Abarth driver Anton Alen will start his first World Rally Championship round since 2007 on Rally Finland next week. He told AUTOSPORT about his season so far in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and what it is like to go home driving an Abarth with the name Alen on the side.Q. How did the deal to do this year's Rally Finland come about?Anton Alen:
It's something that I've wanted to do since the very start of the season, particularly since I was leading quite comfortably in Finland two years ago with Abarth before the engine broke. Last year it wasn't possible to get to Finland but this year there was the opportunity. I managed to get some sponsorship from MTV3 Finland, which is one of the largest TV stations in Finland that shows a lot of motorsport, and also some backing from the Fiat importer here in Finland. So thanks to the help of a lot of people, we were finally able to do it.Q. How much experience do you have of the stages?AA:
This will be my fourth Rally Finland. Even though I've not done the rally for a year I don't think the stages are so different, so there are definitely some things that I will remember. There are a couple of new stages on Sunday though: Myhinpaa is completely new to everyone and I'm told that it is a real classic with huge jumps: typical Finland! OK, it might not be completely new but I think nobody has been through there since my dad's day, so it's certainly new to me.Q. Does your dad still try to give you advice?AA:
No, it's true that he's won Rally Finland quite a lot of times but I think even he realises that things have changed a bit since he was driving! He just lets me get on with it.Q. You've won Group N in Finland before (in 2006), can you do it again?AA:
That's obviously the objective that I'm going to start with but also we have to be realistic. There are going to be a lot of strong drivers out there, particularly Juho Hanninen in the Skoda, who I think will be our biggest rival. We saw his pace on the Rally Russia and it is simply a fact that our Punto is the oldest Super 2000 car while the Skoda is the newest. It's normal for technology to move on. We should still have an advantage over the 'conventional' Group N cars though: the Super 2000s are a bit quicker and stronger, which means that you can take bigger cuts for example.Q. You've got quite a famous team mate in Kimi Raikkonen; do you think that the inevitable comparisons will give you any extra pressure?AA:
No, I think it's going to be a very good thing. I'm sure that there's going to be a lot of interest in Kimi as he's a world class driver, but I know that he's not underestimating the size of the task ahead of him. To keep going and work with pace notes for three full days is a really big challenge. But he's just doing it for fun and it's nice to have him there. I'm sure he'll enjoy it. Our cars are a little different - his car is prepared by Tommi [Makinen Racing] and I'm sure they will have their own ideas about the set-up. I will be using the car I used in Monte Carlo this year and have my usual engineer, Raffaele, from Abarth.Q. How crucial is Finland to your season?AA:
It's not been the best of seasons for me so far: I made a mistake in Brazil when I rolled but also we've been a bit unlucky since the start of the year as well. Hopefully we can get a good result in Finland and it will get better from there on. My next confirmed event after Finland is the Barum Rally Zlin in the Czech Republic, and I'm certainly hoping to do the Scottish Rally as well at the end of the year. As for any other world championship events, I'm really not sure.Q. Have you got any testing planned before the rally start?AA:
We've got a test scheduled for Monday, once the car arrives, on a stage about 20 kilometres away from Jyvaskyla. We've only got one engine but we should be able to do about 150 kilometres, no problem. That should help us get straight into the rhythm once the rally starts. I'm just really looking forward to it now: competing at home is something really special for any driver, and it's been too long since I did it last.