You don’t forget the first time you see one. I didn’t. I couldn’t. What am I talking about? A Neste Oil garage in Finland, of course. It was the same the first time I walked up Pitt Street in Sydney. Suddenly, I found myself thinking about Carlos Sainz rolling a Toyota Celica GT-4 in 1991. I was standing outside the Commonwealth Bank of Australia building.
Sponsors can be a powerful thing in the World Rally Championship. As a British rallingy fan, the word ‘Lombard’ will always mean far more to me than a firm selling financial services.
And that’s especially true when that name is on the doors at one of the season’s most spectacular rallies. And they don’t come much more spectacular than Rally Finland.
When Secto Automotive was announced as the Jyväskylä-based event’s new sponsor this year, it got team DirtFish thinking about other great names that had prefixed the official title of the Jyväskylän Suurajot – the Jyväskylä Grand Prix.
The very first 1000 Lakes Rally ran in 1951 with the aim of landing ‘sponsorship’ of 100,000 Finnish Marks (around $16,000). The plan was to put this up as prize money to attract drivers. It was hoped each one of the 10 people who attended the original planning meeting for the event would find 10,000 Marks. They raised 80,000.
More formal sponsorship arrived in 1956, when the regulations stated: “Advertisement labels will be distributed to competitors to be attached to the cars. These must be in place in the technical checks at 1600hrs. Paste [is] available at [the] number-painting post.”
So, no title sponsor, but some partners. By 1964, cigarette backing had landed. Back in the day, smoking was still a thing and Simo Lampinen’s winning Saab 96 carried the rather ironic branding of ‘Life’ fags.
That was just the beginning for cigarette backing, with Pall Mall, North State and Nortti all following. Interestingly, the Nortti brand belonged to British American Tobacco – as rallying fans we would be similarly familiar with their other products: Rothmans and 555.
In 1979 Mars came onboard, keen to demonstrate to rallying fans that consuming its product on a daily basis did indeed help you work, rest and play.
From the top of the next decade a deal with OKO Bank was done. A financial services supplier, OKO Bank lived the 1000 Lakes through the halcyon days of Group B and stayed on until 1992.
Pre-Neste, this was my first memory of the event and OKO Bank just added to the mystique of the place and the rally. Written generally as ‘OKOBANK’ on the doorplates, what was it? Who cared? But I wanted some.
The 1993 season was devoid of a title sponsor, but there were always commercial agreements on the go. Finnair, for example, was always helping out as Finland’s national airline. And then there was Rantasipihotelli, the angular and slightly communist-looking hotel to the city’s northern side.
When Neste landed in 1994, it stayed for the next 26 years. The biggest change in the middle of that time was 1997 when the 1000 Lakes element was dropped as the event fell in line with a more homogenized WRC. Neste Rally Finland was the way forward.
Now, meet Matias. I haven’t met him, but I already like him.
Matias is Matias Henkola, Secto Automotive’s CEO. He’s the man who has stepped in to put his firm’s name alongside Finland’s favorite weekend (October 1-3 this year).
For us, it´s a great platform to tell our story and gain recognitionMatias Henkola, Secto Automotive CEO
“Our team is more than happy about this co-operation,” said Henkola of his car leasing firm. “For us, it´s a great platform to tell our story and gain recognition.
“The motorsport community faces the same challenges that we´ve been tackling within the car industry during the last decade. Thus, we feel confident that we can add value and help with the transition.
“The sport is changing with hybrid cars and sustainable fuels being the new normal in the WRC from 2022 and we really want to be a part of this era. We want to show that these technologies and the shift from owning a car to simply using it are not threats, but great new opportunities and we’re thrilled to be on board with AKK Sports for an amazing ride.”
That’s the corporate bit – the bit which covers the sustainable and hybrid aspect of the job. Secto is Finland’s biggest private leasing firm and a lot of the motors they lease are electric. So 2022’s going to be a good fit.
But here’s the bit that matters most.
“On top of that,” said Henkola, “it´s also a matter of the heart.”
Yes it is Matias.
He continued: “Long roads and the freedom made possible by private motoring make Finns tick and it’s no surprise that Jyväskylä’s rally has been a big part of the lives of so many for 70 unbelievable years – and a major part of the World Rally Championship from when it began in 1973.”
Predictably, Riku Bitter, CEO of Rally Finland promoter AKK is pretty chuffed with the Secto deal too.
“We’re delighted,” he said. “We’ve always taken great pride in our forward-thinking approach with sustainability at the heart of what we do.
“Secto Automotive is no different with a shared vision for what we hope will be a long future together, starting with October’s 70th anniversary event.”
Talk to drivers of Jari-Matti Latvala’s generation and his world has forever turned around ‘Neste Rally’. Get this one right and ‘Secto Rally’ could mean everything to the rallying masses in years to come.