Rally Finland: from 2018 to 2019

The route of Rally Finland went through a lot of changes for 2018. How did the route succeed, what should be kept and what could change for 2019? Let’s take a closer look

Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen

Like mentioned many times before, the 2018 route was made deliberately slower in order to comply with FIA’s demands for average speeds and not to have to rely on chicanes like in 2017. In the end, the average speed of the 2018 rally was 122 km/h, something that was achieved as early as 2000 with a much faster route and much slower cars. In fact, the years 2015-2017 could be considered as outliers for being much faster than most of this millennium, with their average speeds as high as 126 km/h.

The 2018 route slowing was implemented by using more junction turns and more of naturally slower roads. The British journalist David Evans claimed it wasn’t a proper Rally Finland because the cars didn’t jump enough on these smaller roads. I would beg to disagree – the first minute of this video alone proves how spectacular they can be.

According to Autosport, some drivers thought it’s less safe to drive on these smaller roads compared to the wide and fast roads because of the proximity of the trees. At the same time, everyone agreed it was better to leave out the chicanes and that FIA should think again how to measure safety. The FIA rally director Yves Matton also wanted improvements, but as of now there hasn’t been any sign of a solution. Thus, we could expect the same kind of naturally slower roads remaining as the basis of the 2019 route.

The 2018 Stages

Based on average speeds, we can divide the 2018 Rally Finland stages into two categories, the fast ones around 130 km/h and the slow ones around 120 km/h.

TOP 5 Fastest stages in Rally Finland 2018 (first run)

  1. Äänekoski 130.9 km/h
  2. Pihlajakoski 130.6 km/h
  3. Vesala (shakedown) 128.9 km/h
  4. Laukaa 128.7 km/h
  5. Ässämäki 127.1 km/h

The fastest stage of the 2018 rally was Äänekoski, like expected, with average speed of 130.9 km/h on the first run and a bit more on the second. Pihlajakoski was close on the first run, but its second run was at the end of a long day with most of the drivers having very worn tyres in the exceptionally hot weather, resulting in a slower stage win than on the first run. Surprisingly, Laukaa was the third fastest stage with its long straights on the forest roads, becoming faster than Pihlajakoski on the second run.

TOP 7 Slowest stages in Rally Finland 2018 (first run)

  1. Tuohikotanen 118.7 km/h
  2. Oittila 119 km/h
  3. Urria 119.5 km/h
  4. Ruuhimäki 120.3 km/h
  5. Moksi 121 km/h
  6. Kakaristo 121.6 km/h
  7. Päijälä 123.7 km/h

Tuohikotanen became the slowest forest stage, also quite expectedly. However, it was a surprise that Urria was only fractionally quicker, thanks to the new very slow sections. The heavily extended Oittila was also in the same numbers thanks to the new rough and narrow beginning, although the last third of the stage was very quick.

It’s also worth mentioning that a similar list of the 2017 stages would have had the slowest one at 120 km/h and the next ones closer to 125 km/h, which means a radical growth on the slower end of the stages. Also, curiously the slowest stage of 2017 was Laukaa, one of the fastest ones of 2018, showing the dramatic effects of the three chicanes placed on the stage in 2017.

TOP 5 Junction turns per 5 km in Rally Finland 2018

  1. Ruuhimäki (4.05)
  2. Urria (2.85)
  3. Oittila (2.84)
  4. Moksi (2.25)
  5. Tuohikotanen (2.23)

Junctions seemed to work as a way to slow the stages down, proved by this list which shows that the five slowest stages were the five most junction-filled stages as well. For this list I have calculated a junction density index by dividing the junction count with a ratio that would make the stage 5 km long.

The power stage of Ruuhimäki had a total of 9 junctions over its 11 km length, 7 of them occuring on a 5 km section near the beginning of the stage. At the bottom of the list, Äänekoski had only one junction and Ässämäki three, making it respective junction density indices of 0.65 and 1.22.

It’s also worth mentioning that junctions weren’t used as chicanes through artificial detours like in 2017 or like many other rallies still do. Instead, every junction turn took the drivers to a new road, to another direction. The only exception to this rule was Pihlajakoski with its excursion to a double-entry junction and back from the other one, like going around a triangle, but this was only to retain at least one stage in the exact same form as 2017.

The 2018 roads

By watching the onboard videos, I have timed each individual road and figured out which were the fastest and slowest ones, using the first runs of the driver who made the fastest time on said stage. I have included all sections between two junctions that are at least one kilometre long. Because of manual timing and measurement, it’s not super precise, but gives some insight.

TOP 6 Fastest roads in Rally Finland 2018

  1. Petäjävedentie (Moksi) 2.8 km (161 km/h)
  2. Lehesvuorentie (Laukaa) 5.04 km (149 km/h)
  3. Moksintie (Moksi) 3.17 km (144 km/h)
  4. Raidanlahdentie (Oittila) 7.53 km (143 km/h)
  5. Varrasperäntie (Moksi) 2.79 km (142 km/h)
  6. Toimelantie (Tuohikotanen) 2.35 km (141 km/h)

The fastest road of the rally was the first public road part of the Moksi stage, by a clear margin. The average speeds on this 2.8 km section were as high as 161 km/h. In fact, this stage had three of the five fastest sections of the rally but slower parts pulled the average speed of the whole 20 km test down to 122 km/h.

Conversely, Äänekoski didn’t contain roads that were at the top of the fastest roads list, although the whole stage was the fastest of the rally. The stage was comprised of two roads that were both roughly the same speed with no faster and slower sections, maybe apart from the two long straights at the start of the stage. If they were taken off, the average speed of the stage could drop instantly by 5 km/h!

I was especially surprised that the fast main road of Urria had an average speed of only 137 km/h. Similarly, the wide public roads of Kakaristo and Ruuhimäki weren’t among the fastest ones of the rally. This is the kind of road that should be used more, because it is spectacular and apparently considered safer by the drivers because the trees are not so close. Instead, the fast narrow forest roads, like the ones on the Southern parts of the Laukaa stage and the fast part of Tuohikotanen, should be used less.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that Toimelantie on Tuohikotanen probably made the top list because the junction at its end is so fast. Combined with the short following bit of fast road, it would be only a 133 km/h average speed with proper braking at the following junction.

Timing the small roads proved to be trickier since the forest roads have more junctions and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish where a road ends and another begins. I chose to ignore some junctions in the middle of some of these sections to avoid clutter.

TOP 7 Slowest small roads in Rally Finland 2018

  1. unnamed forest roads at the end (Urria) 1.58 km (95 km/h)
  2. Valkeismäentie (Oittila) 2.22 km (100 km/h)
  3. Perälänmutkantie (Moksi) 2.03 km (101 km/h)
  4. Salavamäentie (Kakaristo) 3.53 km (102 km/h)
  5. Tampinpolku (Urria) 2.22 km (102 km/h)
  6. Mäkelänkyläntie (Moksi) 4.51 km (103 km/h)
  7. Kuoksentie (Päijälä) 4.06 km (103 km/h)

This shows that while Moksi has three fast sections, it also has two very slow sections (as well as two sections around 110 km/h), making it a stage of many different rhythms in 20 km. Like already mentioned, the new small roads at Urria were also among the softest and slowest with much loose gravel, making the stage average speed drop more than necessary. Thus we could for example use the faster 2017 beginning with the 2018 ending to get a 14 km stage with an average speed around 125 km/h.

Meanwhile, Ässämäki was exceptional in the sense that it contained rhythm changes within the stage, but between junctions. Both the first and the last roads of the stage contained a considerably fast section on a medium wide private road  – that could have made the top 3 – balanced by a more technical section that made the whole average speed of the road become lower. In addition, that stage didn’t have a wide public road part like most stages, but was still the fourth fastest stage in the rally. Again, the safety of these fast but rather narrow roads could be questionable.

Ideas for 2019

With so big changes from 2017 to 2018 and the average speed development being successful, I’m not expecting much changes for 2019. The basic structure will probably remain unchanged, as it’s hard to move the Kakaristo area stages from Saturday – the most popular day of the rally – or to take Ruuhimäki out from its power stage status with the excellent purpose-built arena. This means the rally will likely go South-West on Saturday and East on Sunday, leaving only West, North and South-East directions available for Friday. Thus I would expect only single stages swapped, reversed or modified. However, some possibilities for larger changes could be available for Friday. Here are (some of) my ideas. Remember that it’s all just speculation and product of my imagination.

Shakedown

The 2018 Vesala shakedown was a new stage to all drivers. Technically it was almost a perfect shakedown stage – it’s close to the rally base, starts on tarmac, has varying roads, two spectator access roads and short liaison back to start from the finish – but competitively the stage was a bit uninteresting. The first and last parts of the stage were very fast and wide with the narrow road in between mostly straight and flat out, again very fast with trees close by. In fact, Vesala was faster than any of the actual rally stages on the final runs.

Kuohu, only a little further from Jyväskylä, could be trimmed into shakedown length. Also, if Laukaa would not feature in the rally, it could make a decent shakedown albeit with a bit limited spectator access. Furthermore, parts of Mökkiperä could probably be used. Although, arranging a shakedown must be even more complicated than a normal stage.

Friday

Surkee made a return in the form of the Moksi stage with some roads added in the beginning. However, if the stage would start with Pöykyntie, another staple part of Surkee and Parkkola, it could keep the length almost the same and probably the average speed as well, as Pöykyntie is probably a bit faster than Mansikkamäentie, but the super fast Petäjävedentie would be used less. Pöykyntie can be seen, although in the opposite direction, on this onboard from 2007 from 7:00 onwards.

This stage should be again called Surkee, as the start and finish are common to Surkee of different decades, although this combination of roads has surprisingly never been driven before. In addition, this beginning would reduce the liaison from Paviljonki – although it wouldn’t help if Oittila preceded the second run like this year. However, Pöykyntie hasn’t featured in the rally in 10 years, maybe there’s a reason for it?

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 23.00.14
Surkee with Parkkola 2004 start and Moksi 2018 ending

With the Moksi stage containing parts of Vellipohja, I started to think about the beginning of Vellipohja as well, with the notoriously heavy jumps. The 2008 version alone could work as it is, but to include the popular Parkkola junction we could add some new small roads in between and then continue onto the Surkee route, in the direction last driven in 2010 for another 20 km stage with 10 junctions. The Parkkola junction would also be tighter this way, a way it has never turned before. However, the 1,7 km before it – driven as a part of Moksi-Leustu – would be practically straight road, but at least it would be a shorter super fast section than the 2,8 km on this year’s Moksi stage.

Vellipohja
Vellipohja 2008 start, through new small roads to Parkkola junction and onwards to Surkee 2010 ending.

Ehikki is one of the old classic stages, but it hasn’t been driven since 2007. The classic Ehikki is a bit like Ouninpohja –  a quite wide and fast road filled with bends and jumps – too fast on its own. However, maybe adding some small forest road and junction turns would work in a similar way like it did to Urria and Oittila? The resulting stage would be built on the 1993 version, but in the opposing direction, and preceded by 6 km of a small and twisty forest road. This 23 km stage would contain 6 junction turns, the same junction density as Kakaristo 2018, and many types of roads. As a long new stage, it could be run just once instead of Oittila.

The older Northern start of Urria could be interesting, seen on the video below, reaching the main road at 1:28 and joining this year’s stage at 1:55. There are some really nice long corners on that road. Although, this would mean the super fast main road part would be extended a bit, needing probably the 2018 small road ending to balance the overall average speed.

Depending on where the rally is heading towards, the ending could also be driven to the forest road beginnings of this and last year to make it a 17 km stage. Again, there’s a slight setback of no spectator access to the last junction and missing the good tight bends at the end of the main road.

Urria 17 km
Urria 17 km. 2007 start into new roads into 2018 start into 2017 start (reversed direction)

By the way, how would the legendary jumps of Urria look when driven in reverse direction? Would it be blasphemy? If the Rally started from Moksi/Surkee, reversing the above stage would work as a continuation, and most of it would be new to everyone.

A nearby stage Tiilimaa was a part of the WRC event only once in 1999 but I would like it to return some year. Here’s an onboard from a local rally in 2013 with a different beginning than 1999, but it would probably be even better this way. A smaller road begins at 3:03 and the stage remains narrow, although less technical towards the end with a couple of very deceptive places.

Instead of Ässämäki, maybe the popular Mökkiperä located nearby could make a return after some years off,? After all, it’s a similar stage run on medium wide roads, with surprising rhythm changes.

To alternate its route, some sections from a local rally stage called Rautiala could be added in. This onboard shows the route, meeting Mökkiperä at 2:35 and immediately turning away onto another bumpy forest road. However, it doesn’t seem like an improvement over the epicness of Mökkiperä. The best I could come up with would be coming from North, making an interesting very tight downhill junction to the latter part of Rautiala, but it would also leave out a fast jumpy section of Mökkiperä.

Another simple variation would be to reverse the stage again to Northwards direction like in 2013 and before, demonstrated here by Petter Solberg in 2007.

Another stage on the North-West region of Jyväskylä that should make a comeback is Palsankylä. It has usually had a rather modest average speed, but still provided also some fast and spectacular sections. Here’s an onboard from 2007 with no less than Sebastien Loeb behind the wheel. A series of big jumps occurs at 2:00 and a very big jump at 6:00.

With Äänekoski being a partner of the rally, it’s hard to see their stage go away if the partnership continues. Also, it provided us with some action in the form of the offs of Thierry Neuville and Teemu Suninen so it’s not like it would be a boring stage competitively either.

Being already the fastest stage of the whole rally, it could probably become a bit faster next year, especially if it the weather would be a bit damper. But like I suggested earlier, taking the fast straights at the beginning of the stage could bring the average speed down. Again, it’s a different thing if it makes it safer, but it seems the numbers do the talking.

There’s really no options for altering Äänekoski apart from changing directions – or using the Eastern part of the public road instead of the Western, but I’m not sure if it would be an improvement. At least the junction turning from South East to North would be blind behind a crest, but there’s also rumors of the whole junction being reconstructed in the near future (this could also lead into removal of the stage, if the work is still in progress in August 2019).

On the way to service from Äänekoski there could be space for one stage. Maybe the long single-run stage of the rally could be again Lankamaa? It would fit perfectly the route philosophy of rhythm changes and slow roads combined with fast ones. But I’d love to see Latomutka make a comeback!

Another option for Friday would be to make a circle around Jyväskylä, staying as close to the city as possible. It could start on the East side of Päijänne, using the Kärkinen bridge, to add some of the stages on that area. An example of this route could be Soimaharju-Hauhanpohja-Vellipohja-Mökkiperä. The liaison lengths wouldn’t be too long and maybe the spectator traffic would be divided between Korpilahti and Jyväskylä.

That route would have many options for a single-run stage in between. One crazy idea that I got was Ruuhimäki Sprint. In the style of Torsby in Sweden, this stage would be the first of three runs during the rally, but with a different beginning. It would only share the jump part and the newly built arena part with the double-run power stage.

Ruuhimäki Sprint
Ruuhimäki Sprint

It would also be possible to go to the Joutsa area for the whole day for stages like Lempää, Mynnilä, Hauhanpohja, Oittila, Vartiamäki, Soimaharju etc., but I doubt the Petäjävesi and Äänekoski area stages would be left out completely. Also, stages like Hauhanpohja and the Southern parts of the old Lempää have those fast and narrow forest road sections, which may be what the drivers consider unsafe.

Another exciting option would be to use the 2017 Friday format, repeating three stages within the morning loop and another three in the afternoon, dividing them between Joutsa and Petäjävesi. That would require a tight schedule and the long liaison to the Joutsa area stages would probably be too much for it to succeed, especially if the Ruuhimäki area stages closer to Jyväskylä would be preserved for Sunday.

Saturday

First of all, I must say that it’s difficult to argue against the excellent 2018 Kakaristo stage with the combinations of the different wide and narrow roads, with the return of the excellent Hassi road. If we just get the same stage as it was this year, I won’t be disappointed.

However, we can’t deny that the one thing everybody wants for Rally Finland is Ouninpohja. Like discussed before, we cannot have the modern classic Ouninpohja as it is just too fast for the current cars. However, the beginning of the stage – the actual Ouninpohja road – is only moderately fast and it could be made into this year’s style by combining it with a smaller road.

The only reasonable route available is Konivuorentie, a highly technical and narrow road used on the 2011 Hassi stage or the Konivuori stages of the early 90’s. In 2011 there was just 7 km of the road used, in the Konivuori stages all 9 km of it. Although, even just the junction turn and 1 km of the small road would probably be enough, and the rest could be a liaison.

Konivuorentie can be seen in this 2011 onboard from 6:00. There’s no access roads during the 9 km and in 2011 the spectators weren’t allowed at all for most of the road, so it could be problematic. But at least some tests were driven on the road this summer, so the road base should withstand rallying.

The 1986-1991 Konivuori stages were driven to the other direction, and they started East from Konivuorentie, containing a varying mix of smaller and wider roads. The 1986 beginning would be a good spot for the finish, making it enough of kilometres, allowing also multiple spectator access points at the end.

The name of the stage would be problematic. Historically, it should be Konivuori, but then again, the world wants to see Ouninpohja on the itinerary. How about Ouninpohja – Konivuori, like they do in the mid-European rallies? It would also notify people that it’s not the same route we’re used to seeing.

To have the Kakaristo area feature in the rally as well, I would make a second stage that would resemble the 2018 Kakaristo stage, starting at Hassi and going through the Ouninpohja small road to Kakaristo. Going to the 2018 Kakaristo start would block spectator access to the yellow house jump, but using the 1997 Rapsula route in reverse would work. Or in fact, both of these stages could be reversed as well, maybe even work better that way (except for the yellow house jump).

Konivuori & Rapsula
Konivuori 26 km (bottom) and Rapsula 18km (top)

Päijälä is another keeper, since the stage is reportedly organized very well and the area allows many route options. However, the modern beginning has been driven the same way since 2014 (except reversing in 2016) and could probably use soon some refreshing. Maybe reversing the excellent 2018 route is enough for one more year? However, if Ouninpohja/Konivuori is included in the rally, I would revert back to the 2017 version for the short liaison between the two stages. The 2003 version could be an option to drive quickly from East to North but it would leave out the best parts of the stage altogether.

Pihlajakoski was rumored to have an amazing updated version for 2018, but permissions to the roads were denied at the last minute. It would be great if that version could be obtained for next year, but otherwise the stage should take a year or two off, having also featured every year since 2014.

Juupajoki could be a good stage to replace Pihlajakoski. Here we have an onboard from 2007, driven from West to East. Again many rhythm changes from fast and flowing to narrower forest roads. Although, this stage would probably extend the liaisons unless it would replace Päijälä, which would mean roughly same amount of liaisons. Combined with Konivuori and Rapsula, it would make a good trio of stages for the Saturday leg.

Tuohikotanen
Tuohikotanen with Painaa 2013/2014 start and finish

Tuohikotanen worked well as a small stage both sides of the service. If the fast narrow section should be gotten rid of, using the start and finish of the 2013/2014 Painaa could be an option, but I understand it’s not as handy for driving on both sides of the service, approaching from either direction, but then again, the liaisons wouldn’t be affected much on these short distances anyway. This way the tricky double junction would also be approached in a different direction than in 2018, making it even more tricky. This stage would also have more access roads for spectators.

There are many options for a small or even long stage in the Jämsä area, including variants on the Himos/Vaheri road networks, the Moksi area or simply Saalahti, maybe reversed again?

Or then Puolakka, comprised of some roads East of Saalahti that have been used often for WRC team pre-event tests, and used in a local rally last year. The beginning is quite fast, but the small road starting at 4:25 is awesome with the mega jump at 6:29. Although, this is probably not the best stage for spectator access and other configurations like this or this would work only partially better.

Sunday

It’s easy to see Ruuhimäki staying as the power stage. It’s a great classic stage, looks good on TV and the new arena part works very well for the tourist spectators and the podium ceremonies. However, we can speculate on what will be run next to Ruuhimäki on Sunday.

Laukaa is very nearby, but we should get rid of the fastest roads. A parallel route was driven in the local Peurunka rally in 2017 and could be extended towards the 2017 Rally Finland beginning of the stage, going over the spectacular field bends and ending at the “Lossimutka”. The resulting stage would be about 11 km long. An onboard of the Peurunka Ralli stage can be seen below. It has a variety of forest roads with long straights becoming suddenly very technical at 1:47, reminding me of the Ässämäki stage. Although, maybe the stage should start at 1:40, after the long straights in the forest?

Just a stone’s throw away Eastwards from Ruuhimäki is Halttula, a stage driven in the early 90’s. The ending of the stage had a spectacular S-bend, but it could be approached from two directions, as shown on this map. Both versions would include a small road section, but their condition remains a mystery to me. Also, maybe this is even too close to Ruuhimäki, causing traffic jams?

A bit Southwards we meet another stage from the 80’s/90’s, Soimaharju. It’s a  combination of a fast public road and a narrow bumpy forest road and they have still been used in local rallies as of late. An onboard of the stage from 2015 can be shown below, with the 1000 Lakes Rally stage section starting at 2:20. There’s some big jumps on the public road at the beginning. The small road starts at 4:05 and there’s a tricky junction at 4:50.

It’s difficult to think of any other stages that would be near enough to be run twice during Sunday. But maybe a single run of a longer stage would do the trick? In that case, we could be thinking again of stages like Oittila in the 2018 form or Lankamaa. The long stage could start the day with Ruuhimäki being driven twice consecutively, on both sides of the regrouping before the power stage run.

Finally, there’s an option of a new beginning for Ruuhimäki itself, again driven in a local rally. It would be a bit narrower and more technical forest road than the fast-flowing countryside road of this year. Together it would make the stage about 2 km longer than this year. At 3:30 this onboard video joins the same tarmac road used on the power stage in 2018 and only 5 seconds later would turn right to continue on the same route.

As we speak, the actual 2019 route is most likely completed with just approvals and contracts waiting to be signed. Again, I have all my faith in the route team of the rally and I know they will do what they can to get a best possible rally for the competitors and the spectators. While I present my ideas, they must be already a few steps ahead, implementing something I couldn’t even think about. The 2019 route should be announced around March 2019, so there’s still many months time to speculate.

Which stage would you love to see in the rally?

 

EDIT 6.11.2018, added updated route suggestion for Vellipohja to remove the super fast section of Moksi 2018

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