The FIA World Rally Championship journeys to the Arctic Circle for the first time this week boosted by one of the strongest frontline entries in recent years.
Never in its 49-year history has the series ventured as far north and Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox (26 - 28 February) has 13 World Rally Cars ready for battle in Lapland’s winter wonderland.
This second round is the year’s only pure winter fixture. Paradoxically, the frozen forests around Rovaniemi will see top speeds exceeding 200kph as Pirelli’s studded tyres dig into thick ice covering gravel roads to provide amazing grip.
Seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier heads the entry following victory in last month’s opening round at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Like most frontrunners, the Frenchman has no experience of the Arctic roads and has found it difficult to prepare in the usual way.
“Usually when we have onboard videos from rallies we try to look at them,” explained the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver.
“This is probably the event where there is the least advantage to look at previous onboards because very often snowbanks can be in a different place. They give you an idea of what to expect in terms of profile and general speed, but they are not really a big working tool.”
Ogier is joined in Yaris World Rally Cars by Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta and it’s 20-year-old Rovanperä who has attracted much of the pre-event attention.
The Finn is used to snow and ice and although the Arctic marks only his ninth top-level start, he won a national rally on the same roads in January last year. Many believe he has what it takes to becomes the WRC’s youngest rally winner this weekend.
“It’s the rally where it can really happen,” said Ogier. “Last year already in Sweden’s winter conditions he was really fast, and probably on snow he has driven more kilometres than almost any driver in the championship, even if he is the youngest. He will be very strong.”
Ireland’s Craig Breen comes into Hyundai Motorsport’s squad to join Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak in i20 World Rally Cars.
Teemu Suninen is eyeing a strong performance on home ground after crashing in the season-opener. He is joined by Gus Greensmith and Prada heir Lorenzo Bertelli, competing for the first time since 2019, in Fiesta World Rally Cars for the M-Sport Ford team.
Oliver Solberg, son of 2003 world champion Petter, makes his top-flight debut in an i20 entered by Hyundai 2C Compétition. The teenager’s preparations have been upset by a late co-driver change, with Seb Marshall replacing Aaron Johnston.
Pierre-Louis Loubet drives a second car for the team while the World Rally Car entries are completed by private entrant Janne Tuohino in a Fiesta.
The rally starts on Friday afternoon and drivers face 10 speed tests covering 251.08km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.