World Rally Championship Finland, An Underdog Returns to Racing

The old-wood pine forests and gravel roads of the Neste Oil WRC Finland made for gorgeous scenery in early August.

Sung Han

The WRC (World Rally Championship) is a different kind of racing animal — far removed from tarmac, exhaust smells and visual repetition of high-speed laps, cars and drivers manage wilderness courses through dirt, mud and sometimes snow, each running individually at the multiple stages. The cars are small, but tailored to take the punishment of high speeds and jumps on terrain that any sane driver would avoid entirely. The two-man teams are made up of a driver and a co-driver, who calls out the course in a unique WRC language that bluntly describes to the driver every turn and undulation as they hurtle through ordinarily peaceful verdant surroundings.

Early August brought drivers and their teams to Jyväskylä, in the Lakeland region of central Finland. The old-wood pine forests and gravel roads of the 26-stage, 37-kilometer Neste Oil Rally Finland made for gorgeous scenery, interrupted only by the high-pitched roars of the cars as they reapportioned large amounts of gravel, taking flight often and landing with a strange gracefulness. The roadside was packed with fans from countries like Norway, Sweden, Ukraine, and Russia — and most of all, the Fins, who waved their blue-crossed flags and strained their necks particularly hard as their homegrown heroes flashed by.

Two of the race’s Finnish drivers, Juho Hänninen and Tomi Tuominen, were part of a Team Hyundai group that’s coming on strong after a dearth of rally success. After a 10-year hiatus, Hyundai made the move to return to motorsports a year and a half ago. Unlike more established and better funded teams like Volkswagen and Citroen, who spend around 40-60 million euros a year to fund their efforts, Hyundai is a bit of a fledgling. They only have one team and three cars for the WRC season and probably half the capital the bigger teams have at their disposal.

And yet their 22-nationality, 100-member staff made their mark when it mattered. Though last year’s second-place finisher in the WRC, Thierry Neuville, had to retire his car mid-rally, New Zealenders Hayden Paddon and John Kennard fought through power steering problems and still managed an eighth place finish; and Fins Hänninen and Tuominen in the number 8 Hyundai i20 WRC nailed the fourth fastest time in the Myhinpää stage, which helped them capture sixth place overall, their second consecutive sixth-place finish this year. It was a victory for Hyundai, for Finland and for excited fans lucky enough to see the race in person. Everyone else can see our video, above.

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