The Rally Finland routes returned to a tighter configuration in 2014 after three experimental years. At the same time, Sundays were brought back to the program. The speeds became higher than ever until they were once again slowed down deliberately. Almost all stages were now driven twice, with single-run stages becoming rare treats.
Cover image by Richard Simpson / Flickr. Special thanks to Kari Nuutinen and Kai Tarkiainen.
2014-2015 – Back to clover leaf
For 2014 the two main characteristics of the previous era were torn down. The rally wouldn’t travel far South anymore, and Sunday stages were again back on the itinerary. However, Thursday remained as well, so this was the first time since 1992 that forest stages were run on four different days. Each day reached out to a different compass point, never going too far from Jyväskylä.
Thursday sent the crews North-East for a short leg with two runs of Lankamaa sandwiching Jouhtikylä, last driven in 1992. The day concluded with a warmly welcomed return of the street stage of Harju, having been undriven since 1998. With its ending tweaked slightly and some chicanes added, it would remain as the sole super special of the rally for this era.
Friday took the crews South-West. Pihlajakoski had been off the itinerary since 1987. It was also updated from its last outings. The only remaining section was the smaller road at the end.
Päijälä hadn’t been driven in the WRC event in a while either. Once a staple, its previous outing was in 2003. Now it had a brand new beginning on narrow and technical but fast roads. The ending was the classic version of the stage in reversed direction, equal to that of 2000-2001. The updated Päijälä became popular with all of drivers, spectators and organizers.
Ouninpohja was again substituted with Kakaristo, but this time not because of average speed problems but road repairs in the Ouninpohja road. Painaa concluded the loop, setting a structure for the South-Western leg that would be reused for all the following years of the era, consisting of Pihlajakoski, Päijälä and Ouninpohja/Kakaristo plus one shorter stage closer to Jyväskylä.
Saturday was mostly collected from previous year stages on the West side of Jyväskylä. The only change was Mökkiperä being reversed for the first time.
Meanwhile, Sunday pulled some aces from its sleeve with a blast through Myhinpää including a small road loop last driven in 1992. Ruuhimäki hadn’t been run in the actual rally in five years, but now it served as the power stage, 15 years after the first TV stage experiment.
Myhinpää was the fastest stage of the rally at 134 km/h. Päijälä and Pihlajakoski also exceeded 130 km/h on their second runs. However, the whole rally average speed didn’t increase from the previous years.
The competitive length of 360 km was at its highest since 2004 and the stage count of 26 highest since 1996. Although only two stages were run once, the route received much thanks from rallying enthusiasts.
For 2015 not much changed, but the regulations now didn’t allow any driving on Thursday, except for the shakedown and a super special, arranged at Ruuhimäki and Harju, respectively. Thus the route became shorter, again only 320 km long. This is also the only edition of the rally so far where every stage was run twice.
The action started properly on Friday. Ouninpohja was again in its place on the loop. For this occasion, the stage started again before the Hämepohja junction for the first time since 2002. Meanwhile, Himos replaced Painaa. It had an updated route using a new beginning, the middle part from longer Himos stages and the ending from the year before.
A unique detail about the 2015 Friday leg came through the regulations – midday servicing was now omitted and replaced with just a tyre fitting zone at the Himos skiing center. This meant that 158 km of special stages were to be driven without a visit to the service park.
Saturday was again very familiar. One of the rare new sections of the whole rally was a combination of fast roads at the beginning of Jukojärvi. Half of it had been driven in 1981, but for the current drivers it was all new.
Although Horkka was a new name, it didn’t include any new roads. Instead, it combined the 2013-2014 Painaa ending with roads from Moksi-Leustu and Leustu.
Meanwhile, Myhinpää was now made the power stage and driven twice without any other stages on Sunday. The direction was reversed and the small road loop removed, the stage resembling its 1985 format now.
A new average speed record was made at 125 km/h for the whole rally with seven of the 20 stages exceeding 130 km/h. Similarly, Myhinpää was the fastest stage with a whopping 135 km/h of average speed on the second run.
2016-2017 – Return of South-West Saturday
The main change for 2016 was swapping the Friday and Saturday stages with each other. According to the deputy clerk of the course Kari Nuutinen, this was the more familiar way, but the days were switched earlier in order to balance the work load of the busiest rally day within the same areas.
The Ruuhimäki shakedown was driven in reversed direction for the first time since 1998. This made the jumps look completely different.
A new idea for Friday was to add single-run stages to each loop to add more variety and challenge for the drivers. First of the new stages was the technical and narrow Halinen. Not even parts of the stage had been driven previously in the WRC event.
The other new stage was the half-sponsor-titled fast-flowing Äänekoski-Valtra. However, it had been driven as Koivistonkylä decades ago.
All the other Friday stages were familiar from the previous years, but half of Saturday was now reversed. This meant the morning started with Ouninpohja, to be driven for the first time in its classic direction since 1994.
Päijälä was also reversed. The stage begun now with the classic section of the stage (except for one straightened road) which was driven in this direction for the first time since 1986.
The short stage slot was taken now by Saalahti. It had been driven previously 25 years ago. Cut slightly to just 4.2 km of length, it’s the shortest forest stage of the rally since 1988. As we remember, before 1988 it was quite usual to have 3-5 km forest stages.
A long-awaited return was also going to the South-Eastern Joutsa area for the Sunday stages, just like in the 90’s. However, with the modern regulations the day consisted only of two relatively short stages, Lempää and Oittila. The former was reduced to the beginning of the older version of the stage.
On a closer look, Oittila was mostly the same as Mutanen from some decades back, with just its direction reversed for the most part. The stage was also used as the power stage.
New anti-cut blocks were introduced in 2016. Already in 2015 simple sign posts were set up on insides of some corners, but drivers kept running over them. The 2016 version included a concrete block sinked deep into the road with a light post on top of it. This seemed to work better.
In addition to reducing the speed, the anti-cut blocks keep the roads in better condition. Kari Nuutinen said in a Rallirinki interview that the roads suffer when the rally car cuts through the ditch and the outer wheels are at the center of the road, which is normally not driven over, and is thus softer.
For the Friday of 2017, an old idea from 2010 was brought back – quick stage repeats within a loop. Thus, the morning loop had three stages repeated and the afternoon loop two stages repeated with a single run in between. Together with the night-concluding Harju, this meant that all of 12 stages were run during Friday, the most in a day since Sunday of 1996!
Halinen and Äänekoski-Valtra were now both run twice, with Laukaa, Lankamaa and Urria returning after some years of rest. Jukojärvi was now reversed back to the original direction, but the new section hadn’t been driven this way.
Saturday was now back to the 2015 direction except for Pihlajakoski, which was now reversed and had some additional junctions. Ouninpohja was shortened for televising reasons to end after the Kakaristo junction, thus making it very fast with the new cars.
Another creative thing about the Saturday route is the order of the stages. The day started and ended with Pihlajakoski and Päijälä. Ouninpohja was the second-last stage of the morning loop and the second of the afternoon loop, while the short Saalahti was driven on both sides of the service. This combined with the national historic Vetomies competition doing two runs on Pihlajakoski and Päijälä meant that you could spend the whole day on one stage and see four runs of the same stage.
The Sunday itinerary stayed exactly as it was the year before. Meanwhile, staple stages like Leustu and Surkee were not run at all during the rally – not even parts of their route were used on any stages for the first time since 1982.
However, the subject of discussion was the placement of chicanes onto the route. Average speeds had gone up in the previous two years and the new cars wouldn’t make it slower. With FIA having to cancel a stage in Rally Sweden because of excessive speeds, they demanded the route of Rally Finland to be slowed down.
It was too late to change the actual stages so instead they received some sorts of artificial additional brakings. In practice it meant things like doing a short detour onto the wrong side of a triangular junction entry, or more brutally, going around a haybale while passing a junction.
The short Lempää and Saalahti were left without any chicanes, while Päijälä was augmented with a small road section which had been partly used in the previous decades. Every other stage had a chicane of some sort, typically 2-3 per stage.
Even with three chicanes, the second run of Ouninpohja had an average speed of 135 km/h and seven of the 25 stages exceeded 130 km/h. The clerk of the course Kai Tarkiainen said already before the rally in an interview that they would have to use smaller roads in the following years. He also hoped that FIA would limit the speed of the cars in the future.
2018-2019 – To smaller roads
Like expected, the 2018 route was deliberately slowed down by using more of smaller roads. The higher amount of junction turns were also meant to interrupt the flow of the drivers frequently in order not to let them become speed blind. Deputy clerk of the course Kari Nuutinen says the drivers understood the decision very well. “Many people doubted how some small roads would withstand the rally, but in the end there were no problems in that field”.
Many drivers still claimed that it’s safer to drive on the wide and fast Finnish roads where you have time to react, compared to the smaller roads close to the trees – not to mention rallies in other countries with ravines or rock walls on the side. Kari Nuutinen agrees partly. “The road width has no direct role on the speed as much as the character. The same laws of physics apply on all roads”.
Thanks to Ruuhimäki returning onto the itinerary, a new shakedown was created out of the old Vesala stage, through a combination of different versions.
The Moksi name returned into the Friday itinerary, but in fact this was the Surkee stage lengthened by some sections from the Vellipohja stage. It’s a prime example of the new route philosophy – fast and slow roads alternating and changing the rhythm many times during the 20 km stage.
Urria received new small road sections in both the beginning and the end. Ässämäki was the only somewhat new stage of the rally, containing the Halinen stage in reversed direction, as well as some new roads.
Meanwhile, Äänekoski was reversed (and its title shortened). It had had one chicane the year before, but reversing seemed to be enough of slowing down. It still became the fastest stage of the rally with 132 km/h of average speed on the second run.
Oittila was run once in the middle of Friday, making it the first time the rally crossed the Lake Päijänne through the Kärkinen bridge between stages. Oittila also had been reversed and lengthened with a tricky forest road section.
Pihlajakoski was the only stage of the rally to be driven exactly like the year before. Meanwhile, Päijälä was modified from its end to use the same roads as in the mid-90’s.
Once again it was to become an Ouninpohja-free rally, as Kakaristo returned with its route now extending onto the Hassi roads.
Tuohikotanen was a title used in 1987, with the stage combining now new and reversed parts with bits of road familiar to the drivers from the Leustu, Painaa and Horkka stages of recent years. Parts of of the stage had been also driven earlier on the Vellipohja stage.
Ruuhimäki was again the last stage of the rally, and the power stage now for the third time (including the 1999 prototype run). However, its route was extended from both ends with even a bit of tarmac at the beginning. The stage was paired on the Sunday itinerary with the reversed Laukaa stage.
However, all fuss was about the new big jump at the end of the Ruuhimäki stage. The existing crest in the area was modified to resemble the profile of the Ouninpohja yellow house jump, and a new road was built over it. The finish line was set at the tip of the jump and some drivers jumped outrageously.
The adjustments of the route were successful, as the average speed of the whole rally returned back to 122 km/h, where it mostly stood between the years 2000-2014, although the cars were now drastically faster. Only five of the 23 stages exceeded 130 km/h in average speed while 13 of them stayed below 125 km/h.
The year 2019 followed closely the footsteps of 2018. In fact, the two editions are the two most similar ones between each other since 2005 and 2006.
Oittila was moved to be the first forest stage of the rally, opening the day with a single run. Meanwhile, Äänekoski had some new road built near the end, and the ending also turned left instead of right. The new section can be seen at 2:55 on this video.
The Saturday opener Pihlajakoski started with mostly new roads. The durability of the beginning of the stage was questioned, but in the end there was no problems for anyone, although the road was indeed quite rocky.
Päijälä was reverted to its 2017 format whereas Kakaristo used now the Rapsula route from 1997. Leustu replaced Tuohikotanen, using its 2014 route with 500 metres added to the beginning.
However, within the small updates lies a more drastic change – with the old route of Pihlajakoski being abandoned, the amount of wide and fast public roads in the rally was smaller than ever. In fact, the longest intact public road sections were the six kilometres in Moksi and five kilometres in Urria. This was nothing compared to the past – for example all 14 kilometres of Myhinpää in 2015, or 25 kilometres on most versions of Ouninpohja with just one junction turn in between.
Kari Nuutinen says he doesn’t have a favourite route from the ones he has designed in the past. “It has always been the latest one, currently 2019. You always come up with new things and learn from your past mistakes.”
Nuutinen’s dream route is not held back so much by FIA regulations, as it is by practical issues such as getting permissions for roads or obtaining required personnel to arrange the stages. “If all obstacles could be tackled, more stages would be driven only once and a broader geographical area would be used”
What does the future hold for 2020, the 70th anniversary year of the rally? The podcast of the rally interviewed its promoter Jani Backman saying “the last couple of years have followed a similar format, but who knows if we’ll get something more legendary now”. Kari Nuutinen confirms this: “there will be legends on the route”.
10 Fastest stages in Finnish WRC events
|Stage||Years||Winning average speed|
10 Fastest editions of the Finnish WRC event
Winner’s average speed
Stages run every year 2014-2019
- Ruuhimäki (shakedown 2015-2017)
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