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Our Tarmac roads are too fast for rallying!

06.02.2020

There’s something about Finland and rallying that’s just so special. It might be the spectacular scenery; the plumes of snow being cast into the air as a rally car drifts through a fast corner in the Arctic. Or a driver skilfully manhandling his machine on a loose gravel surface through a forest.

Over the years – and the Finnish Rally Championship has been going for more than 60 – the national event has bred some of the biggest names the sport has ever seen. As this year’s championship gets underway, we caught up with its promoter, Kai Tarkiainen.

Our Tarmac roads are too fast for rallying!

What is the Finnish Rally Championship?

This is a totally separate championship to the WRC. It’s the Finnish Rally Championship. It’s been here since 1959, so it has a bit of a history under its belt. I think it’s one of the national championships around the world that’s been looked up to as being of high standard and has always been producing good drivers to the world level. We’ve had big Finnish champions compete and win here, like Hannu Mikkola, Marcus Grönholm and  Timo Mäkinen.

Do you use the same courses as WRC?

We don’t use any of the same roads that they do in Rally Finland. The championship is usually seven rounds, but this year it’s six, three in winter and three in summer. Geographically, it’s all over the country. The first one is the Artic Lapland rally, then two more winter events further south. In summer we go to the south east and west of Finland. Very nice gravel roads. All the events are different from one another. I think it’s a good mix.

 
What is the Finnish Rally Championship?

Which is your favourite of the six rounds – do you prefer the winter stages or the summer ones?

My personal favourites would have to be the winter ones. I think it’s something unique for Finland. Of course, they have snow in Sweden. Our roads are maybe a bit quicker. It’s the same roads in winter and summer. I like winter a lot. I sometimes compete myself as a co-driver. It’s great fun to be in the car in winter. From an organiser’s point of view, the winter events are better because the road costs are lower and you usually don’t have to put loads of new gravel in places.

Finland is renowned as having some of the fastest rally stages. What makes the roads so fast?

If you look back to the sixties, most of the roads in Finland were gravel. When the Finnish government built new roads to connect the cities, they left most of these roads behind. These are perfect for rallying. They have a really solid surface so you can easily drive rallies with 200 cars without the roads being completely destroyed.

Which is your favourite of the six rounds – do you prefer the winter stages or the summer ones?

What is it about Finnish rally drivers? Do you put something special in the water there?

We always say that it’s the cheap petrol and the good roads. As one of our previous chairmen used to say, “success creates success”. From the earliest days of rallying, there’s always been someone from Finland who has been driving internationally and been very good at it. So, there’s always been an idol for the youngsters to look up to. It’s also been a very supportive community. The young guys can give the established rally drivers a call and get the tips and help they need.

Does the particularly unique environment of Finland help? Being able to drive in all conditions?

The drivers learn to drive in different conditions and different kinds of roads. The Finnish roads are, according to the foreign drivers, difficult to put in pace notes because of all the height differences. You jump a lot and you need to think of your lines further on. If I jump here where do I land and what do I do after that? You have to manage your pace notes quite well. It’s easy to transform that experience into the foreign roads. The only thing we don’t have here is proper Tarmac roads. The Tarmac roads we have here are too fast for rallying.

What is it about Finnish rally drivers? Do you put something special in the water there?

What’s it like being a co-driver?

It’s a great feeling being in the car and part of the team, watching the driver manage the car in those difficult conditions and playing a small part in helping him do that. A lot of co-drivers also do some service planning and so on for the team. They’re like a team secretary so to speak. But the best part of the job is to sit in the car, put your helmet on and blast off, reading out the pace notes, enjoying the ride and seeing the driver make the best out of what you planned during the recce.

Have you ever fancied driving?

I don’t have either the money or the skills for it to be honest. My father used to ice race when he was younger, but he steered me off that direction. He probably knew where it leads. If you’re with a bunch of friends and there’s a nice ice track, it’s a lot of fun to drive a car around but I’ve never had any ambitions to be a driver.

What’s it like being a co-driver?

What’s the spectator reaction to Finnish rallying like?

People do love it. There’s quite a big bunch of hardcore fans. The Arctic rally pulls the biggest crowd. A lot of people go there because of the atmosphere. It’s quite impressive how much the Finn’s like their rallying and they follow it on all levels.

The Finnish Rally Championship partners with Motul. What does it mean to have this bond?

It means a lot to us. If you want to form a partnership around a motorsport event it always helps that there’s a natural connection between the sport and the product or the service that the partner wants to promote through the event. Motul is one of the world-renowned brands making racing oils and other lubricants. I think it’s very important for us to partner with somebody who is very much known in their field and who know what they’re doing. We take great pride in what we do, and we feel Motul does to.

© Pictures: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK

 
What’s the spectator reaction to Finnish rallying like?
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