The second round of the World Rally Championship (WRC), the Arctic Rally Finland, gets underway this Friday, with an early morning shakedown stage before the official start from the city of Rovaniemi in the early afternoon.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, the country’s most Northern Province and lies just south of the Arctic Circle. Currently it will be the weather conditions on the minds of the 56 teams as the forests and narrow roads are iced and covered in a heavy layer of snow. Temperatures during the rally are expected to be between minus 6oC and minus 14oC but it could drop to minus 20oC.
The extreme conditions requires that every car be equipped with a winter survival kit, which includes two shovels and warm clothing to protect crews if they are forced to stop during a special stage. The central service park will be based in Rovaniemi. The rally will cover a total distance of 856.05 km including ten stages totaling 251.08 km. The longest stage is 31.05 km and is covered twice on day one, the second pass being at night, to make the narrow roads with blind rises and metre high snow drifts even more challenging.
Last month’s Monte Carlo Rally was a tough one for M-Sport Ford WRT and Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT as both experienced the retirement of two top drivers. Teemu Suninen put his Fiesta off the road and out of the rally early on, while Ott Tänak had to retire his Hyundai due to multiple punctures and late arrival penalties, after leading the event on day one.
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT (30 points) will be out to close the gap to the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT and no one more so than Tänak (0 points) with co-driver Martin Järveoja who will be back with a vengeance. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (17 points) with his new co-driver, Martijn Wydaeghe, after his third place finish last month, will be looking for another podium to stay in the hunt. Returning to the Hyundai team will be Irishmen Craig Breen and Paul Nagle who tackle their first rally of the season.
Tackling his first ever event in a full Hyundai i20 WRC specification car, having previously driven a WRC2 i20, is Oliver Solberg, son of 2003 world champion Petter Solberg. At just 19 years of age he will be a man to watch, and could surprise all.
Gus Greensmith (4 points) with Elliot Edmonson will be hoping to improve on his last outing, but the M-Sport Ford WRT (10 points) crew has limited experience driving in ice and snow. Team mate Suninen (0 points) and Mikko Markkula are in a similar situation and will have to find confidence rapidly on the difficult road surfaces.
Adrien Fourmaux, who has been campaigning in a WRC2 M-Sport Fiesta is to be backed by Red Bull for the season and will split his drives between WRC and WRC2. This weekend he will be behind the wheel of a Red Bull branded Ford Fiesta Rally2 before debuting in the full WRC specification car at Rally Croatia in two months. The young Frenchman has been part of M-Sport Ford’s driver development team for some time and has impressed all involved including CEO Malcolm Wilson.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT (52 points) field current world champions Sebastien Ogier (30 points) with Julien Ingrassia and the man most likely to challenge him within the team, Elfyn Evans (21 points) and co-driver Scott Martin.
Welshman Evans narrowly missed out on the championship in 2020 and will give his all to claim the title in 2021. The third team member is Kalle Rovanpera (16 points) with Jonne Halttunen, yet another youngster with incredible talent who has really got to grips with the Yaris WRC.
Although a limited distance event the Arctic Rally Finland could be one to radically upset the current championship leader board.