Having already secured his fourth consecutive world title, the Finnish farmer's son could claim to be the finest rally driver of all time, but he has never won the British event. Not under pressure this year, he is free to enjoy himself in his Mitsubishi, which could mean that he will be exceptionally quick. Became World Champion last year when Carlos Sainz broke down almost at the end of the British Rally. He says he expects Richard Burns and Colin McRae to be so fast that he is delighted not to be coming to Britain needing a last-round victory to guarantee the title.
Victory would place the popular British driver in second place in the World Championship in his Subaru. He won last year and is in fine form, having recently won the Rally of Australia - admittedly in much different conditions. He says that this year's rally could be more competitive, rather than less, because the top drivers no longer have to worry about the World Championship. His driving now combines speed with fewer mistakes than in the past. His confidence has never been in doubt and the Subaru has always reacted well to the demands of the British Rally.
With wins in the Kenyan and Portuguese rallies, the three-times winner of the British Rally has shown that while the Ford Focus has had teething troubles, in his hands it is fast. His attitude to this year's rally is that it is almost certainly going to be a straight fight between himself and Richard Burns, especially on the second and third days. "When it comes to the Welsh forests, home advantage is definitely going to be a big advantage," he said. No doubt his co-driver, Nicky Grist, is in for some "moments". Ford have not won a domestic rally since 1979, but that could be about to change.
Toyota, who will end their factory involvement after this closing event of the championship, have already lifted the manufacturers' world title this season, but Sainz comes to Britain determined to avenge his frustrating memories of last year, when failure to finish cost him the world title. Now 37, the Spaniard has won 22 World Championship events and has twice won the British Rally. He has always enjoyed the special demands offered by the event and, with nothing to lose, could be the foreign driver with the best chance of beating Burns and McRae.
The 40-year-old television pundit and ex-Formula One driver remains quick and alert enough to surprise a lot of people with a place in the top 20. He has previous rally experience, having driven the 1996 RAC event, but admits that road racing and spreading the dust and mud are vastly different techniques. His works-supported Toyota will certainly be up to the job but he must control the temptation to overcook on today's first stage if he is to reach the Welsh forest tracks which on the last occasion, he says, gave him the thrill of his career.
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