It’s late May and a strange calm presides over the Rally Finland office on the outskirts of Helsinki. Ordinarily, there’s less than two months before the start of the recce and it’s all hands to the pump in preparation for Jyväskylä’s summer flight fest.
Not this year. Fall’s the new summer as far as the fastest rally of the season’s concerned.
“It is a slightly strange feeling,” clerk of the course Kai Tarkiainen tells DirtFish. “But it will be nice to get some holiday with the family in July this year – normally there’s no chance of that.
“I’ve got to be honest though, you would think, running at the new date at the end of September, we would just turn back the clocks a couple of months and move all of the deadlines with the FIA back. The reality is quite different.
“Because Finland pretty much shuts down in July, we’re having to make sure we’ve got everything in place before then – it’s difficult to try to get quotes for things like concrete blocks of fencing, that kind of thing when people are on vacation.
“But, like I said, it’ll be nice for us to get the bulk of this done, so the team can take things a little easier over the summer.”
And Tarkiainen’s team is definitely ready for a break after what’s been a hectic time finalising the route for the October 1-3 event.
“Everybody here has done a fantastic job to put this route together,” he added. “To get 300 kilometers (180 miles) of competition and shakedown into three days is very, very impressive.”
Running at this time of the year, we will be dark between seven and eight, so why not use this as the opportunity to run night stages?Kai Tarkiainen
The big question is why three days, not four? Last week Rally Portugal ran to its usual longer format with a 210-mile route which was the longest WRC round in two years. Why can’t Finland be like it was in 2019, with Harju on Thursday night, then a full Friday and Saturday before the usual Sunday morning?
Firstly, in terms of mileage, it’s worth remembering the 2019 route was only 4.34 miles longer than what we’ve got coming in October.
Tarkiainen explained: “The reason we’ve moved everything into three days is because we’re not running in the holiday season. Like we discussed with Arctic Rally Finland in February, it can be quite complicated to get personnel to take time off in the week. If we wanted to run a Thursday shakedown, people would want to be in position on Wednesday to make sure everything is right.
“We are hoping, as usual, to work with the emergency services college [in Jyväskylä], but the teachers are still in school in the week. Running in the week at this time of the year can be complicated, which is why we decided to run in three days.”
The actual decision to move out of the usual summer date was taken out of financial necessity: if the event can’t include fans, it can’t run. Finland is starting to open up now, with some smaller rallies running in June, potentially without any spectator restrictions.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Tarkiainen, “but it was still the right decision to move the event back on the calendar – it’s a belt and braces job. We want to be completely open and to allow as many spectators as we usually would.
“Let’s see what happens, there’s still the chance of some spikes with the different variants, but at the moment things are looking quite positive here in Finland.”
One thing the Rally Finland team will be doing this time is ordering more ancillary lighting for the stages. With both Oittila (Friday night) and Harju (Saturday night) running in the dark, the organizers will face a new challenge this time around.
“People seem to love dark stages,” said Tarkiainen. “It does go dark in July, just about, but this would mean us waiting up until around midnight to do anything in the dark. Running at this time of the year, we will be dark between seven and eight, so why not use this as the opportunity to run night stages? It’s something different.”
Something else that could be different is the weather…
“We’ve had plenty of times when late September is still 15 or 20 degrees and sunshine,” he added. “Equally, we’ve known the first snow to come in late September.”
Don’t get too excited. We’re not on the verge of a second snow rally of the season.
“If the snow does come, it’ll be more like sleet,” he added, “more like the snow you used to get on Rally GB. It won’t be a problem.”
Where the snow does cause a problem, however, is in the planning for the 2022 Rally Finland.
“We will have to do our first recce for next year’s route soon after this year’s rally,” said Tarkiainen. “Normally we take a break after the event, then have a look around at the roads. We will need to get that first recce done before the snow really comes, so we’ll have to be on it quite quickly.
“This year’s event – the 70th anniversary of Rally Finland – is going to be different. It’ll be strange, but really nice, to see autumn colours in the pictures.”
One thing won’t change… the speed.