The organisers of the Neste Rally Finland have confirmed that the legendary Ouninpohja stage will remain in 2005, however following safety concerns it has been divided into two.
Last year the stage, which is known for its huge jumps, exceeded the recommended top average speed of 130 km/h as set by the FIA regulations. Petter Solberg, who was running under SuperRally regulations after his retirement, managed to stop the clocks at 15min 18.5secs resulting in an average of 130.28 km/h. Therefore following discussions with the FIA safety delegate Jacek Bartos, as well as with some the top drivers and co-drivers, various alternatives were examined to keep the stage in the itinerary of the rally.
The idea of adding an extra loop to the stage was dumped immediately, as this was too different from the 'true nature' of the stage. After careful consideration and consultation of a few experts, a decision was taken to keep the stage as it is, but to tackle the heart of the problem.
"At first, there was a serious threat that the stage would actually have to be deleted from our route, but then we rolled our sleeves and worked to find ways to go around the problem," said event sporting director Kai Tarkiainen.
"The problem area lies in the centre of the stage, some kilometres starting from the Mutanen junction [at 12.90 km]. As the rally has been using the stage for ages, every year the drivers have been cutting a little bit deeper into the ditches and the road authorities have also let the road take a new form due to this cutting. Thus, the road has become wider, straighter and a lot faster."
To stop the cutting, the organisers discussed using fog poles strategically placed into about 30 corners on this stretch of the stage. This would have stopped the cutting very effectively but it also produced its own problems safety-wise and this idea was eventually scrapped too.
"Then we started looking into an option, where the fastest part of the stage would be left out and the stage would be driven in two separate parts," added Tarkiainen.
"We looked into some data and made some calculations to estimate future average speeds. These seemed to add up with our own 'gut feeling' and the decision was taken very quickly," continued assistant Clerk of the Course Seppo Harjanne.
"Final measurements still need to be taken, but I think we will have two stages of approximately 13.50 km at length. We will not lose any of the sporting interest, neither for the drivers or the spectators - it will be just as fantastic and just as scary as it always has been."
Further details of the Rally Finland route will be published in mid-May.