Ouninpohja pt. 2: The Evolution

In the previous post we already tried to figure out what makes Ouninpohja so special and found a lot of places with history, incidents and legends. But all the those places haven’t always been the same or even included. Decades worth of Ouninpohja was driven without the Kakaristo junction turn or the yellow house jump in today’s direction where you can actually jump far. Years have gone by with no Ouninpohja on the itinerary at all. Let’s take a look at how Ouninpohja became what it is today.

The early years

Ouninpohja has been a part of the 1000 Lakes Rally all the way from the years it started becoming a special stage rally. The classic version of the stage would start on Okskulmantie, going southwards from Kakaristo, turning right to Ouninpohjantie at the Mutanen junction and ending a bit after the Hämepohja junction.

Original Ouninpohja
The ur-Ouninpohja

A couple of times in the 60’s the stage had to be shortened for various reasons. Also, when Timo Mäkinen drove his Cooper Mini with the bonnet open in 1967, the stage was run in reverse from Hämepohja to Kakaristo. The same direction was used also for a shortened stage in 1968.

In 1979 and 1980 there was an alternate version called Mutanen, not replacing Ouninpohja, but driven as a partial repeat. It turned left from the Mutanen junction and went on southwards onto Puukkoistentie and Haikupohjantie, roads later used on the stages Hassi and Konivuori. A curious detail about the 1979 route is that Hassi, following Mutanen two stages later, would use the same four-road junction with the two stages running at the same time separated by concrete blocks, and of course in the dark!

Mutanen and Hassi (orange) 1979

Ouninpohja was absent from the 1975 and 1976 1000 Lakes Rallies, but to balance that it was often driven twice, actually even three times in 1982! It’s also worth mentioning that between the years 1978 and 1985 the first six stages of the rally were always the same, with Ouninpohja being always SS5. Between 1969 and 1985 every run of the stage was in the same format, with just minor adjustments to the start and the finish. But after 1985 Ouninpohja would never be driven in that format again.

Rapsula decides the 1986 rally

In 1986 after Henri Toivonen’s tragic accident in Corsica, FISA decided that the average speed of a special stage may not exceed 110 km/h. The 1986 1000 Lakes Rally, having its route already approved, got a waiver of 10% tolerance, but still they were forced to make last minute changes to the route. One of them was cutting Ouninpohja in half.

A new 7 km stage called Rapsula was introduced, adding a new smaller road called Rapsulantie into the beginning, before continuing onto Okskulmantie and ending well before the fast section near the Mutanen junction. Another stage called Ouninpohja comprised of the last 7 kms of the traditional route, starting at the yellow house jump.

The winning average speeds on these stages were 114-118 km/h. Both of them were driven at the beginning of the rally on Friday and then repeated on Sunday, with Konivuori, a very rough, twisty and narrow stage, between them.

1986 Ouninpohja area
1986 Rapsula (top), Konivuori (bottom) and Ouninpohja (left)

Surprisingly, the second run of Rapsula on Sunday morning was a dramatic one as the leading Markku Alen rolled his Lancia Delta S4 on Rapsulantie, lost some minutes and along with that the rally win and probably also the drivers’ title. Curiously, current M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson had also rolled his Metro 6R4 just nearby on the first run of the stage on Friday night.

Experimental routes in 1987

The 1987 route is known for its small roads and chicanes. The organizers were serious about limiting the average speed on the special stages at 110 km/h. This would start an era of 1000 Lakes Rallies with no Ouninpohja on the itinerary, but having a number of other stages use some of the Ouninpohja route.

The 1987 route included one of the weirdest stages in the history of the whole rally. It was called “Unionin sähäkkä”,  meaning “Union’s saucy”, Union being a Finnish chain of gas stations (later owned by Neste), as many 1987 stages had sponsor titles. This stage started from Rapsulantie, continued onto Vuorisjärventie, and through very small roads into Ouninpohjantie, a bit North from the yellow house jump. If you have been spectating at the yellow house jump, you know these paths. This was also where Tommi Mäkinen rolled his Group N Lancia with the infamous picture of the car on its nose.

Rapsula was retained for 1987, but it was made longer, stretching the end to Ouninpohjantie with a detour through a house yard. Konivuori was another keeper from 1986, but it continued as well onto Ouninpohjantie in addition to having 7 kms of new roads at the beginning. At 29.94 km it was the longest stage of the rally.

This way, there were three different stages that used Ouninpohjantie, joining the traditional Ouninpohja route from different directions. Rapsula included the ultra-fast section of Okskulmantie and thus was the third-fastest stage of the rally with its average speed of 109 km/h, despite the chicane. Meanwhile, the forest adventure version of Unionin sähäkkä was the second-slowest stage of the rally excluding super specials, with a Sunday drive average speed of 87 km/h. Konivuori – containing probably the slowest and fastest parts of the rally – was actually quite close to the whole rally average speed at 94 km/h, whereas any other year it would have been among the slowest.

1987 Ouninpohja (left), Rapsula and Konivuori (highlighted)

Speed increases for 1988

For 1988, the average speed limitations were held back. Rapsula retained almost the same as 1987, but this time it turned left from the Mutanen junction, continuing onto Juuvantie. Driven on Saturday morning, it was repeated in the evening as Hassi, with added 6 kms of Hassintie northwards. With winning average speeds at 119 km/h, these two were the second and third fastest stages of the rally.

The video at 2:35 shows Alen and Kankkunen sliding on the fast and flowing Juuvantie of the Rapsula stage, a bit of road not used so often.

Konivuori kept its ending but received a new beginning on firmer roads from the Hassi area, beginning just a kilometre after where Rapsula ended. Also, Konivuorentie was majorly rebuilt after 1987 and started finally resembling a road at some parts, instead of a path. Konivuori was again the longest stage of the rally.

Rapsula (dark red), Hassi and Konivuori (bottom)

The Ouninpohja area on Saturday was now basically the same on the Sunday of 1986, except that the competitive sections were longer. The area between Mutanen and Konivuorentie junctions must have been popular to spectate, as you could see two consecutive stages within 1,5 kms of walking.

Okskulmantie absent from 1989 to 1990

1990 Hassi
1990 Hassi

For 1989, Rapsula was gone and Hassi would become a shorter stage mostly on Hassintie, so no stages were ran on Okskulmantie at all. Same story for 1990, even though Hassi started from the Kakaristo junction, but away from Okskulmantie. This was the first time Salinmäentie was driven in the rally.

Konivuori remained the same between 1988 and 1990, being also the longest of the rally each year at 32,15 km. It was tough, not forgiving even the previous year winners – in 1989 the engine of Markku Alen’s Lancia blew at the end of the stage whereas in 1990 Mikael Ericsson crashed his Toyota on Ouninpohjantie. Hannu Mikkola’s Mazda also gave up the game in Konivuori, both 1988 and 1990.

The video at 6:46 shows the infamous .Hämepohja junction at the end of the Konivuori stage in 1989.

1991 introduces Pitkäjärventie

For 1991, the Hassi stage begin was reverted to its 1989 form and the finish was almost in the same place as before, but about 20 kms of road was added in between.

A crucial addition was the narrow forest road of Pitkäjärventie, from Liisanmutka to Kakaristo. This section showed its treachery right away when Markku Alen suffered a puncture and had to have a tyre changed in the Kakaristo junction.

The stage continued from Kakaristo onto Okskulmantie, thus making it the first time the Kakaristo hairpin junction was ever driven. This sequence of roads would form the basis of the modern Ouninpohja. But in contrast to that, the 1991 Hassi stage ended like Rapsula in 1988, turning left from the Mutanen junction. Once again, you could spectate two stages within a walkable distance.

1991 Hassi And Konivuori
1991 Hassi (top) and Konivuori

Konivuori got shortened from both ends. The stage ended now just before the infamous section where Marcus Grönholm would later keep the throttle down for 46 seconds. This meant that while Okskulmantie was now fully returned in the rally, driving on Ouninpohjantie was reduced to mere 3 kilometres and the cars didn’t pass the yellow house at race speed.

The return of Ouninpohja in 1992

For 1992 the Hassi stage from the year before was changed just slightly, turning now right from the Mutanen junction and end in the same place where Konivuori ended the year before, as Konivuori was dropped from the itinerary for good. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Hassi stage was now boldly titled Ouninpohja, making a return to the itinerary after an absence of six years.

The 1992 Ouninpohja had almost exactly the same length as the 1991 Hassi. The official magazine preview of Vauhdin Maailma even claimed that the stage is the same as the year before. Maybe it was planned that way initially? However, what did remain from 1991 was that the yellow house jump or the Hämepohja junction wasn’t included at race speed at all. The same stage was also used for 1993.

Ouninpohja 1992-1993
Ouninpohja 1992-1993

The video below at 1:19 show Colin McRae tackling the Kakaristo hairpin in 1992. It wasn’t yet such a popular place to spectate!

The modern version finalized 1994-1995

For the 1994 1000 Lakes Rally, Ouninpohja was lengthened from the end and shortened from the beginning, as the beginning part was given back to Hassi. Thus the modern Ouninpohja was born, except that it was still driven from North to South (just like 2016).

Ouninpohja 1994
Ouninpohja 1994. Reversed for most years after that.

In 1995 Rally Finland had to do its part in the three-year rotation system where every WRC rally had to once skip being an official event and just host local drivers and F2 cup. The organisers probably saw this as a chance to try new things and promptly reversed Ouninpohja, making it finally the stage we know today, and the version that would be used for most the following years.

Rapsula revised in 1996

In 1996 and 1997 Rapsula was taken back on the itinerary for the Saturday morning, replacing Hassi. It was a new version that was driven from Rapsulantie through Kakaristo to Liisanmutka and then Southwards to Hassintie. The junction from Pitkäjärventie to Hassintie is quite straight when going Northwards, but this way it made a very tight hairpin, shown at 12:58 on the video below.

Part of the Rapsula stage was driven twice. When the crews returned from the leg in the afternoon, they did Ouninpohja just as the year before, joining the Rapsula route before Kakaristo, but stopping before Liisanmutka.

1996 Rapsula and Ouninpohja
1996 Rapsula and Ouninpohja (highlighted)

Limiting the average speed after 2004

Ouninpohja was driven every year from 1995 onwards, always twice after 1998. This allowed the drivers to fine-tune their pace notes. Also, the new World Rally Cars were getting faster and faster. After Petter Solberg made a record-setting fastest time in 2004 exceeding 130 km/h of average speed, a limit set by the FIA, something had to change.

For 2005 and 2006 the stage was cut in half, the first part ending just after the Mutanen junction and the second one starting a few kilometres later. This way, the fastest section of Okskulmantie was left out. The stages were given the additional names Länsi and Itä, Finnish for West and East. The average speeds were under 130 km/h, but by just a small margin.

2005-2006 Ouninpohja Länsi & Itä
2005-2006 Ouninpohja Länsi & Itä

In 2007 Ouninpohja returned in its full form, but with three chicanes. Still, we were looking at average speeds of 129 km/h. Ouninpohja would be benched for a while.

Four years of absence

In 2008 there was a new but familiar name on the itinerary, Kakaristo. This would be just the most Northern part of Ouninpohja with new small, narrow and rough roads at the end, partially the same as 1987’s “Unionin sähäkkä”. The driving direction was also reversed to start from Hassintie. The winning average speeds on this stage were only 112-113 km/h.

2008 Kakaristo
2008 Kakaristo. Reversed for 2014.

Here you can see Jari-Matti Latvala tackle through the Kakaristo stage on the Rally Finland of 2008. The new small road section starts at 7:23.

The whole Ouninpohja area was completely absent from the 2009 and 2010 rallies and in 2011 only a single run of Hassi represented it. As discussed in the Hassi entry, Okskulmantie was under repair in 2011, which prevented running of Ouninpohja. The rally was also heading southwards to Lahti, so driving Ouninpohjantie Westwards would have added unneeded liaison kilometres.

New rules allowing comeback in 2012

Ouninpohja made a welcome return again in 2012. The 1.6 litre WRC cars introduced in 2011 were slower, and Ouninpohja was possible to be driven again in its full form without chicanes. Even though it was the power stage, the average speeds did not exceed 130 km/h.

For 2014 Ouninpohja was again switched for Kakaristo, this time in the opposite direction than in 2008. The reason for substituting Ouninpohja wasn’t limiting speed, but road repairs on Ouninpohjantie. Curiously, had Ouninpohja been driven, it would have been most likely cancelled as a thunderstorm cut many trees during the rally onto the road near the yellow house jump.

Change of direction in 2016

For 2016 Ouninpohja was reversed to the traditional direction last driven in 1994. It made things interesting, as the stage was basically new for everyone. Half of it was driven as Kakaristo in this direction in 2008, but the only drivers who did the stages with WRC cars both years were Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen.

Changing directions made spectators also search for new places. As we can see, the yellow house jump isn’t as spectacular into this direction. Even without the corner behind, you could easily break your car by jumping too far as the road drops lower.

Kris Meeke basically won the rally in Ouninpohja. He was already leading, but winning the local hero Latvala by 13 seconds on the first run was unheard of. Meeke explained he had woken up an hour early to refresh his memory with an onboard video.

Meeke was fastest also on the second run. If we look at the onboard, we can see the average speed on the classic part of the stage from Kakaristo junction onwards is 138 km/h. With that average speed, Meeke would have beaten Hannu Mikkola in 1985 by 55 seconds, more than two seconds per kilometre. Of course the road has been probably widened throughout the years, but it’s a good example of how the cars have become faster.

Circle completes in 2017

For 2017 Ouninpohja was again changed over. The WRC TV crew wanted show the cars running the Kakaristo junction turning right, so the stage and actually the whole Saturday loop was reversed again. In addition to that, the small road at the end of the stage was left out because a run through the live TV stage should last for about 12 minutes. For a Rally Finland stage, that’s typically at least 25 kilometres.

Thus, Ouninpohja would end after the Kakaristo area with a new left turn and a short bit of Pitkäjärventie. The same version was actually used already in 2001 and 2002 for the second run, probably for television reasons as well. Curiously, this is the closest iteration to the 1969-1985 version ever since.

While shortening the stage, the fastest parts remained. It didn’t help that the new 2017 regulation cars were faster especially on roads like Okskulmantie, nearing their top speeds, when the new aero packages would really work and increase the cornering speed.

After FIA made Rally Sweden 2017 to cancel the second running of a too fast stage, Rally Finland also were forced to add chicanes onto its finished route, a total of three of them for Ouninpohja. Still with three chicanes, Esapekka Lappi’s winning average speed on the second run was as high as 135 km/h. We can only guess how high it would have been without the chicanes.

2017 Ouninpohja
2017 Ouninpohja (and 2001-2002 for the second run)

Ouninpohja has become close to what it originally was, but is this also the end of Ouninpohja? Is it simply too fast for the new WRC cars? It’s worth another blog post to speculate on future changes.

4 thoughts on “Ouninpohja pt. 2: The Evolution

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