The 18-year-old Skoda Motorsport driver was the class of the 2 field at Neste Rally Finland last year, winning 16 of the 23 speed tests. However, he finished fourth after hitting a rock and wrecking his car’s suspension when almost a minute ahead.

After wins in Chile, Portugal and Italy, Rovanperä returns to his home event with a 13-point advantage in the standings in his Fabia R5.

“I love to drive these fast and smooth gravel stages in my home country. I feel confident with the car, and that is very important on these fantastic stages,” he said.

Eerik Pietarinen won last year and he forms part of the Czech squad’s line-up, sampling the Fabia Evo for the first time in competition.

“I love Rally Finland! Of course, I’m comfortable on these roads, because this is where I learned to drive. But for me, it is also a unique rally, one where you need lots of guts and confidence to be able to commit 110 per cent to the stages,” he said.

Frenchman Eric Camilli is the challenger to the Finns, giving the new Ford Fiesta R5 its debut.

Pierre-Louis Loubet is bidding for a 2 hat-trick

Pierre-Louis Loubet is also aiming to extend a winning run. He topped 2 in Portugal and Italy to vault up the standings into second. He trails leader Benito Guerra by 18 points but with the Mexican absent, victory for Frenchman Loubet would promote him to first. 

“Finland is a specialised rally on the calendar. It requires a lot of investment, especially mentally, because we take a lot of risks. The goal is the podium, if it happens, it happens,” said Fabia pilot Loubet.

His closest title rivals in Finland are Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta (Fiesta), fourth in the standings, and fifth-placed Russian Nikolay Gryazin (Fabia), but all must keep a wary eye on the Nordic drivers.

’s Henning Solberg (Fabia), Finns Emil Lindholm (Volkswagen Polo) and Jari Huttunen (Hyundai i20), who won the category here two years ago on his first appearance, and Sweden’s world rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson (Polo) are all likely to feature strongly.

Head to WRC+ to watch All Live from Neste Rally Finland, including every stage broadcast live, breaking service park news and expert studio analysis.