Ruuhimäki – The bouncy sandcastle

Ruuhimäki will serve as the power stage for Rally Finland this year. It is one of the longest-lived and most used special stages of the Finnish WRC Rally. Let’s look at the infamous jumps and everything else that has happened there

Between 1978 and 2018 Ruuhimäki has been out of the rally only twice: in 1986 when the rally didn’t go east of Jyväskylä at all, and 2010, when the event was shrunk into a two-day sprint. It has served often as the shakedown, but still this has gathered always numbers of spectators and photographers.

In total, between 1973 and 2018 Ruuhimäki has featured in 40 editions of the rally. During the same time Ouninpohja and Laajavuori have featured 32 times, Urria and Päijälä 26 times, Lankamaa 25 times, Harju 24 times and Jukojärvi 23 times. Even if we don’t count in the shakedown usage, Ruuhimäki equals Ouninpohja in this contest.

The Jumps

There are five jumps in a row, so if you are looking for the ideal place to watch jumps, don’t go anywhere else than Ruuhimaki. It is the stage for jumps, all sixth gear. 

– Phil Mills, co-driver of Petter Solberg, 2003

Ruuhimäki has a series of spectacular big jumps on a wide public road. It is truly something that doesn’t need much introduction, being one of the most filmed parts of the Finnish WRC rally and the best example of Finnish rally jumps, a true bouncy castle made of sand – or actually clay, since the base of the road is very firm.

Ott Tänak 2012
Ott Tänak on the jumps of Ruuhimäki on the 2012 qualifying stage. Image by kyn_chung

The jumps look a bit different depending on the direction. The most common direction in the latter years has been Northwards, with the jumps at the end of the stage.

For a long period in the 80’s, including the classic Group B years, the stage was driven in the opposite direction, going Southwards. It made up a long jump shown here at 1:53

Timo Mäkinen has told that he once won the rally by going flat out over the jumps in a battle of seconds with Simo Lampinen. Colin McRae disagreed in the spectator guide of 1999, saying there’s nothing to gain in the jumps and also added that the key is to jump long, not high.

In the previous decades it was difficult to find the right speed for the jumps since the cars would make a lot of rebound jumps, but braking too much would result in time loss. However, the current spec WRC cars with their enormous suspension travel can take the jumps at high speeds, letting the cars be controllable right after landing.

Sometimes the cars can handle bigger jumps than the drivers. Notable injuries include that of Henri Toivonen in 1984 and Craig Breen in 2014, although Toivonen only irritated a previous injury and was able to finish the rally, but had to cancel the rest of his season.

In 1973 Ruuhimäki was the last stage of the rally, as it often has been, being situated close to Jyväskylä. Hannu Mikkola was leading the rally with his co-driver Erkki Rautanen in a Volvo 142 when he landed one jump too heavily. Rautanen’s back was hurt and he was taken to hospital at the finish of the stage. They had completed the rally with the fastest overall time, but Hannu was obviously disqualified going to the finish ramp on his own. The unlucky jump is shown on the video at 8:06.

Variations

In the early years Ruuhimäki was often driven solely on the main road, sometimes consisting only of the part with jumps. Such examples include the short 1983 and 1984 Southwards stages, and the 1980 Northwards one.

A 12 km Northwards version with no junctions was driven in 1981 with a hefty winning average speed of 130 km/h on Hannu Mikkola’s crude Audi Quattro. The beginning parts of this long stage were sometimes driven on their own as a stage called Taulu.

Ruuhimäki
Ruuhimäki versions. 2018 version (red), grey (1981) and 1991 (green)

Small roads at the beginning

In 1981 a private road was attached to the beginning for a second repeat of the stage, used also for 1982 and will be used for 2018. In addition to that, it was driven as the final part of 1985’s  Southwards stage.

The 1985 stage in turn introduced another sequence of junctions and small roads that became a persistent part of the stage, starting the Northwards stages or ending the Southwards versions. However, the 2018 version will be the first time after 1985 the stage returns from these private roads to the main road, although the driving direction will be opposite.

A 350 m part of the 2018 road will also be run on tarmac, just like in 1985. It’s unclear to me whether the road was paved already in 1982. The 1985 junction turn to tarmac can be seen on this video at 3:03, 3:20 etc. This year it will be run in the opposite direction.

The small road just before returning to the main road is very narrow and tricky with trees very close, as shown here by Evgeni Novikov in 2013.

The main road before the jumps

The main road has also good places to spectate before the jumps. A long tightening left-hander ruined Harri Rovanperä’s promising early lead in 2004

The same corner took Thierry Neuville as its victim in 2015 when the stage was used as a shakedown, but Thierry’s car was quickly fixed and he finished fourth in the rally.

The ending after the jumps

In 1991 another set of forestry roads and junctions was attached to the end of the Northwards stage after the jumps, ending at a nearby driving school practice track. Along with the jumps, the new ending of the stage is well shown on this 1992 live television coverage.

Various versions of this road network at the North end of the stage were used throughout the years, longest of them in 2002. The 1998 version, as well as the 2016 shakedown also started from the small roads. However, the 1999, 2008 and 2009 editions, being all final stages of the rally, omitted the use of these roads and used a similar version as the years 1989-1990.

Power Stage

Ruuhimäki will serve as the power stage this year, like it did in 2014. But many people may not remember that the first time Rally Finland had a power stage was also in Ruuhimäki, already on the 1999 event. It was labeled as “TV Stage” and it was the second such experiment ever. The three fastest drivers got points, and the whole stage was televised with reversed starting order, with retired drivers starting before the last WRC drivers. In a way, this was a prototype of Rally2, as we know it today, as well.

In 1999 it was outrageous to get points without finishing the rally or just by one stage result. The rally winner Juha Kankkunen was especially grumpy about it.

Back then there was no global WRC TV crew. Instead, each country made their own TV production, broadcasted all over the world. Thus, the Finnish reporter at the stage end wanted to interview the grumpy Kankkunen in English, him refusing to speak English initially, resulting in a classic interview.

This sort of TV stage experiments wouldn’t continue until a decade later when the power stage returned as we know it today.

The 2018 version

In 2018 we will see an updated version of Ruuhimäki serving as the rally closing finale with power stage points awarded under live tv cameras.

Like mentioned before, the start will be the same as 1981 and 1982 and also use the same route as 1985 but into the other direction, popping into tarmac for a short bit between two private roads before joining the familiar route of the stage from the past years.

However, the ending will be something unseen before. A spectator-friendly artificial jump has been crafted to the ending of the stage, creating a true flying finish for the whole rally. With the battle for tenths on the power stage, we could see some big leaps over that jump. The profile of the jump also looks familiar, further information should be announced shortly…

Now, you could ask is this necessary at the end of the stage with so great natural jumps.  In practical terms, it’s good to provide more popular spectating areas than the jumps which will get overcrowded easily. Also, having the cars do some slower turns will be easier for the TV cameras. The area should also provide a good placement for the podium celebrations.

Bonus

Here you can compare the onboards of Northwards Ruuhimäki from three different eras of WRC cars and drivers.

Meanwhile, this live TV coverage from 1987 features a pre-rally onboard video driven by no less than the maestro Timo Mäkinen himself. The stage was driven Southwards that year.

 

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