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The Neste Rally Finland (previously well known as the 1000 Lakes Rally) is renowned as one of the most demanding rallies in the world. It is perhaps the rally that the drivers most want to win, as the ultra-fast forest roads of central Finland provide a stern test of skill and bravery. Detailed knowledge of the terrain is vital to stand any chance of beating the Finns on home soil - and none is harder to beat than Mitsubishi driver Makinen.
World Rally Champion Makinen, co-driven by fellow Finn Seppo Harjanne, has been the pace-setter in this year's World Championship, recording more wins and more fastest special stage times than any other driver. He is more confident than ever heading for Finland, where he is aiming to give Mitsubishi its third victory in as many years and to score an unprecedented fourth consecutive win himself. Makinen comes from the village of Puuppola in the heart of Rally Finland territory and even his rivals regard him as near-unbeatable.
"Of course it is always nice to drive at home and I like the Finnish stages so much. They are really fast and difficult. I think they will be good for us. The Mitsubishi Lancer is very fast anyway, but we have found some good improvements in testing, so I hope I can win," said Makinen.
"It is a great opportunity for me to drive in this event in a competitive Group A car like a Mitsubishi. It will be difficult of course with so many top drivers competing, but I really hope I can score World Rally Championship points," said Nittel, who will be co-driven by Sweden's Tina Thorner.
"Mitsubishi has a good record on this event, but we've done a lot of testing and come up with some changes that Tommi is very happy with," Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Team Manager, Phil Short, stated. "As Tommi has won the rally three times in a row, he is obviously favourite and that puts a little bit of pressure on him, but I am sure he will be quite confident of winning. Uwe Nittel is learning all the time, but this is a tough event and we will be delighted if he scores points. He is going there for the experience."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart has prepared thoroughly for the event, carrying out more than 900 kilometres of testing in Finland in June. Test driver Lasse Lampi will conduct a last-minute test while Makinen and Harjanne are practicing for the rally, as the weather is expected to be cooler and more typical of what crews will find during the event. It will give Mitsubishi a chance to optimise tyre choice and make full use of Michelin's world-beating rubber.
The Rally Finland will also be a special occasion for Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles, who is on the brink of taking his second consecutive Group N World Rally Championship for Mitsubishi. Trelles and co-driver Jorge Del Buono of Argentina have become the acknowledged masters of the production car category since changing to Mitsubishi and are looking forward to trying the latest Lancer Evolution IV for the first time in Finland.
"We think this new car will be very good. I am sure it will be as successful as our other Mitsubishis," said Trelles. Despite tough opposition, he will be one of the favourites in a class where their strength and speed has made Mitsubishis almost invincible.
"We have done a lot of work with this new car and it has been tested very successfully by Uwe Nittel on the Hunsrueck Rally. We are very much looking forward to using it on a World Championship rally," stated Ingolf Raiss, the Team Manager of Mitsubishi Ralliart Germany that prepares Trelles's cars.
The rally starts on August 29th in Jyvaskyla in central Finland and runs until August 31st.
1997 NESTE RALLY FINLAND
|Friday 29 August - Leg1|
|14:00||Start of the Rally|
|18:34||Regrouping in Hippos|
|SS4 Hippos Tele|
|19:53||Rest halt in Laajavuori|
|Saturday 30 August - Leg2|
|06:00||Start of the Rally|
|13:21||Regrouping in Vastila|
|18:11||Regrouping in Hippos|
|19:51||Rest Halt in Laajavuori|
|Sunday 31 August - Leg3|
|07:30||Start of the Rally|
|SS18 Lampaa II|
|SS19 Vartiamaki II|
|SS20 Hauhanpohia II|
|Regrouping in Vastila|
|17:07||Arrival of the rally in Jyvaskila|