The need for speed in Lapland


Previously, whenever I thought about Finnish Lapland I conjured up images of ice and snow, starry nights and Arctic lights, reindeer and husky sledges. This was until my most recent trip. Now Lapland makes me think of racing rally cars, clouds of snow and unbelievable speeds.

Visitors to Northern Finland’s Ruka who want to learn something new about driving should head to Juha Kankkunen’s Driving Academy. Instruction is given by Kankkunen’s staff and the master himself.

Kankkunen is, of course, a four-time rally World Champion (1986, 1987, 1991, 1993) with 23 international rally wins to his name.

He and his crew have been giving driving instruction in snowy and icy conditions for six  years now.
Safe driving in extreme weather conditions requires skill, but it’s not difficult to learn, the driving instructors promise.

“You will learn to control the car in challenging situations,” says my instructor, 24-year-old Riku Tahko. Twenty-four years old? How is it possible that someone so young is teaching me to drive? As the day progresses I learn that many of the Academy’s young driving instructors started driving at the ripe old age of ten (which by the way, is not legal on public roads in Finland).

I buckle up in the driver’s seat, change into gear, listen to a short briefing on the vehicle that I’m going to be driving – a four-wheel Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 turbo diesel with handmade winter tires and Monte Carlo-type studs – and move it onto an oval shaped race track.

First gear, second gear, third gear... and suddenly I find myself in a snowbank. What happened? Wasn’t I supposed to switch gears?

This happens frequently, I learn, when drivers try out the oval-shaped track that’s designed for learning how to brake on a turn. Not all of the Academy’s 15 vehicles are equipped with ESP (electronic stability program) or ABS (anti-lock brakes), so the car goes wherever it wants to if I’m not completely controlling it.

This happens again (and again), and as a result, we have several unplanned breaks while we wait for the tractor to pull us out of various snowbanks.

When I finally succeed several times in a row, I’m allowed to graduate to the next track, a round one this time, where the goal is to slip the clutch on a steep incline. During the day one can also try braking, avoidance, and slaloming with a car. It’s also possible to try many different types of vehicles, including the Subaru Impreza ST with its powerful 320-horsepower engine.

The day’s highlight is a short rally drive on the track with Kankkunen.

It’s possible to learn a lot here, not just about driving but about yourself. I realised that I needed to be more patient and practice, these techniques can’t be learned in a second. Learning to drive in challenging conditions at high speeds isn’t easy, and I soon realise that I won’t be bridging the skill gap between my driving abilities and that of the instructors any time soon.

But then again, you can’t be an expert in every field, can you?

Read more:

Gourmet tapas

Instead of fast food, Studio Restaurant Tundra offers the option of pre-ordering sapas (Finnish tapas) to your cabin or hotel room. The menu includes eight different hors d’oeuvres made from fresh, high-quality Lappish ingredients such as reindeer, salmon, trout, vegetables and berries. The chef, Jarmo Pitkänen, is also an accomplished ceramic artist – all dishes are served on unique plates designed by Pitkänen.

Read more 

Compiled and written by Eeva Puhakainen

A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (January 2010).

Finnair flies nonstop to Kuusamo daily.





Published February 21, 2012

Category: Local features