Alastaro Circuit was born out of a dream to see Formula One cars compete on Finnish soil but without the necessary finances to make that a reality, it has become a solid national racing venue, catering for the local racing scene.
The track hosts rounds of the major Finnish championships on two and four wheels, including Rata SM and the Finnish Superbike Series.
It also is home to events for numerous club racing days, general testing and manufacturer events, as well as being the base venue for the TV show Virittäjät (Tuners), hosted by Mika Salo and Tomi Tuominen.
The circuit was the brainchild of racer Robert Lappalainen, who had found fame by winning the Camaro Cup in Finland before heading overseas to the USA, where he took part in Trans-Am and IMSA races with some success, including a singleton win in a Roush-prepared Mustang. These international exploits granted him a foot in the door of the boardroom at Finnish oil giant Neste; evidently Lappalainen's skills of persuasion were even stronger than his racing game, for in 1986 he secured their backing for a project for a Finnish Grand Prix.
The idea was fairly sound; Finnish circuit racing appeared on the up-and-up, helped enormously by the exploits of World Champion Keke Rosberg, who was helping change perceptions that Finns were best suited to rally racing only. But while there was enthusiasm and funding for a race, there wasn't anywhere suitable in the country to hold it.
The plan therefore was to build a circuit to Formula One standards and hope that, with enough local sponsorship and riding on the coat-tails of Rosberg's success, Bernie Ecclestone might be persuaded to bring the F1 circus to Finland.
With Lappalainen busy with his career in the states, much of the work of making the project a reality was delegated to the Suomen Urheiluautoilijoiden (Finnish Sports Car Drivers) association. Lappalainen was able to gain the interest of multiple different areas of the country, with the final selection boiling down to bids from two municipalities: Padasjoki and Alastaro.
Delegations were dispatched to both locations to inspect the potential sites, after which Alastaro (now part of the Loimaa region) was selected, thanks in part to strong support from the local business community and also due to favourable ground conditions of the plot, which is just north of the village of Virttaa.
Construction began towards the end of the 1980s - by which time Rosberg had retired from F1, so a Finnish Grand Prix was always likely to be something of a long shot. The project was planned in several phases, with a national-standard course and drag strip to be built first, with an extension to be added later to bring it up to international specifications.
Circuit opens with humble beginnings
The completed circuit opened in 1990, measuring just 1.864 miles (3.000 km). It boasted an even shorter club circuit, plus a variety of other configurations including an oval and a figure-of-eight course. The start-finish straight was located alongside the drag racing strip, while the pit lane was just a strip of tarmac located alongside the final sector of the lap and separated from the paddock, which was located on the other side of the drag strip. There were no pit buildings, with race teams using temporary awnings.
From these humble beginnings it was hoped that finances could be raised to complete the longer international course, but while plans were published in various forms, these never came close to becoming a reality. Ironically, it was the drag racing strip which became the more prominent of the course and the first to gain international attention. It was soon hosting the top drag racing events.
A small change was made to the race circuit in 1996, when the final corner was eased to create a more flowing end to the lap. This had the effect of shortening an already short track further - the lap length today stands at a mere 1.691 miles (2,721 km).
Sadly, it didn't help the finances of the original promoters, who went bust in 1998. The buildings and structures were sold onto a new company called Resykli Oy (Alastaro Circuit Ltd), who then began a period of consolidation.
There were still problems, however, as the circuit was subject to noise complaints and was caught up in permitting problems, partly caused by concerns over environmental issues. It was not clear how long racing might be able to continue, thus hindering further investment.
Tupala arrives and improvements begin
Then in 2007, local entrepreneur Tero Tupala bought the whole facility and began the process of setting it on a more solid footing. He managed to get a full environmental permit for operations in 2015, though this spelled the end of drag racing and truck racing at Alastaro due to concerns of high powered and diesel fuels leaking through the local water table.
Nevertheless, with the future secured, Tupala was able to begin a programme of investments which began attracting new interest from outside of Finland. From 2015 to 2018, the racetrack was a venue for races of the former Northern European Formula 4 Championship, while in 2017 it held the only round of the prestigious TCR Scandinavia Touring Car Championship to be held outside Sweden.
More recently, Tupala has turned his attention to bringing the track back up to scratch, with complete resurfacing, including all circuit variations and public roads, completed at the end of 2017.
Loftier ambitions remain, with an extension planned to bring the circuit to around 4.3km in length, though this has not yet come to pass. However, Tupala says it has always been his dream to bring to reality the full motorsport complex that was envisaged in the 1980s. With what's been achieved to date, who's to say that won't yet become a reality, even if regional championship racing is now the target, rather than the lofty heights of Formula One.