Vaheri is one of the 1000 Lakes Rally classic stages, driven all the way since the 60’s. In latter decades a nearby skiing center of Himos has also had its namesake stage and occasionally these two stages were merged together. In Rally Finland 2021 the area will return with the new Patajoki stage. This article looks at the history over the different versions from this road network, how the route has evolved throughout the decades.
The early years
The Vaheri stage was traditionally based on three roads: Vaherintie, Heinäseläntie and Tarvajärventie. All versions of Vaheri use at least two of these wide and fast-flowing state-maintained gravel roads loaded with crests and jumps (but not as extreme as Ouninpohja). In addition, all these roads lead into a farm house which is also called Vaheri.
One early example of Vaheri comes from 1965. A Finnish film previewing the route shows a car passing a junction at Patajoki, with the driver putting his helmet on. The film also says the stage is the longest of the rally at 17.5 km. We can assume by a rough map shown at 1:02 on the film that the route has started from Tarvajärventie and ended on Vaherintie. This route also matches later versions with similar length.
The importance of Vaheri must have come through its length. For example in 1970, it was the second-longest stage of the rally, and the only other stage to be over 15 km in length in addition to Ouninpohja. It’s also remarkable that all versions of Vaheri contain a junction turn, not a given always in these days.
Vaheri was absent from the route from 1972 to 1976, largely because there were so many other options in the area and the route covered a vast geographical area, so stages thise close to Jyväskylä were sparse.
The WRC debut of Vaheri in 1977 was with the same route as in 1965. Ari Vatanen’s stage winning average speed was 112 km/h, faster than in Ouninpohja.
In 1978 the stage was modified. We can see the stage starting similarly on Tarvajärventie but turning back onto Heinäseläntie at the Vaheri house. This is a remarkable version for not using Vaherintie at all. The tight junction turn can be seen on this video at 8:30
In 1979 the direction the previous route was used but now reversed counter-clock-wise, starting from Vaherintie and concluding with Tarvajärventie, shortening also the section on Vaherintie.
In 1981 the stage used the third possible combination of these three roads on three consecutive years, starting with a bit of Heinäseläntie and ending on Vaherintie. This stage was then run again for the next three years in the opposite direction, with the 1984 version stretching a bit longer on Heinäseläntie. These are the shortest Vaheri versions, and only ones to be less than 10 km long, but run twice in 1983 and 1984. In 1985 Vaheri was on the itinerary but got cancelled already before the start of the rally.
Here at 4:31 we can see some fast bends on Heinäseläntie on the 1983 stage, shot from the Y-shaped junction near the Vaheri farm house. (The cut-in scenes from approaching a junction are from another stage).
Small roads are added
Vaheri was absent from the route in 1986 but returned again in 1987 with two versions, each having a different small road at the beginning. This was a part of the 1987 route strategy where the average speeds needed to be brought down by adding slower sections. Even chicanes were placed on the routes of these stages. The average speed on the Vaheri 2 stage with the primitive Group A cars was as low as 97 km/h.
1988 was another year off, but in 1989 Vaheri returned again onto Tarvajärventie for the first time since 1980. The direction was now again clockwise and the stage ended with the 1987 second version’s small roads in reversed direction. This was again in line with the new style of 1000 Lakes Rally special stages which often combined different types of roads, but not anymore as extremely slow as in 1987. Juha Kankkunen’s average speed was 113.37 km/h, which put the stage within the fastest fourth of the stages of the rally.
A key location on the Vaheri route is the junction between Heinäseläntie and Vaherintie, known as the harbour junction. Here a video from 1989 shows the junction being approached from the North, turning right at 1:51. (The cut-in scene is from later in the stage when it turns onto the small road)
Finally, we can also see the start of the small road on this video at 2:23 (cut-in scenes are from other stages). It’s a pretty bumpy section with big ditches.
The 1990 1000 Lakes Rally was extended to be four days long and Vaheri became the pinnacle of the opening day, being the longest stage of the loop. The route remained the same as 1989, but the direction was reversed. The stage was driven in the dark, as this video from 1990 shows well at 50:45, shot at the finish line.
In 1992 Vaheri ended prematurely the rally of the young Marcus Grönholm on his first factory team outing on a Toyota Celica. He went off slightly on the small road at the beginning and damaged the suspension. He managed to finish the stage, but was so far behind in the results that the team couldn’t arrange service for two cars running so far from each other.
Meanwhile, in 1993 Vaheri was now moved to Saturday evening as the rally had become again only three days long. Thus the stage was again driven in daylight. It became the point where Ari Vatanen snatched the lead from Juha Kankkunen in a long battle – only to lose it on the following stages due to misting windscreen. This video at 34:17 shows some tricky but fast bends on Tarvajärventie.
Here at 33:49 we can also see some rare onboard from where the small road at the beginning of the stage meets Vaherintie, through the camera inside Hannu Mikkola’s Toyota Celica. It’s actually the same bumpy section seen on the 1989 external video, but in the other direction.
In 1991 a new stage called Himos was introduced. It started on a wide public road, then spent some time on the service roads and parking lots of the Himos skiing center. After this “Mickey Mouse” section the stage concluded with climbing up the Himos mountain on Himoshuipuntie and ending on the narrower Loilontie. Markku Alen wondered in Vauhdin Maailma’s spectator guide whether the organizers had “tried to make this the Pikes Peak of 1000 Lakes Rally”.
The stage was driven in complete darkness. Not sure if this affected the spectator popularity, but this would be the only time such stage was driven, although parts of it would be reused a decade later. It’s also good to note that the beginning of this stage is nowadays paved and the first junction at the Himos Center changed completely.
Twin-car stages were becoming popular in the 90’s. 1000 Lakes Rally introduced theirs in 1994 at the Himos skiing center. This stage, again with the title Himos, remained on the itinerary until 1997. The drivers didn’t like it, saying it was too narrow to drive. This video shows the stage from 1995 at 9:23 (I was there spectating!)
In 1994 the previous Vaheri stage was modified to become a 30 kilometre monster, consisting as much of small forest roads as wide public roads. It was the third-longest stage of the rally.
The start was borrowed from 1987’s Vaheri 1 before turning Eastwards onto new small roads to reach Tarvajärventie, using also a new bit of Heinäseläntie on the way as well. The driving direction of the main part of the stage was again changed clock-wise for this run, same as 1989.
This video at 8:15 shows those dusty forest roads at the beginning of the stage on a long straight leading into a tight junction turn near the start of the stage, where it deviates Eastwards from the 1987 route. (cut-in scenes are from other stages)
On the non-WRC year of 1995 Vaheri was again reversed to the same direction as 1990-1993, while using still the 1994 route. This configuration remained unchanged until 1999.
In this direction the last hairpin junction was very tricky. Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä had some problems in it in the rainy conditions of 1998. The situations can be seen here at 6:42.
In the late nineties Tommi Mäkinen became the king of Vaheri. Every year between 1996 and 1998 he was fastest on the stage, being 11-12 seconds faster than anyone else. He has later said that most of it came from the small road at the beginning, where he drove extra carefully.
Here we can see high-speed action on Tarvajärventie and the turn left to Heinäseläntie in 1999, at 6:14.
In 2000 and 2001 the previous stage remained the same but was shortened by 5 km from the end. It was also the final stage of the rally in 2000, with the rally ending in the middle of a forest. These are also the fastest versions of Vaheri, with average speeds ranging from 122 to 124 km/h. Again the pace was similar to Ouninpohja, but some faster stages in 2000 reached average speeds of 133-138 km/h!
Vaheri and Himos meet
Rally Finland 2002 introduced a 35 km stage called Vaheri-Himos. It is the longest stage so far on this road network, also the only one with this title. It’s again in line with the route trend of the time when stages were getting longer. Vaheri-Himos wasn’t even the longest stage of the rally, with the 41 km Moksi-Leustu being even longer!
Based on the 1999 route, the Vaheri-Himos now extended further onto the Himos skiing center through roads used on the 1991 stage, ending with a run through the roads of the twin-car track and service roads of the skiing center. This way it was like a cross between a classic forest stage and a modern super special. Rally Finland has had a couple of stages like this, but Torsby in Sweden, Panzerplatte in Germany and Coiluna – Loelle in Sardinia are good examples from other rallies.
In 2003 stage was shortened not to include the traditional Vaheri roads at all, thus changing the name to merely Himos. Some forestry roads last driven in 1987 were used instead in the beginning, as well as extending the artificial section in the skiing center.
For 2004 the beginning was cut even shorter and the finish made slightly longer. Here we can see Markko Märtin demonstrating the trickiness of the fast but narrow forest roads, multiple junctions and a super special ending.
The same year Vaheri also returned in a new configuration that was like the 1989 stage starting from Tarvajärventie and ending with the Southern forest roads, but extending now further onto another forest road and returning onto Vaherintie for the flying finish.
The 2004 Vaheri features on this broadcast from 4:10 onwards, showing the start, bends on Heinäseläntie and the harbour junction.
The 2005 Vaheri got a new route. It now started on Tarvajärventie, only 1.5 km from the harbour junction. After 5.4 km of Vaherintie a new forestry road was added. It had some spectacular jumps right at the beginning. The stage joined then the old Vaheri-Himos route until the end. That year the rally had Himos as a partial repeat, starting on the aforementioned new forestry road.
A distinctive difference between the two stages was always that Himos retained the super special ending at the skiing center. Meanwhile, Vaheri ended right after the 90 junction into the skiing center parking lot.
A mix of external and onboard footage all over the 2005 Vaheri is seen on this video at 23:48, while Himos features briefly at 38:44.
The stages remained the same in 2006, except that the entry to the Himos parking lot had been paved and the 90 junction turned into a hairpin. This would also be the last time a stage called Vaheri was driven in the rally.
In 2007 the route of Himos remained the same, but it was preceded by the same small forest road added to the end of Vaheri in 2004 (with a start on a bit of Tyryntie unused before). Until 2021 these two occasions have been the only usage of this small road on WRC level.
2008 introduced yet more new forest roads from East to join the previous Himos route. This would again remain a unique experiment, and the said beginning hasn’t been driven since, although it’s a nice section.
During the aforementioned years when Vaheri and Himos have been driven together, there’s been a clear rule to distinguish the stages: a stage called Vaheri contains a good portion of Vaherintie, whereas Himos only visits it at most. Conversely, only the Himos stages contain the twin-car track run-trough and service road super special sections.
However, the 2009-2010 version of Himos breaks this rule and technically should be called Vaheri-Himos. They start from the same location as the 2005 Vaheri – Tarvajärventie near the harbour junction – proceeding on the 2005-2007 Himos route to the skiing center, concluding with the super special section.
This stage finally offers is an onboard showing the nature of Vaherintie, from the 2010 WRC event. However, this would also be the last time the road was used on WRC level until 2021.
Latest Himos versions
The years 2011-2012 saw the Himos-Vaheri area being completely absent from the WRC event for the first time since 1988, but 2013 introduced a new version of the Himos stage. It started at the skiing center bottom and ascended like in 1991, but turned left onto a further hill climb and then descended a steep and narrow service road back to the skiing center, making it a loop where the finish crossed the beginning using a tunnel made for skiing.
The stage was driven twice, where the second run had a special treatment: once the cars descended to the skiing center they headed back upwards onto the same route and turned away to the finish on the second lap. This is the only such “circuit” stage run in Rally Finland in its modern years (in the 60’s they had stages on racing circuits).
The same stage remained for 2014, but only in the single-lap format. This onboard shows the route well.
In 2015 a new configuration was introduced. The start was on a new bit of road, turning soon onto the familiar Loilontie used on Himos 1991 as well as most Vaheri, Himos and Vaheri-Himos versions after 2002. Then the next turn was onto the 2013-2014 second ascension and steep descension to the skiing center. This stage caused a crash for the VW driver Andreas Mikkelsen during the narrow Loilontie.
In this format the stage was again pretty much a hill climb, again combining elements of classic forest stages and modern super specials, but in the context of the rally, more like a super special due to its shortness.
The quiet years
The roads on the Vaheri-Himos area didn’t see any WRC action from 2016 to 2020. Thus they were free for the WRC teams to do their pre-event tests. Here we can see Sebastien Ogier flying on Vaherintie with the 2017 spec Ford Fiesta WRC
The lack of use has let the Himos twin-car track deteriorate, especially the sections that weren’t used on the 2013-2015 versions. These pictures are from 2018.
The 2021 Rally Finland route finally returned onto the Vaheri-Himos area with a new stage title, Patajoki, which is a mix of roads used on Vaheri and Himos stages. It starts like Vaheri 2004 in reversed direction with the two small roads, the first of them never driven before in this direction.
After the small roads are complete, Patajoki turns back West and proceeds North onto the 2010 Himos route. At the tight hairpin where the previous stages turned towards Himos, Patajoki continues straight onto a short bit driven never before.
A new title is appropriate because the stage doesn’t really use a lot of Vaherintie and doesn’t go to Himos, so it shouldn’t be Vaheri or Himos. Furthermore, the village of Patajoki is situated near the finish (remember where the driver put his helmet on in the 1965 preview film).
The Patajoki route is once again in line with the current route strategy. There’s a lot of rhythm changes, junction turns, and most of the roads are of the smaller kind. There’s only 1.3 km of the old Vaheri route used.
As of now we can hope that this is a restart of a long period for the area in the WRC event. As this article has suggested, there’s a lot of rallying heritage and plenty of roads to choose from!