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GP Week : Issue 56
>>WRCFEATURE PREVIEW Rally Finland TWO very special rallies clash this weekend – the World Rally Championship’s Neste Oil Rally Finland, and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge’s Madeira Rally. Two more different events are hard to imagine; one in the far north east of Europe, the other in the Atlantic ocean, off the coast of Morocco. One is on gravel, the other on asphalt. One will be full of World Rally Cars, the other dominated by Super 2000s. One is held over gently rolling hillside in central Finland, the other in the highly contoured island. Rally Finland needs little introduction to rally fans. It is one of only three rallies that have featured in the WRC calendar every year since the series started in 1973, and the only rally run from the same headquarters town all the time. This year it is being held for the 59th time. Apart from the universal popularity of Finnish rallying for champions and privateers alike, these days this event has many special characteristics, not least its required speed. The stages used on the Finnish Rally are the fastest of the current championship, and on only one occasion (Argentina in 1983) has a world championship rally been held at a higher pace, and even then only just. The 123.5 kph average achieved by Hannu Mikkola’s Audi Quattro in Argentina was only slightly faster than the record 122.6 kph of Marcus Gronholm in Finland in 2004. Finland is full of unique characteristics. The roads are some of the smoothest gravel roads anywhere, and where they are less well-based the roads are used only once. not twice, to reduce damage. Many of the stages are traditional favourites, but there are some variations, notably the classic Ouninpohja is not held any more. Instead, another old favourite has been revived – the stage at Myhinpaa with spectacular jumps. This is being run twice in quick succession on the final day. Another characteristic is the special demands that the high speed makes on the crews. This comes from the challenge of pace note making for roads that are unusually undulating, and along roads that are constantly twisting. The notes must carefully and accurately align the cars as they approach blind crests. The bends are slight, but hard to define. Crews often need to define their speed according to the characteristics of the road several bends further along the route. And, of course, there are the famous jumps, which make their own special demands. These are spectacular for onlookers but a nightmare for competitors. Every split second a car is in the air, crews lose time because they are losing traction. Finland presents rallying in the third dimension. 4