It’s not just Hockenheim F1® and Spa 24 Hours this weekend
Few rallies are more famous than Rally Finland: certainly none are faster. A founding round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 1973, the event’s legend dates back to 1951 with the first running of the Jyvaskylan Suurajot, or the Jyvaskyla Grand Prix.
While the name has changed over the years – it became known as the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1965 before, 31 years later, the Rally Finland designation was introduced to appeal to commercial backers – the challenge has never diminished.
A rally big on speed is also big on jumps and big ones at that with numerous crests, many sited in mid-corner, littering the high-paced gravel stages that blast through dense forests, making it one of the most daunting challenges in world motorsport.
Although there is some debate about its exact meaning, the Finnish word ‘sisu’ loosely translates into English as ‘having guts’. As retired two-time world rally champion (and former Pirelli driver) Marcus Gronholm insists, plenty of ‘sisu’ is required to stand a chance of winning one of the WRC’s most iconic events.
“To tackle Rally Finland you need courage but you need to know where the road is fast and where it is fastest,” he says. “The rally is a series of twists, corners and jumps. The pacenotes have to be perfect because they tell you where to place the car on the road before taking off flat-out over a blind crest. You have to have maximum trust and faith in your co-driver.”
F1® meets rallying
The event doesn’t just appeal to rally drivers. Ferrari Formula One racer Sebastian Vettel was an interested spectator in 2009 and his trip to host city Jyvaskyla left a lasting impression on the German. “I’ve got so much respect for how these guys handle their cars in the forests,” he said at the time.
His current Ferrari team mate, Kimi Raikkonen, tried the rally proper for size, crashing out on his debut in 2009 but scoring points two years later.
“Rally Finland is all about having good pacenotes, an accurate set-up and everything being right with the car, including the tyres,” the Iceman said in 2010. “I never had a home grand prix when I was in Formula One so it is nice to have a home rally now I am in the WRC.”
Pirelli has 14 Rally Finland victories to its name so far, the last coming in 2010, the final year of its three-season official tyre supplier deal with the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, when home hero Jari-Matti Latvala triumphed for Ford.
“This is something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a small boy and to win my home event is a fantastic feeling, really amazing,” Latvala said following his first place finish in Jyvaskyla six years ago. “The Pirelli tyres have been perfect.”
Heroes from the past
Markku Alen, who won in Finland on five occasions using Pirelli tyres, could share Latvala’s sentiments. “For us Finns this is the Finnish Grand Prix and maybe it is difficult to understand how important it is to win it unless you are Finnish. My wins in Finland were always special.”
Hannu Mikkola secured Pirelli’s first Finland success when he won in 1975 at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla. He remembers: “This was the rally I always wanted to win.”
Until Carlos Sainz, father of Toro Rosso F1® star Carlos Sainz Jr, won in 1990, no non-Nordic driver had ever taken victory on the event and there have been only seven non-Finnish wins since. Notably, rallying legend Colin McRae never won in Finland although the late Scot was always fast and spectacular. He even named his racehorse after the rally’s most famous stage, Ouninpohja.