FIA World Rally Championship visits Finland next week (August 4-7) for the eighth round of the 2022 season.
Following on from Estonia’s WRC counter in mid-July, Rally Finland provides more high-speed thrills with the country’s forest roads akin to a flat-out rollercoaster ride thanks to the generous helping of twists, turns, dips and crests.
A founding round of the WRC back in 1973, Rally Finland celebrated its 70th anniversary last year when the event was switched to an unfamiliar October slot due to restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Returning to its more traditional early August date, but with a route that’s some 50 per cent altered from 2021, this year’s Rally Finland takes on added significance with the hybrid-based Rally1 technical regulations representing the future of the sport.
And that future of WRC looks very bright in Finland where the emergence of 21-year-old Kalle Rovanperä is fuelling hopes of a 15th Finnish WRC Drivers’ title for this established driver talent factory.
Co-driven by compatriot Jonne Halttunen, Rovanperä has won five of the seven rounds run so far this season to build an 83-point championship lead for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT.
While a sixth victory in 2022 on home soil would represent a huge achievement and one that would be tough to accomplish given his limited experience compared to his rivals, this rally-mad nation expects big things from its young star, particularly in Rally Finland’s host city Jyväskylä, which counts locally-born Rovanperä as one of its own.
Nevertheless, Marcus Grönholm remains the most successful driver in Rally Finland’s WRC era thanks to his tally of seven wins. The late Hannu Mikkola also triumphed seven times although three of his victories predated the advent of the World Rally Championship.
Until Carlos Sainz won in 1990, no driver from outside the Nordic region had ever claimed victory on the event, which was called the Jyväskylän Suurajot (Finnish Grand Prix) when it first took place in 1951. However, there hasn’t been a Finnish winner since 2017 with Estonia and Wales celebrating the wins since then.
For this year’s Rally Finland, Pirelli, the WRC’s official tyre supplier, will provide its Scorpion KX soft and hard tyres. The soft compound is the first choice and is ideal when cool and damp conditions prevail. The second-choice hard option is chosen for warm and dry weather. A maximum of 28 tyres can be used by teams running Rally1 cars, including four for Shakedown.
FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem will be attending Rally Finland as a guest of the Finnish ASN, AKK.
THE 2022 ROUTE
Rally Finland’s organising team has produced a route that’s approximately 50 per cent altered compared to 2021 with 10 per cent of the itinerary untried in the WRC.
Thursday’s shakedown stage represents unchartered territory for a number of competitors with the Rannankylä stage not used since 2010.
Central Jyväskylä’s Harju stage will also be unfamiliar due to a tweaked layout. Crews tackle two laps of the revised route on Thursday evening before the one-lap version on Friday afternoon.
The rerun of Harju will follow an exciting Friday morning loop that includes the famous Lankamaa stage, which returns in an opposite direction from when it was last used in 2017. The 21.69-kilometre test, due to be used twice on Friday’s opening leg, is also notable as it’s the rally’s longest stage.
Rapsula and Vekkula are new stages for 2022 although both feature familiar roads. Rapsula includes the famous Kakaristo hairpin, once part of the iconic Ouninpohja stage, while Vekkula contains sections of the old Leustu and Ehikki runs.
While Ruuhimäki, complete with its plentiful jumps, is once again the setting for the rally-deciding Power Stage on Sunday, Oittila switches to the event’s final day having been scheduled on Friday in 2021.
Stage distance: 322.61 km
Total distance: 1427.47 km
Number of stages: 22
Twelve Rally1 cars appear on the Rally Finland entry, which is headed by FIA World Rally Championship pacesetters Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen.
The Finns are joined in the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT line-up by last year’s winners Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin and Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm, who took their first and, to date, only WRC victory in Finland in 2017. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston compete in a fourth Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 entered by Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG.
Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe are the best-placed Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team crew. Double Finland winners Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja and third nominated drivers Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson also compete in Hyundai i20 N Rally1s.
Craig Breen/Paul Nagle, who head M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s challenge, took their maiden WRC podium in Finland in 2016 and repeated the feat last season. They are joined by Adrien Fourmax/Alexandre Coria, Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson and Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais in relying on Ford Puma Rally1 power. Meanwhile, Jari Huttuen/Mikkko Lukka step up from WRC2 to drive a Puma on their home round of the championship for the first time.
THE SUPPORTING CATEGORIES
The popularity of the FIA WRC2 category is again demonstrated by a 17-strong entry featuring a host of home heroes, including Toksport WRT driver Emil Lindholm (Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) and Hyundai Motosport N’s Teemu Suninen (Hyundai i20 N Rally2). One-time WRC winner, New Zealander Hayden Paddon, is set for his second start since returning to the championship in Estonia recently. FIA European Rally Championship graduates, Nikolay Gryazin and Miko Marczyk, are also entered and are eligible for WRC2 Junior points. Volkswagen Polo GTI R5-driving Estonians Egon Kaur and Georg Linnamaë (ALM Motorsport) are also in contention, while Sami Pajari, the winner of the 2021 FIA Junior WRC Championship, will be one to watch despite his inexperience at Rally2 level. Pajari’s fellow young Finns, Toni Herranen and Lauri Joona, are among the FIA WRC3 contenders. Kimi Räikkönen’s nephew Justus will be 17 years, four months and 25 days when Rally Finland begins on August 4, making him the youngest driver in the event’s history.