Hankiralli

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Just a week alter the Swedish Rally there was another Nordic winter event, Finland’s Hankiralli, a qualifier in both European and Nordic Championships. It didn’t attract the works teams which went to Sweden, but it was nevertheless a slick, highly competitive event, its 24 hours packed with 450 km of special stages, some of them long with not much time for service. By comparison, the Swedish had 510 km in 48 hours.

The rally was based at Kalastajatorppa, a luxury foreshore hotel on the Helsinki outskirts where parking facilities, on the scarce side at the best of times, were made more so by roadworks and the presence of a visiting African president and his entourage in the building next door. The hotel is the weekend Mecca of enthusiasts, as the Laajavuori Rantasipi is during the Thousand Lakes, but spectators out in the woods were much fewer than during the summer event, perhaps because of the bitter cold and perhaps because the World Championship event attracts more well known names.

The cold was intense, the lowest temperature being about 30 degrees below zero, but many a popular spectating point was warmed by a bonfire around which grateful watchers gathered at intervals to thaw their numb feet, hands, noses or whatever. The snow had not had a chance to thaw, refreeze and consolidate, so the passage of each car left a trail of “ice dust” which made overtaking hazardous except in clearings where there were no trees to obstruct the wind.

Among the leading entries were Lampi / Kuukkala and Laine / Huolman in Audi Quattros, whilst a similar car was driven by the president of the Finnish Automobile Sport Federation, Kari Sohlberg. His protégé, Sebastian Lindholm, drove an Audi 80 Quattro (with the number AIN I – ain means always!) and we feel it worth suggesting his might be a name to watch in future. Many a good professional, champions among them, have been first spotted in Finnish events, and during the rally Lindholm showed just as much promise as people like Vatanen have in the past.

Pitkänen / Mänttäri drove a Nissan 240 RS, Jonsson / Gustavsson an Opel Ascona, Gröndahl, the former Saab and Toyota engineer, a Citroen Visa and Toivonen (Harri, not Henri) Wrede an Audi 80 Quattro. Andervang / Schoonenwolf drove a British Escort RS rented from Tony Maslen, whilst the only Britishers were Russell Gooding and Hywel Thomas from South Wales in a Rover Vitesse in which they plan to tackle the European Gp A series this year.

If the Swedish result was predictable, in Finland it was certainly not, for right through the rally Laine and Lampi indulged in a tremendous fight with very little to choose between them, each changing tyres as often as he could afford in order to chip split seconds from his stage times.

The manner in which the duel was resolved was strange indeed; first Laine went off the road into a snowbank, losing a little time getting the car back to the road. Recovery complete, off he went, leaving a gaping hole in that snowbank. When Lampi came along he went off in exactly the same spot and went through that very same hole. Without any bank to slow the car down, it went much further off the road, and the digging operation, helped by just four spectators, took some seven minutes, a delay which put paid to all his hopes of a win.

Pitkänen stopped, after a variety of troubles, when his gearbox jammed, Andervang when his Escort’s crankshaft split, and Gröndahl when a driveshaft broke, allowing the oil from the combined engine / gearbox / diff system to leak out.

Gooding, after a sensible drive in a big car with a diff ratio that seemed too high and a camshaft which produced the power somewhat too far up the rpm scale, came to a premature end when he bounced between the snow the snowbanks and rolled the car over, causing some suspension damage in the process of sliding on its side along the road.

Mats Jonsson put up a stirring drive to take third place and the Gp A category, whilst the young Lindholm finished fourth. Both visiting Icelandic crews finished in their identical Toyota Corollas, thoroughly enjoying their first experience of the way Finns combine friendship with rivalry. Pauli Toivonen won the Veterans’ event, hut his compatriots thought he took it too seriously by driving an Audi Quattro whilst they were in Saab 96s, Skodas, Beetles, Avengers, Escorts and the like.

Finland is by no means a cheap country, but if you plan to tackle a snow rally next winter, this is one to consider, for you’ll get a warm welcome, cut-price studded tyres will no doubt be available, and you won’t have to meet the hefty costs of a long practice session. — G. P.