Preview: Loeb Seeks Another Win

World champion Sebastian Loeb could extend his record to seven successive victories if he wins this weekend's Rally of Finland but he will have to loosen the local stranglehold on the event to do so

Preview: Loeb Seeks Another Win

The Citroen driver made history in Argentina last month by winning a sixth straight rally and his seventh this season but victory in the fastest rally in the championship might prove beyond him.

The rally, which starts in earnest on Friday, is held on wide gravel roads that demand precision and is normally the preserve of Finnish drivers like Loeb's title rival Marcus Gronholm.

"This rally is the hardest to win," Loeb said. "When you see Marcus Gronholm's record there, it looks very tough."

The good news for the Frenchman is that whether he wins or not, his lead in this year's championship cannot be overhauled on the tracks around the university town of Jyvaskyla.

The 31-year-old is 27 points ahead of Norwegian Petter Solberg and 30 ahead of Peugeot's Gronholm with seven rounds remaining.

Gronholm, last year's winner in Finland and world champion in 2000 and 2002, certainly needs a podium finish in his home rally to revive his hopes of a third title.

"Loeb has been so strong this season so far that he even seems capable of beating us in our home event," said Gronholm, who has won in Finland four times.

He added: "Every year, I feel unbeatable going into 'my' rally, but this time I get the feeling we will need to be particularly strong and focused if we want to win."

Third Place

Subaru's Solberg, the 2003 world champion, also needs a strong points finish this weekend after his third place in Argentina behind Loeb and Gronholm.

"For sure, you have to attack but it's not a good idea to start in Finland feeling over-confident," said the Norwegian, who crashed out on the first day of the rally last year.

The Finnish rally signifies a return to warmer conditions after the high-altitude winter in the Argentine mountains last month, although the weather forecast is for rain at the weekend.

Formerly known as "The Rally of the Thousand Lakes", it has by tradition favoured local drivers with a winners' list reading like a Finnish phone book.

Estonian Markko Martin was only the third foreigner to win the Rally of Finland since its first run in 1951 when he took the title in 2003.

Home soil may favour Gronholm and compatriot Toni Gardemeister of Ford, who trails him by one point in the championship, but there are no guarantees of a local winner.

"It's well-known that very few non-Finns have won and I'm on a good run at the moment," said Loeb.

"The problem is that it's difficult, impossible even, to make up for any ground you lose early on against drivers like Marcus.

"In Finland, we will see early on whether we have a real chance of winning."

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