From Conrad Rautenbach Press [ 31/07/2008 ].
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Welcome to: Rally Finland Finland – and its trademark rollercoaster roads – is considered by many to be the spiritual home of rallying. Arriving in Jyvaskyla this week, it's not hard to see why: Finns simply can't get enough of the sport. And the sport can't get enough of this rally. The stages are utterly awesome and only for the bravest of the brave. This is the place where, year after year, spectators and competitors alike believe cars can fly.
This year's event is slightly different, however. The organisers have tweaked the route slightly, introducing five new stages which are narrower and less undulating than the typical, super-wide,frighteningly fast roads which have littered the route for the previous 57 years.
Every driver wants to be world champion in their career, but once that mission's accomplished, winning in Finland is the next box to beticked. One of the things which makes this so special is the fact that a non-Nordic win is such a rare thing – only twice in the event'shistory has the rally been won by someone from south of Scandinavia.
Conrad's column We're back! Thank goodness for that. After Turkey, I was quite looking forward to a break. It had been a fairly intensive couple of months in the WRC and the prospect of heading home to Zimbabwe was warmly welcome. The three weeks I spent at home were fantastic – particularly a long fishing trip on the Zambezi. But it wasn't long before I was itching to get back into the C4 WRC.
And what a rally to get back to; Finland is, and always has been, one of my favourites. I like fast rallies and they don't get much fasterthan Finland. This year was even better because we did the South Estonia Rally as a test for Finland. The chance to get back behind the wheel a couple of weeks early was not one to be missed. The stages in Estonia were great, really nice – and obviously similar to here. They gave us a very good chance to try some new settings on the car, which is why we were there. Yes, we did look at the odd time here and there,but we were working on getting the suspension and differential settings right for this rally. The other thing the South Estonia Rally did was tune my head into the speeds needed for this event. Finland is quite unlike any other World Rally Championship event in the way you have to dial yourself into the pace of the roads and corners. With the cobwebs blown well away, David [Senior, co-driver] and I arrived in Finland more than ready to get the second half of the season under way. I have to say, it was a little bit disappointing to see some of the changes the organisers have made to the route. Ouninpohja used to be fantastic, one of the best stages of the year – so not doing it in its entirety is a bit of a shame for me. And some of the new stages are a little bit rough, not exactly what you might expect in Finland. But,that said, new stages are good for me. They're a great leveller,negating the advantage other drivers might have with experience. I'm up for a push here in Finland. On the last couple of events in Greece and Turkey, the emphasis was on getting to the finish. Of course, we want to make the finish here in Finland, but at the same time, I love these fast roads and I want to have a go. I will definitely start the event in the hunt for some points. We ended the first half of the season in the points and it would be a good way to start the second half.
Last time out: Rally of Turkey (12.06.08-15.06.08)
Conrad Rautenbach overcame scorching temperatures and the most demanding conditions the Rally of Turkey could throw at the reigning FIA African Rally Champion to place his PH Sport-run Citroen C4 WRC in the points on the Kemer-based event. Despite temperatures approaching 40 degrees, Conrad was never out of the top eight on the final day of what was only his ninth event in a World Rally Car – and only his sixth in the C4 WRC. He ended the rally eighth overall.
The full facts: Conrad Rautenbach
Car: Citroen C4 WRC
WRC debut: Monte Carlo 2004
WRC starts: 37
Rally of Finland starts: 4
FIA championships won: 1 (2007 FIA African Rally Championship)
Best WRC finish: 4th (Rally Argentina, 2008)
Co-driver: David Senior
The full facts: Rally Finland
Start: Paviljonki, Jyvaskyla 1900** Thursday July 31
Day one: 11 stages 131.70km (including this evening's superspecial)
Day two: 10 stages 168.25km
Day three: 3 stages 40.74km
Finish: Paviljonki, Jyvaskyla 1330** Sunday August 3