To succeed in World Rallying’s fastest round you need more than just umlauts in your name and a stoic indiference to pain. By Jake Groves
1. HAVE NERVES OF STEEL
Every rally location is gruelling for the driver and co-driver but Finland is notoriously dificult to master, with its huge jumps, blind corners and wafer-thin margins for error. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Esapekka Lappi may have dominated Rally Finland in 2017 but he was forced to retire from the 2018 event when he rolled out in the closing stages.
‘You cannot see every corner but you have to fight every metre,’ says twice WRC champ Marcus Grönholm. ‘You cannot win this rally on the first time here – you need a little experience first.’
Tommi Mäkinen, TGR’s team principal, knows how hard the weekends are:
‘Afterwards you feel absolutely exhausted.
It’s easier being team principal!’
2. IF YOU CAN’T BE FINNISH, BE FINNISH-ISH
Scandi drivers don’t dominate WRC like they once did, although the local conditions and a strong rallying tradition do help. TGR’s home rally in Finland was won by Ott Tänak, who’s from just over the Gulf of Finland in Estonia, as is his co-driver Martin Järveo.
The closest a Finn came to winning was Tänak’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in third. ‘Naturally at home, Finns are quick’, says Mäkinen, himself a four-time WRC champ, ‘but if you think about the whole championship, there are a number of fast drivers and they come from all over.’
Going into the 2018 championship’s final five events – which include the British round on the first weekend of October, based in North Wales – Tänak is third, with Lappi in fourth. The leading two cars are Belgian Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai and Frenchmen Sébastien Ogier’s Ford.
3. DRIVE A PIONEERING CAR
Modern rally cars are 375bhp monsters capable of tearing up all kinds of terrain, but they’re more accessible than ever. ‘These are far superior cars,’ says Mäkinen. ‘They are pretty powerful, so nice to drive and so fast.’ And Toyota’s extreme aero package is pioneering this year; ‘I think some of the other teams have followed, in a way, with what we started – it’s pretty interesting. With this new regulation, the new aero package makes the cars faster and more spectacular. It’s important that the cars look as spectacular as possible.’
4. BE COACHED BY PROFESSIONALS
Mäkinen is in his second year at the helm of TGR’s WRC team, and he’s using his vast experience and knowledge to keep the team on the right track. Despite myriad regulation changes, increasingly powerful cars and more sophisticated aero than ever, he says WRC is much the same as it was in his ’90s heyday. ‘I think there’s not so much a big diference between then and now. The equipment has changed by getting faster but the competition is always there, with everyone pushing flat-out.’
5. HAVE A STRONG TEAM BEHIND YOU
The support crews are critical. The engineers, for example, have to run like clockwork for 18 hours a day, prepping parts, co-ordinating modifications and servicing the cars in strictly allotted times under the watchful eyes of FIA scrutineers, in all weather conditions.
And they need to make sure they’re carrying the right spares, because their job is often about replacement rather than repair. It’s much quicker to replace an entire axle, for example, than find the individual part that’s failed. The most commonly replaced non-consumable part? Front bumpers, with an average of more than two replaced per car per rally.