For thousands and thousands of fans from around Europe, the year turns around this week in Jyväskylä. And it really is that special.
The atmosphere, ambiance and buzz in the service park is one of the highlights of the year. From the moment you cross the railway bridge from Jyväskylä city side to the Paviljonki area which plays host to the teams and their hospitality and engineering bases, the feeling is special.
You know you’re in Finland. You know you’re surrounded by some of the biggest and best names in our sport. You know you’re in for the week of your life.
The service park is always a great place to start. You can get yourself a cup of Latvala coffee (it’s very good) and maybe a Mustamakkara sausage (best served with lingonberries), while you plan your route through the coming days.
And when you’re trying to decide whether you should go to Moksi or Urria; Leustu or Kakaristo, you know you’re in the right place and whatever your choice, you won’t be disappointed.
The organisers are experts at looking after rally fans, they’ve been doing it for decades. From the Harju street stage on Thursday night (walkable from service) right through the weekend, you’ll be kept constantly up to speed by big screens and multi-lingual radio stations.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll bump into a man walking around the place dressed as an orange. Sometimes an apple.
Next door to the merchandise stalls – a Neste Rally Finland hat and sunnies are an absolute must – you’ll find the event organiser’s Hall of Fame display. This is where homage is paid to one of Finland’s absolute rallying heroes.
Each year a new name is installed with a display of cars and memorabilia from that driver’s time behind the wheel. Again, it’s a seasonal highlight which is put together beautifully and with incredible detail.
The service park’s great, but the stages are where the real sport is. And it’s stage side that the atmosphere really goes through the gears. Waiting for the first car, the expectation builds; the zero cars are getting quicker and quicker until 0 comes through to give an idea of what might be coming your way.
Video: Neste Rally Finland best moments
But it doesn’t. Nothing prepares you for the first time you see these cars at full speed and in full flight again. And it’s the same at every stage. You build that picture in your head, then the heroes of our world come and blow it apart. This annual festival of skill and speed is a must for fans around the world.
The WRC should be celebrating in Jyväskylä this weekend. Covid-19 means those celebrations can’t happen but fear not, Neste Rally Finland will be back in 2021.