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Reigning World Rally Champion BP-Ford resumes its quest for the manufacturers' and drivers' titles in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship in Finland next week after a busy summer break.  A new car, the announcement of a major commercial partnership and a third official driver filled a hectic two-month pause since BP-Ford ended the opening half of the season with victory in Greece in June.

It used the break to complete preparation work on the new Ford Focus RS WRC 07, which will debut in the hands of Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen on Rally Finland (2 - 5 August).  The car is an evolution of the hugely successful 2006 model, which won 12 rallies from 25 starts, with development principally concentrating on the engine, bodyshell and weight saving.

The team also strengthened its WRC campaign by announcing a new partnership with Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).  The Focus RS cars will now carry a revised livery bearing Abu Dhabi signage.  As part of the agreement Abu Dhabi driver Khalid AlQassimi and co-driver Nicky Beech, leaders of the FIA Middle East Championship, will drive a BP-Ford-entered Focus RS on four WRC rounds during the second half of the season.

BP-Ford goes to Finland with a 28-point lead in the manufacturers' standings after four wins in the first half.  Grönholm leads the drivers' series by nine points with Hirvonen third.  Victory in Finland, widely regarded as the sport's spiritual home, is one of rallying's most sought after achievements and the team will start one of the most specialised events of the season with a distinct advantage.

It is based on blisteringly fast roller-coaster gravel speed tests and drivers who grew up on this type of road have an advantage over 'outsiders' who require several years' experience before they can hope to challenge for a win.  Both BP-Ford pairings are Finnish and will enjoy the backing of the huge crowds that flock into the countryside amid the lakes and forests near the host town of Jyväskylä.

The wide, hard roads are as smooth as a billiard table and guarantee breathtaking speeds, with last year's rally won at an average of 122.06kph.  Technically it is an incredibly difficult event.  Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else.  The awesome stomach-churning jumps frequently hide bends just over the crest so accuracy and delivery of pace notes must be exact.

Grönholm is the acknowledged master of Finland.  He has six wins to his name and no driver has ever won a full WRC event on seven occasions.  "Obviously this is one of my favourite rallies and my most successful," he said.  "I'm confident of winning and from the championship view it's important for me to take maximum points in Finland and increase my lead over Sébastien Loeb.  Chasing records is good, but the crucial thing here is to beat Seb.

"The new car doesn't look that different to the previous model but the team has worked hard and there are many small improvements.  It has improved everywhere and I'm pleased with our testing.  The true test comes in competition, however, and I'm sure I'll see the benefits in Finland," he added.

This is Hirvonen's favourite rally and the Finn, who celebrates his 27th birthday on Tuesday, cannot wait for the action to start.  "I love this rally," he said.  "My early days in the sport were in Finland and I have a good understanding of the roads.  When a jump is immediately followed by a bend it's vital to set up the car up for the correct line.  When that happens the car flies sideways at full speed and that is the most fantastic feeling in the sport.

"I'm going there to win.  But so is Marcus and he has already won the rally six times so it's an easy thing to say but it will be much harder to do.  The key thing is not to make any mistakes.  The speeds are so high that one small mistake or a problem can rule a driver out of the running.  A clear run is a must," added Hirvonen.

Thirty-five-year-old Al Qassimi will drive a 2006-specification car on what will be his seventh WRC start.  "As Abu Dhabi’s first ambassador in the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Finland will be a momentous occasion for me.  Of course none of this would have been possible without the belief and support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and His Excellency Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, whose initiative has resulted in our Scandinavian challenge. After all the preparations and testing, I can’t wait for Finland to begin and for the world to see Abu Dhabi in WRC action."

 
Team News

* BP-Ford will use BFGoodrich's g-Force gravel tyre for the low-wear loose surface roads.  The pattern is relatively compact to ensure a maximum amount of rubber is in contact with the ground for the best possible grip and traction.  The grooves can be hand cut to open them if there is a lot of loose gravel on the road surface or if the tracks become muddy.  The tyres will be available in soft and medium compounds.

* The team prepared for the event with a four-day test in Finland earlier this month.  Hirvonen drove for the first two days on roads close to Jyväskylä, covering 495km.  Grönholm then drove for two days and 355km on wider roads near Jämsä.  Both concentrated on general set-up and tyre testing.  After the rally the team will test for three days in Germany in preparation for Rallye Deutschland.

* A record 11 Focus RS WRCs have been entered for the rally – the largest number of WRCs from a single manufacturer ever seen on a championship round.  Media are invited to a photocall at 17.15 on Wednesday 2 August in WRC Square at Paviljonki when all 11 Focus RS WRCs will be available for photographers to capture this record-breaking achievement.

Rally Route

The route remains centred on Jyväskylä but 46 percent of the roads are new from last year.  Eight stages are new, three comprising roads never used in the rally, and only five of the 23 tests are the same as 2006.  The action begins on Thursday evening with a super special stage at Killeri trotting track.  It continues on Friday with nine tests west of Jyväskylä before a second pass through Killeri.  The second leg contains more than half the event's distance and is regarded as the classic day of the season.  Based on wide, flowing roads near Jämsä, which also hosts a mid-afternoon remote service, it includes some of the sport's great stages.  The highlight is two runs over the awesome Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster stretch of road full of blind crests and jumps and viewed as rallying's ultimate test of skill.  This year it has been restored to its full 33km length. Sunday's short final leg covers three tests north and east of Jyväskylä.  Drivers face 360.34km of competition in a route of 1375.15km.
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