Finland (30 July-2 August) is regarded
by many as the highlight of the season and an epic contest awaits as the Ford World Rally Team's Flying Finns take to the high-speed roads on which they grew up, impatient to secure a maiden victory on their home event.

Victories in Greece and Poland last month for Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen with the record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally Car ensure they take a one-point lead into this ninth round of the 12-rally campaign.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila won in Italy in May and the hat-trick of triumphs has revitalised the squad's season ahead of one of the sport's classic rallies.

Landing the top step of the podium in Finland, regarded as rallying's spiritual home, is one of the sport's most sought-after achievements. It has a huge following and enormous crowds will flock into the countryside amid the lakes and forests near the traditional host base of Jyvaskyla also Hirvonen's home town to cheer on their fellow countrymen and visiting drivers alike.

The rally will be fought out on blisteringly fast roller-coaster gravel speed tests. Finns who nurtured their careers on these types of roads have a clear advantage over 'outsiders' who require several years' experience before they can hope to mount a genuine victory challenge. Only seven non-Finns have won in 58 years.

Such are the speeds that Rally Finland boasts five of the six fastest rallies in WRC history, with the 2005 event topping the all-time list at a remarkable average of 122.86kph.

The hard, wide roads are as smooth as a billiard table so it is not a hard rally on machinery - however, it is incredibly difficult from a technical perspective. Awesome stomach-churning jumps frequently hide bends over the crests, so accuracy and delivery of pace notes must be exact and selecting the correct line before 'take-off' ensures maximum pace through the following curves.

Hirvonen has twice finished second from seven starts and a good performance here would boost his challenge for the drivers' title.

"The time differences on this rally are always so small," he explained.
"If a driver wins a stage by five seconds then that's a huge gap, so even a small mistake can prove costly. And the speeds are so high that a big mistake often results in an accident."

"When you're flat out and fighting hard for tenths of a second, you often find surprises on jumps or corners that you think you know well. The car can fly further or higher and those are the kind of surprises that can bring problems," Hirvonen added.

Along with Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen and Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla, Khalid Al Qassimi and co-driver Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS WRC, the third Finnish start for the 37-year-old Abu Dhabi driver.

The team completed a four-day test in Finland last week in order to finalise their set-ups. Hirvonen covered 554km while Latvala racked up 520km, with each spending time on narrow technical roads before tackling wider, faster sections.

Organisers have continued their recent policy of ringing the changes and more than 30 per cent of this year's route has been modified, including three all-new special stages. However, the traditional central Finland base of Jyvaskyla remains, along with the central service park at the town's Paviljonki exhibition area.

After the traditional Thursday evening super special stage at the town's Killeri trotting track, Friday's action is based north-west of the city, ending with a second pass at Killeri. Saturday's leg contains almost half the rally's competitive distance and takes drivers south-west for two loops near the town of Jamsa, before a late afternoon cluster of tests near Mantta.

Missing from the middle leg is the awesome Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster section of road full of sweeping bends and jumps and regarded as one of the sport's ultimate tests of skill and bravery.

The short final leg covers four tests east of Jyvaskyla. Drivers face 345.15km of competition within a 1449.61km route.

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