Radically renewed route puts drivers’ skills to real test - “a virtually never-before-seen spectacle”

6.3.2018 10:00Year after year, the route of the Finnish round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Neste Rally Finland, has brought about a sense of excited anticipation amongst the drivers. This year, their skills and mental strength are put to a real test on the extremely challenging gravel roads of Central Finland, with different road types and changes in both driving direction and rhythm.

The route features up to 40 per cent of previously unused roads, and the percentage of roads not seen in last year’s rally is as high as 65.

This year again, the intense battle for fractions of a second starts in the heart of Jyväskylä, when the rally car engines are fired up for the Harju city special stage on Thursday 26 July. The rally finishes on Sunday 29 July with the hair-raising jumps of Ruuhimäki. There are 317.26 special stage kilometres in this year’s rally, with the total length of the route being 1 427.49 kilometres.

- The planning of this year’s route has been done with passion. There will be plenty of challenging aspects for everyone – guaranteed – as different road types with different rhythms played a significant role in the road selection process, says the Assistant Clerk of the Course Kari Nuutinen, who is responsible for the rally route.

- Kicking things off is the Shakedown stage that is a good indication of things to come, as it has now been moved from Ruuhimäki to Vesala, located near the city of Jyväskylä. This means that the drivers will have to get used to new roads right from the get-go.

The words “Harju special stage” carry a lot of meaning, history and memories, and they anchor the 2018 Neste Rally Finland to the birthplace and roots of the event, the rally’s spiritual home.

- Everybody wants to drive Harju! It seems to be the least opinion dividing stage on the route. And not only is it run in the immediate vicinity of the city centre – which makes it easily accessible for the fans – it is also a stage that is made to be driven, it’s not just a case of “going around some barrels”.

- We owe a big thank you to the City of Jyväskylä for the fact that Harju is indeed included in the route, as their positive attitude has made it possible for the city special stage to be driven.

Mixed Moksi, brand-new Ässämäki, revamped Oittila

On 27 July, the Friday morning peace and quiet will be disturbed straight after eight o’clock, when the driver leading the championship at that point starts onto the Moksi special stage. The name Moksi is well known from years past, and the road very well-known from the not-so-distant past.

- Moksi is a great summary of this year’s route philosophy. A lot of road changes, with sections from the Vellipohja, Surkee and Parkkola special stages. A truly fantastic stage!

After Moksi, the stages of Urria and Äänekoski are driven before Friday’s first service – but there is also the brand-new, 12.40 kilometres long Ässämäki special stage. Urria features some never-before-driven sections, but the famous giant jump is of course still there. And the driving direction of Äänekoski has been changed from last year.

- In the Ässämäki stage, the first part is actually a section from Halinen that was in last year’s route, but that section is now driven in the opposite direction. And from there, the cars turn onto a totally new road section, which features some small road with a lot of character.

After service, the Friday route heads towards Oittila, which in the last couple of years had become known as the Neste Rally Finland Power Stage. However, Oittila has now grown in length and using the old pacenotes is not really a possibility.

After Oittila, drivers will again tackle the loop familiar from that morning, starting from Moksi. Friday’s finale is the second run on the Harju city special stage, where we will find out who is the true “king of the hill”.

Pihlajakoski – the only stage from last year kept intact

Päijälä gets the honour of starting things off on Saturday. From Päijälä, the route heads via Kuhmoinen to the Pihlajakoski special stage, from where the best rally drivers in the world move onto the Kakaristo special stage. For the most part, the new Kakaristo stage follows the road that is familiar from Ouninpohja – and includes the namesake of the new stage, the legendary Kakaristo junction. Saturday’s morning loop ends with the Tuohikotanen special stage in the Korpilahti area. The rally caravan also returns to Tuohikotanen right after the Jyväskylä Paviljonki service break.

- Just like Friday, Saturday is a tough day. It’s just relentless from morning ‘til night, with the new stages adding their own twist into the mix. This year, the drivers really have to be careful with their pacenotes, as Pihlajakoski is the only special stage in the whole rally that has remained the same as last year.

After the second pass of the Tuohikotanen special stage, Saturday’s afternoon loop consists of Kakaristo, Päijälä and Pihlajakoski – driven for the second time, in that order. And traditionally, Saturday afternoons have often been “the deciders” that determine the result of the day, or even the entire Neste Rally Finland. The day is wrapped up with Saturday’s final service at the Jyväskylä Paviljonki, after which the drivers are given a break for the night.

New partnership with Laukaa, Ruuhimäki’s mega jump

On Sunday, the final battles of Neste Rally Finland 2018 will all take place in the municipality of Laukaa. The Laukaa special stage, which is rich in tradition, made a comeback in 2017. This year, it will be the opening stage of the last day of rallying and it is guaranteed to well and truly wake the drivers up. The final day of Rally Finland won’t be much easier on the drivers either. The Laukaa stage will be driven in the opposite direction, and after that the drivers will get a taste of things to come in the afternoon, as they have a first go on the rollercoaster that is the Ruuhimäki Power Stage.
 
- We are very pleased and honoured to form an even closer partnership between the municipality of Laukaa and our event. We are building and developing the special stage together with the municipality, just like we have been doing with Äänekoski. This year, Sunday is purely a Laukaa day, Kari Nuutinen explains.
 
- The final special stage of Neste Rally Finland 2018 is Ruuhimäki, which has undergone a dramatic change. The first part of the stage is totally new and it swings by the Ruuhimäki village. The stage features a lot of different roads and junctions – and there is even a little bit of tarmac road in there too. The rally ends with a brand-new “monster of a jump” that fans really should come and see from far and wide. It’s a never-before-seen spectacle, Nuutinen enthuses.

Neste Rally Finland Itinerary 2018

Thursday 26.7.

8:00       Shakedown Vesala          4,26 km 
19:00     SS 1 Harju 1                    2,31 km

Friday 27.7.

7:15     Huolto Paviljonki                  15 min
8:18       SS 2 Moksi 1                 20,04 km   
9:21       SS 3 Urria 1                   12,28 km   
10:13     SS 4 Ässämäki 1           12,33 km  
11:36     SS 5 Äänekoski 1           7,71 km  
12:51     Service  Paviljonki             30 min
14:24     SS 6 Oittila                     19,34 km   
15:27     SS 7 Moksi 2                  20,04 km  
16:30     SS 8 Urria 2                  12,28 km  
17:22     SS 9 Ässämäki 2          12,33 km
18:45     SS 10 Äänekoski 2           7,71 km   
20:00     SS 11 Harju 2             2,31 km   
20:30     Service Paviljonki         45 min

Saturday 28.7.

6:00       Service Paviljonki        15 min
8:13       SS 12 Päijälä 1                  23,92 km  
9:29       SS 13 Pihlajakoski 1          14,90 km   
10:38     SS 14 Kakaristo 1              23,66 km  
12:13     SS 15 Tuohikotanen   1       8,95 km  
13:31     Huolto Paviljonki         30 min
14:55     SS 16 Tuohikotanen 2         8,95 km   
16:08     SS 17 Kakaristo 2              23,66 km  
17:36     SS 18 Päijälä 2                  23,92 km   
18:54     SS 19 Pihlajakoski 2          14,90 km  
20:55     Service Paviljonki       45 min

Sunday 29.7.

7:30      Service  Paviljonki       15 min
8:38       SS 20 Laukaa 1         11,74 km
9:38       SS 21 Ruuhimäki 1    11,12 km
11:01     SS 22 Laukaa 2         11,74 km   
13:18     SS 23 Ruuhimäki 2 (PS)  11,12 km
14:21     Service Paviljonki       10 min
16:00     Podium Paviljonki

SS total length 317,26 km
Route total length 1427,49 km

More detailed information on the Neste Rally Finland route with special stage maps, spectator services and instructions of approach will be published 12 July in the Official Programme. This year, the Rally Finland Official Programme is going to be produced together with Ilta-Sanomat and it will come out as a special issue of the Finnish “Urheilulehti” sports magazine. 

Photo: AKK/Toni Ollikainen