Škoda Motorsport will launch the team's new evolution Octavia WRC at the Neste Rally Finland, 8-11 August, and the team’s resident Finn, driver Toni Gardemeister cannot wait to get his hands on it.

Both Gardemeister and his experienced teammate Kenneth Eriksson will give the new car its competitive debut on round 9 of World Rally Championship next week. Both have already tested the latest version of the Octavia WRC on Finnish gravel, and they are confident it is a big step forward.

Toni Gardemeister commented, "This car is much stronger than the old car, and we can think about finishing in the top 10 in Finland, for sure! A Finnish driver has won our home rally for the last seven years. I would love to join that list, but it's very, very difficult."

Finland - the spiritual home of world rallying - is one of the fastest and most challenging events on the world rally calendar. It is characterised by blind, rollercoaster crests that require a unique blend of bravery and commitment. The event is run through forests on a surface of compact gravel. The jumps are taken at speeds of 200 kilometres per hour, and the cars can fly for up to 100 metres. Finland is also well known for the dedication of its rally fans. They pack the stages to watch their heroes in action, and there is a real party atmosphere in the forests.

Eriksson has already competed in Finland 12 times, and the Swede has enjoyed a best result of third place. "I like Rally Finland very much," he says. "It's one of the best gravel rallies - very fast and very difficult. I think we can set our ambitions high with our new Octavia, but it will still be very tough to compete against the top three manufacturers."

The new evolution of the Octavia WRC concentrates mostly on engine improvements, although visually the car looks similar to the preceding model. Pavel Janeba, Škoda Motorsport team principal, explains the main differences. "There is a new inlet manifold in the engine, a redesigned exhaust system and better engine cooling. There is also a new bonnet and front bumper, designed to improve aerodynamics and engine cooling. We feel that our Octavia WRC is more competitive now, and we hope to prove that's true with a good result in Finland. We've got high hopes for Toni as he is competing at home and knows the event very well."

Škoda Motorsport's chief engineer, Dietmar Metrich, is also optimistic about the new car's chances. "I'm pleased with what we have achieved using the resources and time we had available," Metrich says. "Of course engineers are like drivers - we're never totally satisfied and we always want more! But realistically speaking, I am sure we've done a good job."

The Rally Finland is based in Jyvaskyla, and will cover 22 stages over a competitive distance of 401 kilometres. The event gets underway with a Super Special stage at Killeri racetrack on the evening of Thursday 8 August.

Published : 06/08/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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