Finland memories: Wrecked Subarus and Märtin’s revenge

We asked for our readers' favourite memories of Rally Finland, and you unearthed some real classics

Richard Burns / Robert Reid – Subaru Impreza P2000 – 2000 WRC Rally Finland

What makes a rally iconic? An event can be the best organized and well promoted, or feature some of the best rally roads in the world, but what really matters is the fans picking up treasured memories from their experience. We asked you, our readers, for your favorite moments and memories from Rally Finland’s and 1000 Lakes’ past for DirtFish Finland week.

DirtFish Senior Staff Writer David Evans gives his take on the moments you picked.

Burns leaves a mark in 2000

Nominated by Geoff Wills and Andrew Joel Jackson 

I’m really pleased this one came up – it gives us the opportunity to dispel the thinking that Richard Burns was a percentage driver, who calculated the risks and took the points. More than any other event, Rally Finland in 2000 showed that to be poppycock.

The previous year – when Burns and co-driver Robert Reid were competing in Finland for just the second time – they finished second to Subaru team-mate Juha Kankkunen (a man who knows a thing or two about driving in his backyard) by 9.7 seconds.

In 2000, Burns wanted to win Finland. There was a chance to make history and become the first Brit ever to be crowned king of the 1000 Lakes and he fancied his chances.

Prior to the Juupajoki test that caught him out, he’d been quicker on four out of five stages to narrow the gap to leader Marcus Grönholm to 4.9s.

At a flat right tightens across the flying finish of Juupajoki things went slightly awry at 100mph and the Impreza S6 rolled through the trees.

Burnsie wanted that one and risked all in an effort to land a Finland win. In a place where bravery is so richly rewarded, he and Robert deserved more.

Talking to Richard after the crash, he admitted his tactic was wrong: “I should have settled for second and the points, but after losing to Juha [in 1999] I wanted that one.”

Markko Märtin proves the commercial wrong in 2003

Nominated by Gabriele Rebecchi, @henrylaane, Geoff Wills and Juha Kantanen

It’s not often that the promoters of Rally Finland get it wrong. They did in 2003. Ahead of the event, they went out with a television commercial which employed a Finnish voice calling from an empty forest: “Markko! Where are you? Markko? Start is in two minutes…”

The voice stopped and the screen was filled with the following message: “The rally where most foreign drivers have lost before they’ve started.”

How they regretted that as Märtin crossed the final finish line at the end of Mökkiperä as the winner.

“What was it they said?,” questioned Michael ‘Beef’ Park after congratulations passed between them.

“Markko… where are you?”

Now they knew.

The competition between Marcus Grönholm and Märtin was intense in 2003. Peugeot driver Grönholm was chasing his fourth Finland win on the bounce, while the man from across the Baltic Sea was looking to make history.

Midway through, ‘Bosse’ was worried. He simply couldn’t shake Märtin’s Ford Focus RS WRC03. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

The battle was brought to a swift end when a wheel bearing collapsed on the Peugeot, freeing a wheel from the 206 and leaving the Finn’s hopes in tatters.

Markko charged on, overcoming an electrical problem which stopped the differentials from locking, to take a famous win and one he still cherishes today.

As for the jump, the 106mph take-off at Ouninpohja’s yellow house, Märtin doesn’t have much of a recollection of it, other than it was very, very fast.

Markko Martin / Michael Park - Ford Fiesta WRC03 - 2003 WRC Rally Finland - Ouninpohja

Photo: McKlein

Firing up the Quattro in 1985

Nominated by Andrew Joel Jackson 

Audi’s Quattro E2 was finally homologated on July 1, 1985 – but only 19 of the required 20 cars could be inspected by the sport’s governing body.

Why? Because the 20th car was already flying to the Olympus Rally, where it would make its debut on the July 4-7 event in the hands of Hannu Mikkola. The Finn won in America and duly headed home for the 1000 Lakes and the E2’s WRC debut.

Stig Blomqvist finished second on that 1985 event, the Swede’s be-winged Quattro just shy of a minute down on Timo Salonen’s Peugeot 205 T16.

Ultimately, Mikkola retired from the event late in the day when his Audi’s engine lost its oil – but his recollection of a run through Ouninpohja in the fastest Audi rally car ever run still gives me goosebumps.

“In 1985 1000 Lakes I had a full Group B Audi and I drove Ouninpohja full of anger in a manner I’ll remember for the rest of my days,” said Mikkola.

“That was the only time in my rally career when I got the sensation I was no longer sitting in that car.

“It was like being outside it all. Later on, when I related that experience, I’ve been told fighter pilots sometimes get a similar feeling – of being extraneous to the activities they’re performing.

“The Audi had big wings then. The harder you dared to drive the harder the car would be pressed into the road, giving better grip. It was really difficult to find the limit.”

Hannu Mikkola - Audi Quattro E2 - 1985 1000 Lakes Rally Finland

Photo: McKlein

Mikkola had clattered a log pile on the previous stage and broken the rear suspension. Without a spare titanium spring for the E2, a steel one was fitted.

“At the start of the stage,” Mikkola continued, “I didn’t give a damn about the springs, I’ll just go for it.”

After a record-breaking performance through the fastest stage of them all, Mikkola’s co-driver – not normally a man of many words – Arne Hertz called his final pacenote and added: “I shall give my overalls to the person who drives this stage faster.”

How cool is that?

Almost as good is Carlos Sainz winning the 1000 Lakes for the first time in 1990, becoming the first non-Nordic to do so. Jari-Matti Latvala was a devastated five-year-old in 1990. “Really,” he said, “it was so big a shock for us. For him to come from outside the Nordic area and win, it was very hard for a lot of Finns to accept. But then Carlos got really a lot of respect for what he did.”

Hirvonen takes a massive step in 2009

Nominated by Juan Diego Chacon

Mikko Hirvonen’s victory in Finland 2009 was not only the realization of a dream for the likeable local, but also a major step in his challenge for that year’s world championship – don’t forget, he lost it by a single point to Sébastien Loeb.

In 2007 Mikko finished second to Marcus Grönholm in an event and competition which ran the two-time world champion to the very edge of his ability and, ultimately, brought about his decision to retire. Twelve months on and Hirvonen was second again, this time to Sébastien Loeb.

Second to a Finn is one thing, second to a foreigner, quite another. It’s fair to say Hirvonen had the bit firmly between his teeth in 2009. Third after a Thursday night dash around Killeri, once the event hit the woods the following morning he was never headed in one of his strongest drives yet.

The Ford driver’s pace forced Loeb to settle for second.

“He has improved since last year,” said the Frenchman at the time. “I can see from his lines, he is pushing harder, he’s going deeper into the ditch and cutting more. He made the perfect rally.”

He certainly did.

Kris Meeke

Photo: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

Meeke not mild in 2016

Nominated by Juan Diego Chacon and @RSMotorsptMedia 

It’s hard to imagine a time when Kris Meeke drove better than on this event. He drove, as one Finnish colleague put it, like a local. Is there a bigger compliment? No.

Meeke arrived in Jyväskylä on the back of a dominant Rally Portugal win and carried that confidence forward to the super-fast Finnish roads.

The DS3 WRC fitted him perfectly and, Harju street stage despatched, Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle hit the front in Mökkiperä and stayed there through to the finish.

There were those who pointed to a preferential place on the road, courtesy of Meeke’s part-time schedule in 2016 (while simultaneously developing the C3 WRC), but such considerations are put into the context of the speed Meeke showed.

With an average speed of 126.62kph (78.68mph), Meeke knows no-one, absolutely no-one, has completed Finland’s round of the World Rally Championship faster than him. That’s special.

What made it even more special for Citroën and for British and Irish rally fans was Craig Breen and Scott Martin joining them on the podium in third place. Meeke’s win confirmed his position at the top of the tree, Breen’s result lifted him more than a few branches closer.

McRae’s wrecked Legacy in 1992

Nominated by @AnttiL_WRC 

Again, brilliant choice. Ahead of the event, the plan had been for Colin McRae to keep his nose clean and maybe chase the award for top 1000 Lakes rookie – an award likely to be fought out between the Scot and Philippe Bugalski’s Lancia Delta HF Integrale.

As we all know, things went slightly wrong for McRae when he crashed at the final pre-event test. Team principal David Richards arrived in Jyväskylä and asked where the other Subaru Legacy RS was, having spotted Ari Vatanen’s sister car.

After a degree of naval-gazing, somebody was brave enough to pipe up: “It’s, er, in the paint shop…”

That shunt was followed by a further two in the rally proper, ensuing a total of 13 inversions for the Prodrive-built tank.

Colin McRae / Derek Ringer - Subaru Legacy 4WD - 1992 WRC 1000 Lakes Finland

Photo: McKlein

But still, despite all the accidents (the first of which McRae said was a pacenote error and the second was him mishearing Derek Ringer’s call) he still beat Philippe Bugalski to the fastest rookie award. Bugalski, who’d go on to be a WRC event winner with Citroën in the late 1990s, had a much more straightforward run through the stages but McRae still beat him to eighth place by 1m10s.

Moving forwards, ‘le petite Bug’s’ 1000 Lakes debut was a largely forgettable affair. McRae’s swashbuckling roll-fest is still talked about to this day.

Auriol’s away win in 1992

Nominated by Mikael Bihl-matias

This is a great choice! Carlos Sainz becoming the first non-Nordic to win the 1000 Lakes in 1990 was a massive moment in the history of the event and our sport. But at that time, Juha Kankkunen was genuinely at the very peak of his power and the Finn was ruled out of contention in that 1990 event by a broken throttle cable.

You might remember he dropped minutes emerging from Kalliokoski sitting under the bonnet of his Lancia, operating the Delta’s throttle by hand.

A year on and Kankkunen led team-mate Didier Auriol home by close to a minute on his way to a third world championship title. Redemption for Finland and Finnish fans. The Spaniard’s victory was a freak occurrence, couldn’t happen again. Could it?

It certainly could. Auriol was magnificent and his 1992 1000 Lakes win was one of the highlights of his career. Still in the same team with Kankkunen (with Jolly Club running the sensational Delta HF Integrales), Auriol didn’t put a foot wrong for the duration of the event.

From the third stage forwards, Kankkunen couldn’t find a way past the Frenchman – not even an all-out attack on the roads around Tampere and fastest time on Ouninpohja were enough to prize Auriol’s grip from this most desired of trophies.

Second best for Solberg in 2003

Nominated by Alex CA Everitt and @JD_Wrighty

Everybody knows how Petter Solberg can celebrate a win. In Jyväskylä in 2003, it was hard to imagine him being happier if he had won and not finished second to Markko Märtin. The fight for that runners-up spot had been utterly intense through the final day.

Going into Sunday, three drivers – Richard Burns, Carlos Sainz and Solberg – were split by half a second. A leaking damper ruled Sainz out of the fight and forced him down to fourth, but Burns and ‘Mr Hollywood’ battled on. With just over 10 miles of Mökkiperä remaining, Burns’ Peugeot 206 WRC was 1.8s ahead of the Norwegian’s Subaru.

Solberg admitted he worked the media hard that day, telling his home hacks he was confident he could beat Burns, while relaying a tale to the British journalists that he wasn’t willing to risk so much in the fight.

In the end, he gave it everything.

“It was a little bit crazy in that final stage,” he said. “I was pushing like hell.”

For Richard, there was utter bemusement. He’d driven well and neither he nor Robert Reid could fathom how that had happened.

It was only much later in the year it became clear the astrocytoma that would ultimately claim Richard’s life had started to impact on his performances earlier in the season. Was Finland one of those moments? We’ll never truly know.