One of rallying’s best-known mottoes is “if you want to win, get a Finn.” Or alternatively “to finish first, first you have to be Finnish.” Nowhere does this apply more than to Neste Oil Rally Finland: the ultimate fast and furious experience that the WRC has to offer.
Only three non-Nordic drivers have ever won in Finland: a country where rallying is almost a religion, with a fifth of the entire population turning out to watch the event. One of the greatest rallying heroes that Finland has ever produced is Markku Alen, pictured here competing on his home rally in 1979.
Although he has a very Latin temperament from his time as a factory driver with Fiat and Lancia, Alen becomes profoundly patriotic for one weekend in August when the world championship is in town.
When Sebastien Loeb beat his compatriots for the first time in 2008 he actually berated them for celebrating on the podium. “If it were me, I wouldn’t be smiling and spraying champagne,” he said. “I would have gone home and locked myself in the sauna for two weeks, to think about what I had done...”
So any driver who would like to avoid a fortnight of self-imposed solitary confinement would do well to remember these tips from the top:
Use your experience: The unique nature of the roads means that experience counts: with the stages being so unbelievably fast, having the experience to know what is coming next or how the car is likely to behave makes a world of difference.
Make sure you’re in the right car: Power is important in Finland, as you’re never going to win the quickest rally in the championship with a slow car. But what’s probably even more important is suspension set-up: with all the fast crests this has to be exactly right. Or else you are going off.
Have a really good recce: Finland is all down to confidence: without the right pace notes, you won’t have the confidence to push to the maximum. Note everything: what appears to be a very small thing at normal driving speed on the recce will look very different at 200kph.
Use your inner strength: Whether you’re a local or a visitor, everyone wants to win Rally Finland. All drivers are motivated, but you can use that motivation - and the huge enthusiasm of the fans on the stages - to inspire yourself towards a performance that goes beyond your normal capabilities.