WRC: Rally Preview: Rally Finland, July 29-31

Jack Cobourn International, Rally Cars, World Rally Championship 0 Comments

Latvala Finland 16-1

Jari-Matti Latvala races during the shakedown for this year’s Rally Finland. (Red Bull Content Pool/WRC Media Room photo)

The 1,000 Lakes Rally. The “Gravel Grand Prix.” Whatever one might call it, this weekend’s Rally Finland is sure to provide fast stages and exciting rallying.

The 2016 World Rally Championship begins its second half the same way it ended its first— with a fast gravel rally.

If baseball is “America’s Past Time,” then rallying must be Finland’s. Since the World Championship for Drivers was inaugurated in 1977, the Finns have won 14 times with seven different drivers. Names like Timo Mäkinen, Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatenen and more recently Tommi Mäkinen and Marcus Grönholm have become household rallying names as “The Flying Finns.”

Even their home rally has truly been a Scandinavian preserve. Until 1990, when Spaniard Carlos Sainz won the 1,000 Lakes Rally (as it was known then), the previous 39 runnings had been won by Scandinavians only. Since Sainz’s victory, the rally has been won six times by non-Finnish drivers. Of those six, five have been French victories, Sébastien Ogier being the most recent in 2013, with Estonia’s Markko Märtin being the outlier.

The rally itself is a highlight on the calendar, as the roads are smooth and wide, which lend themselves to quick rallying. The roads are also characterized with large jumps, or “yumps.” The rally is the fastest on the calendar, with eight of the top ten fastest rallies ever being in Finland.

Even with the wideness of the roads, the stages are surrounded by large and numerous trees, and pacenotes must be crafted to suit the outright speed of the rally. While “the groove” is something more suited to oval racing, on the Rally Finland it is necessary to make sure drivers find it to avoid massive accidents.

This year’s Rally Finland features 207 miles of competitive stages, with the most famous of all the stages coming twice on day two. If the Monte Carlo Rally’s Col de Turini is known as being a famous stage for its toughness, the Rally Finland’s Ouninpohja is known for its outright speed.

Measuring at 20.5 miles, this stage is the fastest in the WRC. Spectators measure the distance cars travel over one of the biggest jumps on the stage, with Markko Märtin traveling 187 feet at 106 mph in 2003 to set the distance record.

Having been cut in two for the 2005 and 2006 events after Petter Solberg exceeded the max speed limit for stages set by the FIA, the stage returned to its full length, but with three chicanes installed to slow the cars down.  Despite the artificial chicanes, the cars still nearly hit the max speed limit of 81 mph; Ogier’s average speed was 80.67 mph last year.

Jari-Matti Latvala won last year’s event from Ogier by nearly 14 seconds. My prediction for this year is that Latvala could continue his winning ways, or Ott Tänak could finally get the win that was robbed from him last time out in Poland on similarly quick stages.

Either way, this weekend’s event won’t be lacking in excitement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.