Rally Finland @ 70: The countdown begins

It’s 70 days until the 70th edition of Rally Finland gets underway on Friday October 1.

Marking round 10 of the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship, Finland’s return to the WRC calendar is eagerly anticipated with fast and spectacular gravel stages continuing to make the event the ultimate speed-seeker’s paradise.

With preparations for the unofficial Finnish Grand Prix shifting up a gear in line with COVID-19 restrictions, event organiser AKK Sports Oy is counting down to the autumn action with a look back on seven sensational decades.


*First Rally Finland takes place as the Jyväskylän Suurajot (Jyväskylä Grand Prix) on September 1, 1951, after organiser Pentti Barck’s proposal for an annual competition is accepted.

*Run as an endurance event, the 1700-kilometre route stretches to Rovaniemi in the far north of the country via Kokkola and Oulu before returning to Jyväskylä, which remains the event’s base to this day.

*Out of 26 crews, Arvo Karlsson/Vilho Mattila are declared the winners after they accumulate the lowest number of penalty points in their Austin Atlantic following a variety of challenges including hillclimbs and acceleration tests.

*Helsinki is added to the route for 1952 with 48 crews starting from the Finnish capital. 

*The Rally of 1000 Lakes title is adopted for the first time for 1954. Sundsvall in neighbouring Sweden is one of 11 starting cities.

*Throughout the event’s first decade, entry numbers increase year on year, as does a move towards a more modern rally format with timed intervals and special stages all featuring.

*Erik Carlsson becomes the first non-Finnish winner in 1957, one year before Osmo and Eino Kalpala take the maiden victory for an Italian car, the Finnish brothers triumphing for a third time at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI.

*The 1958 edition is documented by a film crew from 20th Century Fox, while European Rally Championship status follows for 1959. 


*The rally’s international appeal is underlined with almost half of the 85 crews in 1960 non-Finns. But the decade is famous for the emergence of the first generation of ‘Flying Finns’, led by 1961 winner Rauno Aaltonen and Pauli Toivonen, who triumphs the following year ahead of a record 103 rivals.

*Simo Lampinen becomes the first back-to-back winner in 1964, while stage reconnaissance is allowed for 1965. The resulting higher average speeds require more officials to ensure the rally’s safe running with 3000 volunteering for 1968.

*Demand for entries is also huge, prompting organisers to mandate in 1966 that entries would only be considered from drivers who had finished at least three previous rallies. Timo Mäkinen meets the criteria and begins a three-year winning streak.

*Mäkinen’s 1967 win was close, however, after he’s forced to tackle the high-speed Ouninpohja stage with his Mini Cooper’s bonnet open. He beats Lampinen by eight seconds.


*More than 300,000 fans watch Ford Escort driver Hannu Mikkola match Mäkinen’s feat of winning the 1000 Lakes three years in a row in 1970, when 52 stages over a competitive distance of 460 kilometres are organised. 

*The 1000 Lakes is a founding round of the World Rally Championship for 1973. Mäkinen takes a record fourth win to become Finland’s first WRC winner. His triumph in a Ford Escort ends a run of Saab-powered victories for Stig Blomqvist in 1971 and Lampinen in 1972 when almost 700 kilometres of stages feature on a packed itinerary. 

*Mikkola’s 1975 win in a Toyota, a record fifth, is the first for a Japanese manufacturer.

*Driving a Fiat 131 Abarth as one of 150 entrants, Markku Alén’s 1979 victory, his third so far, coincides with the advent of the World Rally Championship for Drivers. 


*Although the 1000 Lakes continues to be dominated by Nordic drivers, David Richards becomes the third British co-driver to win by partnering Ari Vatanen to victory in 1981.

*There’s royal interest for 1982 when King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden follows the event – along with a record 450 reporters. He watches Mikkola and Blomqvist take a dominant one-two for Audi.

*Mikkola wins again in 1983 – his record-setting seventh in total – as more than 100 of the 180 starters fail to finish.

*More than half a million fans follow the action in 1984, while 5000 volunteers are on duty to witness Ari Vatanen take his Group B Peugeot to victory. 

*Timo Salonen becomes world champion after winning the 1985 event, the first and only time the World Rally Championship for Drivers has been decided in Finland. He wins again in 1986 to mark the end of the Group B era.

*Markku Alén signals the arrival of the Group A formula as the WRC’s new headlining category for 1987 by winning for Lancia. He repeats the feat 12 months later for his sixth victory as Didier Auriol is the first French podium finisher on his debut.


*After Swede Mikael Ericsson becomes the first non-Finn in 18 years to win the 1000 Lakes in 1989, Carlos Sainz joins in the 40th anniversary celebrations – along with an estimated 500,000 fans – as the first non-Nordic winner in 1990. 

*Colin McRae finishes eighth on his 1000 Lakes debut in 1992 despite rolling his Subaru Legacy. But he’d have to wait until 2000 to finish again after a spate of DNFs.

*Sponsorship from Neste Oil leads to the event being renamed Neste 1000 Lakes Rally in 1994 when Tommi Mäkinen scores the first of five consecutive wins.

*AKK Sports, the marketing division of Finland’s ASN, takes over as event organiser for 1997. Improved safety features, a purpose-built superspecial at Hippos and the birth of the Rally Finland title are among the changes. 

*The event is voted Rally of the Year for 1998 by the WRC teams.

*Finnish ice hockey star Teemu Selänne finishes 24th in 1998 after coming home 33rd in 1997.


*Marcus Grönholm scores the first of his seven record-equalling seven wins in 2000, the 50th Rally Finland. His third consecutive win in 2002 comes after Peugeot team-mate Richard Burns damages his car on a jump on Ouninpohja while leading.

*Estonian’s Markko Märtin tops the first podium without a Finnish driver in 2003 to halt Grönholm’s winning run – but only temporarily after the Finn goes unbeaten from 2004-2007. 

*Grönholm’s winning average speed in 2005 is a WRC record-high 122.86 kilometres per hour.

*Sébastien Loeb joins the list of non-Nordic winners with first place in 2008 for Citroën’s first Finland win since 1962. His second victory in 2011 makes him the first non-Finn to win the rally twice.

*After Mikko Hirvonen triumphs in 2009, Jari-Matti Latvala does likewise in 2010 when the event switches to a two-day format, albeit on a one-off basis, and a late Saturday evening finish.

*Latvala wins again in 2014 and 2015 following Sébastien Ogier’s first and only triumph in 2013.

*Kris Meeke ends Volkswagen’s three-event winning run by taking top spot for Citroën in 2016 as the first British driver to triumph. 

*Esapekka Lappi gives Toyota its first win since Juha Kankkunen in 1993 by coming home first in 2017. Ott Tanäk claimed two more Toyota victories in 2018 and 2019.

*The global pandemic leads to the rally’s cancellation in 2020 but it’s back for 2021.

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