Arctic Circle Rally

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IN BRITAIN’S RAC Rally there is usually a considerable margin between the performances of works drivers and those of regularly competing amateurs. In Scandinavia, Finland in particular, such is not the case and when Finns who are professional drivers decide to take part in a rally in their own country they certainly don’t have things all their own way.

During the week before the Swedish Rally there was a rally in Finland called the Napapiirin Tunturiralli, which means Mountain Rally of the Arctic Circle. It was won by Hannu Mikkola driving a Boreham-built Escort T-C, but he was chased not only by fellow professional Jorma Lusenius in a Renault Gordini but by several other Finnish drivers possessed of similar skills. One such driver is Pentti Airikkala, a young insurance expert who most certainly has that vital something which team managers look for. One day his name will be as well known as Makinen’s or Mikkola’s, if someone decides to give him a trial.

Getting back to the Arctic Rally, which is far easier to say, and to write, than its Finnish title, it should be explained that this is a young event in the international calendar, with organisers a trifle inexperienced. But they work on the right lines and it could well be that this event will soon match the 1,000 Lakes Rally for popularity.

This and the Safari are the two great extremes of rallying, for the whole of the Arctic Rally’s route lies above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. The people in that part of the world are friendly, easy-going, efficient, and eager to attract as many overseas visitors as possible.

Like the Swedish Rally, special stages in the Arctic are on roads, lakes and rivers, all with their top coverings of loose snow ploughed away. But formalities are fewer than they are in Sweden, and public roads can, without much trouble, be closed in order to be used as special stages. When the wind rose over a particular lake stage last month, the snow was blown into the road already made by the plough, rendering it impassable. Without any fuss, a main road was closed to all other traffic and a substitute stage included in the route.

There are peculiarities, of course, which one only encounters in that latitude. Reindeer are as vital to Laplanders as farm animals are to us, so they are protected. Each competing driver has to undergo a short course on how to quickly kill, and bleed, an injured animal. Every car has to carry warm clothing for its crew, matches, knives and a variety of other Arctic survival equipment, but no one need worry about being left stranded by the organisers; they run an effective rescue service to ensure that no one is left too long out in the biting cold. For all its unique geographical features, the most striking point about the event is the friendliness of its organisers and the general helpfulness between competitors. It’s a great country and a great rally. Any British competitor who journeys northwards for this event will certainly not regret it.

* * *

The first round of the Motoring News/Castrol Rally Championship, the Rallye Bristowe, took place in the West Country during the night of February 1.4t h. Snow covered many of the roads and there was an eve-of-the-rally route change due to an objection by the Dartmoor Preservation Society. The rally was won by Gower farmer Chris Beyon driving a Ford Escort Twin Cam navigated by Lyn Andrews.—G.P.