Route Preview: Rally Finland 2021

Last year’s Rally Finland was another victim of COVID-19 cancellations. This year’s event also got postponed into October to make sure they can run the event with spectators. In turn it means we’ll get a unique darker and moister autumn rally. The route itself packs 287 stage kilometres and the shakedown compactly into two and half days. Only about fourth of the roads have remained from 2019 while a third is completely new or from years before the current drivers started their careers. The emphasis is still on small roads like since 2018, but it will still be the fastest rally of the season.

Cover Image by Tapio Lehtonen / Rallirinki (C)
Maps @ rally-maps.com
Recce videos @ youtube
Screen shots from rally-maps.com with OpenTopoMaps background maps.

Friday

Rally Finland has essentially adopted the three-day structure which I wrote about back in June 2020. The rally cars are not ignited until the Friday morning shakedown, while the actual rally kicks off on Friday afternoon with 89 competitive kilometres. These stages are driven West and South of Jyväskylä. All the forest stages are reversed, so no pace notes from 2019 can be reused.

The shakedown is still in Vesala like since 2018, but now the stage has been reversed from the two previous runs. The start is on a fast-flowing very wide road with farmer’s tarmac. This direction was also used in 1990, seen here at 38:51

After 1.2 km the stage turns onto a narrow but mostly super fast forest road. The next junction – with a shortcut entry used this year – leads onto another relatively wide and fast road with only one square corner before finish. This stage will likely remain as the fastest stage of the weekend. It should contain more technical turns and jumps to represent the rally properly.

SS1+15 Harju acts as the sole super special of the rally like ever since 2014. It’s a familiar street stage which has been used in the event all the way from the earliest years. The current format has been used since 1987, although the ending has been cut shorter since. In addition, street infrastructure has slightly changed throughout the year and additional chicanes have been added. The latest change is narrower lanes and kerbs on the street where the stage starts on.

SS2+4 Ässämäki is now reversed. It means the beginning is now completely new to all drivers, while the ending is the same as the Halinen stage from 2016 and 2017. In fact, these roads haven’t been rallied on WRC level before 2016 at all, making it the newest stage of the rally.

Ässämäki is quite fast, but driven almost completely on three relatively narrow and soft private roads. There’s only a quick link on a wide public road between the first and second roads. The first and third roads are similar in the sense that they are first twisty and technical, then very straightforwardly fast without warning. The middle road in turn is a bit narrower and more technical, although fast.

Andreas Mikkelsen rolled on this stage in 2018 (in the opposite direction) at the beginning of the third road where the bends are long and the ditches deep.

SS3+5 Sahloinen-Moksi is a reconfigured and reversed version of last year’s Moksi. This stage is like the polar opposite to Ässämäki in the sense that it has many road types and rhythm changes – and they all occur at junctions. The route is completely new to almost all drivers in this direction.

Like the title suggests, the start is now on a road that was a part of the Sahloinen (and Surkee) stages from 1992 to 1995. Then the route proceeds onto roads used on the Surkee stage in 2010, but only that one time.

Sahloinen-Moksi 2021 (red) and Surkee 2010 (turquoise).

The first 3.9 km are on relatively fast and easy but narrow roads with tricky junction turns. The road at 2.3 km is narrower and softer than the two first ones. Then a fast section on the wide Moksi main road – partly between two lakes – joins the more familiar Surkee/Moksi route at 7.6 km, but now driven into the opposite direction than the last 10 years.

Sahloinen-Moksi 2021 (red) and Moksi 2019 (blue).

Next up is a loop of small roads, with varying degrees of technicality and width, as well as a handful of junction turns. The stage returns a few kilometres later onto the Moksi main road, but now it’s more twisty and has more crests. A popular spectating area is on the junction at 14.5 km, which leads onto another fast and wide road. The last 4 km are again driven on a narrow and technical rollercoaster road with constant turns and tilted crests. Usually the stage has extended onto the main road, but now the finish is earlier, in order to allow turning North after the first and South after the second pass.

The latter half of the stage – the aforementioned Moksi/Surkee route – can be seen on this 2009 video from 0:07 to 8:27.

Read more about the history of the Moksi area stages

There is a tyre fitting zone in Petäjävesi between the two repeats of the two first forest stages. There’s also time to install light pods, as it will get dark before the evening service.

SS6 Oittila concludes Friday and is the only stage of the rally to be run just once – for the third time in succession. This year it’s also reversed like all the forest stages of Friday. The first half of Oittila was driven in this direction as the power stage in 2016 and 2017, but the ending will be yet another section completely new to the drivers.

As an additional challenge, this stage will be driven in the dark. It will be the first night stage in Finland’s WRC event since 1994 (except for some slight dusk in 2012).

Oittila starts on a fast-flowing medium wide road. The stage was called Mutanen back in 1975 when young-and-promising Ari Vatanen crashed from the lead on this section. 41 years later the exact same corner ruined Pontus Tidemand’s WRC2 podium on the final stage of the rally.

Another victim of Oittila in 2016 was Ott Tänak, just a few corners later than Tidemand.

There’s a new small road loop added for this year 4.3 km into the stage, just as it would get super fast. The new section is very narrow and soft at places, and the final bumpy descent back to the main road seems very tricky.

The beginning of Oittila 2021 (red) and ending of 2018-2019 (blue).

The whole beginning of the stage was driven on a local winter rally in 2020 and the new loop can be seen here at 2:38.

After the fast section ends the stage turns onto narrower countryside roads with multiple junction turns. Then a long straight on a very wide road leads into the final part of the stage which consists of a string of challenging small forest roads going over a small mountain, first climbing steeply and then descending. These last 11.7 km have never been driven in this direction before.

Saturday

The Saturday stages are driven South-West from Jyväskylä, further than Friday stages. Over half of the rally route is driven during the day.

SS7+11 Kakaristo-Hassi is a new stage title, representing the Ouninpohja area. The stage has an all-new beginning, the middle part from 2019’s Kakaristo stage and the ending from 2011’s Hassi stage. This is the only stage of the day to include anything familiar from 2019’s route.

Kakaristo-Hassi 2021 (red) and Kakaristo 2019 (purple).

The stage begins now on fast countryside roads – first narrow, then wide – before the Kakaristo junction, which is now approached from a new direction. The next part of the stage can be seen on this video from 5:19 to 9:38

More countryside roads follow involving the artificial Tommi’s jump. However, more challenges are soon ahead in form of the fast – but technical, rough and narrow – “Ouninpohja small road”. We remember this section causing agony for Marcus Grönholm in 1998 and 2003, while in 2019 it caught out the Toyota drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke.

The small road ends at a hairpin junction and joins the Hassi road. The rest of the stage can be previewed on this 2011 onboard from 0:25 to 4:05.

The Hassi road is wide farmer’s tarmac with big and steep crests and good cambers. A tight junction turns the stage towards Ouninpohja for 2.5 km on another wide and fast-flowing road, involving a couple of tilted jumps.

Kakaristo-Hassi 2021 (red) and Hassi 2011 (blue).

This stage has surprisingly little rhythm changes. Basically the first half is narrower and the second half is wider. The new beginning is relatively easy, then the Ouninpohja small road is narrow and challenging but not that slow, and finally the wide Hassi roads are fast, but not super fast.

Read more about the various Ouninpohja versions

SS8+12 Päijälä is the longest stage of the rally at 22.61 km, and also one of the fastest ones. It is reversed from 2019. This direction has been used recently only in 2016. The start will be now later, at 1:13 into the video. There’s also a small road loop added between 2:32 and 2:45.

In this format the stage starts very fast from the old Päijälä road, which is firm and quite wide. Just as it begins to get technical, there’s a hairpin turn onto a string of narrow and rough roads, also very technical and including junction turns. In 2017 Teemu Suninen had a hot moment on this small road section (in the opposite direction).

Once the stage returns onto the old Päijälä road, it’s not as constantly fast anymore, resembling Ouninpohja with constant jumping. A paved bridge is crossed at the village of Päijälä, leading onto public road which is wider but slower, with continuous tight and long bends.

The final private road poses again a new challenge – it’s mostly fast but still technical. The road is still quite wide but for the most part there’s no ditches. There’s some surprising places on this section.

SS9+13 Arvaja was included already on the cancelled 2020 itinerary. This stage title was used in 1987, and the roads have been used on Hassi and Ouninpohja stages between 1989 and 1995.

The first part of the stage – which was formed most of Arvaja 1987 and a part of Hassi from 1992 to 1995 – is a narrow and soft forest road which has quite a bit of steep and high hills. It’s fairly technical, but there’s also long straights keeping the speed up. The ditches – if there are any – are filled with stones, so there’s not much margin for error. There’s also some bedrock on the road that will get more exposed for the second run, which will be one of the roughest stages of the whole rally. In fact, the second pass of Arvaja was canceled in 1987 because of road deterioration, but we must remember that there was almost 200 cars on the entry list that year.

This road has also been used several times for WRC teams’ pre-event tests. Here’s Thierry Neuville in 2016.

The ending of the stage is driven on firmer and mostly wider roads. There are four junctions during the last three kilometres. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a narrow bridge on the way. The final narrow road – which has been never driven before even in the past decades – is tricky going through a farmyard.

SS10+14 Patajoki is a completely new stage title. It combines roads used on various versions of Vaheri and Himos stages. The last time any WRC rallying happened on these roads was 2010, so it’s again fairly new to the current breed of drivers. This stage includes probably the most rhythm and surface changes from all stages this year. The second pass will also have darkness falling over it.

The first 10 km are familiar from various versions of Vaheri. There’s three short bits on fast wide public roads connected by two longer sections on very narrow, soft and rough forest roads, which are actually quite similar to the one in Arvaja, but even rougher and narrower. There’s grass growing in the middle of the tracks and occasionally some coarse road repair gravel.

Patajoki 2021 (red) and Vaheri 2004 (blue).

After this the ending is more familiar from Himos stages of the 00’s. These forest roads are more flowing, wider, faster and smoother, but involve two tight junction turns, and the road between them is very narrow and very coarsely gravely rough. The final 1.3 km bit of wide farmers tarmac has never been driven before in the rally.

Patajoki 2021 and Himos 2009-2010.

The section shared with Himos 2010 can be seen on this video from 2:00 until 6:27 where Patajoki will turn slightly right instead of tightly left like in 2010.

Read more about the Vaheri area stages

Sunday

The Sunday stages are driven East of Jyväskylä. They are the only ones completely identical to 2019, but I think the drivers deserve a breather in that sense with so many new and reversed sections on Friday and Saturday.

SS16+18 Laukaa is a fairly modern stage, having debuted in 1988. The initial versions were run in the same direction as now, but from 1992 to 2017 it was reversed until 2018 when the direction was returned into South-North again. It’s driven completely on medium wide private roads (in addition to the narrow beginning). It’s mostly very fast and angular with some junction turns and square corners.

The Toyota drivers Esapekka Lappi and Kris Meeke both ended their rallies here – Lappi at the very end of the stage in 2018, Meeke near the beginning in 2019.

The last junction of the stage is triangular. Usually the stage has passed it from the fastest possible way, turning only slightly, but in 2017 it was set up as a chicane to go around the further side of the triangle. The shortcut was used again for the reversed 2018 route, but the chicane-like route was retrieved for 2019, remaining there this year as well.

The Laukaa triangular junction “chicane”. Screenshot from the Rally Finland recce video.

Still, Laukaa will likely be the fastest stage of the rally this year. In 2019 it was equally fast as Päijälä (130.9 km/h on second pass), but I presume Päijälä will not be as fast now with the stage being less familiar to the drivers in this direction.

SS17+19 Ruuhimäki acts again as the power stage. It’s the third time in succession and fifth in total if we count in 1999 as well. Ruuhimäki is also the most common final stage in the Finnish WRC event, this being the ninth time it concludes the rally. This version of the stage has been used since 2018, although almost the same route was used in the opposite direction in 1985.

The stage starts on a quite narrow fast-flowing road, turns onto a bit of tarmac, and then enters an angular and narrow section with many 90° turns. In 2019 Gus Greensmith reminded that brake points to these turns are crucial

A twisty and narrow forest section leads into the wide main road of Ruuhimäki, which is fast-flowing and ends at the infamous series of five big jumps. Finally the stage turns onto a narrow service road and joins the arena section built in 2018. It’s again narrow and technical, but straight while gathering speed for the final jump, modeled after the Ouninpohja yellow house jump. Some of the jumps in 2019 were outrageously long. What will we see this year? You’d better not miss it, since we might not see as big jumps anymore next year on the Rally1 cars with reduced suspension travel.

Read more about the Ruuhimäki versions

Start Order and Road Conditions

Rally Finland has typically some cleaning effect, but not as bad as more technical gravel rallies. In addition, the later date of the rally could increase probability of rain, which would make things more equal, or even beneficial for the first car. However, we could also see some road deterioration if there’s too much rain.

Championship leader Sebastien Ogier is once again first on the road. The biggest candidates for the win, Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak, start fourth and fifth. Craig Breen’s start slot is seventh and 2017 winner Esapekka Lappi as the last WRC car.

As for the weather conditions, this excellent video shows how rallying looks like in Finland in October.

2 thoughts on “Route Preview: Rally Finland 2021

  1. Hey, I am a rally fan and photographer from Ireland! We are flying to Finland to spectate the rally next week! I would like to speak to you about some tips on the best locations to view and take photographs. Do you have an email address? Thanks, Ross!

    Like

    1. Hi! You can contact me at itgetsfasternow (a) gmail.com but I’m really not the best person to give tips on photographing locations, because it involves more than just a spectacular corner.

      Like

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