Welcome to Rovaniemi. Welcome to the WRC’s furthest trip north. Ever. And a very warm welcome to the very cold home town of Mr S. Claus.
The WRC’s first visit to Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox was a towering success last weekend. Not only did it provide a typically fast and fascinating Finnish round of the championship, but it provided a hugely entertaining event.
Not only was Joulupukki in attendance and keeping a watchful eye over the boys and girls driving in his backyard, Lapland provided a whole bunch of other opportunities for the drivers and co-drivers.
Video: Arctic Rally Finland - winner special
A few frozen laps in a go-kart, a dog sled tour and, obviously, a reindeer sleigh ride. As a location, Lapland delivered before the rally even got going.
But once the second round of the WRC was underway, all the frivolities were forgotten. The full focus was on tearing up some of the fastest, deep-frozen stages in the series’ history.
The organisers did a superb job in providing a fascinating mix of roads, with towering 200kph speed combining beautifully with more technical sections which had the crews and cars dodging the trees and farm buildings on an event that will last long in the memory.
Certainly it’s an event Ott Tänak and Hyundai Motorsport won’t forget in a hurry. The first of two Finnish outings provided a real shot in the arm to both the Estonian and his employer’s title aspirations.
Victory means the 2019 champion’s tally is up and running after his round one no-score, while the Alzenau squad halved the difference to early pace-setters Toyota Gazoo Racing in the makes’ battle.
It’s fair to say everybody fell for Finland last week, with WRC2 winner Esapekka Lappi summing it up better than anybody.
“What’s not to love with this event?” he questioned. “We have the perfect roads, minus conditions, great ice and blue skies. This is why we go rallying.”
The only downside was the loss of 1983 world champion Hannu Mikkola, who passed away on Friday.
One of the original Flying Finns, Mikkola was a legend of the sport and one who will be truly missed. It was, perhaps, fitting that the series turned south from its most northerly port of call with one of Mikkola’s countrymen – Kalle Rovanperä – at the top of the table.