It had been a while since I’d stood on the corner of Lintulantie and Palsankyläntie. The last time? Friday August 2, 2013. Shortly before 11am in the morning.
How can I be so sure? Two reasons. The first is eWRC-results. Our sister site simply never lets you forget where the best drivers in the world were at in a particular moment.
Secondly, you’re not going to forget Evgeny Novikov flying over Palsankylä biggest jump with the front of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC stoved in. And the hood up. And Kris Meeke’s DS3 WRC nailed to the rear bumper.
Even without that double act, this stretch is some piece of road. It’s classic Finland with ultra-fast, big commitment, compression sweepers leading to leaps where the car just hangs and hangs in the air before slapping the deck, spraying the world with gravel and continuing at a fierce rate of knots.
This being Rally Finland, the entertainment had started slightly earlier. Parking alongside thousands of spectators, I patiently made my way towards the stage. The organizer had handily cut a trail through some fairly dense vegetation five or so meters back from the side of the road. The trail ran alongside the road, so I followed the slightly wayward chap in front of me.
The cutting of the bush hadn’t been the most precise of arts and, every now and then, there was a root, stem or even tree to be stepped over, under or around. Progress was slowing.
Blind panic took over as the realization hit him that he was going down
What lay ahead was the particularly complex combination of a log lying in an especially wet and boggy section. My Finnish friend, baseball cap now slightly skewed by contact with more than the odd low-hanging branch, was troubled. He knew in his own mind that stepping on the log (like those before him) wasn’t an option given his recent thirst for pear cider.
More importantly, his hands were full of further refreshments to get him through until lunchtime. A broad smile broke out on his face. A eureka moment. He’d give it the beans and go directly through the mud. What’s the worst that could happen?
In fairness, he made a valiant effort and got two steps in before his third stride sank deep into the mud.
Blind panic took over as the realization hit him that he was going down. What to do? Drop the drink and save himself against a nearby tree?
Sadly, the calculation of risk and reward took longer than expected and he face-planted at my feet. Extricating himself to a chorus of cheers, he was covered in mud. Literally, it was running out of his hair (the now buried cap long gone).
Forlorn came close, but forlorn was forgotten when he looked down and saw each hand still contained a can of Kopparberg. The muddied ciders were held aloft as he joined in the cheering and continued on his way. Minus a boot.
Half an hour later, still chuckling at what I’d seen, Novikov flew into site over the jump. The Fiesta had sounded odd and I’d noticed the helicopter seemed to be tracking him for longer than the others. The reason was right behind him: a furious Meeke doing all he could to remind the M-Sport driver he’d quite like to get past him.
And it wasn’t like Novikov didn’t know Meeke was there. The team had sent messages into the car instructing him to pull over. He didn’t listen.
Worse still, Meeke suffered a puncture in his efforts to try and find a way by. Even worse still, Meeke then trapped his finger between the jack and the door of the DS3, slicing into it and covering his first pair of pristine white Citroën Racing overalls in blood.
It was a factory DS3 debut he wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
In the following nine seasons, the vegetation’s grown back, but the jump’s just as big as ever.
Palsankyla on Saturday was a test road for Paddon and a handful of others.
Seeing the Rally Argentina winner back on track was a real treat. Paddon’s Rally Estonia outing was cut short by COVID. There was a miserable irony of the New Zealander having followed his nation’s blinding example of keeping out of the pandemic’s way, only to catch the thing within a couple of weeks of landing back into Europe for the first time.
Paddon’s dealt with worse in his time and he had no interest in looking back or mulling over what might have been. And why would he? He’d got a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 to fling between the trees. He was having a ball and looked like a man back on his mission.
There’s nothing like watching the world’s best on a stage made for them and their talents. Saturday was all of that and more. The perfect way into what’s going to be another belter of a Rally Finland week.
Providing you’re not balancing the booze to avoid falling off a log.