Right about now in the old world, the perfect world, I would likely have been landing back into London’s Heathrow airport, with another Rally Finland done. Through the slight haze of a Jyväskylä ‘walking street’ hangover, I’d be assembling my thoughts about what I’d seen over the last three days.
Massive speed, inevitably. Even greater commitment, certainly. One of the most impressive sights in motorsport, without question.
Oh, and the odd local who turned out to be remarkably thirsty. For three days. And nights.
That’s what would have happened.
Ultimately, nothing happened. The woods stayed quiet; no new stickers were attached to the garbage cans at the famous Kakaristo junction and beer consumption in the great city at the center of our universe remained normal. Rally week waits until next year.
Based on what we know from the three events that did run at the start of the season, what could we assume (forgetting what’s previously been said about assumption…)?
Do we dare, for example, talk about a possible Kalle Rovanperä win? I’m pretty sure he’d have been very much at the races. The comfort Harri’s son found in some of the trickiest conditions imaginable to win the Rally Sweden powerstage demonstrates he’s got what it takes to cut it in the high speed.
Yes, this is his first season in a Rally1 car, but his knowledge of his home roads is already superb. He’s been jumping the jumps and riding the roller-coaster for a decade now. Scary for a fella who’s only been parading planet earth for 19 years.
So, yes, Kalle would have led, then probably finished on the podium.
Fellow Yaris WRC driver Elfyn Evans would have been right there in the fight too. Admittedly, missing last year’s event – due to the back injury sustained at Rally Estonia – would have taken the edge off slightly, but the Welshman is very much at home in the high-speed and the Yaris has shown itself to be the car to have on these roads.
What about the other Toyota? Sébastien Ogier? Bizarrely, harder to say. The weather in central Finland for the last week has been good, warm and dry – that wouldn’t have helped the championship leader on day one. Yes, the cleaning effect is negated slightly on the faster stages – less junctions tend to mean less braking and accelerating zones – but it would still have been a factory. And while the six-time champion has won here in the past, he’s not had the easiest of rides in recent seasons.
The event could have gone one of two ways for Ogier. Either he went with the mindset: “This could be my last ever Finland and I’ve got the fastest car ever made for these roads: watch this…” or he might have been slightly more conservative and gone with: “I’m taking the points. Circumstances have changed a bit now, I’m very much a family who’s not up for hanging it all out there.”
The up-for-it Ogier would very much have been in the race for the win.
The biggest question I wanted answering last weekend was the one about the Ott Tänak-Hyundai-Finland dynamic.
The Estonia would have crossed the Baltic Sea on a hat-trick following a pair of scorching wins for Toyota through 2018/19. Could he have carried that pace forward into an i20 Coupe WRC? More pertinently, could his speed, talent and rally craft have made up for the Korean car’s shortcomings?
Hyundai has, let’s be honest, been pretty much nowhere when it’s come to the fast and the loose in the last few years – but recent developments have shown that’s been changing. Tänak talked with quiet confidence about the car following his time on similar – but crucially not the same – roads in Estonia. My feeling is he’d have carried the car closer than ever before, but not quite close enough.
Team-mates Thierry Neuville and Craig Breen are both previous podium finishers in Finland and would certainly have been in the ballpark.
And, with a pair of Finns present in factory Fiestas for the first time since 2011, we absolutely couldn’t have ruled out M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Esapekka Lappi knows what it takes to win at home and Teemu Suninen’s 2017 debut in a big car was quite astonishing.
Enough now. I can’t write any more.
Frustration has taken over. Let’s park it. Finland didn’t happen. Move on. Nothing to see.
Until next year.