Cover image by Harri Ukkonen (C)
Ehikki is one of the definite 1000 Lakes Classics in the Jämsä area, although it hasn’t been used in 15 years until it returns for the 2022 event as Vekkula. In its classic form Ehikki is a fast-flowing stage – the corners are typically fast but not flat, and there are more crests than jumps. One characteristic feature is that there are several barns very close to the road.
The early years
This preview video from 1965 shows Ehikki on the rear-facing footage at 1:47. It is from Ehikintie going Southwards with buildings very close to the road. At 2:04 the car turns left onto Vekkulantie with again a barn close to the road on the inside (the following external footage is already from the next stage).
During the inaugural WRC season of 1973 Ehikki was already a staple part of the route. Its length was 18.7 km and like in 1965 it consisted of two roads: Ehikintie and Vekkulantie.
In 1975 the route was made slower through the use of shorter stages. Thus Ehikki was also compacted, consisting only of Ehikintie, and in the opposite direction.
Conversely in 1976 only Vekkulantie was used and the length was now exactly 10 km. The following years would use a similar version with just the start being moved earlier.
Since Ehikki is located relatively close to Jyväskylä, it has often been driven as one of the first stages of the rally. From 1973 to 1985 Ehikki was always SS4, except for 1975 and 1976 when it was SS5.
In 1981 Ehikki was the scene of a tragic accident when Audi works driver Franz Wittman missed the finish boards and hit stage marshalls at the end of the stage, killing a Finnish ASN representative Raul Falin. This incident resulted in better warning signs for the flying finish and stop control.
Possibly as a result, the Ehikki stage start and finish were again moved earlier. The new finish can be seen on this video at 1:12 where you can see the yellow and red boards after a long left over crests (alternating with other stage footage)
Short duration – multiple runs
During the years 1983-1986 Ehikki was run twice, or even three times in 1986, with all repeats having a different ending. This is actually very uncommon in Rally Finland – there’s not many examples of running the same stage with different versions during the same rally. The first run was still always one of the first stages, and conversely the second run was one of the last stages of the rally (or just before a rest halt in Jyväskylä).
In 1983 the second version turned left onto Ehikintie soon after the start. This was the first use of that road since 1975. It’s also curious that while 1986 had three Ehikki version, none of them utilized Ehikintie.
From 1984 to 1986 the second (or third in 1986) version used at the end of the rally was almost similar to the basic one, except that at the end it turned left onto Ruostekankaantie for a short acceleration before the finish.
In 1986 the first version of Ehikki used yet a different ending (with the usual first version being used actually as the second run). The first run turned right onto a slightly smaller road of Palviantie but only for a short bit again. However, Palviantie would feature more extensively in later years. The 1986 stage can be seen here on this video at 1:00:02
The third run of Ehikki on Sunday morning can be seen here at 2:29:23, passing the Ehikintie junction at high speed. Also notice that although it’s the third pass during the weekend, the road is still in good shape.
Back to longer versions
Ehikki was absent from 1987’s super slow route, but returned in its full glory for the more relaxed route of 1988. This was essentially the same long version as in 1974 but now in the opposite direction. It became the fastest stage of the rally with 121 km/h of average speed on Juha Kankkunen’s Toyota Celica. For comparison, 14 years earlier the average speed on Timo Mäkinen’s Ford Escort had been 110 km/h.
1989 was another year off, but in 1990 Ehikki was a part of the short Thursday leg with yet another revised route. The start was again on Ehikintie, for the first time since 1974. The ending proceeded onto Palviantie like in 1986 but now for extended duration.
Palviantie is a forest road, but not the narrowest or slowest, although there are some tight bends and sharp crests, making it angular. Thus the 1990 version was still relatively fast. It was Juha Kankkunen again setting the pace – now on the Lancia Delta Integrale – 118 km/h in rainy conditions with dusk falling.
This video at 44:54 shows the junction turn from Ehikintie to Vekkulantie – the same one we saw on the 1965 footage – with the barn on the inside. This has been a popular spectating and filming location.
In 1991 the stage start was moved later, thus cutting off a very long straight but also a series of tight bends.
This 1991 video at 57:16 shows another popular spectating and filming location at a farmyard with a tricky left over a crest into a right with a barn close to the road on the left.
In 1992 many stages were extended longer, and so was Ehikki as well. Palviantie was now driven in its full length, as well as a bit of the following road, with the junction between them on tarmac. Despite the growing number of junction turns, the average speed was already over 120 km/h.
In 1993 Ehikki was moved to the end of Friday, to be run with darkness falling. It is well remembered for Malcolm Wilson’s roll at 23:31. The location is the same as on the previous 1991 video.
The 1993 version extended further than in 1992 onto yet another road. The last junction turn actually took the cars back towards Vekkulantie, but only for a short bit (the road would have been very straight had they continued further). The last junction turn can be seen here at 20:29.
Yet another new configuration was introduced in 1994. Now Palviantie was used only for a short bit before turning onto a small forestry road. Two more small roads – but not as rough – were used to return to Vekkulantie, making a small loop of four roads. The start was also moved back to the 1990 location on Ehikintie. This run is notable for being the last stage driven in the darkness in Finnish WRC event until 2021. It was also considerably slower than before, with Tommi Mäkinen’s stage win at 113 km/h.
In 1995 the same stage was reversed, and the beginning was moved earlier. It was essentially the same stage as 1988, but with just the 1994 small road loop on the way.
OFF THE WRC
As 1000 Lakes Rally turned into Rally Finland, Ehikki was waiting on the bench for four years. However, it appeared on the Mänttä 200 rally of 1999. It was a typical test event even for factory drivers. Carlos Sainz infamously crashed at the end of Ehikki, although this corner hasn’t featured in WRC since 1974.
This run of the stage has also yielded some rare onboard footage from Marcus Grönholm’s then-new Peugeot 206 WRC. The onboard begins at 2:01 and is on Vekkulantie. “Wilson’s corner” appears at 3:10. At 4:03 they pass the junction to Palviantie while the 1983 ending location is at 4:25. At 4:33 the camera angle changes and the footage is from some other stage (likely from tests outside the rally), but at 5:15 it returns to Ehikki. Sainz’s crash is passed at 6:50. Anything after this hasn’t been driven in the WRC event since 1974. At 7:00 there is a junction on the right where the 2022 Vekkula stage will turn onto, coming from the opposite direction, but otherwise even Sainz’s corner or anything after that hasn’t been used in the rally since 1974.
Ehikki returned to WRC in 2000 as a part of the 50th anniversary Rally Finland. This is also the longest version of the stage, almost 20 km long. It was again representing the era of long stages with many road types connected together. The direction was now reversed so the start was on Palviantie, and the small roads from 1994-1995 were also included.
This video shows the 2000 stage start and some of the first corners. This footage is rare since Palviantie has almost never been filmed. As we can see, it’s quite wide and fast for a forest road. The average speed of the stage was already fractionally over 120 km/h.
Here we can see some footage from the 2001 rally at 15:20. First we see the cars turn from the small road loop onto Vekkulantie, while Rovanperäs onboard shows the same farmyard on Ehikintie as on the 1965 video, except now in the opposite direction.
In 2002 the small roads in the middle were omitted, which increased the average speed considerably. This rare onboard shows the stage in its full glory, from Palviantie to Vekkulantie and finally Ehikintie.
Ehikki became even shorter in 2004 by moving the start a lot further. The purpose of this could have been to make the stage slower, since the 2003 stage win average speed had been 130 km/h but only 126 km/h in 2004!
2005 and 2006 were again years off, but in 2007 Ehikki returned one more time. It was driven twice during the rally, for the first time since 2000. The route was the same as in 1988 with the start extended even earlier (a bit North from the Sainz Mänttä 200 crash corner) and a chicane stuck in the middle at 2:55 on the video. The chicane location is also the same as the finish on the 1983 video and where the 1984-1986 near-rally-end versions turned left here (both coming from the opposite direction).
End of an era
After 2007 Ehikki has not been used anymore in the WRC event. However, this has allowed the road to be used for testing. In 2012 Carlos Sainz tried the upcoming Volkswagen Polo on Vekkulantie. “Wilson’s corner” is at 1:22 (as well as the following scene in the opposite direction).
A new beginning
Ehikki should return for the 2022 Rally Finland, now being relabeled as Vekkula. The stage itself combines the start from 2019’s Leustu and then proceeds through small roads onto the most Southern part of Ehikki not used since 1974. Subsequently it turns onto forestry roads that have never been used in WRC, and then joins the 1995 route in the middle of the small road loop. The last 8 km of classic Ehikki are familiar from all versions since 1988, and in this direction all years since 2000.
The resulting stage is 21 km long, which is practically the longest version of Ehikki ever made, albeit with a new title. The structure of the stage is also different to all other versions. There’s many junction turns and road types with drastic rhythm changes from very fast to very slow, or very wide to very narrow.
Hopefully this is the start of a new era for Ehikki. There are lots of interesting combinations that could be made. And many of the barns are still in their place after all these decades, waiting to get some dust on their walls.