With a week gone since the dust settled in Finland, it’s time to look back at some of the storylines that make the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’ so special. What did we learn from the 69th Rally Finland – and what can it tell us about the rest of the year?
Toyotas fly on home turf
The Toyota Yaris WRC may race under the Japanese flag, but its heart is laden with Finnish sisu. In fact, the cars are created just down the road from Jyvaskyla in Tommi Mäkinen’s home town of Puupola. International testing regulations mean that teams are only allowed to test close to their home base, in order to limit expenditure on expensive trips away. So if your home base is Puuppola, this gives you a distinct advantage. Of course, Toyota could very easily have obtained a one-two-three in Jyvaskyla, with Mäkinen frustrated that his drivers didn’t always follow instructions. “You make a plan in the morning, but then when you put your helmet on, you sometimes forget the plan,” was the succinct way that he described his drivers on Rally Finland. Luckily Ott Tänak remembered the plan – and the early speculation suggests that he has already agreed to stay with Toyota beyond this year. On this form, why wouldn’t he?
Lappi laughs at last
It’s not been an easy year for Esapekka Lappi, as on occasions he has succumbed to what appears to be a Nordic jinx in Citroen. Looking back at the French team’s illustrious past, it seems that only French drivers have been able to make the red cars go consistently quickly (especially if they happen to be called Sébastien). But Lappi managed to score his second podium of the year (after Sweden) in Finland and could almost consider his third place to be a victory, if you take away the dominant Toyotas. The good news for Lappi is that there’s a run of asphalt rallies coming up with Germany and Spain: the C3 WRC’s strongest surface. Can he overcome his lack of experience to stand on the podium again this year and improve on his eighth place in the championship?
Finland is perhaps the most specialised event on the calendar, yet it’s somewhere that English speakers have always gone well too; Richard Burns used to love Finland and Kris Meeke was a former winner as well. Craig Breen took his debut (and only) podium in Finland with Citroen in 2016 and this was undoubtedly one of the factors that convinced Hyundai to bring him back for a one-off outing in Finland. Breen rewarded their faith magnificently, setting two second-fastest stage times, and being the leading i20 WRC for a significant chunk of the rally. Now that ‘one-off’ outing seems to have doubled, as it looks like Breen will be back with Hyundai for Rally GB. And possibly for next year too. Finland is a place where reputations are made.
While all the above are good news stories for Toyota, Citroen and Hyundai, Finland was a less happy outing for the Ford M-Sport team – and the news isn't getting any better soon. From standing on the podium in Sardinia, Teemu Suninen was left fighting for the small points in Finland – his home event. What went so wrong? Part of the problem was that Suninen had nobody to measure his pace against, as the other Fiesta was entrusted to Englishman Gus Greensmith – on only his second rally in WRC machinery. The reason why was because Elfyn Evans – the closest challenger to the top three drivers in the championship – had injured his back during Rally Estonia. And Elfyn isn't going to be better in time for the next round in Germany either. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for the M-Sport squad, New Zealander Hayden Paddon – on a guest appearance in Finland – wrecked his Fiesta on the pre-event test before even getting the chance to start.
Last year, teenage prodigy Kalle Rovanperä led WRC2 in Finland commandingly before his car’s suspension broke. This year, the 18-year-old did the job properly, having dominated the category from start to finish in his Skoda and finishing more than two and a half minutes ahead of his nearest rival. This could actually be the last time we see Kalle in a Skoda in Finland, as the strong rumour is that he has already agreed to drive for Toyota next year, which would make him the youngest driver to ever occupy a WRC factory seat by some margin. Kalle needs to watch out though, as an interested spectator in Finland was 17-year-old Oliver Solberg, alongside his famous dad Petter.
It wouldn’t be Rally Finland without a spectacular barrel-rolling crash into the trees at some point during the three days. And this year’s winner for the best Rally Finland crash was Romanian Junior WRC contender Raul Badiu, who had a “proper Finland-sized accident” as former world champion co-driver Robert Reid put it. Badiu lost it at high speed in his Fiesta R2 while chasing Tom Kristensson, who led the category from start to finish to move into the series lead by only one point, with just one round to go. The Junior WRC winner steps up to the WRC2 class next year – so there’s everything to play for!