Rally Finland is the fastest event of the season by a clear margin. Last year the route was heavily updated to be less outrageously fast and this year relies mostly on those updates.
Rally Finland, based in Jyväskylä, Central Finland, has been always the host city of Rally Finland or previously, 1000 Lakes Rally. Finland is in fact the only country who has hosted a WRC round every year since the series started in 1973, save for a rotation-based absence in 1995.
Two things are characteristic for Rally Finland: the high speed and the numerous jumps. Generally the roads have firm and smooth surfaces but there could be ruts on the small roads on the second runs. Typically the only low gear corners appear in the form of junctions.
The excessive speed became a problem in 2017 with the new regulations making the cars faster, especially on the gravel highways of Finland. That year it was too late to change the route so FIA demanded chicanes to be put in place. Last year the route was designed with the current cars in mind, with emphasis on constant rhythm changes, higher percentage of small roads and consequently a large number of aforementioned tight junction turns.
Another Finnish way to slow the cars down in the recent years has been the use of orange concrete blocks placed on the edges of the road. This also helps keeping the road in better condition by keeping the rally car wheels on the strongest part of the road.
Traditionally the 1000 Lakes Rally was a “sprint event” with only 500 stage kilometres, sometimes driven over the course of mere forty hours. Today’s Rally Finland resembles that by having short stages but in a high number of them. Last year Finland and Wales shared the season record of 23 special stages, but this year it seems that Wales will have one less.
Rally Finland is also one of the few WRC rallies where the stages are run in all directions around the service park. This year they are also situated rather close, going only a few times further than 40 km away from the service park.
Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen. See the route in greater detail at www.rally-maps.com
The Vesala shakedown has remained unchanged from last year, when it was taken into use for the first time. However, parts of it have featured in the 1000 Lakes Rally in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
The shakedown stage starts on a quite wide road with two nice bends. The junction at 1 km is very tight and tricky and turns onto a smaller road. However, most of this small road is driven completely flat out with the trees frighteningly close. The only interesting place is a jump with a luring line before the second junction. The third part of the stage is then driven on a very wide road with nice bends and crests.
Technically Vesala is a great shakedown by having a mix of roads, a tarmac acceleration, short liaison back to start or service and good spectator access. However, it does not represent the rally well enough by lacking in jumps and more technical bends. In fact, the highest average speed of last year’s event was recorded here on the shakedown stage.
The actual rally opens again with the traditional street stage of Harju in the center of Jyväskylä. It starts with two tarmac accelerations and a hairpin. This is how the Harju stage has always begun since the 60’s.
Next up is another tight junction and climb up to the hill of Harju on a gravel-surfaced park road. Further bends on top of the hill are then tackled on tarmac. Below the hill there’s another narrow gravel-topped park road with trees very close. Didier Auriol hit one of them in 1990.
The rest of the stage is again driven on tarmac with mostly straight streets connected by junctions and bus stops. Although some corners are tightened artificially and the longest straight is slowed down by a chicane, there is no doughnuts or repeating of the same sections like many other street stages have. And this is why I like Harju so much, in addition to the long history.
The Friday stages are driven close to Jyväskylä, forming a clockwise half-circle from South to West to North. All the stages are the same as last year with just small changes on one of them.
Oittila is the only stage to be run just once in the rally. Last year it was driven after the midday service but this year it opens the day. This way it shortens the repeat interval of the other stages and should ease up traffic jams.
Oittila was updated last year. The route which served as the power stage from 2016 to 2017 was mostly reversed to the direction used in the earlier decades under the title Mutanen. In addition, nine kilometres of new challenging road was added to the beginning.
The stage starts now on a narrow road which is quite flat and fast. The first junction appears 1.2 km into the stage and turns onto a road which is as narrow but rougher and has more vegetation on the sides. It also climbs upwards quite steeply.
The road after the junction at 2.6 km still retains the pace but now the crests are sharper, making the car bounce all the time. The corners also start becoming tighter, making the section very technical but still quite fast.
After a steep downhill the small road section ends with a tricky junction onto a wide road with a straight for 900 metres. The following video shows this section and the following hairpin junction (not a crash like the title suggests).
Now the stage joins the 2017 power stage’s ending. The farm roads are quite narrow with a good surface but three 90 degree junctions break the flow constantly.
After a short acceleration on the main road it’s time to turn onto a medium wide and firm road which is very fast. Especially at 14 km the cars can easily hit their rev limiter on top gear. Halfway to the section there’s a junction and then the rest of the stage adds some nice crests and bends to the fast nature, like this surprising place at 16.1 km.
Moksi is another last year’s addition. However, most it is familiar from the Surkee stage from 2012 to 2016 with the beginning from the Vellipohja stage from the previous decade.
Moksi is the longest stage of the day at 20 km and contains some of the fastest and slowest sections of the whole rally. Whereas Oittila had a long small road section at the beginning and a long fast section at the end, Moksi switches rhythm multiple times from slow to fast and back.
The beginning is contested on a rather narrow and firm road with lots of crests. It’s mostly fast and flowing with a couple of tighter corners on the way.
This road ends in a tight uphill junction where Esapekka Lappi spun and stalled the car last year. The following wide public road starts with a steep downhill and a nice long bend. This is the fastest road of the whole rally, driven completely on the sixth gear. Last year the average speed on this 2.8 km section was as high as 160 km/h.
The next junction at 5.7 km joins Moksi onto the aforementioned Surkee route. What follows is another quite narrow road, a bit rougher than the first one. There are lots of bumpy crests, rollercoaster-like uphills and downhills with also quite tight bends. A pair of spectacular tilted jumps appear at 8.7 km into the stage. Craig Breen had a puncture here last year whereas the junction at the end of the road took Jarkko Nikara by surprise.
Others who made the junction were able to continue on another wide road which is quite fast at first, then flat out for a while. What follows is the Parkkola junction, a very often filmed corner always crowded with spectators. In addition to Surkee, it has been a part of the Parkkola stages whereas Moksi-Leustu passed through it from the other direction without turning.
What follows is another wide and fast road but now with more cambered bends and crests. At 16.1 km into the stage a tight junction turns again onto smaller roads. In 2016 Sebastien Ogier made a costly small mistake here by dipping the front of the car too deep into the ditch.
The following road is again quite narrow, slightly rough, bumpy and quite technical. A hairpin like junction at 17.1 km makes the road a bit narrower. A pair of junctions then leads onto another road which is again closer to medium width and fast-flowing with constant jumps. A tricky long junction and an acceleration on the main road then concludes the stage.
After Oittila and Moksi the drivers have 39 kilometres of stages for the day. Only in 2003 the first two forest stages have packed more competitive driving. The drivers won’t get split times or be able to change the setup during the stages. This means that it’s crucial to have the setup and confidence working right from the get-go. It could also be tricky for the drivers with new cars. We might see some big time differences.
Urria is one of the 1000 Lakes classics, driven all the way from the 60’s. But like many stages of that time, it consisted only of the main road, and has been modernized later to feature private roads in the beginning and the end. Furthermore, new undriven narrower sections were added last year to bring the average speed even lower. This year we could expect the small road sections to be in better condition than last year.
Now the stage starts on a narrow and flat forest road which is quite soft and rough. At first it’s quite twisty but after 900 m there’s longer straights and faster corners. The previous Urria opening section is joined at 2.2 km. It’s wider and firmer and actually quite fast with long crests and constant downhill.
A junction at 4.3 km joins the stage onto the classic Urria road. It’s a prime example of farmer’s tarmac -– wide, firm and fast, loaded with crests. The big Urria jump comes at 6.6 km and it’s actually quite slow because it would be hazardous to jump too long.
A fast right over a jump known as the Hirvonen corner follows immediately. Subsequently at 8.6 km there’s a pair of square bends before the next junction turn.
The next medium wide road is where Urria used to end earlier in this millennium. However, last year’s edition added a new turn to even smaller roads at 10.3 km. This road is narrow and soft and was the slowest of last year’s rally.
Finally an uphill junction turn onto a medium wide and straight forest road completes the stage. However, the junction itself was tricky enough to stall Ott Tänak’s car last year.
Ässämäki represents the newest road material of the rally, having not featured in it in any form before the 2016-2017 Halinen stage. Compared to that, Ässämäki is driven in the opposite direction and includes another road at the end. Conversely to the other stages of the day this one doesn’t contain a wide public road section (except for a 100 m acceleration in the middle), being instead driven almost completely on narrower private roads.
The beginning is medium wide and very fast with some nice jumps. At 3.1 km there’s a surprising place where the forest is cut down after last year’s rally. At the same time the road becomes more twisty with long and tight corners between deep ditches. This is where Andreas Mikkelsen rolled his car last year.
The junction at 5.6 km makes the stage slightly narrower and more technical, more hectic. A long straight leads into a double junction which turns onto the aforementioned short public road bit.
The following private road is a bit narrower and much softer than the first one. Again it’s very fast at first, then becomes suddenly more twisty 2.2 km before the finish with a number of difficult square corners.
Äänekoski has been known in the past also as Koivistonkylä. Last year it was the fastest stage of the rally. However, it is not that it would be particularly fast, it’s just that it doesn’t have a slow section. For this year the stage has changed slightly at the end.
Äänekoski starts on a firm and quite wide road which is very fast at first. After the first kilometre, a constant flow of corners begins, most of them only moderately fast. Thierry Neuville misjudged one Y shaped junction at 3.2 km last year and slid off into a tree.
At 6.4 km there will be a literally new section, as a detour road has been built after last summer and now it’s instantly taken into rallying use. The grip level could change here and the surface is likely softer.
In the past three years the public road at the end of the stage has been used from its Western part, but for this year the ending is Eastwards. This means removal of the corner where Teemu Suninen had his FIA awarded hot moment last year.
This last kilometre on the public road is very fast with only one long square bend on the way. This section opened the stage in 1980 but to the other direction.
Last year Äänekoski was the fastest stage of the rally with 132 km/h of average speed on the second run. I predict it will be again the fastest one with similar figures.
The Saturday route heads South-West, further from the service park than the other days. Conversely to the other days, all of the stages are different from last year, one of them completely exchanged for another.
The day opens with a majorly updated Pihlajakoski. The stage begins now with nine new kilometres of roads which have probably never been used in any rallies. A spectator recce video can be seen here.
The first 4.2 km are driven on a narrow forest road. There’s grass growing in the middle, the road is bumpy and stones could be dug up. The road is rather technical with sharp crests, surprising corners and a few tight bends, as well as one square junction in the middle. It’s a bit similar in nature to the small road at the beginning of Oittila, and could be the most difficult section of this year’s rally. The junction at the end of the road is also very tricky, tightening in a steep downhill.
The next road is medium wide with a good surface. Although it starts with a narrow house yard passing with trees close by, it’s very fast and flowing for the most part. The next junction at 8.2 km is over a bridge, turning onto a wide public road. In fact, if we would continue now straight we would meet last year’s finish or the 2016 start. Instead, a right turn is made soon onto a smaller road which in turn leads into last year’s start after a short very fast section.
This medium wide and gravely road has been always a part of the Pihlajakoski stages. One recent addition around 10 km is a Rally Sweden type detour through a triangle-shaped structure of roads, resulting in three additional junction turns on an otherwise straight section. The middle one is shown on this video at 6:51.
The rest of the stage is quite fast and flowing with many slightly jumping crests and only one tighter bend on the way at a houseyard. The finish is now before the tight junction of last year.
With the long and fast public road part now omitted, the nature of the stage is different. It even affects the whole rally, which has now dropped its longest wide and fast public road section, something the whole route used to consist of mostly.
Päijälä is another classic stage, having been driven for decades. For this year it has been restored back to its 2017 format after a new ending was used last year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these roads are better, but the rally is now heading Northwards after the stage instead of Eastwards like last year.
This year Päijälä is the longest stage of the whole rally with only 22.87 km of length. Only in 1986 Ekojärvi was fractionally shorter longest stage of the rally at 22.23 km, although other WRC rallies such as Poland 2017 have also been built on short stages only.
The stage starts again with 10.8 km of roads which were introduced in 2014, becoming instantly a modern classic version of the stage. It starts on a medium wide road loaded with crests and bends and for the most part no ditches. At first it’s quite twisty for 1.7 km, then a faster section follows with very sudden corners, such as this one.
The road becomes a bit wider on a more technical and jumpy section in the pine forest at 4.9 km. The speed increases again at 6.1 km, concluding with a long jump at 7.7 km.
At 8.7 km there is a turn onto a wider and firmer public road. The pace is now calmer with a constant flow of long corners compared to the hectic rhythm of the previous section. The so called Ogier’s corner is at 9.1 km, most likely crowded with people waiting for crashes.
A double junction over a bridge precedes the classic Päijälä section, although in the 70’s and 80’s it was always driven to the opposite direction. The road is wide and firm but not super fast, also loaded with crests. At 16 km it gets particularly jumpy, resembling the classic Ouninpohja.
At 17.2 km there’s a sudden turn onto a narrow and rough loop of forest roads which was added at the last minute in 2017 to prevent using chicanes. On the way there’s a couple of junctions and other tricky places, like Teemu Suninen proved in 2017.
A tight junction rejoins the route onto the classic Päijälä road. Right after that there’s a tricky houseyard bend where Juho Hänninen rolled in 2014. The last 2,5 km of the stage is then just very fast.
In this format Päijälä works nicely with a moderate average speed without a long small road section, although most of it is still quite fast. Meanwhile, the roads also offer some surprising rhythm changes within themselves, like in Ässämäki.
Kakaristo received a new ending section from the Hassi stage for last year. This year the beginning is also renewed, resembling now almost completely the Rapsula stage from 1996-1997. Only the Finish is now slightly later than 22 years ago. A spectator recce video can be seen here.
The beginning of the stage is now on a quite narrow but firm-based fast and flowing forest road. At 1.2 km it gets a bit narrower in a houseyard with a junction turn. The following road presents a string of tricky bends, which caused offs for Malcolm Wilson and Markku Alen in their Group B machines in 1986.
At 2.7 km the stage joins last year’s Kakaristo and the Ouninpohja route. The new beginning section means that the Amazon jump is now left to the other side of the junction. The road here is wide and very fast, loaded with 6th gear corners. It’s not until the infamous Kakaristo junction that lower gears are needed for a longer period of time.
The following road at Kakaristo is quite narrow but fast in the middle of farms. There’s one tighter bend and then the artificial Tommi’s jump before turning from a 90 degree junction onto a long straight amid fields.
Soon the stage dives into the forest with the road becoming narrower, rougher, bumpier and more technical but still fast. There’s only a couple of tighter corners, but around 11.5 km into the stage the pace is turned down considerably.
After another very fast part on the narrow road the stage reaches a hairpin junction to turn onto another firm and wide public road, known in the past from the Hassi stages. In here the corners are well cambered and the crests big, making it a proper roller coaster ride. The infamous power lines corner appears at 16.5 km into the stage.
After the power lines corner there’s a short twisty section. Then the stage becomes again very fast for the last 1.4 km.
Driven this way, Kakaristo resembles Moksi by having more than one longer wide and fast public road section, whereas most stages have only one or none. There are also multiple distinct rhythm changes, and not always at junctions.
The shortest stage of the day is Leustu, replacing Tuohikotanen from last year. Leustu used to be a staple stage after its introduction in 1987 but it hasn’t now been used in the rally since 2014.
Leustu packs in a lot of slightly different roads into a short package. Most of it is narrower private roads, but never the slowest kind. There are also numerous junctions, but some of them are less than 90 degrees in angle or not even turning at all.
This year’s version is almost the same as five years ago, but now it begins 400 m earlier on quite narrow farm roads. The section includes a junction turn and a narrow passing of a houseyard. Right after the 2014 start there’s another junction turn onto yet another similar quite narrow road.
The nature of the road changes here into more technical for a while with quite tight bends and then big jumps. The stage dives into the forest but becomes quite fast and flowing. At 3 km the ditches disappear and the trees are suddenly quite close. This section of the road also seems a bit softer this year and has a couple of rough jumps. 1.2 km later the ditches return along with better surface. The following section has some nice tighter bends, the last one of them square.
After a long straight amid fields there’s a pair of junctions with a short acceleration in between on a wide public road. This is the best known location of the Leustu stages and also one of the most filmed places of Rally Finland, although it’s more familiar driven into the opposite direction, like here in 1991.
Next up is another 1.3 km of wide and fast road before diving into a narrow road through a junction on the outside of a bend, meaning you switch road without actually turning the car. A video tells more than a thousand words.
Now it gets quite technical with some tighter corners and narrow farmyards. This section ends at a tight junction back onto a wide and firm road for the final 750 metres, which is driven completely flat out. A curious detail is that the same finish was also used in 1986 for the Painaa stage, although the stages have nothing else in common.
Sunday takes the drivers East of Jyväskylä for two stages, both repeated. The stages have remained exactly the same from last year – apart from one junction.
Laukaa opens the day. It has featured frequently in the rally since its introduction in 1988, always with the same route, only changing the direction twice, now driven again to the original one. Resembling Ässämäki and Leustu, Laukaa is driven completely on narrower private roads which are still quite fast. In fact, it was one of the fastest stages of last year’s rally.
The stage starts on a quite narrow and twisty road with no ditches. At 700 metres the road becomes a bit wider and a long straight begins. A series of square bends follows, but after that it’s again faster and flowing. A pair of junctions breaks the flow but the road remains similar, very fast.
After crossing a tarmac road there’s a long square uphill corner at 8.2 km known as Lossinmutka (the raft corner), a classic place which is more challenging to the other direction. The following junction makes the road slightly narrower with a series of nice square bends amid fields and farms.
At 10.2 km there is the only deviation to last year’s route: a triangle shaped junction is driven from “the wrong side”. Last year it was just driven straight through but now it makes up a tight and slow left-right kink. The same method was used on the 2017 stage but then to the other direction.
The last 1.4 km of the stage is again medium wide and fast-flowing. However, it should still be treated with caution, as proved by Esapekka Lappi last year.
Ruuhimäki is another 1000 Lakes Rally classic, and actually the most often featured stage of the rally. It has also served a few times as the shakedown during this millennium. For last year new sections were introduced in the beginning and the end. In this format the stage has the highest amount of junction turns in the whole rally.
Ruuhimäki starts now with a quite narrow and flat road with three sets of tighter corners between longer straights. A bit of wide tarmac follows, but the section is straight and short.
The following part of the stage has a series of quite narrow but straight gravel roads stitched together by five square turns. This start-stop feeling switches into a more twisty section at 5.7 km with the trees very close to the road. Here you can see the difficulty of these roads.
The classic Ruuhimäki main road is joined at 7.2 km. It’s wide and firm, loaded with crests and cambered bends. The square bend after a flat out section at 8.6 km has been treacherous to drivers like Harri Rovanperä and Thierry Neuville. After a series of other nice bends, the five jumps of Ruuhimäki appear finally.
A junction takes the stage onto a medium wide forestry road where the stage ended in 2014. However, last year’s addition turns the stage again onto another medium wide road, custom-built for motorsport purposes last year. There’s no ditches but stones on the side should be watched for.
The stage then concludes with another custom-built element, a crest modified to resemble the profile of the Ouninpohja Yellow house jump. Last year we saw outrageously long and high jumps from Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier. Their cars didn’t break, so will we see even bigger jumps this year?
Road conditions and starting order
Rally Finland has smooth gravel roads where it is usually a disadvantage to be first on the road, especially in dry conditions. However, even the slightest amount of dampness could rectify the cleaning issue. Furthermore, if it rains slightly, the average speeds could be a bit higher than in dry conditions because the water ties down the loose gravel.
Regardless of Ott Tänak’s bad luck on the power stage of Sardegna, he will start Finland first on the road, followed by his championship rivals Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville. Last year Tänak was able to blitz stage win after another being only third on the road, but it’s hard to see Neuville take use of the same advantage, since Hyundais have never been that successful in Finland.
Out of the later starters, we can assume previous winners Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi to be fast on Friday. The surprise entries of Craig Breen and Hayden Paddon mean that they start last of the WRC swuad. It remains a question how well they can adapt to their new cars.
It’s also worth mentioning that the 2016 winner Kris Meeke skipped the event last year. This means that most of the rally is unfamiliar to him. Stages like Urria, Ässämäki, Oittila, Äänekoski, Ruuhimäki and Laukaa were introduced in their current form only last year. He definitely suffered on lack of experience on the Friday stages in Sardegna this year.
However, in moderately damp conditions, it could be that simply no one can stop Ott Tänak.
Here we have Tommi Mäkinen in Ruuhimäki on the closing stage of the 1999 Rally Finland. This was an early experiment at a power stage, and it was the first time ever live footage from a moving rally car was televised. The route joins this year’s stage at 0:30.
EDITED 9.7.2019: Added starting information about Craig Breen and Hayden Paddon. Added new information about the Ässämäki stage.
EDITED 17.9.2019: Added paragraph after Moksi about the length of the two first Friday stages.