Ten questions with Harri Rovanpera

From Peugeot Press [ 01/08/2002 ].
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Born and bred in Jyväskylä, they don't come any more local than Harri Rovanperä who still lives in Rally Finland's traditional host town when not travelling the world with Peugeot Sport. Harri began competing on his home WRC round in 1993, in the days when it was still known as the Rally of the 1000 Lakes. So far, victory has eluded him. Will this year be his turn?

You finished third in Finland in 2000 and fourth last year. Both times, the winner was Marcus Grönholm. Do you believe you can beat him this time?

I hope so. Everyone knows that Marcus is strong everywhere, but no more so than on his home event. They say your own team-mate is the hardest person to beat. One thing is certain, the atmosphere in the team couldn't be better and, between us, the competition is fair and honest. I believe I can beat anybody on Rally Finland, including Marcus. But it won't be easy. I will have to drive flat out from start to finish to be able to beat him. It promises to be a super show, but we won't forget that the most important thing will be to ensure that Peugeot wins.

What about Richard Burns? Could he be the first foreigner to win since 1992?

In recent years, Richard has gone very well in Finland. He seems to have grasped what it takes to be quick here. Colin McRae and Petter Solberg have also been extremely fast in certain stages, but for me, Richard is probably the most competitive non-Finn over the full distance. I think he has what it takes to beat us on home ground, especially as he will also be driving a 206 WRC.

How important is it for a Finnish driver to win Rally Finland?

It's very important on two accounts. First of all, it must be fantastic to win your home event in front of your home fans. Victory here in Finland would be like a dream come true. Also, to experienced observers, Rally Finland is one of the most spectacular, fastest and most difficult events of the entire championship and, for a driver, whatever his nationality, one of the most significant as far as his talent is concerned. Victory here always has a special taste.

What is the single thing that makes Rally Finland so difficult to win?

You mustn't make any mistakes. To win, you have to be very quick from start to finish. The slightest error through a corner of over a jump can lose you one or two seconds. And when you consider that ten seconds is a huge gap on this event, that's enormous!

Last year, Marcus was fastest over the 23.47km of SS2, 'Lankamaa', with a time of 11m 33.5s. You were only 0.3s slower. How do you explain such a small gap?

Neither of us made any mistakes on that stage! The drivers and the cars are so similar these days that it is very difficult to make huge differences. Last year, I drove like a lunatic on 'Ouninpohja' and beat Marcus by more than 8 seconds. I can drive like that on one, perhaps two stages, but nobody can keep that sort of speed up over the full rally.

Is it possible to win the rally by posting one super-fast time like that?

I don't think so because each of us tries at least once. I think it's going to be closer than ever this year.

Is it dangerous to drive at such high speeds over your country's famous jumps?

With a 206 WRC it's not dangerous. Our car's excellent transmission and suspension set up even makes it fun. Last year, I made a 47 metre jump on 'Ouninpohja' and everything was fine. But I won't do the same this year. It's not necessarily the fastest solution when all four of your wheels are in the air because you can't accelerate until you have landed!

On an event like Rally Finland, what are the advantages of the latest evolution 206 WRC which made its debut in Greece?

It's difficult to say. The car was already very good last year. During pre-event testing, I didn't notice much difference between the two cars. That shows that the latest version is just as balanced as the former car and naturally a bit more efficient in all areas.

There is a massive support from Finnish spectators on Rally Finland. Do you feel that from inside the car?

Yes I do. Today, there are a lot of non-Finns who know the stages as well as us, but we still have the edge as far as support from the spectators is concerned. We can't actually hear them from inside the car because of the noise, but you can see them cheering and gesticulating. It's true that it makes me try that little bit harder.

Since you live in Jyväskylä, is it more comfortable to stay at your own home during the rally?

I don't think so. I think I will stay at the hotel with the rest of the team. I have so many friends staying at my house during the event and the atmosphere is tremendous, but not necessarily good for my concentration. The most relaxing place would be my chalet in the forest, but that's a bit too far from Jyväskylä.