The route of Rally Finland 2019 has been constructed for months in secrecy and today it is finally revealed to the public. This year’s route is quite similar to last year, like expected, but some things have been changed.
The 2018 route was an exercise in making the average speeds lower by adding more junction turns and a larger portion of smaller roads. It worked nicely as an alternative for chicanes with the ever-rising pace of the current specification WRC cars, but at the same time it changed a very large portion of the route.
If we look back, it seems the routes of Rally Finland have been developed in two-year pairs. 2014 and 2015 were almost the same with only structural changes, and similarly 2016 and 2017 were built on the same stage material. With big changes for 2018 and maybe something special for the 70th anniversary year of 2020 – not a big surprise to have only little tweaks for this year.
Here is a quick overview of what’s to come, but a more detailed route preview will appear once the rally gets closer.
The Vesala shakedown was a brand new addition for 2018 and it remains unchanged in its entirety for 2019. It may have been a bit boring, but technically it’s a perfect shakedown being close to the service park and having a start on tarmac, two access roads for spectators and a short loop back to the start.
I don’t think anyone can see a reason to change the best super special of the season, so Harju remains, driven again as the rally opener on Thursday and repeated at the end of Friday. And like before, the rally doesn’t contain any other super specials.
Much of Friday is also the same as the year before. The first change we see is that Oittila is driven now already as the first forest stage of the rally, in the morning, instead of after the midday service. At least this balances the amount of stages on morning and afternoon loops. Oittila itself retains its 2018 form containing a very challenging and technical forest section at the beginning and ending with a very fast road, which was reversed for 2018.
Moksi is better remembered as Surkee with a part from Vellipohja added in the beginning, containing a mix of very fast and very slow roads and many junctions. Urria has kept its small forest roads in the beginning and the end balancing the classic fast section. The small roads will most likely be now faster, having been repaired after last year’s rally. The newest stage of the whole rally, Ässämäki – not included in the rally in any form before 2016 – is also driven just like last year, with private roads that change rhythm suddenly from fast to technical. These stages may represent different eras of Rally Finland, but they have remained equally unchanged from 2018.
The only Friday stage to have actual changes on its route is Äänekoski. It’s still driven from North to South, but the changes begin at the sole junction of the stage. A new road has been constructed, adding some additional bends. The ending of the stage will also be new for the last kilometre, since the junction turns now left. This part of the wide public road has been used at least in 1980 and 1974, but always to the other direction. Last year Äänekoski was the fastest stage of the rally and I would guess it to be that this year as well.
Saturday begins with Pihlajakoski, but in a quite different configuration. The stage starts now on a smallish forest road North-West of the old start, then becomes faster for a few more kilometres and finally meets a wide public road for a short bit before turning onto a medium wide road towards the old start. The medium-wide forest road which used to start the stage, ends it now. To avoid making a loop, the finish line is now before the tight junction left and the long public road part. Curiously, the length has remained close to what it was in the past, just below 15 km.
Last year Päijälä received a new ending from roads used in the past decades, but this year the stage is back to its 2017 format, including a quick small road loop near the end. The average speed for this stage back then was 127 km/h, being then one of the few run without any chicanes. It’s also now the longest stage of the rally at only 22.68 km.
The Kakaristo stage has become slightly shorter by using a different road for the beginning of the stage. This medium-wide road is known by the name Rapsula from the past decades of rallying. It is the road where Markku Alen rolled his Lancia Delta S4 in 1986, costing him the win and maybe even the championship title. The stage was last driven in 1997, almost identically as it is now, with just a different title. The rhythm of the stage remains similar from last year, alternating between different types of smaller and wider roads.
The fourth stage of Saturday marks the only stage exchange for 2019. Tuohikotanen, added for 2018, is now removed from the itinerary in favour of another classic – Leustu. It’s driven in almost the same 10km form as 2014 when it last featured in the rally, but now the start is extended by 500 metres, including a junction turn and a narrow houseyard.
For this year the Saturday stages are driven in the same order on morning and afternoon loops unlike the past two years when we had a short stage both sides of the service and then Ouninpohja/Kakaristo as the second nearest stage to the service. One reason for this could be that Leustu is not as easy to drive when going to and from service.
The Sunday stages have remained just as they were last year. Laukaa was reversed last year back to a direction last driven in 1990, so it’s still quite new for everyone. It consists mostly of medium wide roads but has also some very fast sections, even a bit too fast for Esapekka Lappi, crashing near the end of the stage.
If I would have had to predict one stage that will remain on the route, I would have picked Ruuhimäki. The new arena section with the big jump looked great on TV and received compliments from spectators and drivers, so it would have been a weird decision to let it go. The beginning before the classic jump part was also new for last year, with a high number of junctions and even a short bit of tarmac. Last year Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier showed us that today’s WRC cars can take 60 metre jumps at the rally-concluding arena jump. Maybe this encourages also others to jump as long?
This is again a very good route, but I have to admit that as a route enthusiast it’s slightly disappointing to see so little new roads. But it’s also understandable that it’s not easy to replace good stages if you want to keep the level as high.
Also, it’s nice to get a stage wish fulfilled, if only two years late
Also, I hope this joke doesn’t realize, now that this junction will be a part of Pihlajakoski
Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen