Teemu Asunmaa wins his fourth Arctic Lapland Rally - Outings costed Huttunen victory
Finnish Rally Championship’s 2023 season opener, 58th Arctic Lapland Rally, finished on Saturday evening in the snowy scenery of Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi. First to finish was Teemu Asunmaa, who got to lift the legendary reindeer antlers.
Held in almost spring-like conditions this weekend, the 58th Arctic Lapland Rally did not offer the usual arctic adventure, but excitement and twists did not run out during the two day event’s running.
In FRC1 category, experience was the winning formula. Winner of the rally, Alavus-resident Teemu Asunmaa celebrated his fourth FRC1 category Arctic Rally win. Jari Huttunen led the rally since stage one, but ran into snowbanks on the seventh stage of the event and had to resort into snow shovels, losing almost seven minutes in the process.
- The braking was very slippery, and I hit the bank and car became stuck. I’m sorry for all those who made this trip possible, Huttunen apologised.
Asunmaa battled for the lead with another experienced driver, Juha Salo, taking the victory home amongst the two Skoda drivers with a mere 1,5 second margin.
-It was a really tough rally this time, Juha made it interesting. Jari was also well in the play, but unfortunately his fight for victory ended in snowbanks today. It’s a difficult rally, and experience does pay off here.
-We’re off to a better start to the season than last year, and these points help a lot during the long season, Asunmaa referred to his last year’s dive into snowbanks, dropping him out of the lead of the rally.
Behind Asunmaa and Salo, Lauri Joona endured into third spot on his debut with the Rally2 category car in FRC. Behind the leading trio, Juuso Metsälä finished 4th and Niclas Grönholm, son of the legendary Marcus Grönholm, was 5th overall.
Korhola into an assuring victory in FRC2
In the FRC2 category, Benjamin Korhola drove into an overwhelming victory. Second in the rally was Lapland’s own man Ville Ruokanen, who was a minute and 40 seconds behind Korhola. Henri Hokkala was in contention for the lead until stage 7 where he drove into snowbanks and lost his chances of winning. Korhola got to ease up a bit afterwards and drove into a stylish victory.
- We ought to be happy about this. We found the rhythm right from the start, even though we lifted a bit too much near the end. Apart from a few small mistakes, our rally was near flawless, Korhola said.
Finishing third after Ruokanen was Jani Luhtaniemi, who made his return to FRC after a lengthy hiatus. He finished a bit over two minutes behind Korhola.
Räikkönen shined on his category debut
The FRC3 time sheet had to be rewritten late on Saturday, as the class leader Tuomas Välilä was excluded from the rally. Välilä had rushed into service due to mechanical issues in his car after the day-ending special stage. The car couldn’t be fixed in the time period permitted, and on top of this the drivers missed a time control before heading to night break, resulting in exclusion from the event.
Inheriting the lead was class-debutant Justus Räikkönen, who didn’t wait for anyone behind him. Young Finn drove into a clear victory with a bit over two-minute margin.
- Feels great, I never would have believed we’d win the category on our first rally. Hard to imagine a better way to kick off a season, Räikkönen vibed.
Räikkönen’s closest rival’s, Jooa Iivari’s rally was ended prematurely due to a technical fault on stage 7. This in turn elevated Toyota junior driver program candidate Nao Otake up to second. The last spot on the podium was taken by visiting Swede Mille Johansson.
Räikkönen gained the most championship points, but the second and third biggest points were awarded to Niko Patajoki and Topi Kärki as Otake, Johansson and fifth place finishing Hikaru Kogure have elected not to gain points in this year’s championship.
Kauppinen left no chances to his co-competitors
Last year’s bronze metal winning youngster Tuukka Kauppinen, 16, was overwhelming in the season opener. The task was made a bit easier by second in class, Ville Vatanen’s retirement into a technical failure on special stage 6.
- The rally was really good for us, and we drove quite a clean event. My mind started to wonder near the end, but here we are, just 16-year-old Kauppinen laughed at the end of the last stage.
After Vatanen’s retirement Kauppinen was left without any threats. Closest was Tomi Tikkinen, 4,5 minutes behind. Tikkinen snatched the second place by a bit over 7 seconds from Raoul Dahlqvist before the last stage.
Hautamäki in his own class
Ville Hautamäki was on a good form all rally long and didn’t give any chances to his closest rival, Konsta Saarinen, despite his good efforts. The winning margin was almost 30 seconds after eleven stages.
- Feels quite amazing. We’ve never won Arctic with a four-wheel-drive car, only with two-wheel-drive ones. Undoubtedly the rally was difficult, we didn’t get our tire choices right, and even had a little visit in the snowbanks on the penultimate stage, Hautamäki explained on the Lordi Square where the rally finished.
After Saarinen, third place finisher was Arttu Lähdeniemi, a bit over a minute behind Hautamäki.
Finnish Rally Championship continues on February 3-4 in Kuopio.
58th Arctic Lapland Rally, Rovaniemi: Results
1. Teemu Asunmaa 1:57:49,0
2. Juha Salo +1,5
3. Lauri Joona +1:48,7
1. Benjamin Korhola 2:03:51,8
2. Ville Ruokanen +1:40,9
3. Jani Luhtaniemi +2:20,6
1. Justus Räikkönen 2:15:02,8
2. Nao Otake +2:10,1
3. Mille Johansson +8:47,7
1. Tuukka Kauppinen 2:20:30,2
2. Tomi Tikkinen +4:28,9
3. Raoul Dahlqvist +4:36,2
1. Ville Hautamäki 2:04:41,7
2. Konsta Saarinen +26,6
3. Arttu Lähdeniemi +1:22,0
Championship standings: 1/7
1. Teemu Asunmaa 34
2. Juha Salo 25p
3. Lauri Joona 20p
1. Benjamin Korhola 34p
2. Ville Ruokanen 25p
3. Jani Luhtaniemi 20p
1. Justus Räikkönen 34p
2. Niko Patajoki 25p
3. Topi Kärki 20p
1. Tuukka Kauppinen 34p
2. Tomi Tikkinen 25p
3. Raoul Dahlqvist 20p
1. Ville Hautamäki 34p
2. Konsta Saarinen 25p
3. Arttu Lähdeniemi 20p
1. Co-Motorsport 59p
2. Rautio Motorsport 2 59p
3. TGS Skoda Motorsport Suomi 54p
Secto Rally Finland Power Stage
During the Finnish Rally Championship 2023 rounds a Secto Rally Finland Power Stage is driven, where drivers gain points per category. In the Arctic Lapland Rally, the Power Stage was the sixth stage of the rally Siikakämä (26,15 km).
Power Stage winners: 58th Arctic Lapland Rally
FRC1: Juuso Metsälä
FRC2: Benjamin Korhola
FRC3: Leevi Lassila
FRC4: Tuukka Kauppinen
FRC5: Konsta Saarinen
Photo: Taneli Niinimäki / AKK