Snow is guaranteed on a winter road trip through northern Finland. With a bit of luck, you can see the aurora borealis in the night-time sky. During the day, the endlessly long country roads, generally without any trace of human beings, are an ideal place to test the performance attributes of the all-wheel drive extreme athlete from the British brand while following in the tracks of the legendary “Flying Finns”.
There must be something about the training conditions of their Finnish homeland to have spawned two of the best drivers who ever took the wheel on the rally tracks of this world. Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen from Finland acquired the sensitive touch in their hands and feet driving on deserted roads through Lapland that were usually already covered in snow by late autumn, and sometimes also on frozen lakes. Later on, the rally drivers were to benefit from this experience when they were battling in a fight for seconds during rally competitions. MINI has particularly special associations with the two “Flying Finns”. In 1965 and 1967 respectively, Mäkinen and Aaltonen won the second and third overall victory driving the classic MINI Cooper S in the Monte Carlo Rally.
Right from the start, you can sense that sporty driving in Lapland requires a special skill set, even when travelling on a winter road trip in a modern model of the British premium brand like the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman (combined fuel consumption: 7.4 – 7.1 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 169 – 161 g/km). The power of 225 kW/306 hp under the engine bonnet demands sensitive use of the accelerator pedal, while the ALL4 all-wheel drive takes over high-precision distribution of the beefy drive torque between the front and rear wheels. And if high spirits take over, there’s always Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to calm things down.
Power at this level, four driven wheels and electronic assistants were not yet available in the golden age of Mäkinen and Aaltonen. They accomplished their spectacular driving manoeuvres with much more modest means. In 2010, they were the first drivers to be honoured in the newly established “Rally Hall of Fame” – together with Paddy Hopkirk from Northern Ireland, who had already captured the first “Monte” overall win driving the classic Mini in 1964. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the Rally Hall of Fame is actually located in Finland. The greats in this discipline are saluted at the Mobilia automobile museum in Tampere. Over the years, numerous other rally drivers from the Land of a Thousand Lakes have earned the epithet of “Flying Finn”. No fewer than eleven of the current 26 members of the “Rally Hall of Fame” are Finns. A visit to the museum therefore forms the ideal launchpad for a road trip in the tracks of the rallying legends. The anticipation grows spontaneously at the prospect of testing the performance attributes of the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman on ice and snow.
Anybody setting off from Tampere to Lapland has the option of travelling north for hundreds of kilometres along the western coast of Finland so that they can gradually acclimatise to the region’s arctic temperatures. In Lapland, winter manifests itself in its pure form: bone-chillingly cold and with lots of snow. It’s important to be well wrapped up in warm clothing. The MINI John Cooper Works Clubman offers generous space for the appropriate apparel in its baggage compartment of 360 litres behind the twin hinged barn-door style rear doors. After folding down the rear-seat backrest, the volume of stowage space even increases to 1 250 litres. And additional space is available in the MINI roof box to accommodate windcheater jackets, skiing underwear and woollen socks. It offers capacity of 320 litres and can be securely fixed to the optional roof rails of the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman and to the carrier supplied in the MINI Original accessories range in few simple steps.
After a stopover in Lapland’s capital city of Rovaniemi, it’s just a short trip to cross the Arctic Circle in the north. The vastness of the landscape is an invitation to simply follow the road on a journey through dense pine forests and past numerous lakes. The MINI John Cooper Works Clubman ploughs imperturbably through deep snow. Far away from stop signs and traffic lights, icy surfaces present an open invitation to refine the art of drifting round bends.
The region of Lapland extends over the entire north of the countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. It encompasses the settlement area of the Sámi indigenous people, whose culture and history are documented in a museum in the village of Inari. Anybody who has made it this far, may well be thinking about continuing their journey up to the North Cape on the Norwegian island of Magerøya. After all, it’s only another 400 kilometres of driving.
Lots of places in Lapland offer the opportunity of going on a snowshoe hiking tour or a ride in a dog sleigh to discover Arctic foxes, snowy owls and other animals in their natural environment. Moreover, tourists from all over the world are attracted to the far north to get a glimpse of the northern lights during a long winter night. You have to be quick when the temperatures and visibility conditions are just right for this natural phenomenon in order to get to a good viewing point at the right time. The MINI John Cooper Works Clubman doesn’t disappoint and this additional trip provides yet another treat. During the night-time “sleigh ride” with 306 horsepower, the optional adaptive LED headlamps with matrix function for high beam illuminate the route leading to one of the viewing points that offer a particularly good view of the brightly coloured and spectacular heavenly display.
Ranua Wildlife Park provides a stunning introduction to the animal world of the Arctic. It is located on the outskirts of the little town of Ranua approximately 80 kilometres south of Rovaniemi, and visitors to the zoo get an opportunity to see at close quarters elk, reindeer, brown bears and polar bears, wolves, arctic foxes and lots of other animals that are indigenous to northern Scandinavia. Wooden tracks and bridges wend their way past the spacious enclosures. Ranua Wildlife Park was opened in 1983 and is the most popular tourist attraction in the north of Finland.
Apartment houses and Arctic Fox Igloos provide accommodation for a longer stay at the Wildlife Park. These amenities are located directly on the banks of Lake Ranuanjärvi. They have their own sauna and a bedroom with panoramic viewing window looking north to provide an outstanding vantage point. There’s virtually nowhere else in Lapland where you can view the famous polar lights in a more comfortable or warmer environment.