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GP Week : Issue 21
W ELCOME to rallying’s Land of Speed. The next event in the world championship is this week’s Neste Oil Rally Finland (31 July - 3 August), the event formerly called the 1000 Lakes Rally and, in even earlier times, the Jyvaskylan Suurajot. That meant the “Big Race at Jyvaskyla”, the cental Finnish town where the event is based, and it is a name which sums up the spirit of the event perfectly. Rally Finland is the fastest current event in the world championship, with a winning average speed each year of around 120kph, notwithstanding the use of a slow superspecial twice during the event. This rally is seldom demanding on a technical level. BP Ford Abu Dhabi are planning nothing new, running the same cars which have already been driven on five previous events this year while Subaru, although entering two new cars, have simply adapted for the smoother and faster conditions compared with the rougher Greek and Turkish events. This will be the first time that Pirelli will supply softer compound control tyres – 38 indeed of the four remaining gravel rounds of the series, harder compound ‘Scorpion’ tyres will only appear again in New Zealand. Finland is special for many other reasons, however. It has always been a rally of paradoxes. The ‘1000 Lakes’name in itself is curious. Although the roads of Finland wind themselves around the countless lakes in the countryside, one seldom sees a lake from the special stages. What you do see, in huge numbers, are blind crests where cars often leap into the air. The course itself is unique in the world championship. For its stages the rally uses closed public roads, which have a treacherously slippery powdery surface. This is one of the reasons why Finnish drivers are so adept at driving fast on gravel roads, but also means the stages are often faster when they are wet! In an attempt to contain the speeds of the event, many smaller roads are used. These inevitably mean they are not so strongly constructed and, to prevent them being badly damaged by the rally, they tend to be used once rather than the usual twice. It means there are more different kilometres of stages than usual, meaning more work for the crews when they make their pre- event reconnaissance. Of the 23 special stags on this event, 18 are at different venues and four are completely new stages this year There has been one sad sacrifice. The iconic Ouninpohja stage, won last year as 129kph, has had its faster sections, including the most dramatic jump on the rally, axed for safety reasons. Clerk of the Course Kai Tarkiainen explains: “Things are changing all the time. Our country’s better-used public roads are forever being widened and the crests are being eased in their severity, which means the choice of ideal rally roads is always becoming limited. Also, not so many people now live permanently in the forests, which means the minor roads are not so well maintained as before. Smaller roads are inherently safer for rallying, however”. The FIA no longer insists on maximum average speed limits on world championship rallies so long as the conditions are safe. “Another problem this year is the weather.