After cancellation of Rally Sweden, the World Rally Championship 2021 is touching down in Lapland, its northernmost location ever, for the start of its second round on Friday, February 28. In its 49 years of existence, the WRC has never had an event at such an inhospitable and remote location as the Arctic Circle.
The Arctic Rally Finland will congregate a total of 13 World Rally Cars which will come head-to-head from February 26 under the extreme conditions of the Lapland region which is guaranteed to deliver lots of snow, ice and temperatures well below -20 ºC.
Paradoxically, it is also expected to be one of the fastest appointments in the calendar, with speeds exceeding 200 km/h. To add to the excitement, most of the contenders have never raced in the region, making the Arctic Rally a real challenge and an adventure, where anything can happen.
Toyota eager to win at home
Sebastian Ogier will be leading the Toyota Gazoo Racing team into their home race at the Artic Rally Finland. The seven-time WRC champion currently tops the standings after winning the inaugural round in Montecarlo.
Teaming up with the champion from Gap behind the wheels of the other Yaris WRC will be Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Matsuta and Kalle Rovanperä. It is precisely the latter driver that is attracting all of the attention.
Despite his youth (he is only 20 years of age) and inexperience (this will be his ninth WRC race), many believe Rovanperä has a real chance of becoming the youngest ever winner in WRC history on Sunday.
The Finn is used to driving on ice and snow in his home country and has demonstrated great dexterity competing on such hazardous surfaces in the past.
In January last year, he sealed a triumph in this very same territory and won third place at the Sweden 2020, where he broke the record for being the youngest ever driver to climb up the podium.
Harry Rovanperä’s son spoke of his excitement ahead of his country’s round:
“It’s great to go back to Lapland and compete at home. Still, there are some stages I haven’t driven before or which will be raced in the opposite direction, so I don’t think I have a big advantage”.
“For me, there is a little more pressure than normal, but perhaps it is more excitement than pressure. Finnish fans will be watching me, so I will try to live up to their expectations”.
Meanwhile, Evans, now second in the standings, is hoping to rob the Jyväskylä leader of his seat. Matsuta, for his part, will be concentrating on accruing more kilometres of experience at his first full season in the WRC.
Hyundai: Nothing short of a victory would do
Hyundai Motorsport is forced to produce a great result if it wants to straighten the season early on, after their fiasco at the Alpine race. In order to do this, they will need nothing less than a victory at the Arctic Rally Finland.
The Alzenau team suffered a disastrous start of the season in Montecarlo. Their star driver Ott Tänak had to retire after running out of spare tires, while Thierry Neuville could only manage third place.
The team manager of the South Korean team, Andrea Adamo, has already warned that they are going out to win, and only to win.
Craig Breen, an accomplished ice and snow racer, will occupy the third i20 WRC, taking over from Spaniard Dani Sordo, who was fifth in Montecarlo. The Irishman could give a surprise and take one of the places of honour of the Artic Rally Finland.
M-Sport hoping to take flight
Teemu Suninen from M-Sport will be feeling the pressure to perform at home. If he gets a good result this will make up for his accident in the first special of the season. The Englishman Gus Greensmith, and Lorenzo Bertelli, will occupy the other two Ford Fiesta of the Cumbrian team.
Finally, just a reminder that the Arctic Rally Finland will be starting this Friday afternoon and will run until Sunday the 28th. The Rally will consist of 10 sections totalling 251.08 timed kilometres (602,27 km, total distance).
Images of Artic Rally Finland: Artic Rally Finland.