View from the service park

The junction of Julius Kuperjanovi and Vallikraav won’t be the same. Not for a while at least. Not since Markko Märtin left his mark there with a Ford Fiesta WRC.

Märtin knows this place, these Tartu streets. If anybody’s allowed to lay down rubber donuts, it’s him. He’s Estonia’s original rally hero. And last weekend his home fans welcomed him and the vast majority of the WRC with open arms.

Shell Helix Rally Estonia is an official WRC Promotional event, but that’s only part of the reason the big four manufacturer teams were present. The other reason is just over a fortnight away, across the Baltic Sea.

Neste Rally Finland.

Rally Estonia director Urmo Aava knows precisely what’s needed to make a rally car fly. He competed in Jyväskylä eight times and placed a Mitsubishi Lancer seventh overall in 2007.

That’s why he decided to make Estonia the go-to place for a bit of Finland practice. The only minor issue with the super-fast roads around Otepää, a couple of hours south of Tallinn, was the lack of jumps.

“We have jumps,” says Aava, “but we didn’t have quite enough. So we made some more.”

This wasn’t just a case of sticking some ramps on the road, Aava and his team looked at the profile and topography of Finland and copied that. The results were spectacular, both in terms of air time and appreciation.

Ott Tänak won last weekend, like he won last year. But this time the Toyota Gazoo driver really felt the full force of the home support.

Markko Märtin was cajoled into returning to the wheel by Ott Tänak

Trying to make himself heard above thousands of folk singing his name, Tänak smiled wide and said: “I think we showed we are a rally nation.”

That had never been in doubt. Not from the moment Märtin won his first ever WRC round in Greece in 2003. Certainly not when Markko guided Ford’s Focus RS to the top step of the podium in Finland a few months later.

That was the beginning of an annual pilgrimage north for thousands upon thousands of Estonians, folk whose year still pivots around a summer boat ride from Tallinn to Helsinki.

And they were all out last weekend. The stages were packed, fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes Tänak and Märtin. Tänak had persuaded his friend to drive the rally again. Sceptical at first, Markko was happy he’d listened to the current WRC leader.

“It was actually quite hard work at times,” he said. “I wanted to try this generation of World Rally Cars and it looks like [me competing] was a big thing. That wasn’t the plan, but it seems it was important to Estonia that I was here. I enjoyed it.”

So did Estonia. Even when the weather worsened for the final podium, they didn’t stop singing and dancing in the rain.

And they certainly didn’t stop cheering Tänak. Throughout the weekend, Ott talked the talk of a Finland test. He ran first on the road to ape the conditions he’ll have at the next WRC round and discovered more stuff to make his car go faster, fly further. But most of all, he gave his countrymen and women something to shout about.

And they shouted loud.

“I could hear them,” Tänak grinned. “Even in the car, I could hear them.” Ott, we could all hear them.

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