Welcome to Rally Flashback, where we look at a previous version of an upcoming event of the World Rally Championship. Late July means it is time to go the land with a lot of lakes (but not as many as Norway), and even more jumps and rally drivers!
I am of course talking about Finland, a round featured in the WRC every year (apart from 1995) since the championship started in 1973. It has mostly been dominated by Finns and Swedes, but it has also been won by the brilliant drivers Carlos Sainz (1990), Didier Auriol (1992), Markko Märtin (2003), Sebastien Loeb (2008, 2011, 2012) and Sebastien Ogier (2013). We’re not going to look at any of those years though, but to 2004.
Rally Finland is dubbed the Grand Prix on gravel, and is the fastest rally on the calendar. The cars have an average speed of up to 130 km/h, and spend a lot of the time with all four wheels off the ground. The densely packed gravel gives good grip in the dry, and makes for some spectacular driving.
In 2004 Petter Solberg had two wins, but still struggled to defend the championship from Sebastien Loeb. In only his second full season of the WRC he had already built up a healthy lead with four wins so far. Varying results had also been the case for double World Champion Marcus Grönholm, who had been without a win for over a year. Some of that bad luck can of course be attributed to the troubles of the new Peugeot 307 WRC, but both the car and the driver had shown pace between all the retirements. Markko Märtin was Fords man for the driver’s title, but a win in Mexico could not make up for several lackluster results.
Trying to help their teammates to the title, Citroën looked quite a bit stronger than Subaru with the experienced Carlos Sainz against rookie Mikko Hirvonen. Peugeot had hired both Sebastian Lindholm (Grönholms cousin) and Harri Rovanpëra. Janne Tuohino was nominated as Fords second driver, while Francois Duval entered just to gain experience.
Also entering this rally is the Skoda team with Toni Gardemeister, Armin Schwarz and Jani Paasonen, Mitsubishi with Gilles Panizzi and Gigi Galli, Finnish privateer Juuso Pykalisto in a Citroën, Bozian racing teammates Daniel Carlsson and Henning Solberg. Henning is the only driver from the WRC class to also race this year, but he’ll be in an R5. Kris Meeke also entered in a Opel Corsa S1600, but retired and will hope for something better this year.
Who won in 2004? Have a look at the highlights video below.
And it’s impossible to speak of Finland 2004 without including the record breaking run of Ouninpohja from Petter Solberg and Phil Mills. Since the stage hasn’t been run in that configuration since, the record still stands. This stage is also featured in DiRT Rally, so feel free to replicate Solbergs performance.