Stageside sounds and winter sun – DirtFish’s Arctic day one

Forget the Aurora Borealis - the only lights worth seeing on Friday were those of World Rally Cars on the limiter


Hello and welcome to another new feature of your favourite website, DirtFish. There’s nothing complicated about this one – it does very much what it says on the tin. It’s a diary, a reflection on what we’ve been up to through the day.

Today’s been another one of those slightly odd World Rally Championship days that include both shakedown and significant stage mileage. But before any of that, Colin Clark and I were knocking on the door of the breakfast room at 7am to be ready for a 7:30am departure. Got the porridge and mixed berries strategy all wrong – far too much fruit this morning. But the bacon and scrambled eggs made up for it…

First job of the day was to follow our focus driver for the event from service to the start of the Vennivaara shakedown stage. COVID-19 regulations mean we’re not allowed to talk to the crews outside of the designated media zones. It’s probably worth apologizing to all the drivers and co-drivers we didn’t say hello and good morning to. We weren’t being rude. We’re just not allowed.


Standing on shakedown

Photo: DirtFish Media

After a quick video reporting the conditions expected both on the 3.53-mile stage and across the spread of Friday, it was direct to Coffee House in the center of Rovamiemi for a skinny flat white. Colin was buying, so, sadly, there was no chance of a mid-morning cookie.

The plan was to get to the first stage early for a longer video updating on the conditions facing the crews in SS1. We’d positioned ourselves at the end of the fast, wide section where the road turned 90-right for some more twisty bits.

The road was looking absolutely lovely after the plough had been across it and, with the sun sliding down the sky, but still just about out, there was a moment or two to take in the stunning beauty that is the Arctic Circle in late winter.


The sun came out today

Photo: DirtFish Media

Finally, the moment arrived. The television helicopter swept overhead making a recce of its flight path for when championship leader Sébastien Ogier was on the stage. The noise came first. Hearing the Monte Carlo Rally winner on the limiter in the Toyota Yaris WRC was an awe-inspiring moment. The revs dropped briefly for a fast right before he carved through an even faster left and into our view.

On a half-mile long approach, the road dropped down a couple of steps, across a bridge and into our junction. Ogier looked efficient. Conservative. Next up, Elfyn Evans gave the happy stick more of a tug and arrived at the apex with slightly more attitude, but neither managed the aggression of Thierry Neuville as he attacked the apex. We were six miles in and the Belgian was up (or at least he was courtesy of the lap timer on Colin’s iPhone) and on it.


Photo: Marcio Giordo

Kalle Rovanperä even more so. Our Italian colleague Marco Giordo (a far more reliable timekeeper) was watching with us and when he saw the Toyota man’s time he offered a two-word appraisal: “Mamma Mia!”

The Finn was fast. Few were faster in than Pierre-Louis Loubet. He overcooked it slightly, yanked hopefully on the handbrake and just at the right moment mashed the throttle to pull himself out of the corner. The i20’s left-rear kissed the bank, sending snow high into the air before he was on his way again.

With time in hand, we stayed for the Rally2 runners and saw a couple of cars coming in way too hot and taking to the escape road. A neat handbrake turn and they were away, coming at the next corner from a totally different angle to their fellow competitors. Just like me when I’m on my son’s PlayStation.

Splitting the two stages was a regroup in Kemijärvi, one of Finland’s northernmost towns. Close to the Russian border, it’s fair to say not so much was going on. We found a garage, a sandwich and a peanut butter Kit Kat. Happy days.

Back to the same junction for the second run of the stage, there was time for some typing by the fire before watching the first four cars through (we had to get back on the road back to Rovaniemi for the media zone).


The real northern lights

Photo: DirtFish Media

Those first four cars were an absolute treat. Forget the Aurora, the real northern lights were the ones bolted to the world’s fastest rally cars as they came through the woods.

First time through, listening to the cars bouncing off the limiter at 120mph+ was truly stunning in the daylight. Nightfall took it to another level. What a treat. What a way to end the WRC’s first day 1500 miles south of the North Pole.

Awesome. Goodnight for now. More on Saturday.


Typing by the fire

Photo: DirtFish Media