Why Finland loves rally

On a rainy day in the autumn of 1987, seven-year-old Teemu Lampinen stood with his father on the sidelines o...

Posted: Nov 7, 2018 12:56 PM
Updated: Nov 7, 2018 12:56 PM

On a rainy day in the autumn of 1987, seven-year-old Teemu Lampinen stood with his father on the sidelines of Finland's 1000 Lakes Rally (now called the Neste Rally Finland).

He watched wide-eyed as Ari Vatanen, Finnish rally driver turned politician, roared out of the blocks in a Ford Sierra.

Continents and regions

Europe

Finland

Northern Europe

Sports and recreation

Motorsports

"I remember the car jumping and flames coming out of the fumes," say Lampinen. For a young boy, it was a dream come true. That was the moment the self-confessed superfan fell in love with the sport.

Lampinen estimates he spends 25 to 30 days a year watching rally. As soon as the routes for an event are published, he studies the course, visits the stages and marks out the corners where he will spectate -- "the corners that we expect to have action, you know, crashes," he says.

A national obsession

In Finland, a devoted rally fan is not uncommon. The sport is hugely popular in the country, with the Neste Rally attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators each year.

"Rallying has become sort of a national sport," Kai Tarkianen, clerk of the course for the Neste Rally, tells CNN. "A lot of the athletes that are well known outside Finland come from motorsport -- obviously we have our Formula One world champions, but we also have our rallying world champions."

With a population of just 5.5 million, Finland produces a disproportionate number of motorsport champions -- a total of three in F1 and seven in rally -- commonly known as the "flying Finns". In fact, it leads both sports with its number of champions per capita.

So, what makes Finland a successful breeding ground for motorsport champions?

Wild roads

Finland's road network is approximately 450,000 kilometers long, according to the country's transport agency. Of this, 350,000 kilometers are private and forested roads.

For young drivers this means a vast practice arena on their doorstep.

"The guys from the village just come and close a stretch of road in the middle of the night and go and see who's the fastest," says Tarkianen. "Then somebody thinks, 'hmm, this is quite fun'... and then they go into hobby rallying and work their way up from there."

This taps into the general appeal of rallying. "(It's) a layman's sport," says Tarkianen. "Anybody with a license can come up."

Extreme conditions

Unlike circuit racing, there is no controlled environment. The sport takes place on normal public roads -- it's about going as fast as you can from a to b, in whatever conditions.

And in Finland, a country where ice and go-karting are popular pastimes, drivers are ready to take on ice, snow, dust and mud. Even the national driving test -- known to be one of the most rigorous in the world -- requires special training for slippery conditions.

"Finnish weather gives us a perfect base for learning driving skills," says Lampinen. "You have to know how to drive in the winter weather, you have to know how to drive on the gravel in the summer."

The Finnish edge

The Neste rally is famous for its jumps, blind crests, and its hard-packed gravel roads, which make it one of the fastest races in the series. As cars typically slide more easily on gravel than asphalt, it also makes it one of the most challenging.

Finnish drivers have an advantage, says Jari-Matti Latvala, a driver for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing (TGR). "You know the characteristics of the roads...so you know what to expect, where it jumps and how the corners will go."

Now in its 68th year, the rally has become a family outing, uniting the nation, says Tom Fowler, chief engineer for TGR.

"Everybody knows something about rally in this country, that brings everybody together," he says.

The popular support makes rally even more accessible, drives investment into infrastructure, and inspires drivers.

Visit CNN.com/Rally for more news, features and videos

"Home soil brings you pressure," says Latvala. "But on the other hand, it motivates you because you have a lot of Finnish people supporting you."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 65592

Reported Deaths: 3058
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12035447
Cuyahoga9208399
Hamilton6950208
Lucas3007306
Marion274839
Montgomery251336
Summit2351209
Pickaway222741
Mahoning1948239
Butler186347
Columbiana138560
Stark1225116
Lorain115269
Trumbull105378
Warren100926
Clark81610
Delaware72415
Fairfield69217
Lake60923
Tuscarawas60910
Medina58932
Licking58312
Belmont57024
Miami51031
Portage50260
Clermont4977
Wood49451
Ashtabula44844
Geauga42843
Richland3786
Wayne37355
Allen36641
Greene3469
Mercer30210
Erie28622
Holmes2615
Darke25926
Huron2472
Madison2229
Ottawa19324
Sandusky16915
Athens1671
Ross1483
Washington14620
Coshocton1424
Putnam14215
Crawford1415
Hardin12312
Morrow1211
Jefferson1152
Auglaize1114
Muskingum1041
Union1021
Preble911
Clinton892
Monroe8917
Hancock861
Lawrence860
Guernsey813
Hocking819
Williams762
Shelby754
Logan711
Scioto710
Carroll703
Ashland682
Fulton670
Brown631
Wyandot635
Champaign551
Fayette550
Knox551
Defiance543
Highland531
Van Wert491
Perry461
Seneca412
Henry350
Paulding320
Jackson300
Pike290
Adams261
Vinton232
Gallia211
Harrison141
Noble140
Meigs130
Morgan110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 63°
Angola
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Huntington
Few Clouds
62° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 62°
Decatur
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 61°
Van Wert
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 61°
Warmer Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events