Motoring / Motorsport

John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
4 minute read
29 Sep 2021
8:18 am

WRC preparing for take-off as series heads for Finland

John Floyd

Rallying's legendary "Finnish Grand Prix" promises to be a true humdinger.

Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia look set for another championship so expect a steady calculated drive. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

It may have a new name but to many it will always be the Rally of 1 000 Lakes or officially the 1 000 Lakes Rally, a name first used in 1973 when the event was included in the calendar for the World Rally Championship in its first year.

Whatever the name this iconic rally is renowned for the smooth and very hard roads, with enormous blind crests (Yumps to all in the rallying world) and very high average speeds.

It became known as the Finnish Grand Prix and aptly so, as 12 of the 14 fastest WRC rallies have been on these roads, in fact the fastest ever WRC rally, the 2016 event, was won by Northern Irishman Kris Meeke in a Citroen DS3 at an average speed of 126.62 km/h with Meeke becoming the first British driver to take victory in Finland. His co-driver on this event was Paul Nagle, who now sits next to Craig Breen.

WRC heads for Finland
Thierry Neuville with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe need a good finish to keep therir championship hopes alive. Image: Hyundai Motorsport

First run in 1951, it was the event used to select Finnish entries for the Rallye Monte Carlo and has been dominated by local drivers who have won 55 of the 69 rallies held to date.

With its high speeds and the need for pin point accuracy plus fast, coherent delivery of pace notes, it must rate as one of the most demanding events for co-drivers and requires huge courage and commitment from the drivers.

Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the 2021 event, the 70th Anniversary of the rally, moves from its normal summer date to autumn and is more compact, running over just three days instead of the normal four.

WRC heads for Finland
Gus Greensmith and Chris Patterson will be chasing more points for the M-Sport Ford WRT. Image: M-Sport

The seasonal change could bring wet weather and those smooth roads could lose grip and other sections becoming much rougher, a real challenge for the teams strategists.

The 43 strong entry will face 287.11km of special stage of the rally’s 1 059.64 km total distance, with a central service park based in central Jyväskylä’s Paviljonki exhibition centre.

The shakedown stage this Friday morning precedes the official start and first special stage, a mixed-surface Harju street stage in central Jyväskylä before heading west for a further five stages in the forests prior to an overnight halt.

WRC heads for Finland
Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen are hungry for a third 2021 win. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Restarting on Saturday morning the teams face another nine stages which comprises more than half the rally’s competitive distance, before Sunday’s final four stages including the Wolf Power Stage.

With just three rallies left in the season the current team to beat is Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT (397 points) who currently hold a 57 point lead over the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT (340 points) and on 153 points it’s the M-Sport Ford WRT.

On home territory, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT field the usual team with championship leader Sébastien Ogier (180 points) with co-driver Julien Ingrassia holding a comfortable lead over team mates Elfyn Evans (136 points) and co-driver Scott Martin, with the third crew of Kalle Rovanperä (129 points) with Jonne Halttunen alongside.

WRC heads for Finland
Looking for a hat trick of Finnish victories Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja. Image: Hyundai Motorsport

The young Finn is on a charge with two victories to his name this season and is sure to be hungry for a hat trick to move into second spot in the driver’s title chase, while Ogier will be hoping to emulate his result of 2013 when he took his Volkswagen Polo to victory in Finland. Making a comeback is Takamoto Katsuta (66 points) with another new co-driver Aaron Johnston

Looking for really solid results will be the Hyundai crews of Thierry Neuville (130 points) with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, Ott Tanak (106 points) and co-driver Martin Järveoja and Craig Breen (60 points) with Paul Nagle a truly formidable team.

Perhaps Neuville will reverse the result of his battle in Finland with Ogier when the Belgian, in a Ford Fiesta RS, took second place in 2013 behind the Frenchman. Tanak has the distinct advantage of having won the last two Finnish rallies in 2018 and 2019 and must be strong favourite.

WRC heads for Finland
Adrien Fourmaux with new co-driver Alexandre Coria need to assimilate rapidly to tackle the high speed roads of Finland. Image: M-Sport

M-Sport Ford WRT will make up the field with the usual two team entry. Englishman Gus Greensmith (44 points) with co-driver Chris Patterson and team mates Adrien Fourmaux (36 points) and his new co-driver Alexandre Coria. The team’s young driver system seems to be paying dividends in the 2021 season.

Finland always delivers exciting rallies and the change of season could add yet another dimension to the “Finnish Grand Prix.”