As a part of RALLIRINKI‘s #ReliveRallyFinland2003 project, It Gets Faster Now looks back on the route of the Rally Finland 2003 with special previously unreleased route team meeting notes and drafts. The 2003 route represented the noughties style but had some ideas and solutions that reflected on the future, all the way up to the 2018 route as well.
Rally Finland 2003 resembled today’s format – it was run over four days with its centre and only service park situated in Jyväskylä. The 23 special stages – 11 single runs and six double runs – made up a total competitive length of 409.18 km, roughly 100 km more than today.
Since 1996 the route of the Finnish WRC event had become tighter and tighter as the rules changed. In 2000 the Joutsa area stages were dropped from Sunday while the Saturday leg was also shortened not to go past Orivesi anymore. 2002 was the first single service park year, and this meant that the route had to revolve very close to Jyväskylä, dropping the stages Päijälä and Västilä, leaving the Talviainen stage as the furthest point from Jyväskylä, with its start in Juupajoki.
The 2003 route was quite similar to that of 2002. The stages Keuruu and Talviainen were dropped. To replace them, some new sections were added to existing stages and some old stages resurrected from less or more years back, although no new stage names were created. In total there were 77 kilometres of road that weren’t driven the year before. About 17 km was never before driven and another 10 km used only so long ago that it was also practically new to everyone.
The WRC shakedown was held at Laajavuori, just like every year between 2002 and 2009. The format of the stage had been returned to similar as before 1983, with the finish going back towards the Laajavuori hotel, making the stage essentially a loop.
Meanwhile, Raiviokoski at the Kuohu area served the JWRC drivers a shakedown opporturnity. The 2018 route’s new Vesala shakedown stage is sharing the same first bit of road, but will turn left at a junction at 1 km where Raiviokoski continued right.
The rally started on Thursday with the twin-track Killeri trotting track super special. It has a questionable reputation within hardcore rally fans, but has still been always crowded with spectators, sometimes serving them some unwanted drama.
Killeri was introduced in 2000 and revised the year after. It would have a monopoly for all of the early 00’s as the only super special of the rally, until 2010 with Laajavuori making a comeback for the 60th anniversary rally. Killeri was driven for the last time in 2013, having also had some years off in favour of Jokimaa, a similar stage situated in the city of Lahti. Killeri was finally replaced by the much more popular and traditional street-park-stage of Harju driven in the middle of the city of Jyväskylä.
The competitive action of 2003 kicked off properly on Friday with three loops of stages. The first one consisted of the 20+ km stages of Jukojärvi and Kruununperä, with many different road types and junctions in between. Both stages had been driven the year before, but Kruununperä received now almost 10 km of new roads in the beginning, whereas Jukojärvi was shortened a bit from the beginning, the resulting format being used for many years in the future.
Four on the floor
After a service break, the drivers did a series of four classic stages South-East from Jyväskylä – Valkola, Lankamaa, Laukaa and Ruuhimäki. These technical stages were well familiar for the drivers. In fact, during the ten years between 1998 and 2007, every edition of the rally featured always at least three of these four stages.
The following video shows Colin McRae on the demanding Valkola stage in a Ford Focus WRC in 2001, followed by the first half of Lankamaa. This time McRae had a clean run, unlike his infamous 1992 roll or the farmyard crash in 1999, although the farmyard section of the stage had been already omitted in 2000.
Ruuhimäki had served as the shakedown for two years after its 1999 power stage experiment, returning in 2002 into the actual itinerary with a new ending that was trimmed slightly for 2003. This resulted in a version that would be used for the four following years as well. In the later editions the small roads at the end wouldn’t feature as largely in the rally until a brand new special version for the 2018 rally’s power stage.
The sequence of these four stages was the first time in the history of the rally that the drivers had four different forest stages between services, although it’s everyday business in today’s rallying. At that time, the limit between two services was 60 competitive kilometres, which is 20 km less than today.
Superlative speed stages
The night was concluded with a repeat of the morning stages and then another run on Killeri.
Petter Solberg’s co-driver Phil Mills had described the last 8 km of Kruununperä on wrc.com “just flat out”. He wasn’t wrong. During this evening run, Kruununperä would become the fastest stage of the rally, with the winning average speed of 133 km/h, clocked in by the to-be-rally-winner Markko Märtin.
Meanwhile, the slowest non-artificial stage would be Ruuhimäki with the winning average speed at only 111 km/h, with Himos and Killeri being slower but by man-made chicanes.
Saturday started with a unique version of Päijälä. It started near Poikuskulma like the 1995-1997 versions but instead of turning Southwards on the classic Päijälä road, it went North for the 2000-2001 finish. A similar route had also been driven in 1987 and 1991, but to the other direction and with a turn to the other way from the last junction. This was the last time the forest roads in the middle of the stage were a part of the Päijälä stage until they will return on the 2018 version, although driven again to the opposite direction than 2003.
New beginning for Ouninpohja
Päijälä was obviously followed by Ouninpohja, the only repeated stage of the day. Now it was shortened by moving its start forwards by about one kilometre.
In the previous decades, the Hämepohja junction would be close to the finish of Ouninpohja and was always crowded with spectators. It was also more spectacular into the opposite direction, going downhill through the long left-hander.
Ever since Ouninpohja had been reversed in 1995, the start would be always a bit before Hämepohja, near the original finish. However, with the moving of the start in 2003, Hämepohja would not feature on the stage anymore, except for a one-off in 2015. This was a final indication of how popular the Kakaristo junction had become, eating out the previous spectator favourite.
Other than that, Ouninpohja was business as usual, complete with the yellow house jump among many others. The technical small road after Kakaristo would become crucial for the end result of the rally, causing yet again trouble for Marcus Grönholm.
Here’s Tommi Mäkinen in Ouninpohja on a Subaru Impreza in his final Rally Finland, although far from the fastest stage times.
A look into the draft archive
The route team archives were exclusively opened for this article. Looking at the drafts, we can see that earlier route versions would have commenced Saturday with the Talviainen (aka Juupajoki) stage, but it was dropped at the last iterations due to time limitations.
This plan would have also meant reversing the Päijälä stage, followed by a partial version of Ouninpohja. The 2001 and 2002 rallies had included a partial repeat of Ouninpohja, ending after the Kakaristo junction like in 2017, but this planned version for 2003 would have started after the Mutanen junction, a lot like Ouninpohja Itä would become two years later.
The draft image also shows the second repeat of SS15 with the route approaching the stage from Northwards, further explaining the removal of Hämepohja junction from the start of Ouninpohja, as it shortens the liaisons considerably. This is also how the route would usually approach Ouninpohja in the following years (although Ouninpohja 1 in 2003 was still preceded by Päijälä).
An even earlier draft of the route, a “zero version” penned soon after Rally Finland 2002, included a loop consisting of the stages Lempää, Hauhanpohja and Leustu, meaning the drivers would have used the 1997-built Kärkinen bridge for the first time amid a rallying day. However, this plan would have to wait all the way to 2018 to realise, in the form of the Oittila stage, which will be driven in the middle of this year’s Rally Finland Friday leg as the only stage on the East side of lake Päijänne.
1000 Lakes classics
Instead of these initial theoretical plans, the second loop of the day marked the return of a true 1000 Lakes classic stage – Urria. It was driven every year between 1973 and 1987, almost always as SS4, after which it was put on the bench for 16 years.
The route team waited until the last meetings to decide whether to use the smaller private road in the beginning from the 1983-1986 version with or to just have most of stage on the big main road like before 1982. Quite naive considering the efforts this year’s route team paid in order to add junctions to slow the average speed down.
In the end they went for the private road start in 2003, with also a bit of smaller road added to the end. It was the right decision, giving the stage more variety and keeping the average speeds in control.
After a full repeat of Ouninpohja, the drivers had another 1000 Lakes classic ahead of them. Ehikki was driven in the same form as the year before, starting on the wide Palvia forest roads and continuing Northwards onto the classic rollercoaster road of Ehikki, into the opposite direction than traditionally. However, a loop of small forest roads , some of which is today in undriveable condition, had been omitted already in 2001.
Long or even longer stages
The final loop of Saturday started with no less than the 41 kilometres of Moksi-Leustu, the longest stage of modern Rally Finland, introduced in 2001. It contained many different roads from small, narrow, rough, soft and slow to fast, firm, wide and flowing, with all of 17 tricky junction turns.
Moksi-Leustu might have been the longest stage of the rally, but the “zero version” had an even longer stage in place of it, a 58,6 km version of Surkee! Driven also in the dark, it would have definitely been challenging enough for anyone! Sadly the archived “zero version” is only an itinerary with no further notes about the route, but the road network on the area is vast and would allow even a 100 km long stage, as demonstrated by assistant clerk of the Course Kari Nuutinen.
Special becomes super special
The final stage of the day was Himos, modeled after the previous year’s 35 km run of Vaheri-Himos, which combined the fast public roads and narrow forestry roads of the familiar Vaheri stages with the artificial Himos super special track of the 90’s. The 2003 stage was considerably shorter, missing the public road parts, but it was also extended with some additional turns on the skiing center service roads, the whole ending shown well on this 2004 onboard, containing most of the 2003 stage.
Combining a super special with a forest stage was a fresh idea in Finland. It was attempted before by taking a detour to the Josemora rallycross track on the Vartiamäki stage in 1991, 1992 and 1997, or rallying in a gravel pit such as Vesala in 1987. A similar solution would be used also later in 2009 and 2010 on the Kavala/Kolonkulma stage by ending the stage on a rallycross track.
Himos would feature in a string of versions during the following years, often sharing roads with Vaheri, but there’s a logic to the various versions of these stages: Himos always ends with the artificial track. Vaheri does not, but instead features always a good portion of Vaherintie, Himos doing so only on the 2009 and 2010 versions, which should have actually been named Vaheri – Himos for the sake of clarity and logic.
The rally would still have two loops of three stages left to run. Parkkola returned to its 2000 format sharing about 6 km with this year’s Moksi, whereas the modern classic stage Mökkiperä contained still the original series of rough jumps at the beginning, but had now received a new ending which would be used up until the latest years.
This Richard Burns onboard from Mökkiperä 2002 shows during the first 30 seconds how difficult a straight road can be with all those bumps – a total of nine of them in 1.5 km – especially with the relatively primitive suspension of the cars of those days.
Palsankylä was driven for the third consecutive year as a long 25 km version. It started with roads from a stage called Kelloperä used on the Historic 1000 Lakes Rallies and ended on the classic Palsankylä roads.
This stage included the infamous part of Palsankylä which Phil Mills called the six-jump road: “It’s very difficult; you have to get the first one right otherwise the other five become a big mess”. Another infamous jump is closer to the end of the stage, where reportedly cars have been three meters off the ground.
The last 13 km of the stage were the same in 2007 from where we have this onboard by no less than Sebastien Loeb.
The opening stage of the second loop, Kuohu, hadn’t been driven since 2000, but the stage itself was the same as always since 1992. This onboard from 2005 shows well its nature – narrow but fast road with surprising bumps making the car fly tilted.
Phil Mills described Kuohu on wrc.com as quite fast but without real jumps. He also added that “it’s quite narrow and there are huge rocks the size of double-decker buses at the side of the road in the first section”.
The rally ended with repeats over Parkkola and Mökkiperä. Thus, the last kilometres of the rally were new, only familiar from the first repeat of the stage earlier in the rally. This was the only time Mökkiperä was the last stage of the rally, with Kruununperä being often the last stage in the surrounding years.
We could be cynical and say the 2003 route was just another early 00’s edition with always “the same ol'” Moksi-Leustu, Ouninpohja, Jukojärvi, Lankamaa, Ruuhimäki, Himos et cetera and God forbid, Killeri. But like mentioned, it brought us the first ever loop of four different forest stages between services, the modern start location of Ouninpohja, the new beginning half of Kruununperä, the new ending of Mökkiperä, some new kilometres for Himos and the return of Urria. At the same time, it was the last year for the specific versions of Päijälä and Palsankylä, although all the other stages were repeated during the decade.
The following years wouldn’t introduce either any new stage names to the itinerary apart from Vellipohja (2005-2008) and Kakaristo (2008) and even they were both driven partially on roads used previously on other stages. More updated old stage revival occured near the end of the decade, for example Kaipolanvuori (2007-2008), Kavala/Kolonkulma (2009-2010) and Väärinmaja (2008-2010) before a major route revamp in 2011 left the noughties format behind for good.
Seeing the meeting notes and drafts of the route team shows how difficult it must be to put together a WRC rally route. We can only guess how often they must have had to give up on the high-flying artistic visions and fall back for “the same ol'”, or how long it can take for an idea to be realised. Considering this, we must appreciate even harder the big changes on this year’s route.
This week RALLIRINKI will relive the action that happened during Rally Finland 2003 through series of “live tweets” from the event – written as if the event would take place right now. Tweets are written after a notable research into all material made from Rally Finland 2003, varying from magazine and newspaper articles to team newsletter, as well as to official organization and FIA documentation and correspondence. Tweets include about 200 previously unpublished photos from the event.
To accompany the Twitter feed there will be also a blog post published every day. Full interviews of Markko Märtin (long in-depth discussion about the event) and Marcus Grönholm along with other insights into the 2003 edition of Rally Finland will appear every evening from Monday to Sunday. This route analysis is It Gets Faster Now’s much respected contribution to the project with huge thanks to Kari Nuutinen for supplying the background material.