To give you an idea of what Rally Finland means to the Finns, it’s enough to consider what Markku Alén thought about his countrymen who were unlucky enough to finish on the podium of their home event behind a non-Finn.
Up until 1990, nobody outside of Scandinavia had ever won Rally Finland (Carlos Sainz broke the mould), and even today there have only ever been 11 non-Finns on the top step in its 70-year history. Seven of them were from Sweden or Estonia (with Ott Tänak winning twice), so let's call that five genuine interlopers.
“If it were me,” said Alén of the defeated local heroes, “I wouldn’t be spraying champagne and smiling on the podium. I would lock myself in the sauna for a week with a bottle of vodka to think about what I had done.”
He’s only half-joking. Markku has won Rally Finland six times: only once less than joint record-holders Marcus Grönholm and Hannu Mikkola, who each have seven wins on the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’. But Alén was fourth in 1990 – when Sainz won – and third in 1992, when it was Didier Auriol’s turn. That season marked his retirement from full-time rallying.
It’s a deeply personal thing, woven into the untranslatable Finnish concept of sisu: courage in face of adversity. “Rally Finland is the one that everyone wants to win if you are Finnish,” explained Alén. “You grow up with it: it’s in your blood.”
Ari Vatanen won Rally Finland twice: in 1981 (his world championship year) and 1984. But he believes that if he had his time again, he would struggle.
“I think in the modern day, I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I did,” he said. “The pressure on the young guys is huge now, and it’s even more difficult to get to the top. Not that it was easy in my day, but there was a lot of support and the sport was more accessible.