Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT on day 3 during the World Rally Championship Sweden in Torsby, Sweden on February 15, 2020.
© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
WRC

Move over Santa Claus… Arctic Rally Finland's the new show in town

With the WRC's first Arctic Rally Finland on the horizon, we asked respected motorsports journalist David Evans to preview the event and tell us who might profit from the icy conditions.
By David Evans
5 min readPublished on
Until now, Rovaniemi has been best known for one thing. One person to be more precise. Joulupukki. Have you met him? Wears red and is rarely seen outside the confines of the Christmas holidays. Until now.
With the bulk of his work done, Santa Claus can probably take his foot off the gas and come see some other folk making his town famous. Those other folk would be the fastest drivers and co-drivers in the World Rally Championship. The WRC might not have its own taxi firm, casino, multiple hotels, villages and even a post office, but it will, for one week, provide something of a Saint Nick sideshow.
Arctic Rally Finland touches down in Lapland for the start of WRC round two on Friday, February 28.
Rallying on snow and ice is, of course, nothing new – Rally Sweden has been a WRC staple since the series' inception in 1973. But when the current global situation forced Sweden off the calendar, its Nordic neighbour Finland stepped forward to fill a winter round-sized hole in the calendar.
And what better place to host a winter rally than the cooler side of the Arctic Circle. And it is, by the way, cool.
"It's freezing," confirmed Toyota driver Elfyn Evans. "We tested here earlier this month and it was –30°C. That was properly cold. But the place is just stunning."
Detail of tyres on day 1 during the World Rally Championship Sweden in Torsby, Sweden on February 13, 2020.
Spiked tyres will be the must-have accessory
Last year's World Rally Championship runner-up isn't wrong. Lapland at this time of the year is a sight to behold. Providing it's not snowing. When it snows in the Arctic, it does it properly. For days. And not that drizzly wet stuff that brings Britain to a standstill every fourth February. No, this is freeze-dried powder that paints the world bright white for months on end.
But, you can trust the WRC to bring a blaze of colour to that hoary canvas.

Who's hot for the cold?

Round one winner Sébastien Ogier leads the crews into the first of 10 stages on Friday. As a former ski instructor, the Frenchman is as comfortable as anybody in deep powder, but not this time. Heavy snow would seriously hinder his progress and turn his near million-Euro Toyota Yaris WRC into a high-speed snowplough, clearing the roads for those following.
"It it's not so nice to drive first on the road when the snow comes," said Ogier. "All the time you are driving, you know you are making the line faster and faster for your competitors coming behind."
It's not so nice to drive first on the road when the snow comes
For once, a fresh snow no-show would suit the seven-time world champion very nicely.
As it would Evans, who starts directly behind him on the road. The Welshman is the WRC's reigning winter winner, having scored a dominant first success for Toyota in Sweden 12 months ago. Evans fancies more of the same this time around.
Toyota's challenge for the Arctic podium's top step has centered very much around Ogier and Evans since the start of 2020. That will change if Kalle Rovanperä delivers the performance plenty of folk are expecting.
Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen of Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT are racing on day 3 during the World Rally Championship Sweden in Torsby, Sweden on February 16, 2020
Could Kalle Rovanperä set two records this weekend?
Like Ogier, the Finn is no stranger to the snow – he too grew up in the stuff. The difference is that he had a car, rather than pair of skis beneath him. Aged eight, Rovanperä rocketed to YouTube fame when he sat on a cushion and hurled a Toyota Starlet across a frozen lake at a ridiculous rate of knots.
Now sitting – minus the cushion – in the fastest rally car ever created, the 20-year-old has the chance to create history by becoming the youngest-ever WRC event winner. His team principal Jari-Matti Latvala holds that record. J-ML was two and a bit years older when he broke his world championship duck in Sweden in 2008.
"I know myself my record is going to fall," smiled Latvala. "And, yes, maybe it could be this week."
Outside of the Toyota camp, 2019 world champion Ott Tänak is raring to get his season started, having departed Monte-Carlo with zero points. The Estonian is definitely the danger man aboard the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.

Technically speaking, cold is good

As well as the potential for Rovanperä becoming the youngest-ever winner, he could tear up two pages of the history book by recording the fastest-ever WRC round at the same time. Kris Meeke holds that record for his 2016 Rally Finland victory, chalked up at an average of 126.62kph. Rovanperä drove a Yaris WRC on a smaller rally on these roads last year and was managing an average as high as 143.90kph for some sections.
"It will be very, very fast in places," confirmed the Finn.
The faster the better for these sensational World Rally cars. Hyundai Motorsport's Craig Breen explains why. "The faster you drive, the more the studded tyres will bite into the surface, giving you even more grip," said the Irishman. And the good grip news doesn't end there. "Of course, the faster you’re driving, the more downforce you're generating. The corner speeds in these cars on these Pirelli tyres is just incredible. Every year you start the rally, you have to adjust your mind to what’s possible."
The corner speeds in these cars on these Pirelli tyres is just incredible. Every year you start the rally, you have to adjust your mind to what's possible
Craig Breen
And, as any good meteorologist knows, colder air means heavier air, so that aero effect improves the further the mercury falls.
It's winter in the Arctic. What's not to love? All we need now is for somebody to turn on the Northern Lights and Joulupukki to put in some overtime and deliver the WRC a perfect round two.