Who has the heaviest right foot? That’s what we’re essentially asking ahead of this week’s gravel spectacular: Rally Finland.
Few rounds of the World Rally Championship generate as much excitement as Rally Finland and this year is certainly no exception as no fewer than 12 Rally1 cars line up for round eight of the 2022 season.
This will be the first time Rally1 cars have taken on Scandinavian gravel, but Toyota’s quartet will certainly start as favorites given the manufacturer hasn’t been defeated on Rally Finland since returning to the WRC in 2017.
But who else is in realistic contention? Here is DirtFish’s form guide to Rally Finland 2022:
#2 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 13th, 10th, 47th (25th WRC2)
Best Finland result: DNF (2021)
He may have grown up on roads similar to these, but Oliver Solberg has only ever taken on Rally Finland once. That was last year in a Rally2-spec Hyundai, and it ended in an accident.
Solberg was a little mystified as to why he wasn’t a bit faster on the high-speed gravel in Estonia too so it could all come down to the work Hyundai has been able to do between Estonia and Finland, but Solberg’s role will once again be to support his two high-flying team-mates.
But write him off at your peril. Solberg has lost none of his talent, he just needs a clean run at it to be able to rebuild his confidence and career momentum.
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th, 44th, 49th
Best Finland result: 1st (2017)
Of all the rallies Esapekka Lappi will start this year, this is the one where he begins with the highest chance of victory.
The last Finn to win their home round back in 2017, Lappi has always gone well in Finland – not least last year where he hired a Yaris WRC and brought home a strong fourth-placed result.
What can he do this year now he’s back in the works fold? He’s set himself a target of a “podium minimum” but starting eighth on the road on Friday could be an ideal place to be.
Let’s just hope Lappi finds the rhythm straight away and is able to give the frontrunners a sustained challenge to the end. If he does, WRC victory number two could come calling, five years after the first.
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF, 4th, 7th
Best Finland result: 14th/4th WRC2 (2019)
The wheels came off the bus for Pierre-Louis Loubet in Estonia where his strong run of form was interrupted by a bit of a rookie mistake that led to him breaking his suspension against a hidden rock.
Loubet’s 2022 had been super impressive before then though, and there’s nothing to suggest that he can’t recapture that form in Finland.
Don’t expect massively eye-catching stage times as Loubet is still undergoing what he regularly calls a “step-by-step” learning process, but avoiding the mistakes can often be rewarded in Finland so if Loubet proves his Estonian blip was a one-off and keeps it clean, he could score well this week.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd, DNF, 1st
Best Finland result: 1st (2018, 2019)
On previous form alone, Ott Tänak is the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s Rally Finland. Only two of his rivals have won the rally before, and Tänak is the only one to have conquered it more than once.
But, as has been the case throughout the entire season, nobody has been left to question Tänak’s ability when considering how well he may fare in the upcoming round of the WRC. It all depends on how strong his i20 N Rally1 proves to be.
Tänak was at the races for the first morning in Estonia but had to give it absolutely everything to do so. He’ll need a car that’s more comfortable on the limit if he’s going to challenge in Finland.
However, if there’s anyone capable of halting the Toyota juggernaut in Finland, it’s Tänak. Watch this space.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th, 5th, 41st
Best Finland result: 2nd (2013)
Aside from an impressive second place for M-Sport nine years ago, Finland has never really been a Thierry Neuville event. He’s never scored higher than sixth over the past five years.
It could therefore be a trying weekend for Neuville who’s not expected to be driving the strongest package in Finland.
His now famous steeliness and never-say-die attitude had somewhat evaporated in Estonia, so Hyundai must be hoping Neuville rediscovers it for Finland as his dogged determination has been a key factor in the team’s second place in the current manufacturers’ standings.
Either way, Neuville’s still searching for his first victory of the WRC’s hybrid era. The odds don’t suggest that the wait will end in Finland.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 7th, 15th, DNF
Best Finland result: 7th (2021)
Is Adrien Fourmaux back?
It’s a bit premature to confidently say yes, but the Adrien Fourmaux we saw in Estonia was much more like the Adrien Fourmaux we came to admire throughout the majority of the 2021 WRC season.
What Fourmaux now must do is carry forward that momentum into Finland. The key to his strong Estonia result was patience, and by not getting carried away his speed actually began to improve too as he fell into a free-flowing rhythm.
The M-Sport driver won’t be pot hunting in Finland – that job will fall to team-mate Craig Breen. Instead, another trouble-free performance will be his mission.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th, 3rd, 6th
Best Finland result: 27th/12th WRC2 (2016)
Aside from Kalle Rovanperä, who’s just continuously been winning, Takamoto Katsuta can stake a real claim to be 2022’s most consistent driver so far.
But Katsuta doesn’t crave consistency in Finland. Instead, he wants a result. Whether that aligns with Toyota’s expectations of him is another matter. But, as a resident of Finland, Katsuta considers this a home rally and he will be eager to give it some this week.
However much like Estonia, Finland hasn’t been too kind to Katsuta over the years. The fact he’s started it twice in a World Rally Car and yet his best result to date was claimed in a Ford Fiesta R5 tells its own story.
Will Katsuta be the fastest in Finland this year? It’s unlikely, but if it all strings together a podium surely isn’t too absurd a target.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd, 2nd, 40th
Best Finland result: 1st (2021)
No driver ever plans to finish second, but if there’s one position Elfyn Evans really won’t want to find himself at the end of Rally Finland it’s the runner-up spot – particularly if somebody in the same overalls is standing one step higher on the podium.
Evans has finished second three times in the past four rallies, and each of those times it’s the other Toyota of Kalle Rovanperä that’s pipped him to the post. For his own sanity if nothing else, that simply won’t do in Finland.
But, in a way, Evans has the easiest job in Finland. That victory last year ultimately means he’s the one they all need to beat, and given the large 96-point deficit to the championship leader he doesn’t need to concern himself with points permutations.
Instead, Evans just has to activate ‘send it’ mode and hope it sticks. Time will tell if that proves enough, but his strong turn of speed in Estonia provides plenty of encouragement.
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 30th, 6th, 2nd
Best Finland result: 3rd (2016, 2021)
The result in Estonia belies what Craig Breen was truly capable of. Back on a rally he was more familiar with, he was expected to perform better and his stage times proved he was – but sliding off the road wrecked any chance of a result.
By all accounts Breen was unlucky to have found a concrete post hidden in the grass – on another day he could’ve reversed out and got going again. But of course if he had stayed on the road he wouldn’t have exposed himself to such punishment.
Finland should be better. Like Estonia, Breen has a strong record here with a podium in 2016 and 2021, and his team boss wants him to “throw caution to the wind“.
It’s an appetizing pre-rally brief that should give Breen the confidence to fly.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF, 16th, 7th
Best Finland result: 6th (2021)
What’s going on with Gus Greensmith at the moment? For one reason or another, results just aren’t sticking for the M-Sport driver. The euphoria of that Monte Carlo stage win feels an awful long time ago.
Still, there’s reason to smile when you get to tackle Rally Finland in a top-line rally car, and Greensmith actually reckons this rally last year was his greatest performance – even if it didn’t yield his best result.
Greensmith won’t have the same luxury as Breen in being able to just weld his right foot to the mat and forget about the potential consequences, but team-mate Fourmaux will act as a useful barometer.
The pair have been closely matched throughout their time together at M-Sport, so this may be Greensmith’s biggest battle this week.
#68 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results (WRC2): 4th, 3rd, 18th
Best Finland result (WRC2): 1st (2017)
It’s a time to rejoice for Finnish rally fans. Jari Huttunen’s one-off appearance in a Rally1 car ensures three of the 12 top-class drivers (25%) taking the start this week are homegrown talents.
Huttunen won’t be expected to be fighting for the top spot, however. If he does, it’ll be the most incredible achievement imaginable, but realistically Huttunen’s target will just be to improve his pace and close his deficit to the leaders across the course of the weekend.
He has always gone well on his home event, scoring a WRC2 podium on all four of his class appearances. But Huttunen has never driven a Rally1 car in competition nor has he competed in the very upper echelons of the world championship.
Whatever happens, Huttunen won’t forget this week in a hurry.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st, 1st, 5th
Best Finland result: 9th/1st WRC2 (2019)
The one that really doesn’t need to win Rally Finland is surely the one everyone expects to.
Not tipping Rovanperä for a WRC victory nowadays is a fool’s game given how easy he has made it look. Five wins from the past six events, a scary 83-point championship lead and a car that’s both quick and reliable; it’s one-way traffic at the moment.
The beauty for Rovanperä is he has nothing to lose either. At absolute worst, he could leave Finland with 53 points still in hand over his nearest rival which is very close to two maximum points hauls, and there’s only five events remaining after this one.
He can therefore risk it all in pursuit of the WRC win that would surely mean more than any other. And if he needed any extra bit of motivation, he has a mistake to atone for given the disappointing and surprising way it all got away from him last year.
Finland hopes and expects this year. Rovanperä isn’t in the business of not delivering.