The 2003 Arctic Rally is the first round of the European Championship, the first round of the Finnish Championship in which competitors score extra points for this event, and is often used as a warm-up for the Swedish round of the World Championship which takes place next month.

Mika Häkkinen, the double Formula One World Champion, will this weekend begin one of his greatest adventures when he takes part in the 38th Arctic Rally, Lapland, for the first time.

It is as much a test of strength and survival as outright speed with temperatures dropping to –35 degrees Celsius, snow and ice through the fast forest stages on which Häkkinen’s Mitsubishi Lancer WRC2 will reach its maximum speed of 190km/h, and 18 hours of darkness each day.

The rally, based in Rovaniemi, Finland, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, is made up of 12 stages that run through the forests, and three Super Special spectator stages. The event has been shortened since it was first run in 1966, when it featured individual stages of more than 100km and was won by the Volkswagen of Kari Sohlberg, father of Kristian, who will drive the second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC2 on the Arctic Rally. In the early days, the rally explored most of Lapland, while the modern event has been shortened to 257.86km of special stages and a total distance of 732.96km.

The rally will see 112 competitors set off from the centre of Rovaniemi, 48 of which will be Mitsubishis competing in the Group N class for near standard production class cars.

Mitsubishi’s test driver and technical advisor Lasse Lampi won the event in 1983 and again in 1994, for Mitsubishi, and knows the challenges that face each of the drivers on what is still an epic event. "When you start the stage, it can be that there is no snow, just a little bit of wind, but when you are up high in the open area, there can be high wind, and you cannot see the road at all," says Lampi. "It is white because the wind is blowing the snow across the road so quickly that even between two cars, the wind can blow so hard that it will cover the tracks of the car in front.

"It is not like a circuit, where you can practice time after time each corner. Here Mika cannot learn the corners, You have the pace note, so you know the shape of the corner, for example that it is long and tightens at the end, but you don’t know how to drive it; you find that out when you get there! It is up to your confidence, what you can do. Mika knows the shape of the corner, but everything else you have to get from your own sensors."

The rally starts on Friday, January 24, and finishes on Saturday, January 25.

Finland is plus two hours GMT.

Published : 21/01/03 Author : Melanie Carter

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