The 43-year-old ex-Ford and Peugeot legend took part on his first Rally Finland in 1989, when the event was still called the 1000 Lakes Rally, and claimed his maiden victory 11 years later alongside long-term co-driver Timo Rautiainen.
In many ways, winning in Finland is less complicated than on other rallies. The surface of the stages is usually super-smooth, meaning there are less rocks or ruts to catch drivers out and there are fewer junctions and slow-speed technical sections where drivers need to get into the right rhythm and keep it flowing.
“To tackle [Rally Finland] you need courage but you have to be clever too,” said Gronholm. “You need to know the road is fast and where it is fastest. The rally is a series of twists, corners and jumps. The pace notes have to be perfect, 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 on this rally.”
One man who famously underestimated Finland was the mighty Colin McRae. When the Scotsman arrived in the country for the first time in 1992, he thought he could carry the fight to the locals. So, he cast his lack of knowledge of the road before him aside, and focused on going as fast as possible. He rolled once before the start and then twice more during the rally. It is reckoned his Subaru Legacy RS rolled on a total of 11 occasions.
Talking about his second accident, the late McRae said: “The note wasn’t quite right. The corner tightened more than I had expected it to and we went off the road.”