Arctic Rally

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Mention the words Yorkshire Moors and Blizzard in the same sentence and you will immediately produce visions of trucks and cars stranded in rows, snow piled high against their sides, and trudging travellers making their way to spend a communal night in a village Church Hall. Recall the RAC Rally for a moment and you will remember how snowstorms in Scotland brought the organisation to its knees and the entire rally almost to an abrupt stop. How then can anyone possibly run an International rally during an Arctic winter in Finnish Lapland, where blizzards are as common as the reindeer and temperatures so low that monkeys, brass or otherwise, could never hope for the survival of their species?

Unbelievable though it may be, it is nevertheless a fact that the Motor Club of Rovaniemi, principal town of the region and considered to be Lapland’s “capital”, runs a rally each winter in conditions which would make a British organiser give up in despair and which would drive a local authority highways engineer out of his mind.

Included for the first time in the European Rally Championship for Drivers, the Arctic Rally (its full title is Napapiirin Tunturiralli, which means Rally of the Arctic Hills) was based on 47 special stages on closed public roads, private roads through forests, frozen lakes and rivers. Five of them were cancelled for one reason or another, and of the remainder the longest was over fifty miles.

The entry list for the Arctic Rally contained several well-known names; Leo Kinnunen was making a return to rallying in a Stuttgart-built Porsche 911S with co-driver Atso Aho, Timo Mäkinen and Erkki Salonen drove a Boreham Escort RS hastily built up from his Monte-Carlo practice car by two Finnish mechanics who came over to England for the job when Ford didn’t have the available manpower.

Other well-known names included Hannu Palin (Opel Kadett), Risto Kivimäki (Volvo), Markku Alen (Volvo), Seppo Utriainen (Saab), Pekka Routti (VW 1302S), Ulf Gronhölm (VW 1302S), Tapio Rainio (Opel Ascona), Eero Soutulahti (Volvo), Eeva Heinonen (Volvo) and Esko and Esa Nuuttila in Ascona and Kadett respectively. The British competitors were Chris Clark/Bob Harris (Cooper S), Peter McDowell/Jorma Toivainen (Escort RS), Mike Hibbert/John Taylor (Escort RS), Peter Warren/Lasse Lindström (Escort RS) and Jill Robinson/Kirsti Pätiälä (Escort TC). Hibbert and Robinson represented Clark and Simpson of London and Warren Ogden’s St. Bruno of Liverpool. For a variety of reasons, none of the Britishers finished, though their cars (apart from Jill Robinson’s, which is kept in Finland) were late arriving and could not be given proper acclimatisation treatment necessary for hard competition driving in such low temperatures. On the day of the start, thermometers at Rovaniemi (almost the most southerly part of the route) were registering 31°C below zero, even at noon.

The terrain is not at all hilly, but the roads are nevertheless undulating and—apart from rivers and lakes—the special stages are plentifully supplied with jumps. Even on dry roads, jumping at high speed is hazardous; on ice and snow it’s even more tricky and many cars went slithering or rolling off into the snowbanks and beyond, some being freed after long, concentrated spadework by their crews and some having to wait until help came after the rally had passed—hence the need for matches and warm clothing, etc.

On one particular stage of 28 miles, Mikkola rolled his heavy Volvo and blocked the road, giving rise to a controversy which continued for days. A handful of the early runners got through before the incident, but some thirty or forty cars behind were held up for well over an hour and when the Volvo was eventually manhandled away the entire convoy turned up at the finish of the stage to the concern, almost alarm, of the officials there. The police took a hand in the affair and the stage was cancelled. It was extremely lucky for Kinnunen, for he had spent thirteen minutes stuck in a snow-filled ditch on that stage, and its cancellation meant that this enormous penalty would not be applied. Mäkinen had made a good time, and stood to win despite the troublesome car if Kinnunen was given his proper penalty. He protested against the cancellation of the stage but the stewards turned it down, causing all manner of discussion and argument among bar-stool lawyers.—G. P.