IT’S not often a rally driver starts a stage of an event with the knowledge that, before the finish, he will have spent half a minute in the air.
Welcome to Neste Oil Rally Finland, which starts today, and to the legendary Ouninpohja stage, one of the fastest stretches of road in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The awesome highlight of the event renowned as WRC’s “gravel grand prix”, Ouninpohja has been reinstated to the Finland schedule with is full length of 34.39 kilometres.
Last time the stage was was run to full length in 2013, Sebastien Ogier’s Volkswagen took off 77 times in 33.01 kilometres. Data from the fastest Polo R WRC down the road showed it spent 30.4 seconds in the air on a stage that only took 15m08.9s.
Air time’s a common feature of Ouninpohja – Markko Martin recorded Rally Finland’s longest jump ever when he sent his Ford Focus RS WRC ballistic for 57 metres over the famous crest alongside the yellow house, mid-way through.
The Estonian’s take-off speed of 171 kmh was the reason for his long leap and his victory on the 2003 event.
Finland is Round 8 of the 13-round WRC and that means that Round 10, Coates Hire Rally Australia, is heading for the New South Wales Coffs Coast in just seven weeks’ time.
Tickets are on same form NRMAtix for the 10-13 September event, for which organisers have promised WRC drivers different but equally challenging tests on new and revised stages including the 50.8 km Nambucca Special Stage.
Double world champion and current points leader Sebastien Ogier can’t wait to get back to Ouninpohja after his epic effort two years ago.
“If I were asked to compile a list of the best stages in the entire championship, Ouninpohja would definitely be on it. Two years ago we drove the full length of it and I set a record time. I want to be right at the front again this year,” he said.
However, the Frenchman is quick to point out that the flying Finns will be worth watching on the roads around Jyvaskyla and that his Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala who has struggled for wins since winning Finland last year, will be on maximum attack.
“The Finns are usually very strong at their home event. I’m expecting my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in particular to prove a challenge again this year. He is the man to beat.”
Rally Finland action kicks off on Thursday evening local tme with the mixed surface 2.27km Harju sprint, located close to the rally base in Jyväskylä and finishes with a single stage, Myhinpää, run twice on Sunday.
The 20 stages cover exactly 320km of the fastest rally competition in the world.
The Volkswagen, Citroen, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford teams all have run test sessions in preparation for this weekend.
After standout performances in the last two WRC rounds, another strong result is on the cards for New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon in his Hyundai i20 WRC car.
“Rally Finland is probably one of my favourite events of the year. It is quite a lot like New Zealand in places – there are lots of very fast sections and a lot of jumps, while the atmosphere is second to none,” Paddon said.
“It’s also probably the event at which we have the most experience. This will be my sixth time driving at Rally Finland and I’ve had some good results in the past.
“Finland is an important event for my co-driver John (Kennard) – he did his first WRC rally there before I was even born! Now he lives there with his wife so it’s a special place. Hopefully we can make it even more so with a good result next weekend.”