Scheduled for August 1st-4th, this year’s Finnish round of the World Rally Championship – Neste Rally Finland – follows a route based on last year’s winning recipe. The new spices, such as the return of Leustu, are once more set to make the event nail-bitingly exciting throughout all 23 rollercoaster special stages on Central Finland’s famously fast sand-and-gravel roads.
Neste Rally Finland gets under way as usual with the Harju stage right in the centre of Jyväskylä on the Thursday evening, 1.8. Harju, which made its comeback in 2014 after a break of 16 years, has cemented its place in the heart of rally fans.
– Harju is still fantastically popular. This is not a stage for faint hearts – in true Finnish fashion the drivers have to manage both gravel and tarmac while keeping it carefully between the trees. Harju offers something for everyone – drivers, spectators and sponsors, enthuses Neste Rally Finland’s Deputy Clerk of the Course Kari Nuutinen, the architect of this year’s route.
After the Harju stage it is back to rally HQ Jyväskylä Paviljonki for the evening service halt. In addition to the Service Park, this year fans will be able to enjoy all the rally action in Paviljonki’s Ympyrätori zone, following developments as they unfold via WRC All Live broadcasts displayed on a giant screen and surrounded by a whole range of services.
Last year’s sold-out Oittila starts Friday’s loop of traditional stages
The names of Friday’s special stages are unchanged from last year but the drivers will not be able to rely entirely on memory.
The morning begins with Oittila, a stage hugely popular with rally fans, which was driven in 2018 after the evening service break.
– Last year Oittila was to all intents and purposes sold out. We were forced to close off the approach roads and competitors had a tough time reaching the stage. For this reason we decided to move the stage this year to first thing in the morning, allowing us to keep the traffic moving freely, Nuutinen explains.
Next up on Friday are the stages familiar from last year: Moksi, Urria, Ässämäki and Äänekoski.
Saturday the stuff of legends – with a fresh twist to people’s favourite Kakaristo
Day three of Rally Finland begins amidst the picture-postcard scenery of Pihlajakoski. The stage has acquired a completely new starting section for this year.
– Pihlajakoski is more mouth-watering than ever. Right at the start there’s about ten kilometres of new road – road that has never been used in Rally Finland before, Nuutinen continues.
From Pihlajakoski the drivers head over towards tried and tested Päijälä, where last year some heart-in-the-mouth moments were experienced when Kalle Rovanperä, then leader in WRC2, came within a whisker of retirement. In the end the young talent from Jyväskylä emulated Timo Mäkinen and completed the stage with the bonnet up.
– On the Päijälä stage the damper came up through the bonnet and boy did that cause us some problems. It doesn’t bother us any more of course, but it’s not one of my fondest memories either! In any case it felt fantastic when we made it from Pihlajakoski back to service in such a badly damaged car.I have never seen so many people cheering and giving us support, says Rovanperä of perhaps the most emotional moment of his career so far.
After Päijälä the competitors face the challenge of the revamped Kakaristo stage.
– Kakaristo now begins from the Rapsulantie road. The start was last driven back in 1997, so for today’s drivers it’s a completely unknown quantity, Nuutinen reveals.
The Rapsulantie road has witnessed incidents that may even have had an influence on the world championship: in 1986 Markku Alén, leading the rally by a comfortable margin on the Sunday morning, went off and rolled his Lancia on this stretch of road and lost the lead as well as valuable world championship points.
Saturday’s itinerary subsequent to Kakaristo sees the return of a highly popular and much-requested special stage, Leustu.
– Leustu has a lot of junctions which spectators can get to easily. Leustu is a superb piece of road not only in terms of challenge for the drivers, but also spectator enjoyment, Nuutinen emphasises.
Mega jump crowns Sunday’s finale
Neste Rally Finland closes on Sunday with two passes of the Laukaa and Ruuhimäki special stages. Rally fans will be gathered to see how competitors manage the flying crests on the famous Ruuhimäki straight as well as the mega jump at Laukaa Areena which sent the rally world into such raptures last year. The second pass of Ruuhimäki is also the Power Stage on which the five fastest drivers earn extra points.
– Ruuhimäki last year was total magic – everything went completely to plan. The mega jump idea has proved popular elsewhere in the world, too, since the organisers of Rally Mexico wanted the same type of jump on their event.
– I’d like to express my thanks to the Municipality of Laukaa as well for their excellent cooperation in making the Ruuhimäki stage even better. Collaboration with the municipalities is a central pillar of Neste Rally Finland’s development efforts. By working together we can guarantee rally fans an even more satisfying experience – and the City of Äänekoski has also been a prime mover in this respect, Nuutinen underlines.
Neste Rally Finland Route 2019
Photo: Toni Ollikainen/AKK