Finland's Arctic Rally, drafted in at the last minute to replace Rally Sweden as the second round of this year's World Rally Championship, allowed Hyundai star Ott Tanak to kick-start his 2021 season with an assured win after scoring no points on last month's opener in Monte Carlo.
With Sweden abandoned in the face of a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases this winter, the WRC grabbed this opportunity to move north into the Arctic Circle, with the promise of snow. The pre-event form book tilted strongly towards Toyota being the dominant force. For one thing, the team is Finnish to its core. For another, the team's young star Kalle Rovanpera won the event in 2020. You could also add that the team's talent manager, former Intercontinental Rally Challenge winner Juho Hanninen, won the event in its traditional January slot on the domestic calendar at the wheel of a Yaris WRC. And let's not forget that Toyota's rivals at Hyundai and M-Sport were left in shell-shocked disarray after the opening round, where Yarises filled four of the top six places on the Monte.
One member of the Toyota squad who did not hold such high expectations was Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier. The Frenchman knew that the honour of running first on the road for Day 1 would result in him sweeping the roads for those behind him, and that when the road order was swapped for Day 2, with the slowest going first, he would likely still be clearing a path for the rest. "For me the question mark is always going to be being first on the road on that one," he said before the start. "I need to pick up a better start position for the rest of the event and that's the plan for tomorrow, to try to give everything from the start."