Route Preview: WRC Arctic Rally 2021

Rally Sweden’s canceling because of COVID-19 led to the WRC Promoter asking Finland to arrange a replacement. In the end, a version of the traditional Arctic Lapland Rally was put together quickly. The route packs 250 stage kilometres into three days and 10 stages, meaning longer stages for a change. This represents the challenge of Arctic Lapland Rally, long winter stages in the desert. The stages are predominantly fast, making this one of the fastest rallies of the season if not the fastest.

Cover image by Jaakko Parm (C)

There are certain differences between the Jyväskylä-based Rally Finland and Arctic Rally Finland. First of all, the terrain has a different character, where considerable-sized hills are crossed instead of frequent smaller crests. This means there is no constant jumping.

Another difference lies in the infrastructure. Most of Lapland is just forest, with no farms, fields, houses or even small villages like on the stages around Jyväskylä. This makes it more difficult to know where you are, because there are no landmarks, the side of the road looks almost the same everywhere.

The roads are also more angular, resulting in longer straights and fast passages, with sudden tight corners. I find the character to be similar as in the forests of Kielder, where you are also in deep forests, and the straights are sometimes long before the sudden square bend or technical passage.

Meanwhile, compared to Rally Sweden, we should see a higher amount of snow, higher snowbanks and more freezing temperatures. I would claim the Rally Sweden roads are more technical, so the average speeds will be higher on most stages, closer to summer Rally Finland.

Remember: the rally is not allowed for spectators. Access roads will be blocked or unploughed and stages could get cancelled if spectators are seen along the stages.

Friday

Friday starts with the Vennivaara shakedown. Here we have Kalle Rovanperä demonstrating it.

It’s a good indication of what’s to come – it’s simply a fast stage. The beginning is a bit more flowingly twisty but the corners are never slower than medium – except for one tight right hander at the open area in the middle – and the ending is just super fast.

The proper rally is kicked off with two runs of SS1+2 Sarriojärvi. The first run is in the afternoon with the sun setting and the second one in complete darkness. It is the longest stage of the rally at 31 km of length. Outside Corsica it’s rare that the rally starts with a stage this long. The only occurrences from the last 10 years are Monte 2018 (Sisteron), Wales 2016 (Myherin), Wales 2015 (Hafren) and Sardegna 2013 (Monte Lerno) – all classics!

This stage, like most of the other ones, are run in the opposite direction to this year’s national Arctic Lapland Rally. This version of Sarriojärvi was last used in 2019.

Sarriojärvi is a technical stage with also super fast sections mixed in. It also has the most of the jumps in the whole rally.

The stage starts on a narrow and bumpy road with both fast and technical sections, as well as big crests. This section is the closest to Rally Finland with its rollercoaster feeling.

At 10.6 km a tricky downhill junction takes the stage onto a wider and smoother road with a long straight. A twistier section follows involving two junctions, the latter of which takes onto a narrower road. Another high-speed blast follows at 17.7 km with again some big crests.

The drivers must brake to yet another junction at 20.2 km, turning onto a small and technical road with a narrow bridge at 22.4 km. After the 90 degree junction at 23.5 km the road becomes even more difficult with even an open hairpin at 27.2 km, as well as plenty of crests and bumps.

(See also this fresh onboard from 2021, in the opposite direction)

Saturday

Saturday has a three-stage loop repeated both sides of the midday service.

SS3+6 Mustalampi is a stage title never seen before in Arctic Lapland Rally, although it includes bits of past Arctic Lapland Rally stages Mustaselkä and Jyrhämäjärvi. The stage includes sections over a frozen swamp, forest tracks and the Snow Rally Rings rally practice track.

Mustalampi is the slowest stage of the rally with the most rhythm changes. It has very varying narrow and technical sections linked together by three short fast blasts.

The beginning of the stage can be seen on this onboard at 6:22. It’s a quite technical road until the square bend at 4.9 km, after which it’s quite fast and flowing. At 8.3 km there’s a pair of deceptive corners before a junction left (11:23 into the video).

The following bit of the stage can be seen here in the opposite direction until 10:33

Now the stage goes onto a twisty, bumpy and technical forestry track. It leads into a swamp, which is crossed at 10.1 km, meaning there is no road below the ice and the route is not passable in the summer time. Another forestry road is joined through a double junction 500 meters later. These junctions could get soft on the second run. The following road is narrow and bumpy, but not that technical.

The stage turns onto a wider road at 12.2 km. It’s a relatively straightforward and fast section for 2.5 km before turning again onto a very narrow road. It’s mostly flowing with long corners, becoming more twisty at 17.6 km. One kilometer later the road becomes a track (although the snow covers the surface equally) going steeply downhill. It’s still turning all the time, but now even narrower with the trees right at the edge of the road.

What follows is a link on a wide and straight main road until 21.7 km where a junction takes the stage to the twisty roads of the Snow Rally Rings practice track. At first it is wider and more flowing, then narrower and more angular.

SS4+7 Kaihuavaara was last used in this direction in 2019, but the most Western part of the stage is omitted due to its bad condition after the national event.

At 19.91 km it’s the shortest stage of the event. The only times on this millennium that the shortest stage of a WRC event was longer than this were Tour de Corse 2004 and 2006. Throughout the history of WRC, it has happened only 11 times (excluding Safari and Ivory Coast).

Kaihuavaara is the shortest stage of the rally. It’s a stage of extremes, mostly very fast but has also some tricky technical bits mixed in.

The start is on a tricky narrow road which turns constantly a bit. After a short link on a wider road the stage turns again onto a smaller road which is super fast, and most of the time the top gear will be enough. There’s also quite steep and long uphills and downhills during this section.

At 13.8 km there’s turn onto an even narrower road which is technically twisty and bumpy. Then another junction leads onto a road which resembles the first one, turning slightly all the time, with the trees close to the road.

A slightly wider, fast-flowing road is joined at 16.3 km. Finally a series of 90 degree bends takes the stage onto an acceleration on a wide road into the flying finish.

(See also this fresh onboard from 2021 in the opposite direction)

SS5+8 Siikakämä is normally over 40 km long in the national event, but for the WRC version the very very fast wide section is omitted. However, the forestry road isn’t that slow either. This direction of the stage was last used in 2020.

Siikakämä is a typical Arctic Lapland Rally stage on narrow forest roads. It’s mostly fast and flowing, but you need to be prepared for slow corners at all times

(the 2021 WRC stage starts at 8:29 into this video)

The beginning changes its rhythm all the time from extended straights to long dragging corners with sudden slower bends here and there. The road is also quite bumpy with the WRC cars possibly jumping at times.

At 15.4 km the stage turns at a 90 degree junction, crosses a bridge and turns again onto another road. Here the stage gets more straightforwardly faster for a while, before becoming again a bit more constantly twisty and technical near the end.

(See also this fresh onboard from 2021 in the opposite direction)

Sunday

Sunday consists of just one stage, SS9+10 Aittajärvi. This is the only stage to be run in the same direction as the 2021 national Arctic Lapland Rally.

The second run of the stage serves as the points-awarding power stage. At 22 km it’s the longest power stage since Catalunya 2013, although for example Estonia and Sweden last year had power stages with over 20 km of length.

Aittajärvi is the fastest stage of the rally, but it still has a couple of tricky technical sections.

The stage begins on a medium wide road. Its character is angularly fast where long straights connect the corners, which are medium fast at slowest. The first proper hazard of the stage is a narrow farmyard (one of the few houses along the route!) at 9.6 km where the buildings are right at the road.

There’s a junction onto a straighter road at 12.2 km but after a shortish acceleration the stage turns away onto a narrower road. It goes first straight over a hill, and comes into a very twisty section. After that there’s bumpy uphill, leading into a fast downhill section. At the end of the stage there’s a series of tighter corners.

(See also this fresh onboard from 2021 in the opposite direction)

Road conditions and starting order

The Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier will be first on the road, followed by his teammate Elfyn Evans and arch rival Thierry Neuville. Drivers with still zero points, starting from the back include Ott Tänak, Teemu Suninen and Craig Breen, but they will have only five cars ahead of them. It’s also good to remember this starting order applies only to the two Friday stages.

In snow rallies it can be beneficial to start later in order to have the loose snow swept from the road for better stud-to-ice grip. However, if there is no fresh snow, the difference could be miminal. On the contrary, in cold temperatures the ice dust could cause visibility issues for later starters.

As mentioned, the stages are run out in the wilderness. If a driver has to retire or goes off, they might block the road and there will be no spectators to help. In this case we might see some stages red flagged and notional times calculated.

Be sure to check out the stage descriptions written by Assistant Clerk of the Course Kari Nuutinen. You can also watch the official recce videos of all stages on this playlist below. My tip is to use 2x playback speed for more authentic feeling.

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