Colin McRae's racehorse. Big wings. Bigger jumps. The biggest beers. What do they have in common? A stretch of gravel road in Finland called Ouninpohja. For those of you still in the dark about the best road on the planet, your search is over.
Take the E63 south of Jamsa and then a left a handful of miles down the road. A few hundred metres down there you'll come to a junction. This is Hamepohja. Welcome to heaven.
This junction was traditionally the finish of the most famous stretch of road anywhere in Finland. Right here alongside electricity pole 163 was where drivers could breathe again. And, with relief writ large across their face, they could tell the latest tale of the stage called Ouninpohja.
The name's not easy to pronounce - try Oy-nin-poy-ahh - but the real devil is in the drive.
Latterly, the stage has been turned around to start from Hamepohja, running in the direction of Jamsa. That's the way we're tackling it today. I've driven sections of the stage before, but never the whole thing. Never the full 20.5 miles.
So, armed with a Mini Countryman All4 and a more-than-capable map man in Rally GB co-ordinator Andrew Kellitt, I'm ready. Ready to search a national treasure that prompted Colin McRae to name his racehorse after 20 miles of gravel in central Finland.
The run into the start is like any other part of rural Finland. The road's narrow with wooden houses dotted around. There's nothing to mark the actual start line - which is just south of the Hamepohja junction - because this stage hasn't been used in Rally Finland since 2007, we estimate where to select first and build a few revs.
Our man reaches the Hamepohja junction
Marcus Gronholm has been in this place a few times. Usually accompanied by butterflies.
"I remember sitting at the start, waiting on that road to go off the line," said the two-time world champion and seven-time Finland master. "I wasn't usually nervous before the start of stages, but I always had nerves before the start of Ouninpohja. I was nervous because I knew what was coming."
What comes immediately is that junction, a medium-speed right-hander. The road feels quite narrow as you're fired up a slight incline towards some more houses. Just before the road starts to curve to the left, there's a slight crest which has no effect on our Mini, but it would be enough to unsettle a rally car on turn-in. Ask Petter Solberg. With tyres and brakes still cold on his Subaru Impreza WRC, the Norwegian crashed through the trees here in 2006.
It's hard to imagine the noise and fury that this innocuous-looking stretch of road would bring on rally day. Today it's a regular Wednesday afternoon with children playing football on the road. They eye the big Mini with a mixture of annoyance and resignation; there's always more traffic on the pitch during this week of the year. Punters can't resist this road.
Stages have come and gone in Finland, but Ouninpohja is part of the event's DNA. So integral was it in the early days of the 1000 Lakes Rally, that it always ran at the same time - 7:30pm on the first evening. No need to check the itinerary. Nothing got in the way of this one. And the crowds turned out in their tens of thousands.
Today we're alone. And we're into the jumps. They start small, rising and falling, nothing too special at the speed we're travelling, but unimaginably stomach-churning in a rally car. We've been gently climbing through these rolling jumps and then at the top of another crest, the road simply falls away. No warning, the world has just gone from beneath our feet. Incredible.
If ever you need a good set of pace notes it's here. They're not just to enlighten you about life on the far side of the latest in a line of blind crests, they're to tell you everything about the line, and the take-off and landing points.
And you don't do one corner at a time here. A good time through here is about linking corner to corner to corner. The cambers flirt with you, tempting you to tickle the ditch with a wheel. There's a tenth of a second in every one of them - and a rock in every other one. It's Russian roulette for the uninitiated, the Finland amateur. But to the masters, it's a work of art.
Never has a Satnav had so much rally fever!
Our latest crest leads into an immediate easy-right. Would the car jump over that crest? It's impossible for us to know as we obey the rules of the road. But the answer is a definite yes at full speed.
The reason we can be so sure today is that 'Toni's rock' sits at the side of the road. It's right here that Mr Gardemeister ended his Rally Finland in 2001, with Dani Sordo making the same mistake five years later to scatter parts of his Citroen Xsara WRC in the same place as Gardemeister's mashed Mitsubishi.
It's not hard to see how they got it so wrong. What's more alarming is the distance from crest to crash. They would have had plenty of time to see their rock getting bigger and bigger and to hear Ouninpohja laughing at their futile attempts to avoid its grasp.
This place bites. And bites hard.
We go on. And get to one of the most awe-inspiring and popular sections of the stage. Depending on your commitment, a rally car could lose touch with mother earth 30 times in this stage, but in among all of these jumps, there's one that stands above them all. And we're there right now.
Coming through what feels like the millionth big-gear right-hander the first thing you see is the big yellow house on the left. Eyes forward, there it is: take off point. No photograph can do it justice, but believe me, the 100 or so yards that lead to this latest crest would disappear in the blink of an eye in a World Rally Car - and then you're on it and flying. This is the one where you can fly for 50 metres. This is the one where the noise of the crowd invades the car to such an extent it can drown out the engine.
It's right here that Richard Burns lost his chance to achieve what would have been a lifelong dream for the Englishman. Leading Gronholm on take-off, his advantage disappeared in an instant. Burns's Peugeot 206 WRC nosedived on landing, with the resulting impact crushing the turbo pipe, slashing the power to wake him from the dream that he was turning into reality.
Now, there's nothing to judge our success in the air, but when the rally's in town, the distance is marked out to measure the longest jumps/biggest balls.
This is a stretch of the stage Gronholm has made his own. Across the board, the one they call 'Bosse' is a legend, but in the half-mile or so from the right-hander before the house, he's a more than that. He's God's own rallying superhero.
The yellow house and run up to the biggest jump on the stage
The reason why is that telemetry has shown he opens the taps as wide as they'll go on the approach and then doesn't lift for 40 seconds. Forty seconds!
It would take five or so to go from the exit of the corner to the landing from the jump, but it absolutely beggars belief that he wouldn't consider a lift for anything that followed. The road is anything but straight. Granted, we're not talking corners here, but there are curves, kinks and, let's not forget, big, solid, we're-going-nowhere pine trees.
It was 40s of fear like that that helped convince Gronholm his time had come in 2007. Getting to the end of the stage after a titanic fight with his Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, Marcus was pale. He'd seen it all and risked even more. He'd had enough.
It says an incredible amount about rally car technology that such feats were achievable - even in the hands of such greats as Gronholm. World Rally Cars relied on trick transmission and incredible suspension, but before that, in the days of Group B, it was all about brute power and downforce.
The rally car that delivered the most aero has to be the fearsome Audi Quattro E2 and Hannu Mikkola well remembers his run through Ouninpohja in 1985. Wound up after clattering a log pile on the previous stage (and running three titanium springs and one steel one), he was determined to make amends.
"I was full of anger," he recalls. "This was the only time I got the sensation that I was no longer sitting in the car. It was like being on the outside, I've been told fighter pilots sometimes get a similar feeling. The Audi had big wings and the harder you dared to drive the car the harder it pressed into the road - it was really difficult to find the limit."
In typically extravagant Italian style, Lancia had a flight-specific aero set-up for the Delta S4. Just before the start of the stage, Torino's finest mechanics would pounce on the cars and replace the not inconsiderable rear wing with an even bigger version. Markku Alen was cleared for take off.
"You could take incredible risks with this rear wing," says Alen. "But you could still find traction."
Mikkola's charge in the Audi paid dividends with a record time (15.59 miles in 11m35s) - and a rare compliment from his co-driver Arne Hertz.
Nothing unusual about flying Finns, as Jussi Kynsilehto shows in 1975 © LAT
"In 12 years, Arne had made no comment about my driving," says Mikkola. "But at the end of the stage, he said: 'I shall immediately give my overalls to the person who drives this stage faster'."
So Gronholm should now be the proud owner of a pair of well-worn factory Audi overalls. Unofficially, he took 13s off Mikkola's record in 2000.
Further in and we're coming down 'the steps' - a series of downhill jumps that lead to the second junction in the stage, known as Mutanen. It's a slot left here, usually taken with a simultaneous flick down to second and a tug on the handbrake before getting back on the throttle and letting the car drift using the width of the exit of the corner. With nobody around, the temptation's too much to resist.
The Countryman has a weird handbrake - more like the throttle lever on a 747. Unfortunately, I make a bit of a hash of things, grabbing the armrest instead of the handbrake, which leads to miserable, understeery progress through the corner. And a disapproving, bordering on disbelieving, look from Kellitt.
Out of the corner (finally), we're back up the 'box. Juha Kankkunen describes the next section as "mind-blowingly fast". I struggle to see how it could be any quicker than what we've just come through. But it is.
The big rolling jumps have gone and the twists aren't quite so twisty. You just know that, in days gone by, Group 4 cars have barked, Group B cars have bellowed and World Rally Cars have hunkered down and eaten these miles absolutely flat-chat.
Every now and then, one of the corners is slightly tighter. Here you would need to duck down out of top, but you'd doing it with a flick to unsettle the car, a touch of opposite lock and 100 per cent throttle before reverting to the fastest cog.
This wasn't our approach in the Countryman.
Again, notes are vital; every now and then I find myself heading into a corner, trying to imagine the approach speed and line. Just as I'm congratulating myself for what would have been my perfect execution, we're into another shockingly fast corner going in the other direction. The need for mind-bending levels of concentration and perfect interpretation and recollection of what your co-driver is telling you is vital. My - imaginary - perfect line would have put us well in the trees on the next bend.
Reaching 'Toni's Rock' a little slower than Messrs Gardemeister and Sordo
Finally, we're out of the trees and into wide-open fields again. This section is as recognisable as anywhere in the stage. I've stood here and watched plenty of times, marvelling at the speed of the cars and the beer capacity of the locals.
The next corner is Kakaristo junction. The long left over a long crest is most famous for Hirvonen's effort in 2007. Desperate to beat Gronholm, Hirvonen dropped the right-rear of his Focus in the ditch, cocking the left-front high in the air.
Anything other than unstinting commitment and a planted right foot would have ended in a monster crash. For us mere mortals, that moment would have ended in a vow never to come back. Yet Hirvonen can't get enough of the place.
"It's definitely the best road in the world," he says with a big grin.
It might not have been used on last week's event, which is a disappointment for Hirvonen, but that meant he could test there. So instead of running through it twice on the rally, he spent the day in there.
"There's no better way to spend a day," he adds.
Kakaristo is the place the original stage started. In the stage's modern guise, it means we're turning right and onto the narrower road. Being public roads, these sections of gravel are maintained by the council. The wide section we're leaving is free from any evidence of Hirvonen's efforts less than a week before we arrived. The smaller road (as the locals call it) has not yet been worked on. In an instant, you can see the craziness of the lines. In places, a less caring attitude about the Mini's underside would have meant us following Hirvonen's cuts and placing the car completely off the road on the inside of some corners. In fairness, such is the All4's chunkiness and four-wheel-drive ability, it would have coped.
This last section of the stage isn't - for me - so classically Finland. There are sections that could be in Wales or Scotland, but then you get another loopy jump to remind you that you're not.
This section was added to slow the cars down. The average speed was getting too high for the event to run without questions of safety and sanity being raised. The road from Kakaristo to the finish near Rumakulma does some of the work, but artificial chicanes were still having to be used latterly.
The finish brings a genuine sense of disappointment and an even stronger urge to turn around and do it in the original direction. Unfortunately, our tourist's pace and a few pressing engagements in Jyvaskyla preclude this. It would actually be hard to draw the line. Once we'd done it the original way, we'd have to do it at the correct original time of half seven - then we'd need to have a go in the dark. Next time.
And next year, it looks like there could be extra relevance as Rally Finland looks like it will be back around these parts. The organisers of the event have to be mindful of the fact that - bizarre as it sounds - not everybody has rally fever. And, a few years ago, they were starting to get complaints from some of the locals.
Now, though, those same locals are suffering withdrawal symptoms; they're emailing the organisers pleading for the return of the hero-maker.
Hopefully, those pleas won't go unanswered.
But, for now, it's back to the E63 and north.
Ouninpohja, it really is all that. And more.
This place isn't known as the spiritual home of rallying for nothing. And those spirits are never higher than cresting the Ouninpohja jumps.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.
David Evans is the rallies editor of Autosport and Motorsport News. A successful rally driving father ensured an early introduction to motorsport and, fascinated as he was by rallying, the fourth estate was of equal interest. Having read (or at least looked at the pictures) from the age of two, he joined <i>Motoring News</i> in 1996 and later moved to Autosport in 2002.@davidevansrally More features by David Evans