Who needs friends when you’ve got Rally Finland?

Confusing the zero car for Sainz and a street party in Jÿväskÿla; there's no better introduction to WRC than Finland


It’s Rally Finland week at DirtFish and, as you might have seen yesterday, we’ve been asking fans for their most treasured memories of the highly popular World Rally Championship round.

In 1991, a teenage Tom Glückmann – who’s since gone on to work in rallying as a social media manager – shunned an interrailing trip with his pals in favor of hitching to the 1000 Lakes from his native Belgium. 

I’d just turned 18 when my friends and I started planning an interrailing trip around Europe. They all wanted to go to Greece and Italy, while I wanted to head up north. The moment I realized they weren’t going to change their minds, I decided to go on my own and discover Scandinavia and Finland – having the 1000 Lakes in mind.

My love of rallying started when, aged 10, my brother took me to the Boucles de Spa Rally. The very first stage I went to was La Clémentine, the only proper forest stage in the country; it has a bit of a Kielder feel to it. A Porsche 911 driven by Thierry Reginster spun in front of us. From that moment, I knew I’d be a rally fan for life.

Finland is the Mecca of rallying. When I was a kid, my heroes were called Markku Alén, Ari Vatanen, Timo Salonen, and Henri Toivonen. My first trip to a rally abroad had to be Finland.

The 1991 1000 Lakes wasn’t the first event I’d hitchhiked to. When we were younger teens, a couple of friends and I used to go to rallies here in Belgium by train or by bus and hitchhike our way to the stages. We did that in Ypres, Hannut, Haspengouw… but never abroad.

In those days, Monte Carlo would have been closer for me. But Finland was during school break. I did go to Monte the year after [in 1992]. My brother had moved to the South of France and it was awesome, but not quite as awesome as Finland. You can’t beat those super-fast and bumpy gravel roads, can you?

Leaving Belgium, I visited Norway first, checking out the Lofoten Islands, visited Trondheim, Bergen and Oslo, traveled through Sweden and got on the ferry to Turku. I remember arriving in Jÿväskÿla on the Monday before the rally started and pitched my tent in the city camping for a few days.

One of the first things I did was go to Laajavuori Hotel, which was the HQ of the rally (and was supposed to return as the ceremonial finish this year); it was the place where the top crews were staying. I saw Juha Kankkunen, Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz in person. To me, they were like living Gods.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 08.44.50

Photo: Tom Glückmann

I spent the next days hanging around the technical control area, just enjoying every bit of the World Rally Championship atmosphere. Then came the rally. First stage was the city stage Harju. I arrived early and found a really good spot outside a downhill 90-right. It was dusk when the stage started, and my first 1000 Lakes souvenir is a rather embarrassing one; the first driver to go through was Carlos. And when he passed, I thought to myself: “Wow, that was fast!”

Only then did I realize that wasn’t Sainz. That was the zero car which happened to be a Toyota Celica in a similar livery. No need to mention that I was literally blown away when El Matador arrived – the speed was blistering! I had my backpack with me and hitchhiked to the first stage of day two. It wasn’t going to be easy.

For some reason, I took a boy scout hat with me. Even though I’ve never been a scout myself, my thinking was that people would be more confident to let me in their car with that on my head. There was a very long wait and when a guy finally stopped, he told me I should take my hat off.

“Why?” I asked. “I thought people would think I’m a good guy with such a hat.”

He replied: “No. They’d think you’re a criminal!”

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 08.45.21

Photo: Tom Glückmann

That’s how I fell in love with Finnish people! To be fair, I cannot remember the name of the stages I went to, I tried to watch three stages per day and always had my tent ready in the woods for the next morning. Watching Alén flat out in the Subaru Legacy with that amazing boxer [engine] sound was probably my best memory. I spent the third day with two girls in their car, they were proper rally fans and super-funny. My whole trip seemed to amuse them a lot.

They were Tommi Mäkinen fans. At that time he was a youngster, an underdog in a Mazda 323 and, to be honest, I never really heard of him before. But from that day, I became a Tommi fan myself. I also remember the rally radio very well, and those funny Finnish numbers that all sounded like “Taxi” to me.

At the end, Kankkunen won. In those days, it was still almost impossible to beat the Finns in their natural playground. I spent the evening after the rally in Jÿväskÿla, which turned into a giant party of sorts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many drunk people per square meter! I headed to Helsinki the next day and then back to Belgium, only thinking about coming back to Finland. And that I did, three times in fact. Rally Finland 2021 is already on my schedule.

After that first trip, my days of hitchhiking to stages were done. One of my friends got his driving licence and inherited his grandad’s Volvo 343. It wasn’t fast or comfy, but it took us to the stages all across Belgium and further.

Words:Tom Glückmann

Photos:McKlein, Tom Glückmann