12 March 2014

Helsinki Battle to pit today’s stars and past legends against each other

Jari-Matti Latvala and Markku Alén.


Some of the leading stars and legends of the rally world will be pitted against each other on 26 July, when the Neste Oil Rally Helsinki Battle will be held.

One of the rally legends involved and the man behind the event is Markku Alén, who won 19 World Rally Championship events during his career and the Neste Oil Rally Finland six times. He made his rally debut in 1969.

“I picked up my driving licence at Lohja on Thursday, and on Friday I started my first event from the Market Square in Helsinki,” says Alén.

He remembers his first car, a Renault Gordini, with affection.

“It was the best there was at the time. My father was ready to help me buy the car, but I wanted to do it on my own and took a loan from the local bank. So I drove my first event on borrowed money,” he laughs.

Technology transfer

Would a Renault Gordini cut it anymore? The electronics, suspensions, and materials used in cars have been dramatically transformed over the last 25 years. Today’s cars do still have a steering wheel and pedals, though. The technology used in rally cars has steadily found its way into normal cars. New developments in lights, tires, drivetrains, and fuel-efficient engines are often tested first in rally cars. Rallying has also played an important part in developing car safety, such as safety belts, air bags, and window tinting, which was fitted to rally cars back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Despite extensive safety measures, a number of tragic accidents have taken place in rallying and the horsepower of cars was cut in half in the 1980s to help reduce the number of accidents. More efficient drivetrains are now used to achieve the speeds seen in today’s events.

Drivers and their cars

Technology and equipment play an important part in rallying. But is it just about the technology? Will a driver do well if he has a great car and cloth for brains, or do you need smarts too?

“The most important thing is to want to win,” says Markku. “You also need to be in good physical shape as well, just like in any sport. You need a good car too, of course, but to win you don’t just need a good driver, you need a good team too: a good co-driver and a good support team. And of course, good luck as well.”

Markku is excited about the upcoming Helsinki Battle.

“Rally drivers are finally going to have the chance to put the pedal to the metal in Helsinki.”

One special feature of the event will be that past rally legends will have the chance to drive the teams’ cars. Markku is reluctant to say whether he thinks one of today’s stars or one from the past will win.

“Today’s stars will obviously be the strong contenders to win, but I’m sure that the old hands will give them a tough time. No mercy, I say!”