After a few days to digest an eventful Rally Finland, we gathered the thoughts of the key players in Jyväskylä last weekend.
For every Finnish rally driver, Rally Finland is the event to win. As rally legend Markku Alen, who has won in Finland six times, put it: “I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be beaten by a foreigner on our home territory. If I had finished second to someone like [Sébastien] Loeb or [Sébastien] Ogier on Rally Finland, I wouldn’t be smiling on the podium. I’d go away and lock myself in the sauna for two weeks to think about what I’d done…”
So it was clear that the local boys would be on a mission. Straight into the lead was Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen. But it didn’t last.
'The world went upside down. We actually rolled uphill' – Mikko Hirvonen
“I just went off, ironically at what was probably my favourite place in the whole rally,” recounted a sore but otherwise unharmed Hirvonen. “The car landed nicely in the middle of the road after a big jump over a crest into a right corner. It was quite a heavy landing but then the car suddenly sent me straight into a bank. After that, the world went upside down. We actually rolled uphill. It happened so fast, there was nothing I could do.”
This put Citroën privateer Petter Solberg, who modestly described himself as being “back in the top three best drivers in the world”, into the lead.
But by the end of the opening day, it was Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala who led. However, the Finn – who would go on to become the youngest-ever winner of the Rally Finland – was surprisingly modest about his chances.
“I knew that I had the chance to be on the podium,” said Latvala. “But to be honest I didn’t think I could win right up until the final afternoon. It’s something that I only dreamed about.”
'In Finland, the speeds are so high that you need all the help you can get' – Sébastien Loeb
Behind him the battle was intensifying as both Ogier and Loeb got in front of Solberg on the morning of day two. Surprisingly, it was Ogier leading Loeb, with the six-time world champion having dropped time after breaking his front splitter against a fence post on Friday morning.
“Aerodynamics don’t normally make much difference on a rally car – it’s not like Formula One,” he said. “But in Finland, it’s different: the speeds are so high that you need all the help you can get…”
One of the real heroes was Ogier, claiming the runner-up spot on only his second visit to Finland in a World Rally car. Nonetheless, the young Frenchman said that it was still far from ideal.
“It’s been a very good rally for me,” Ogier concluded, “but as a driver you are never happy to finish second.”
'As you can imagine, I don’t like losing' – Malcolm Wilson
Malcolm Wilson, Ford’s team principal, also hates being beaten – which is why Finland came as such a welcome relief to him after a lacklustre Rally Bulgaria.
“As you can imagine, I don’t like losing – that’s me,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure, but it was a question of us all getting back, as a company.”
Next up is Rally Germany, an event that Sébastien Loeb has won every time since it joined the World Rally Championship in 2002.
His rivals need to be afraid. Very afraid…