WRC drivers set for “no room for error” night stage challenge

World Rally Championship drivers are expecting the new night stages at this weekend’s Rally Finland to bring a whole new challenge that will offer no room for mistakes.

Night stages will feature for the first time at Rally Finland since 1994 as a biproduct of a decision to move the event from its usual summer calendar slot to an Autumn berth in October that offers reduced daylight hours.

As a result, the ultra-fast gravel event, celebrating its 70th anniversary, will feature two stages in darkness, the first being a 19.75km blast through the undulating roads of Oittila to conclude Friday’s opening day. Crews will also end Saturday’s leg with a night time run through the 2.31km Harju test.

The WRC field has already labelled Friday’s final stage as the most difficult of the entire 19-stage rally.

Hyundai’s Craig Breen believes the stage will present crews a different challenge to overcome with visibility at a premium due to the jump-laden roads.

“Doing the stages in darkness is going to be a whole new element,” said Breen.

“We are used to doing it in Sweden and Arctic rally this year but when you don’t have the reference to shine the lights off it is a whole different challenge.

“When you are shining the lights into open space it is incredibly tricky. In the forest sections it is easier as you have the trees as a reference. It is going to be a big challenge.”

 

In its build up to the event, Toyota conducted a night stage test with its drivers to aid preparations but even rally favourite and home hero Kalle Rovanpera admits there will be no room for error on Friday night.

“Driving in the dark is completely different, it is quite a bit difference even if you know the stage,” said Rovanpera.

“I think in a fast rally like this with a lot of crests and fast corners it is not so easy to trust the notes in the dark because you cannot see everything even though we have really good lights on the car.

“I think it will be a really challenging stage in the darkness there is no room for mistakes.”

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Seven-time world champion and championship leader Sebastien Ogier says the test has provided at least an idea of what to expect, while teammate Elfyn Evans believes accurate pacenotes will be crucial.

“I see the stage 6 on Friday night as probably the most challenging of the weekend because of the night,” Ogier said.

“It is going to be a difficult one for sure and at least the test confirmed that and gave us a bit of an idea of what to expect and it was good is the team could organise that for us.”

Evans added: “We have seen the stages that we will do in the dark and they are probably some of the most jumpy and cresty stages in the rally, so the pacenotes are going to be vitally important, and of course listening to the pacenotes that is going to be a challenge for sure.”

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