The stage that’s inspired Latvala’s WRC comeback

Myhinpää is more than just any special stage, as Jari-Matti Latvala and Ari Vatanen explain

WRC Rally Finland, Jyvaskyla 30 July – 02 August

Myhinpää. It’s the road furthest to east on this week’s Rally Finland. But it’s just a road. Just a name.

Or is it?

Not according to Jari-Matti Latvala. Absent from the itinerary since 2015, Myhinpää is the one. The one.

“I was sad when it was no longer included,” Latvala told DirtFish. “I told myself, when this stage is coming back then I have to drive again. I have to compete on this road.

“It’s a special place. It’s fantastic road, so many jumps and so fast in places. I love this one. For me this is really what Finland is about.”

WRC Rally Finland, Jyvaskyla 30 July - 02 August

And he made it work as well.

In 2015, the 10-mile Myhinpää test was Sunday: one stage, two runs. Then driving a Volkswagen Polo R WRC, J-ML was quickest through the first time, taking nine-tenths of a second out of his team-mate Sébastien Ogier. Second pass? He was forced to give best to the Frenchman. Latvala came up 0.4 seconds short of the champion’s best.

On aggregate, the Finn won. That’s good enough for Jari-Matti.

“I have such good memories from this place,” he added. “It’s so good to be going back. For Myhinpää, there are always stories to be told.”

He’s not wrong.

And who, beyond Latvala himself, is Finland’s best storyteller? Step up Ari.

In typical Vatanen fashion, his story of this stage transcends the sport itself. It starts in the ’70s.

“Thinking about that stage Myhinpää,” Vatanen said, “still gives me goosebumps. It’s the most awesome of special stages – the speed captivated me like a pianist playing with his eyes closed. I exceeded myself there.”

That was AV the driver. For the man, it was the people. Notably the Ravolainens. An ordinary family living ordinary lives. The 1981 world champion was about to learn humility all over again.

“These were the toughest of folk,” he said. “They were the people who keep our country afloat. Their simple house stood a kilometer from the start of the stage.”

Three sons lived with their parents and Vatanen watched them grow with every passing 1000 Lakes.

“Even when I was in a hurry,” he said, “I didn’t have the heart to drive past them without stopping. I watched them flourish until the start of the ’80s, when I was astonished to see [two of] them in wheelchairs. First Kimmo then Pasi suffered from muscular dystrophy. The illness didn’t slow them down.

It felt as though I had been watching my driving from outside, it was like a melody Ari Vatanen

“Pasi drove his wheelchair to the start to collect autographs. One year their father Väinö told me the cars no longer pulled up by him. I told him: ‘Lift up your autograph book, so the competitors will spot it.’

“The father was still standing next to me: ‘Pasi’s hand does not rise anymore.’ It strained my heart. In the hotel that night, I told this to Juha Kankkunen and the others. The next day, all of the drivers pulled up by the boys.

“In 1989 we were in the schoolyard at Säkinmäki, it was a service point before Myhinpää. I was driving a Mitsubishi [Galant VR-4] which wasn’t quite up to the speed of the other cars yet. I asked some of the villagers how the Ravolainen family was doing.

“My heart sank when I heard the answer: ‘The boys died. Kimmo in the early summer and Pasi in the autumn.’

1000 Lakes Rally Jyvaskyla (FIN) 25-27 08 1989

“I was supposed to be choosing tires, but somehow my mind was somewhere else. Rallying seemed so futile. The villagers told me to set the fastest time to remember the boys. It felt unreal as I departed service for the stage.

“Driving towards the Ravolainens’ house, I saw a dark figure in the middle of the road: Väinö, the father. I stopped beside him and he enclosed my hand in his. We didn’t say a word, but I could see the tears on his weathered face.

“It feels as though the ice has melted in my chest and I realize the boys are in heaven. From the start of the stage, my driving flows subconsciously. It felt as though I had been watching my driving from outside, it was like a melody.

“When I got to the end of the stage, the marshal told me: ‘You set the fastest time.’

“Myhinpää was my only fastest time of that 1000 Lakes.”

Myhinpää. More than a road.