A popular saying in Finland (spread mostly by Finnish rally drivers) is: ‘If you want to win, get a Finn.’ Or, in a variation on the theme: ‘to finish first, first you have to be Finnish.’
This is why Rally Finland is regarded as such a holy grail of the sport. “We’ll see now if I’m Finnish or French,” said Red Bull’s Sebastien Loeb before tackling the final day. After securing his third victory over the flat-out rollercoaster stages, it seems that the little Frenchman can now lay claim to another passport.
It was another one-two for the Red Bull-backed Citroen team; their fifth from eight rallies held so far this year. Team mate Mikko Hirvonen was just a handful of seconds behind, but he still wasn’t happy. “It’s not the result that I wanted, even though second is still good,” said Hirvonen. “As a Finn you always want to win at home, so it hurts a bit when you don’t.”
Maybe he was thinking of the words of the great Markku Alen, one of the legendary flying Finns of the 1980s. “If I had been beaten by a foreigner at home, I certainly wouldn’t be standing on the podium spraying champagne,” he said. “I would be locking myself in the sauna for two weeks with a bottle of vodka to think about what I had done…”
But if Mikko was disappointed, then you should have seen Ford. Their two Nordic superstars, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, were expected to shine in Finland but the spark wasn’t quite there. “I’m not sure what it is with Jari-Matti; he’s just not himself,” explained Ford’s team boss Malcolm Wilson. Solberg said that they’d fallen behind Citroen but that it certainly wasn’t through adopting a Latin work ethic. “It’s not as if the guys are back in the factory eating spaghetti all day or something…”
Red Bull’s Thierry Neuville was the early sensation of Rally Finland, setting top five times on his very first visit to the epic stages. “I was actually being a bit careful because the jumps here are like trampolines and if you’re not careful you can become an astronaut,” he pointed out. It turned out that he wasn’t being quite careful enough, as he later interfaced his Citroen with the scenery – but still managed to bring the car home. He wasn’t the only one.
Russian driver Evgeny Novikov rolled his Ford early on, hurting his co-driver Denis Giraudet’s back in the process. They too were able to continue but Giraudet remained in considerable pain, describing Novikov as a “high-speed ambulance driver” as he nursed both the car and themselves to the finish.
The WRC now takes a break for the rest of August before resuming on Rallye Deutschland – a stone’s throw from where Seb Loeb grew up in Alsace – at the end of the month.