After making a near-perfect start to the 2021 season on Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team will target another strong result on Arctic Rally Finland on 26-28 February.
Making its debut in the FIA World Rally Championship, the event takes the place of the cancelled Rally Sweden as the season’s only pure winter round. The team will travel north from its base in central Finland aiming to continue the strong record of the Toyota Yaris WRC on snow and ice, having claimed three victories in Sweden in the past four seasons.
Following his record eighth Monte-Carlo victory, Sébastien Ogier leads the championship just ahead of team-mate Elfyn Evans (who won for the team in Sweden in 2020) while Kalle Rovanperä is fourth – and looking forward to a bonus event in his home country alongside the championship’s traditional summer visit to Finland.
Born out of the Arctic Lapland Rally held in the area every January, the event will be based in Rovaniemi – capital of Finland’s northernmost region – with some stages taking place inside the Arctic Circle.
The location promises great winter rallying conditions, with frozen roads and high snow banks at the sides of the road, which drivers lean on to carry more speed through corners. Special studded tyres will bite into the icy surface to provide grip and some of the highest speeds of the entire season.
The rally will run to a condensed format with 10 stages providing a total of 251.08 competitive kilometres. Following shakedown on Friday morning, the rally features a demanding start with two runs over the longest test of the rally, the 31.05-kilometre Sarriojärvi stage, with the second pass to take place in darkness.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with a loop of three stages to be repeated either side of mid-day service with another late finish. The final day on Sunday consists of two passes over the Aittajärvi test, the latter as the Power Stage.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“Our result on Rallye Monte-Carlo was a very special start to the season and I was really happy to see how well the team was working together. Now, we’re looking forward to the first ever Arctic Rally Finland as a round of the WRC. Over the years there has been a lot of talk about how great the event could be as a WRC round with the guaranteed snow.
This year the opportunity has suddenly come up and everyone involved has done a great job to make it happen in a very short space of time. I’m sure it will look fantastic on television with the pure white snow and the sun shining. What’s typical in Lapland are very long, fast corners where you can lose a lot of time if you’re not feeling confident, so the stability of the car is very important. For us, there will probably be a bit more pressure than usual because it’s a home event and our car has been developed on Finnish roads with these kind of conditions. But I’m confident that we can handle it.”
Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)
“We should have proper winter conditions for Arctic Rally Finland, which will be quite a contrast to what we have seen in the WRC in the last few years. When I tested in the area around Rovaniemi last week I enjoyed it a lot: I felt happy with the car and I think we are ready.
We just have to wait and see how the conditions are for us opening the road, as usually this can play a big role on snow rallies like this. After last year I know to expect tough competition from my team-mates in these conditions – I’m sure Elfyn will be very motivated and Kalle probably even more so on home ground – but also from the other teams as well. So I expect it will be a difficult rally to win, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“Arctic Rally Finland will be brand new for most of the drivers. Naturally, we want to strive for a similar result to Sweden last year, but we have to wait and see how things go. The conditions are likely to be different to what we’ve seen in Sweden in recent years, when there’s been very little ice or snow.
So that’s been something to consider in our testing, where it’s been really cold. We’ve also had to adapt the setup for the new Pirelli tyre. Similar to Monte-Carlo we have no prior experience with the tyre, but it’s a bit more straightforward because we only have one choice for this rally, so we’ve been able to focus our efforts on that. Overall, the feeling is good and I’m looking forward to the rally.”
Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“It will be nice to be back competing in Lapland again. I did the rally there once before – last year, when it was my first event in the Yaris WRC. For sure, this experience will help a bit. But there will be some stages that I haven’t driven before or they will be in the opposite direction, so I don’t think it will be a big advantage.
In our tests the biggest thing we needed to do was find the right setup for the new tyre, as the style of the tyre is different from what we had before, but the feeling has been good. For me there is a bit more pressure than normally, but I would say it’s more excitement than pressure – especially from the Finnish people, as everybody is following me more than on other rallies.”