The Rally Finland Top 30 Stages begins! In the first section the grades go from 2.25 to 2.5. This contains the longest stages ever driven in the rally, as well as some of the shortest!
Cover Image by Kyn Wai Chung / Flickr
Screenshots from rally-maps.com, background map from OpenTopoMaps.
We are starting with the stage that is named after the hometown of Juha Kankkunen, but it’s still not the stage closest to his home!
Laukaa’s length has changed only fractionally, always around 12 km.
Laukaa was one of the many stages introduced in 1988. It has remained a staple until today with only a few breaks on the way.
The route has always been the same with mere direction changes and the Southern end of the route being shortened by 600m since 2002.
Laukaa consists solely from private roads and they all have a very similar width and character. Only the most Southern section is a bit more sinuous and narrow.
There might be crests but not jumps, apart from a quite exceptional place where a tarmac road is crossed at full speed.
In the early years Laukaa was a bit slower than the rally winning average. In the latter years it has become faster, being even the fastest stage of the rally in 2021. One explanation to that is the infamous “lossinmutka” being straightened in 2001 from a 90° junction into a long corner. But then again, the 2021 rally route was also more technical compared to the earlier years when a stage like Laukaa was closer to the average.
Most of the roads of Laukaa are angular, meaning that there are lots of square corners – a few of them junctions – but they are connected by long straights or flat out sections.
The most recent unlucky ones were the Toyota drivers Esapekka Lappi and Kris Meeke, crashing out into retirement on this stage in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Earlier on, we remember the promising young finn Matti Rantanen cutting his 2011 event short on the second stage of the rally. Even Juha Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz have had minor offs on this stage while fighting for the win of the rally.
The position 27 is split between three stages. Surkee means literally “terrible” in Finnish, and that’s what this stage has been for some drivers.
In this millennium the length of Surkee has been just below 15 km, but in the 90’s it was typically slightly over 20 km. Furthermore, in 1994 and 1995 the stage was prepended by the Sahloinen stage, resulting in a 37 km monster which was the longest stage of those rallies.
Surkee’s first period ran from 1988 to 1998, the second from 2007 to 2016. The route of the stage is also present on stages such as Moksi and Parkkola, but they are not counted in here.
The routes of the two eras share usually just one road – a narrow rollercoaster. However, the main characteristics of the stages have been similar: constant alternating between technical and fast-flowing roads in many flavors. The new version has been used in both directions, the old one only West to East.
The main roads are a bit flat but there’s some surprising jumps on the small roads.
Surkee has typically been one of the slowest forest stages of the rally, especially on the modern version.
The small roads of Surkee are technical, but the wide roads are very straightforward, so the result is the middle of the scale.
From 1988 to 1995 Surkee was the last Saturday stage driven in the dark. In 1991 that took Carlos Sainz by surprise on a fast corner and his Celica went off the road, costing him the rally win. 25 years later it was again the reigning world champion being the victim of Surkee when Sebastien Ogier dipped the front of his VW Polo into the inside of a tight junction turn.
Himos is named after a skiing resort near Jämsä, and thus the stage has typically involved both uphill and downhill challenges. It has also often been a shorter partial repeat of the long Vaheri stage.
From 2 km super specials to 20 km proper stages ending on a mickey mouse section, Himos has typically been fairly short. The 2013 version also involved a loop structure and two laps, a rarity for Rally Finland.
Himos is a relatively modern stage, since its namesake skiing center wasn’t opened until 1984. The stage has been seen in WRC from 1991 to 2015 with only a few gaps.
The 1991 “hill climb” stage has only a short bit in common with the 1994–1997 twin-car super special, but other than that all Himos stages share some route with each other. Even the forest stage versions from 2003 to 2010 used always the twin-car track at the end, although the beginnings varied almost yearly.
Himos has featured many kinds of roads but with some weight on the smaller and technical ones, and always a super special element at the skiing center. After 2006 the access to the skiing center has been paved, so there has been short bits of tarmac as well. Only the 1991 and 2009–2010 versions feature a wide and fast-flowing section, the latter borrowed from the Vaheri stages.
Some of the forest roads feature quite hefty jumps, and the twin-car super special has also some artificial ones.
Thanks to the super special element and usage of small forest roads, the Himos stages have been fairly slow and technical.
Andreas Mikkelsen rolled out from 6th to retirement in 2015, but that’s all drama for top drivers.
This stage might be less familiar to modern day rally fans, but something they should be aware of!
Kokkosenlahti is actually the longest stage to ever feature in the Finnish WRC event, 42.8 km in 1973. It was also the longest stage in 1974, 1975 and 1977, but for those records 35–38 km was enough. The length was especially emphasized in 1975 when most stages were under 10 km long.
Kokkosenlahti featured only on the five first WRC editions of the rally. It’s situated relatively far from Jyväskylä, but even if the rally would return to the area one day, including the stage in its longest form would be impossible due to some of the roads having been paved since the 70’s.
Almost all the versions are the same in just different length and direction, but the 1974 edition has different begin and end sections.
Kokkosenlahti consists mostly of quite wide and fast roads. Only the 1974 ending could be considered smaller, and not even that slow-looking.
It is told to be famous for its jumps, having sometimes three consecutive jumps, but on the current onboard it doesn’t seem like that so we’re giving a careful guess of two points here.
During its era Kokkosenlahti was one of the fastest stages of the rally, and average speeds of 109-118 km/h have been quite quick in the mid-70’s. Hannu Mikkola also complained in 1975 that he lost time on the long straights because his 1600cc Toyota Corolla had only 160 km/h of top speed!
Again this is a quite rough estimate, but it appears it has been a quite fast-flowing stage with few difficult places and sparse junction turns considering the length.
Markku Alen suffered twice on this stage while fighting for podium positions. In 1973 he had a heavy jump resulting in the engine cutting off just before the finish line (his service crews were luckily/accidentally at the finish because they were lost). Two years later he hit a stone and had a puncture.
Number 24 is also split between three stages, starting with Harju, the only super special to make this top 30. It has a long tradition in the rally, and is appreciated by drivers and spectators.
A short street/park stage with usually just 2 km of length. Actually, the early versions were likely shorter, but 2 km was the minimum length for a stage in the rules, so that’s what they put on the itinerary!
Harju is one of the most often used stages in the rally. It was a staple from the earliest years of the rally but its WRC career didn’t start until 1980. Different kinds of super specials replaced it in the late 90’s before a welcome return in 2014. Since then it has been the sole super special of the rally.
There’s essentially two different Harju versions, the one before 1987 and the one since then. The original one was more straightforward, whereas the modern one has more length, turns and gravel sections. The ending was first trimmed for 1993 and even more for 2014. Some of the street infrastructure has also changed throughout the years and chicanes have been added. (The 2022 version will be a bit different but not counted yet.)
There’s two kinds of roads – paved streets and gravel park roads.
None here, even the speed bump added in the middle of the long straight has been slowed down with a chicane.
The old version was quite fast with average speeds up to 112 km/h at the height of Group B, but the constant addition of chicanes has kept the pace later below 80 km/h.
Highly technical with surface changes, tight turns and chicanes – but also long straights, especially on the early versions.
This is a good example of a stage where you cannot win anything but lose everything. One of the most infamous victims is Didier Auriol, who crashed into a tree when Harju was the first stage of the rally in 1990. Meanwhile, spins and minor offs have occurred for a number of drivers. Marcus Grönholm’s long slide in 1993 was one of the most time-consuming when he damaged the rear suspension by hitting the staircase of a house and suffered road penalties fixing the damage!
This stage visited the rally only briefly, but became unforgettable – at least for a couple of co-drivers.
The two first versions of Vellipohja were 33 and 36 km long, during the era of long stages. Thanks to them, the average length of all editions is over 26 km.
Vellipohja featured in the rally only four times, from 2005 to 2008. However, parts of it have been used recently on various other stages such as Horkka, Tuohikotanen and Moksi.
The shorter versions reduce the amount of common parts to all versions of the stage. They also feature a different ending, although both endings are familiar roads from Surkee and Parkkola stages.
Vellipohja is one of those stages where the road type changes every few kilometres. Especially the long versions are a perfect offering of all road types in Finland, even with a short bit of tarmac! The shorter versions are a bit lacking from the most technical sections.
The signature section of this stage – not driven under any other stage title – has a jump straight with especially tricky “drops”. They are followed by a cool tilted jump as well. In addition the long version featured heavy jumps that have since then featured on the Leustu, Painaa, Horkka and Tuohikotanen stages. However, many sections are more flat.
Most of the stage is “medium fast” while the fast and slow sections balance out each other for a middle of the road result. Thus it’s no surprise the stage win average speeds have been close to the overall winner’s average speed.
The first run of the 2005 stage is remembered from Marcus Grönholm’s co-driver Timo Rautiainen injuring his back and losing his voice on a jump. The same happened to Sebastian Lindholm’s co-driver Tomi Tuominen – but not on the same jump!
It’s not easy for any stage to be a neighbor of the Ouninpohja-Hassi complex, but Pihlajakoski has still received its place on the itinerary relatively often.
The length of Pihlajakoski has been always between 12 and 15 km. Had it been run in 2020, it would have been only 8 km long, but the whole rally was cancelled.
Pihlajakoski was a staple from 1978 to 1987, then took a break and featured again from 2014 to 2019.
Pihlajakoski has basically three different versions which all end or start with the same medium fast small road. The early versions started from South-West involving both small and wide roads. The 2014–2018 version made a loop on the wide road while the 2019 version started from a very small and rough road in the North. Still, most versions are made from 2-3 roads and apart from 2019 the really technical roads are missing.
There’s a couple of nice jumps but not constantly, and not on all versions. The best jump section is only featured on the 2014–2018 version.
Pihlajakoski has been usually faster than the rally overall pace, and every year from 2014 to 2018 it yielded average speeds over 130 km/h. In 2016 all talk could have been about Ouninpohja, but Pihlajakoski was the fastest stage of the rally! Meanwhile, the overhauled 2019 version was one of the slowest forest stages of the rally.
There’s some tricky places, junction turn sequences and bends over crests, but mostly it’s a fast-flowing stage, except of course for the 2019 version!
Robert Kubica must really hate this stage, having crashed here both in 2014 and 2015! Hayden Paddon also went off here in 2015 but something broke on the car.
The name Valkola translates roughly to “the white place” but there’s plenty of brown stuff on the dirt roads of this short but tricky forest stage.
Valkola has become gradually longer throughout the years, but most versions are 7-8 km long, and the single longest edition only slightly over 10 km.
Valkola featured sparsely in the 70’s and 80’s, but was a staple from 1991 to 2007, a total of 19 times. It has also been the first stage of the whole rally in 1993, 1994 and 2001.
Valkola is essentially just one medium wide road used in both directions, but in 1993 a small road loop was stuck in the middle of it.
There are some heavy jumps on some of the faster bits of the stage.
Valkola has usually been relatively slow apart from the early 90’s when some tight corners were straightened from the West end of the stage but the small road loop wasn’t added yet.
Valkola is a fairly technical stage when the small road loop is attached, but can be quite straightforward on the wider road.
Valkola has caught out previous winners such as Hannu Mikkola, Markku Alen and Tommi Mäkinen, the two latter straight into retirement on the first stage of the rally!
This is the most Southern stage of the Top 30. A very technical stage even without junction turns.
Savo has almost always been driven in 7-8 km format, but in 1987 it extended a bit longer, exceeding 10 km.
Savo was a staple from 1982 to 1995, but never after it, and the previous runs occurred before WRC started. It was also omitted from the 1985 route and canceled in 1986 before the rally.
This stage consists basically of just one road, and apart from 1993 it has always been driven in the same direction.
There’s big altitudes on this stage and frequent jumping.
Although we’re on a wide and firm road, it’s so sinuous that the speed never gets too high apart from a couple of straighter sections.
The very first tight corner of this stage has been a car-eater. There used to be a stone that was called “the million dollar stone”. Most notably Lasse Lampi crashed out onto that from 7th place in 1989. Elsewhere on the stage, Didier Auriol’s miserable event in 1990 ended finally on Savo.
The top position of the first third is shared between two stages, both containing many routes and titles. Juupajoki is one of those stages which pops in and out of the rally every 10 years or so. And at least twice it has changed the result of the rally dramatically.
Juupajoki is well known as a long stage, up to 31 km, but there has also been shorter editions in the 80’s.
The appearances of the stage range from 1983 to 2008. It was also driven twice as Talviainen and those editions are counted in here as an exception.
The older versions were based more in the West, the newer versions in the East, meeting in the middle for a short section for every edition. The shorter stages Salokunta, Riukusalmi/Kalasaari and Haukilahti are also sharing parts with the routes but are not counted here. Most of the old West version is nowadays paved and straightened, so it’s not anymore suitable for rallying.
The long versions of the stage involve many rhythm changes and road types, even some tarmac on the 1983 and 1989-1991 versions. Meanwhile, the 1986 stage is basically just two roads on a 10 km stage.
Jumps might be sparse on this stage, but there are plenty of difficult crests.
The wide roads are very fast but the smaller roads balance it out. All versions of the stage include a technical section and junction turns. The modern versions include more technical sections than the old ones, but this is the average score for all versions. Another challenge for this stage are narrow bridges, on both eras.
There are two cases where a driver who was second in the rally – and would become the world champion the year after – crashed in Juupajoki: Carlos Sainz in 1989 and Richard Burns in 2000. Burns didn’t go further but Sainz was able to continue although he hit a bridge on the following corner due to a puncture caused by the crash. In other incidents Markku Alen hit a traffic divider on a tarmac section in 1991, resulting in a puncture. Meanwhile, Juha Kankkunen rolled in a Hyundai in 2002 on his final works start in the rally.
The gravel roads around the small village of Moksi have hosted many different stages – including the aforementioned Surkee and Vellipohja – but still there has been plenty of different versions under the Moksi moniker itself.
Includes Moksi – Leustu, Sahloinen – Moksi and Niemiaho
The 41 km Moksi – Leustu, a product of the long-stage era, is the second-longest stage to have featured in the rally. Meanwhile, stages with the Moksi title have varied from 8 to 20 km.
I have counted in here the Niemiaho stage from 1975 since it’s essentially the same stage as Moksi from 1988. Conversely we’re leaving out the 1984 and 1986 Moksi stages which have nothing to do with the other Moksi stages but actually should be titled Korpiaho. All Moksi variations (except the aforementioned 1984 and 1986) have something in common with the long Moksi – Leustu route, but for example the 1991 stage has nothing to share with the 2018-2021 one, which is actually closer to Surkee stages. As we can see, some of the Moksi stages could have been named better.
The long Moksi – Leustu route contains all kinds of roads from gravel highways to forestry tracks with frequent changes. In fact, all the other Moksi stages also have a some kind of a mix of small and wide roads except the 1988 and 1975 one which is just all fast private roads.
Most of the jumps occur on the small roads, including some heavy ones. And of course Moksi – Leustu has also access to some of Leustu’s jumps.
Most of these stages contain very technical forest roads, such as the beginning of Moksi – Leustu or the sections borrowed from Surkee on the 2018-2021 versions, but there’s also some very fast and straightforward sections (and also medium-technical sections). Out of the shorter ones, the 1991 version has more weight on straightforward roads, the 2000 one on technical. In fact the latter is included in a statistical quirk: it was the slowest stage of the rally with 110 km/h of average speed – including super specials – which must have made it the least slow WRC event ever!
The most high-profile incidents come from Moksi – Leustu: Harri Rovanperä’s puncture and suspension failure when leading the rally in 2002 as well as Colin McRae’s crash in 2003. In addition, Juuso Pykälistö crashed out in 2001 and Chris Atkinson in 2005.