WRC Finland update: I’m currently sitting in Helsinki airport, waiting (for most of today) on the connection to Jyväskylä, where I’ll see some of the world’s greatest rally stages. It provides a moment to reflect on a couple of decades of admiration for some of rallying’s most elite drivers.
Winding back the clock almost 20 years to 1997, I was a child scribbling on an envelope hoping to win a copy of that year’s best rally racing game – V-Rally.
On the envelope I drew a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, rear yawing and the words ‘Ari Vatanen’ emblazoned above. It was enough to win me the game and pique my interest in rally further.
I was a TOCA Touring Car nerd before I read an interview with Ari about the upcoming game, which he was lead tester for: “It’s so frighteningly real, only a safety harness could hold you back,” he said.
I quickly started watching Colin McRae, Tommi Mäkinen and Possum Borne driving across loose surfaces with gazelle-like speed and agility. Although there’s no lack of courage in any motorsport, there was something about the fearlessness shared between a driver and co-driver on what are essentially closed off, but normal, roads.
The Finnish call it sisu, us Aussies might call it guts. I wanted to experience it, and that game was as close I could come.
Ari was one particular Finnish driver with ‘sisu’. Although Ari drove a variety of cars across his career, some of his most successful and brave moments were in Peugeot’s Group B 205 Turbo 16 all-wheel drive animal, which won him five-WRC events in a row.
Group B rally cars were some of the quickest and most dangerous ever built, and watching them driven at limit with such skill and ‘sisu’ is one of motorsport’s great pleasures.
With a reputation for colossal crashes, some ending in death, Group B cars were banned along with the exhilaration they provided.
Finland’s event, traditionally known as ‘Rally of the Thousand Lakes’ is the quickest rally in the WRC today, and with plenty of big bumps and blind crests it provides one of rally’s greatest atmospheres for bonkers car jumps, blistering quick driving and copious amounts of stoic courage.
I may have replaced the letter and pencils for a camera and laptop, but I hope to capture some of the atmosphere at one of the world’s greatest sporting events over the coming days. Stay tuned here and on our social pages, and as always we’d love to hear questions you want answered while we’re over here.