24 Jul 09
After the longest break of the season so far, the 2009 World Rally Championship returns next week with one of its undoubted highlights, Rally Finland.
And if any event was worth the long wait, it's Finland. First run in 1951, the Rally of the 1000 Lakes, as it is known, has become one of the most prestigious, and popular, in the calendar.
Finland is known as the spiritual home of rallying, thanks to its abundance of wide, smooth gravel roads - which are perfect for the sport - and the record breaking achievements of its drivers who grew up learning how to drive them flat out.
Names like Vatanen, Gronholm, Makinen, and Kankkunen each learned their craft here before going on to conquer the world - ensuring the WRC drivers' trophy has remained in Finnish hands for 13 years since 1979.
The stages around the host town of Jyvaskyla are the fastest in the championship and have hosted five of the six fastest rallies in WRC history. The 2005 Rally Finland holds the outright record as the fastest rally ever, with an average speed of 122.86kph.
Maintaining these speeds along stages littered with jumps, blind crests and hidden corners requires a highly specialised driving style, combining inch perfect pace notes, the perfect racing line and a huge amount of nerve. Local knowledge counts for a lot in Finland, to the extent that only seven non-Finns have won the rally in 58 years.
Despite the mind-bending speeds the hard-packed roads Finland is not mechanically tough on cars. Instead, the challenge is purely about top speed and skill behind the wheel. With pines trees lining much of the route, errors rarely go unpunished, so the stakes are high. For most rally drivers, however, the challenge is addictive and victory in Finland is seen as the ultimate WRC prize.
This year's rally remains based in the university town of Jyvaskyla, where the event was first held in 1951, but more than 30 per cent of the route has changed since 2008, and there are two completely new stages; Karvala (SS18) and Myhinpää (SS21/22).
The rally kicks off on Thursday 30 July with a Super Special stage at the town's Killeri horse trotting track. The proper forest stage action commences on Friday with eight stages in the countryside north-west of the city followed by a second pass through the Killeri stage.
A marathon 166.87 competitive kilometres (almost half the rally's competitive distance) are scheduled on Saturday, when drivers head south-west for two loops of stages near the town of Jämsä, before another three tests near Mänttä. In contrast Sunday's competition is the shortest of the event, with just four stages east of Jyväskylä.
After a total of 345.15km of competition, the rally winner is expected to cross the finish podium at Jyvaskyla's Paviljonki centre at 1400hrs.
The championship's control tyre regulations dictate the use of just one pattern for the majority of WRC events, and in Finland Pirelli’s 205/65R15 soft compound Scorpion gravel tyre is the only one available.
Priority WRC crews have a maximum of 42 tyres available for the rally, including six for Shakedown. Competitors may carry two spares. The re-cutting of tread patterns is not permitted.
You’ll find more information on Rally Finland, including a video review of last year's event, the 2009 itinerary and a link to the official rally website, in the rallies section.
We’ll bring you preview information from each of the leading WRC teams over the coming days here on wrc.com.