Why the WRC is so different to national competition

Beyond the obvious, there are several other factors that make competing in a national championship different to the WRC

Emil Lindholm

Rally Finland is the one to win. If you want to impress team bosses with your bravery and sheer speed, the roads around Jyväskylä are the place to do it.

“It is,” agrees Finnish national champion and WRC2 regular Emil Lindholm when that point of view is put to him by DirtFish.

Didier Auriol is a good example. Taking on the 1000 Lakes in a two-wheel-drive Ford Sierra RS Cosworth against a field of four-wheel-drive cars, he finished third, beaten only by the works Lancia Deltas.

He’d won World Rally Championship events before. But this podium in 1988 was the catalyst that gave the 1994 world champion his big break.

“At this time, Lancia was the best factory team in the world. To drive a Lancia was every driver’s dream,” recounts Auriol. “It was after 1000 Lakes. The big boss of Lancia [Cesare Fiorio] just gave me his number and said ‘please call me’. For me it was, poof, incredible!”

That’s the goal. That’s what a star turn in Finland can do.

Toyota duo Kalle Rovanperä and Esapekka Lappi will be the homegrown heroes fighting for an overall win. But both already have the seats every driver in the World Rally Championship wants right now. It’s the horde of locals in WRC2 that are looking to get that phone number from Jari-Matti Latvala, Malcolm Wilson or Julien Moncet.

It’s a stacked field. And with WRC2 title contenders Andreas Mikkelsen, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Yohan Rossel all absent, it’s a chance to impress.

A quick gander at the WRC2 entry list reads like a who’s who of the Finnish championship elite. Lindholm, who’s sitting pretty at the top of the standings again this year with three wins and a second place, will need to fend off every single one of his national championship rivals to fend off during Finland’s WRC round. They’re all here.


Based on how the Finnish championship has played out this season, Lindholm has the edge on paper. But Rally Finland and the Finnish championship rounds have one key difference that change the game in multiple ways: distance.

That has two distinct effects – one affecting the roads and one affecting the drivers.

It’s a given that WRC mileage in Estonia will be helpful preparation for Finland. But the reason why isn’t as obvious as may seem.

“As I learned here [in Estonia] as well, these WRC rallies are so much about driving in ruts, which is something we never face in Finland,” Lindholm explained.

Emil Lindholm

“And it’s such a different way. Not only do you need to read the road and the conditions, you need to read the ruts and how deep they could be. So we will probably face that as well in Finland. But anyhow, I hope it won’t be as rutted as here.”

Then there’s the other aspect that’s somewhat psychological. The pacing is a bit different. On the shorter-distance Finnish championship events there are no Rally1 cars laying 600bhp down and deepening the ruts Rally2 cars must follow. That means the flat-out approach doesn’t always work at every corner of every stage.

Egon Kaur is one of Lindholm’s rivals for the Finnish title and, like Lindholm, was part of the early battle for WRC2 victory in Estonia before his rally took a turn for the worse.

He went to the Finnish championship specifically to prepare for Estonia and Finland’s WRC rounds. But he’s starting to discover that the national and WRC rounds require a different approach in subtle ways.


“This was the key problem we had in Estonia,” said Kaur. “The speed was occasionally there; we were able to match the top guys but we weren’t able to do it in a stable fashion. In the Finnish championship also, you’re pushing from start to finish all the time.

“You don’t always get that [in WRC] because the road is always smooth, you have few surprises from the road [surface], and you have to keep pushing from the very first meter until the last. But I hope now this Estonia experience helps us with the other part in Finland, that we’re really managing our speed as well but keeping in close contact with the top.”

Stage characteristics varied somewhat during the Estonia itinerary. There were narrower, more technical sections, to contend with.

There won’t be a whole load of that in Finland. Keeping the taps wide open at every possible moment should, ultimately, make the difference.


“Finland is about being at the limit in every corner and every braking whereas even here [in Estonia], like on the second pass, it’s not about who takes every possible place flat that you can,” said Lindholm. “It’s more about survival. But it’s such a different game, especially on the first pass in Finland.

“And I think usually if the pace is OK in Finland then you’re going to be on that for other rallies as well.”