The World Rally Championship is back from its summer break with the ultimate speed chase, Neste Oil Rally Finland, based in the university city of Jyvaskyla in the centre of the country from 28-30 July.
One of the highlights of the season, the flat-out all-gravel contest is also one of the most daunting prospects for the crews who charge through tree-lined straights and fly over blind crests in their pursuit of glory.
Referred to locally as the Finnish Grand Prix, the event is one of Finland’s largest sporting occasions and attracts thousands of fans from all over the world.
Being successful on Rally Finland requires ‘sisu’, which loosely translates into English as ‘having guts’, plus extremely accurate pace notes for negotiating the smooth and compact gravel tracks. That’s because drivers must know where to place their cars on the road before they take off over blind crests to ensure a safe landing.
Much has changed for this year’s rally, the eighth round of the thrilling 2011 WRC season, with five stages previously unused and a move south on Friday to roads around Lahti in order to tap into larger areas of population.
Once again the rally will finish on Saturday night, rather than continuing on Sunday as is traditional with most WRC events. That means more action on Thursday evening with two forest-based stages being run in addition to the Laajavuori spectator stage.
Old favourites such as Hassi, Evo and Mynnila are back on the agenda on Friday with parts of the legendary Ouninpohja test being incorporated into the Hassi stage. Following Evo crews head south to Lahti via the first of two runs through the daunting Hyvaneula stage prior to a remote service halt around in Lahti.
Further stages on Friday include Kokunmaa and Koivukeha, a mainstay of the rally in the mid-1980s, plus a superspecial at the Lahti trotting track where drivers will compete head to head. Competitors will travel back to the overnight halt in Jyvaskyla via the Mynnila stage.
Saturday’s schedule is based around Jyvaskyla with the Leustu, Surkee, Urria, Jukojarvi and Isojarvi stages comprising the competitive action. Jukojarvi has been split in two since last year and one half will be used for the event-closing Power Stage. The finishing ceremony in Jyvaskyla is due to begin at 21:00hrs local time following 22 stages over a competitive distance of 314.39 kilometres.
Neste Oil Rally Finland is the first event of 2011 when all three WRC support championships will be in action, the Super 2000 and Production championships, plus the FIA WRC Academy. Previews of all three will be published next week on wrc.com.
Next page: So who’s going to win?