When Paul Nagle and Craig Breen climb on board their Hyundai i20 Coupe World Rally Car on Friday morning for the opening leg of Arctic Rally Finland they will be carrying a piece of equipment that they never carried before.
The all-new event on the WRC calendar is a step into the unknown for all competing crews.It is the only full-snow event of the season -held in the Rovaniemi region just a few short kilometres outside of the Arctic Circle – temperatures can dip below -30°C while reduced daylight hours means some of the stages will take place in darkness.
And as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, fans are not allowed to attend.
So, what happens if you go off the road and get lodged on one of the rally’s infamous snowbanks.Spectators won’t be there to heave you back on to the road and with the temperatures set to reach -30°C, it is far too risky to remain stranded until the course opening car arrives which could be anything up to two hours.
The only answer is to reach for the two snow shovels tucked safely inside the rally car and dig your way out.
This is no joke – rally organisers have built this requirement into the event’s rules – and crews will have to present their shovels at the pre-event safety checks in the same way as their helmets and race suits need to be checked over. As it’s a brand-new event all crews will have to create their pace notes from scratch, adding to the considerable challenge.
“Hyundai is demanding a big result for the team after a bad Monte Carlo,” said Nagle. “It is a new rally, and it is going to be a big challenge. Craig was second in Sweden [snow rally] in 2018 and we were both second in Estonia last year – there is big pressure on us too.”
Breen and Nagle will have to go through intensive COVID-19 tests, as per World Rally Championship, FIA, Motorsport Ireland, and Sports Ireland protocol to allow them, within the Hyundai bubble, to travel to and from international events.
Some of the stages take 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.
Ten stages cover 251.08km of competitive distance; snowbanks and studded tyres will be key elements to a successful run in what is likely to be one of the fastest events of the year.
After a ceremonial start in Rovaniemi, crews will head north to tackle the longest stage of the event twice – the 31.05-kilometre Sarriojärvi stage.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with a loop of three stages to be repeated on 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.
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