Ouninpohja: not easy to pronounce at first but as the countdown to Rally Finland enters its final hours it’s now on everybody’s lips as fans start to feel a tingle in their spine in anticipation of the World Rally Championship’s elite being let loose on one of the sport’s ultimate stages.
The bravery required to master it is akin to that of a front-line warrior screaming headlong into battle during medieval times and utterly incomprehensible to lesser mortals like us.
And we’ve got the proof – check out the on-board video above with Citroen’s Finnish star Mikko Hirvonen as he goes through Ouninpohja in 2012.
It’s the bit at two minutes and 50 seconds when things start to get really crazy as Mikko remains flat on the throttle for an astonishing 23 seconds as he whizzes like a missile through the trees. Finally, with his DS3’s engine bouncing off the rev limiter, he backs off – he has to because coming up is a corner that’s not quite top gear.
This year the 33km Ouninpohja stage (pronunced Oh-nin-poh-kia) will run twice on the Saturday, significantly as the event heads towards the finish line later that evening.
But just how can what Mikko is doing be possible? “You have to go like that if you want to make a good time on that stage,” Mikko tells redbull.com. “You have to be committed and go flat out. It used to be scary especially at the start of my career when I didn’t know it so well.
“There are places you can fly a lot longer than you can imagine and the pace is really, really high. But now I know the stage and last year really was the first time in there for me that I wasn’t scared; I could just enjoy it.”
It looks like a computer game… “Yes, but if you make mistake it’s going to hurt. You can’t just push the button and rejoin the road and carry on. If you make a mistake on Ouninpohja or any stage on Rally Finland it’s going to be a big one.”
Compatriot and VW rival Jari-Matti Latvala concurs, adding: “You really need a car which is stable and good over the jumps, but you also need your pace notes to be very precise so you know the line over the jumps. And of course you need a bit of bravery because it’s so fast. The average speed is over 130kph.”
So what is it like for the co-driver who, let’s be honest, has to sit there and take it? Certainly preparation and a real understanding of what the driver wants reaches critical point here as Seppo Harjanne, three times a WRC co-drivers’ champion (with Timo Salonen in 1985 and Tommi Makinen 1996-97) and now Rally Finland’s deputy clerk of the course explains.
“You cannot do anything but concentrate like mad and try to keep up with the driving because everything is happening so fast.
“Precision is vital but it’s a stage where you cannot really write everything in the pace notes – it would be too much for the driver to take it all in.
“You don’t have time to be scared but of course you can get scared if something happens unexpectedly, like the car jumps or lands a bit differently. Everybody considers it one of the best ever.”