Route Preview: Rally Finland 2018

The route of Rally Finland has a lot of new for this year. Most of it was made in order to get rid of last year’s chicanes but the resulting route is also very interesting and challenging in many ways. Let’s take a closer look.

The Rally Finland 2017 was notorious for its chicanes which had to be put up to control the average speed of the new generation World Rally Cars. However, the route was planned and approved before anyone knew how fast the cars would become. FIA’s alerts went off after Rally Sweden, but by then it was too late to make drastic changes to the route.

Chicane in Rally Finland 2017
One of the numerous chicanes in Rally Finland 2017. Photo by Tapio Lehtonen

For 2018 the route team’s desk was cleared with a mission to leave the chicanes out and control the speed naturally instead.  This resulted in a heavily updated edition of the rally with 70% of roads that weren’t driven last year, at least not to the same direction. In total the stages will include about 20 km of road that haven’t been used for rallying on WRC level before.

Adding new roads and reversing old stages are already a way to reduce average speed, but the added roads are for the most part narrower, rougher, softer, more twisty – to put it simply, slower. At the same time the amount of slow junction turns is also increased considerably, with the stages typically alternating between different types of road and driving paces every few kilometres, making it also challenging for the drivers to find the right rhythm.

Another change in the nature of the rally lies in the lengths of the stages. Last year four different forest stages were under 10 km long. Now there’s only two of them with the shortest one being Äänekoski at 7.71 km, yet longer than any of the four short stages from last year. Meanwhile, 43% of the stages are now 10-15 km long in comparison to 32% from last year. At the same time the stage count decreased from 25 to 23.

Last year the first run of Jukojärvi ruined the rallies of Sebastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Hayden Paddon. This year the stage is dropped altogether from the route along with the stages Lankamaa, Saalahti and Lempää. Ouninpohja and Halinen do not feature on the itinerary, but good parts of their routes are used as parts of other stages.

Thursday

Since Ruuhimäki is drafted into the actual rally again, a new shakedown is needed. Vesala is a new route, although parts of the stage have been driven between 1987 and 1990. It features a couple of tight junctions and alternates between narrow and wide roads, giving a good example of what’s to come. Also, it starts on tarmac.

The rally opening city/park stage Harju remains mostly unchanged. In my opinion it is the best super special of the season, with long tradition and natural route without Gymkhana elements, although more and more man-made chicanes have been added throughout the years. Hopefully they will stay in place and penalties won’t be issued.

Friday

Moksi is the longest stage of Friday at just over 20 km. It is a new combination of familiar roads, representing well the route philosophy of this year. The speed is kept in control by having enough junction turns and alternating between different roads, most of them small and technical, with still plenty of fast stuff in between.

Moksi 2018
Moksi 2018 (red), Surkee 2016 (blue) and Vellipohja 2008 (green)

The first 3 km are driven on a quite narrow, twisty and bumpy road that has been used as a part of the Vellipohja stage, last in 2008. After that the road turns into a big public road for another 3 km, also driven as a part of Vellipohja 2005 and 2006. This section could become the fastest in the whole rally, as the road is very wide without many tight bends or big jumps. The small road and half of the public road can be seen on this 2007 onboard from 4:41 to 7:01.

Near the 6 km mark the stage joins the route of Surkee in the form it was last driven in 2016. It was a predictable choice, as Surkee has been the slowest forest stage of the latest decade. For example in said 2016 its winning average speed was only 113 km/h whereas all other forest stages that year had at least 123 km/h.

The Surkee stage section of Moksi starts with 4.5 km of narrow and twisty road, followed by two 3 km bits of fast and flowing public roads, with the popular spectating place midway at the Parkkola junction. Evgeni Novikov showed in 2012 that it’s sometimes hard to remember which way to turn!

Finally the Moksi stage concludes with the small road loop near the lake Surkee, adding lots of tricky corners and four more junctions –  the first of them which took Sebastien Ogier by surprise in 2016.

It’s also worth mentioning that this year’s Moksi stage has almost nothing in common with the ones from the previous decades. Like said, it’s more of a Vellipohja-Surkee combination, but revolving around the village of Moksi, thus a name well chosen.

Junctionfest at Urria

I was quite convinced Urria would be a too fast stage for this year’s rally without chicanes, but I was wrong. The classic stage has stayed thanks to new roads added to the beginning and the end of the stage.

The clerk of the course Kai Tarkiainen was especially excited about the first 2 km of new road at the beginning of the stage, saying it’s untypical to the rally, being technical and narrow but quite fast with a good surface.

Urria 2018
Urria 2018 (red) and 2017 (turquoise)

Before joining the classic Urria main road with the big jump and Hirvonen’s corner, the stage uses 2 km of the same forestry road as last year, the road which Riku Tahko has described as his all-time favourite section of the rally. Most of it has been cut off now though, probably because it is quite fast for a forestry road, with the fastest drivers clocking in average speeds of 128 km/h last year.

The added new roads mean that the stage has now four junctions more than last year, six in total, on a 12 km stage. However, the 5 km of the fast main road will be driven without any junctions and then the last 3 km will have four junctions between smaller roads.

This video from a local winter rally in 2014 shows the new small roads at the end of Urria from 6:27 to 7:46 . It doesn’t seem especially difficult, but it could be damp and soft in the shadows of the forest, especially on the morning run. At 7:46 the stage will turn left instead of right on the video, with a short acceleration until the flying finish.

Class of 2016 revisited

2016 introduced three new stage titles for the rally: Halinen, Äänekoski-Valtra and Oittila, with Halinen being a new stage then and the two latter having been driven decades ago as Koivistonkylä and Mutanen, respectively. For 2017 both were included again in the route with double runs for each stage and this year we see them driven reversed with some additional changes.

Halinen has become Ässämäki – this year’s only completely new stage name –  by  reversing and adding about 4.5 km of new roads into the end, resulting in a short acceleration on a wide public road between two junctions. This video shows the same route as the beginning of Ässämäki until 7:00, where it would turn left. Notice the jump straight around 3:00 and the deceptive corners at 6:06 and 6:19 just before reaching the start of last year’s Halinen.

The new road not present on the video has a narrow bridge and a series of tricky-looking square corners around the 11 km mark, some of which could be surprising. All in all, this stage will present a different rhythm by being medium fast all the way through, without any super fast or extremely technical sections.

Äänekoski has dropped the sponsor from its moniker*. It could be on course to be one of the fastest stages in the rally, consisting mostly of a fast medium wide private road and a short bit of very fast public road. 130 km/h was reached already with the 2016 cars or last year with one chicane that won’t be there this year, but obviously reversing means it’s a new stage and won’t be driven instantly as fast. Also, reversing means that corners appear differently, such as the left-hander at 5.5 km, which will now drop into the downhill behind the crest quite surprisingly.

Like said, Äänekoski is the shortest forest stage of the rally and also with the least amount of junctions – only one of them, even that being near the end of the stage. Thus, most of the stage consists of one road, the way the 1000 Lakes Rally stages were usually designed up to the mid 80’s, but for this year it’s more of a novelty.

The aforementioned four stages make up the morning loop, and will be driven again on the afternoon loop. However, before the repeats after the midday service, there’s a single run over Oittila, being the only stage in the rally to be run only once. The stage has been updated heavily to become a stage of extremes, with multiple flat-out sections balanced by very technical roads and numerous tricky junctions. At the same time, its length has been pumped up to 19 km.

Oittila
Oittila 2018 (red), 2017 (turquoise) and 1994 (green)

Oittila starts now with 9 km of new roads, being the longest section which hasn’t been used before in the rally. The first 8 km are driven on a small road going over a small mountain, generating 120 m of ascension and a very steep descend. This could be one of the most difficult sections of the whole rally.

To get an idea of the challenge, check out this onboard from a local winter rally from 2011 where the same stage was driven with just 1.4 km missing from the start. It gets especially bumpy at 1:10 and the bends at 2:20 and 4:22 are surprisingly tight. A steep downhill starts at 4:34 leading to a public road reached trough a tricky double junction at 5:36.

After the mountain adventure a total rhythm change follows with a 900 m flat-out straight concluding into a hairpin left, joining last year’s route where the TV cameras were last year, shown on the video below. The cars came from the other direction with a shorter acceleration behind, but still Thierry Neuville had trouble estimating the braking point.

The stage continues now over last year’s podium location back onto the bulk of last year’s route, driven in the opposite direction. This same direction was also driven in 1000 Lakes Rally between 1988 and 1994, but it stretched then even longer. Now the 2018 finish is instead in the same place as the 2017 start.

This video from a local rally in 2013 shows this year’s route from 11.7 km to the finish. It starts with a couple of rev limiter tests, as there are no more detours around a trash bin and to the sand pit access road – the latter where Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville spun last year. The long junction shown at 2:45 could be now deceptive to this direction, with a surprising drop at the end. The end section of the stage also has some nice fast and flowing bends.

The pop by to Oittila in the middle of the day makes it also the first time the Kärkinen bridge over lake Päijänne is used between two stages. It has been previously used between service and stages, but not in the middle of a loop. However, it’s not the first time the lake itself was crossed between two stages. This happened in 1975 and 1976, but back then the rally cars had to use a small ferry to get over the lake, as the bridge wouldn’t be built until 20 years later!

As usual, Friday is concluded by another repeat of Harju, making it ten stages for the day. With Oittila already under the belt, the afternoon loop will be 22 km and two standing starts longer than the morning.

Saturday

Päijälä is the longest stage of the rally at just under 24 km, with 18 first of them the same as last year. The rest are familiar from decades back, making it a mix of roads from different eras. It also makes this stage living up to the style of this year, creating an interesting combination of different roads and lots of junctions, a total of eight of them.

The stage starts with 8.7 km of an excellent twisty and technical but still fast road with a big jump towards the end of it. This and the following section were driven the first time in 2014, making it the “modern” part of the Päijälä stage. OC Veiby crashed here last year in a surprisingly dropping fast bend.

The next left junction on public road caused a spin for Mikko Hirvonen in 2014. The following 1.5 km of public road is medium wide and turns all the time. One of the first turns is the right hander where Sebastien Ogier once crashed during a test, giving his name to the corner. It surprised many drivers last year as well.

What follows next is a double junction over a bridge, after which the route joins the classic old Päijälä stage. It is wide and firm surfaced, with more crests and blind corners over them and a couple of nice jumps. It gets especially intense around the 16 km mark, becoming almost as much of a rollercoaster as Ouninpohja.

The turn to the narrow and rough small roads at 17 km can be sudden just as the speed and intensity has been getting harder. It was enough to surprise Craig Breen with an overshoot.

In the middle of the small road loop – added last year instead of a chicane – the stage continues on new paths. These narrow private roads were used on the stage often in the 90’s, but not after 2003, and even then to the opposite direction. In fact, the last time these roads were used in this direction was back in 1994.

Near the end of the stage, just before the last junction, a narrow wooden bridge is crossed in the middle of a bend. In 1993 Ari Vatanen managed to leave a trail of yellow paint onto the railing without a dent on the brand new Subaru Impreza.

The last 1.8 km are again a bit faster, providing yet another rhythm change. This road used to be a part of the Poikuskulma stage in the early 80’s and it’s known for being the road to Hannu Mikkola’s summer cottage.

Päijälä 2018
Päijälä 2018 (red), 2017 (turquoise) and 1994 (grey)

The sole survivor

Pihlajakoski has remained the same from last year, being the only such forest stage. Still, it’s a rather new stage, having being driven to the other direction until 2016, starting now with the excellent fast private road and continuing with the very fast public roads with some spectacular bends over crests, but only one proper jump.

This stage will contain the only forest stage chicane of the rally, the triangle junction detour at 6.2 km, which was also one of last year’s additions. However, I’m convinced this will be the fastest stage of the rally, perhaps the only one along Äänekoski which will exceed 130 km/h. At the same time, it will just bring more variety and present a different challenge for the drivers. Now they must push even closer to the limit because the pace notes are refined from last year. Also, Ogier hasn’t done this stage in this direction at competitive speed, and Latvala only once.

No Ouninpohja – everything went better than expected

Like the headlines have screamed, there is no Ouninpohja this year in the itinerary. However, Kakaristo is yet another variant on the stages created on the road network of the area. It contains about 14 km of the modern Ouninpohja route. It is another example of alternating between different types of roads and paces, mixing old and new, although none of it is never before driven. It is also the second-longest stage of the rally, almost as long as Päijälä.

The stage begins like the 2014 version, starting from the narrow Vuorisjärventie for 1.5 km, continuing onto softer forest roads for a few more kilometres and joining the last year’s Ouninpohja route at the super fast Okskulmantie just at its best part – the Galli/Sokolov corner and the sideways Amazon jump. The popular Kakaristo junction and Tommi’s jump are obviously next, followed by the small road of Pitkäjärventie, narrow and bumpy but quite fast and thus very difficult. It was last driven in this direction in 2015, omitted from last year’s rally altogether.

Kakaristo2018
Kakaristo 2018 (red), Ouninpohja (brown), Kakaristo 2014 (green) and Hassi 2011 (blue)

However, the ending is where it gets interesting, the stage now takes a long hairpin right and continues Southwards instead of North, into 4.5 km of the wide and firm-surfaced  rollercoaster of the Hassi stages, last driven in 2011. This video shows the said section from 0:26 to 2:30 with its surprising bends over crests and quick altitude changes. The dropping left-hander at 1:14 is a classic, as is the power lines corner following soon at 1:28.

The hairpin before the Hassi road could also be interesting to watch, shown here on a video from 1997 when the same route was driven on the Rapsula stage

The aforementioned power lines corner – a fast left over a jump – took many victims in 2011. I would expect this to be a spectator favourite, although it requires a walk of a couple of kilometres.

Apparently some foresting has been done on this road, making the scenery look different so these videos might be already very outdated, but it will probably just make up new interesting situations and at least better spectating views.

Why isn’t this stage then called Ouninpohja? Well, the organizers have a principle to call a stage Ouninpohja only if it uses the Ouninpohja road (the one with the yellow house jump). In my opinion the Kakaristo 2018 stage is even more interesting and challenging than last year’s Ouninpohja, with the addition of the smaller roads and the ending on the Hassi road, the latter of which has been driven only three times in the past 25 years. I would say everything went better than expected!

Lunchtime sandwich

Tuohikotanen, the shortest stage of the day, is driven as the last stage of the morning loop and the first stage of the afternoon loop, making a sandwich with the midday service. Thus it’s a good place to stay for both runs. The other stages of the day will also have plenty of entertainment for the whole day in the form of the national Vetomies rally, driven between the two WRC runs.

The stage title Tuohikotanen featured once in the rally in 1987. Its namesake road, a twisty and narrow path, was used on the Leustu stage in 1988-1990 and Vellipohja in 2005-2006. Now it’s back again, combined with familiar roads from the area with a new ending and a string of junctions.

Tuohikotanen2018
Tuohikotanen 2018 (red), Horkka 2016 (blue), Leustu 2012 (light green) and Vellipohja 2006 (grey)

Tuohikotanen starts where Painaa and Horkka from the recent years ended, but the bit of road has never been driven in this direction. However, a latter narrow but fast part is shared from those stages in the same direction just after completing the Tuohikotanen road, being the only part in the stage that could be familiar to the current drivers.

This video from the Leustu stage in 2012 shows the route of the Tuohikotanen stage from 8:35 (where Tuohikotanen will approach from the right) to 9:38 (where Tuohikotanen will turn left). Also the part from 10:22 to 10:37 will be featured earlier in the stage, Tuohikotanen coming from the left and turning right on top of the hill.

After the left turn from the junction at 9:38 on the video we come onto undriven roads, although Leustu and Painaa used to start here in the 80’s, but again, going where we’re coming from. Another new junction turn into wide public road follows soon and the final acceleration contains a crest that could turn into a huge jump.

Sunday

Sunday begins with the Laukaa stage, but turned now into the opposite direction, last driven this way in 1990. Except for the reversing and slight finish location tweaking, Laukaa has always followed the exact same route. It has never been one of the fastest stages, although there are two quite long straights, one of them going over a tarmac main road, both of which were cut last year by chicanes.

The ever popular ferry corner is now driven uphill and won’t probably be as spectacular. Instead, I would say the most interesting parts of the stage are the following series of 90° bends on the fields at the Northest part of the stage.

Comparing to the other stages of the rally, Laukaa could be described as “easy”. However, it’s the best possible place for an easy stage, not to cause any unwanted drama for the power stage. Although, if it’s as tense as in Sardegna, we could see some daring drives on this stage as well!

Jump for joy – and power stage points!

The rally-concluding bonus-points-awarding power stage this year is Ruuhimäki, stretched longer than usually. The first 4 km are new, going from a small road to a short tarmac bit and through new junctions to join the usual beginning of the stage. In fact the exact same route was driven in 1985, but then into the opposing direction.

The following series of junctions and narrow roads might be familiar from decades, but still tricky. In fact, the stage contains a total of 9 junctions over 11 km, making it the highest junction density of the whole route.

After joining the main road there’s a long left hander at 8.6 km where the chicane was on last year’s shakedown. This year it will be driven again without artificial slowing down. Thierry Neuville should remember it well, although he probably would like to forget this 2015 shakedown incident.

Probably the most famous single piece of road of Rally Finland – the Ruuhimäki jumps are passed as usual. However, a newly built ending follows, shown partially here at 4:40. It is consisting of a couple of tight bends and an acceleration for a big artificial jump at the finish line, making it a true flying finish with a good spectator view. The jump is not just built at a random location, but will be a part of a bigger motorsports arena built by the city of Laukaa, hosting also the podium celebrations this year. It will be interesting to see how flat out the drivers will jump in pursuit for power stage points, where every fraction of a second counts!

Road conditions

Finland does have a slight road sweeping effect but not as bad as on events like Mexico or Sardegna. However, the two first starters, Neuville and Ogier aren’t going to be the favourites anyway.

Last year we saw a big battle between the Toyotas of Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi on the first day with Lappi having some advantage by starting at the back. This year the tables are turned with Lappi starting fourth and Latvala seventh. Their teammate Ott Tänak starts third and last year’s challenger Teemu Suninen down from tenth. Also, Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen could benefit from their late starting positions.

It’s more than usual to have some rain over Rally Finland. It could also change the game for the road order as well, and sometimes having rain even increases the grip, as long as water is not running on the road.

In general the roads in Finland are in good condition and take well two runs without deep ruts being created or big stones dug up. However, the newly added small roads will be a bit of a question mark in this sense, especially if they haven’t been rallied on in the latest years. After all, we don’t want this rally to be decided on unlucky punctures.

Conclusion

I think the 2018 route is a successful update, doing what the organizers were aiming at. Most likely FIA won’t demand chicanes on the stages and the average speeds won’t be too high, but there will still be a decent amount of fast corners and jumps. The numerous junctions will also provide multiple entry points to the stages for spectating.

The amount of new roads or roads from decades back will make the competition more equal. New or reversed roads will be equally unknown to everyone compared to roads like Ouninpohja or Jukojärvi which experienced drivers such as Jari-Matti Latvala probably could drive without pace notes.

At the same time, the amount of smaller roads and junctions means that driving will have more emphasis on the technical side. Valuable tenths of seconds can be gained in the slow junctions just as much as on the fast parts. It’s also good to remember that although we talk about slower roads for this year, they are still often faster than most of the gravel roads in other rallies.

I think the crucial stages will be Moksi, Oittila, Päijälä and Kakaristo – long stages with very fast sections blended with very technical sections and lots of kilometres not driven last year. In addition to that, the reversed and never before driven sections can provide some surprises.

Before the rally we should still get complete recce videos from the organizers, as well as a handful of stage presentation videos by the wonderful YLE Ralliradio. I will probably make a whole bonus blog post after viewing them.

It’s only weeks until the rally starts, can’t wait!

Route at Rally-Maps

Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen / Rallirinki

* = Actually you could say Äänekoski still has the sponsor in its title since the city of Äänekoski is now a partner of the rally, just like the city of Laukaa.

3 thoughts on “Route Preview: Rally Finland 2018

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