Lankamaa – Kankkunen’s backyard

Lankamaa is one of the best known stages in Rally Finland. In this blog post we take a closer look at its incident-filled history as well as its roads and their unique characters making the stage so challenging.

Fast in the beginning and then the road is a bit soft. Not a real proper Finnish road but it’s a very interesting stage, some quite difficult parts on the stage. – Stig Blomqvist, YLE 1991

Arguably the most difficult one of the entire rally, it’s very technical – Antony Warmbold, 2005

The stage is very difficult. A lot of big stones are on the line hidden by the grass. Hitting just one can be destructive for the suspension – Colin McRae, Vauhdin Maailma 1998

A lot of rhythm changes are needed, there’s all kinds of roads – Bruno Thiry, Vauhdin Maailma 1998

Lankamaa is located in the region of Laukaa. When you drive to the start of the stage, the road is called The Juha Kankkunen Road. No coincidence, the farm which he grew up on is nearby.

In fact, the stage appeared on the itinerary of the 1000 Lakes Rally as early as 1962 under the title Kankkunen, because Juha’s father owned the land.

Also, according to Juha Kankkunen, this infamous footage with the onboards of Timo Mäkinen and Hannu Mikkola from the 1968 Flying Finns documentary was shot at Lankamaa, and during the filming Juha got to sit next to Mäkinen in the Mini, that being the first time Juha sat in a rally car.

The first appearance of the name Lankamaa occured in the 1000 Lakes Rally 1988. It was one of the last stages of the rally. Ironically, Kankkunen’s luck run out on his home soil, the engine of his Toyota Celica broke and he had to retire from the lead. It wasn’t the only time he almost literally fell on his face in his backyard, but we’ll come back to that later.

The beginning

Originally, Lankamaa was driven in a shorter form than we know it today. Until 1991 the start was in the same place as in 2017, between two fields, where the Juha Kankkunen Road ends today.

In 1992 the stage was extended from its beginning by adding 3 km of new roads before the original start line. This road goes through a number tight of farmyards but can also be quite fast among the fields, as displayed by this amateur video.

The section ends with a tight corner and a narrow path through a farmyard, where it joins the stage at the original start line. This place caused some action in the slippery conditions of 1998, most notably the broken rear wheel on Colin McRae’s Impreza, although Juha Kankkunen also almost slipped wide and some other drivers had their moments.

The longer start was used from 1992 to 1999 and again from 2004 to 2012 and also for the ending on the only reversed direction drive in 2013. The two latest runs in 2014 and 2017 have had the start at the original location.

The following six kilometres are fast and flowing roads with crests but there’s hardly any ditches, leaving little margin for error. This is what Didier Auriol found out the hard way in 1989 when he broke the front suspension of his Lancia Delta in a stone hidden in the grass. Apparently the other drivers practiced the stage earlier in the summer when the grass was shorter so you could see the stones.

The esker section

At 6 km from the farmyard (or the original start) there’s a junction turn to right, which begins the dry esker part of the stage, characteristic for Lankamaa, but uncommon for Rally Finland. Instead of ditches, there’s practically banks on the sides since the road has been ploughed into the sandy soil instead of constructing a gravel base. There’s also lots of pine trees, some of them surprisingly close to the road, but not a single jump.

This very fast section is probably best known for Colin McRae’s infamous roll on his Subary Legacy in 1992.

The part of the stage was also cruel to Jarkko Nikara trying out in a Fiesta WRC in 2014, ending up in the trees.

Chris Atkinson was lucky in his unluckiness in 2012, missing totally the next corner from Nikara’s place, but incredibly not hitting the trees.

After 3,5 km of the esker part the stage reaches another farmyard with a tight left corner with some outdoor buildings quite close to the road. In 2017 the stage actually took a detour into the yard acting as a chicane, but it would be narrow and tight anyway. Here’s how the corner looked like in 1990.

After the farmyard the road becomes again more like the beginning, more typical to Rally Finland with more crests and no more banks, although not much ditches either, and lots of big stones on the side of the road. The change in rhythm and road nature can be baffling, as there’s no junction per se indicating such change.

Esapekka Lappi almost went into the trees in this section in 2017. Instead, on this stage he became a WRC rally leader for the first time in his career, on his way to his first victory.

Here’s an onboard by Colin McRae on a Focus WRC in 2001 for the first 5 minutes of the stage. Don’t be fooled by the YouTube title, this video actually contains first the Valkola stage and then Lankamaa.

The small roads

At 12 km from the original start the stage reaches a wider road. The versions from 1988 to 1993 turned slightly right with the flying finish behind the junction. These versions of the stage were 12-16 km long, depending on the beginning.

However, in 1994 Lankamaa was made a lot longer. The last junction turned now quite tightly left starting with a long lakeside straight. After that the road suddenly dives into the woods, becoming very narrow and twisty, again with banks instead of ditches. There are lots of hazards in form of stones and trees very close to the road. A bit too close for Mikko Hirvonen in 2011!

This narrow section continues for a kilometre, before joining another forestry road at a farmyard, again without going through a junction. The following road is a bit wider but a lot bumpier and rockier with many tight corners and lots of big stones both at the side of the road and buried in the road base. Juho Hänninen hit one of them in 2017, but luckily got away. Ari Vatanen was unluckier in 1994, ripping a rear wheel off and ending his rally short.

It’s also worth mentioning that after its introduction in 1994 the road has been improved a lot during the years. It’s still bumpy and rocky, but no so harsh for the smaller cars anymore. One Mini Cooper even turned once on its roof because the ruts were so deep. Still, some say Lankamaa shouldn’t be driven twice in a rally as the stones buried in the road base get dug up.

A rather strange incident happened on this section in 2005. For the most part this road has no proper ditches, but Gigi Galli managed to find one to drop his car into, and when Jani Paasonen starting after him reached the accident scene, Galli’s car was halfway on the road but it was too narrow to pass so Paasonen dropped into the ditch on the other side of the road.

In 1994 Kankkunen had another incident on the road that is literally his own hunting ground. Like said, the road here is pretty bumpy and Kankkunen was trying to get over two jumps at once like he had done on testing in the earlier years, but during the rally the road was damp and he couldn’t get the jump fast enough, causing another bump and loss of control, rolling the Celica. As it turns out, his brother was the first to help the car back onto the road.

The roll itself wouldn’t have been that bad, but the rear wheel hit a stone, got stuck sideways and there was no service until after the next stage. On the video you can also see the unlucky Vatanen three-wheeling after Kankkunen. Remember though that with today’s rules, you wouldn’t be allowed to continue at all without four intact rolling wheels.

After 6 kms of managing it between stones and trees Lankamaa continues with a tricky junction after a steep downhill – with a lake behind it! The following kilometre of fast and flowing road – which Juha Kankkunen has been building in the 70’s – is notable for having the first proper ditches of the stage. It ends with another tricky junction, but here we have two options for the two different endings.

Latomutka

In 1994 and most later versions the stage turns slightly right from the junction and immediately left, continuing Northwards. This medium wide road is probably the most typical Rally Finland road of the whole stage, with lots of crests and blind corners over them.

After one km, there’s a narrow bridge with a left hander right after it. In 1994 the stage finish was here, but later it has been continued further, like here in 1999.

Continuing a bit forwards on this road, we reach the infamous “Latomutka” (barn bend), the place of a thousand crashes. It’s a tricky left-right-combination made blind by a crest and a barn placed very close to the inside of the first left. One of the best known crashes is this one by Petter Solberg on a Focus WRC in 2000. As you can see, after the s-bend there’s a lake behind, into which he almost ended up.

Sebastien Ogier and many others also had some moments here in the slippery conditions of 2014.

Meanwhile, these heavier crashes are from 2010. It’s rare to see Al-Qassimi crash.

Alternative versions

Lankamaa has an alternative ending, turning left from the last junction instead of going to Latomutka. This ending has been used in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2017. It is probably the fastest section of the whole road network, reaching speeds as high as 180 km/h. Juha Kankkunen says you only need to brake three times during these last 2 kms.

The driving direction of Lankamaa has been reversed only once in 2013, starting from the Latomutka road, ending to the farmyard extension. On the video Latomutka is at 0:26 and the tight farmyard junction at 11:08 with the video ending to the same place where the first video of this blog post was shot at.

Conclusion

Lankamaa map

  1. Longer start
  2. Farmyard bend (McRae 1998),
    narrow junction, original start
  3. Esker part starts
  4. McRae 1992 crash
  5. Nikara 2014 crash, Atkinson 2012 crash
  6. Esker part ends, farmyard,
    road nature changes
  7. Pre-1994 ending,
    hairpin junction for later versions
  8. Road becomes narrow,
    Hirvonen 2011 crash
  9. Road becomes bumpy and rocky
  10. Galli-Paasonen 2005 incident,
    Kankkunen 1994 roll
  11. Downhill junction with lake behind,
    fast and flowing part starts
  12. Junction with ending alternatives
  13. Narrow bridge and corner
  14. Latomutka

The challenge of Lankamaa is not only the fast demanding and often untypical roads, not only that it combines fast and flowing with slow and technical, but it’s also the multiple changes of rhythm that need to be managed. The road nature can become different without going through a junction. The drivers needs to know which approach to use for which road, when to push and when to take it easy.

The ditchless bumpy roads with stones and trees nearby make it untypical to Rally Finland, almost reminiscent of Australia or Argentina. The numerous tricky hazards need to be marked well in the notes and/or to be memorized.

It’s also worth mentioning that at 21-26 km, Lankamaa has often been among the longest stages in the rally, or even the longest in 2008 and 2014.

It is still a question whether Lankamaa will feature on the 2018 Neste Rally Finland but I would guess and hope it does. The rally needs stages that don’t have a too high average speed – especially longer stages – and Lankamaa would fit that picture well.

Bonus

The Finnish rally radio crew did a preview video of the stage in 2017 with no less than Mr. Kankkunen himself behind the wheel. Sadly it’s only in Finnish, but if you know the language this is a great watch, the stories and descriptions of the road and incidents by him and the assistant clerk of the course Kari Nuutinen are super enjoyable. I wish they would do this for every stage!

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