Finnish Rally Championship - Lindholm crowned as a champion
The last event in the Finnish Rally Championship (FRC), Valvoline Rally, took place last weekend in Riihimäki, some 80 km north of Helsinki. A total of 13 special stages during Saturday and Sunday gave the competitors 135 km of chances to sort out the final positions in the Championship.
In group A over 2000 cc Sebastian Lindholm with his Peugeot 206 WRC was once again setting the pace for his younger contestants, some of whom are seriously trying to make it to the FIA WRC. The youngsters could nothing but stare in awe, as Lindholm took the lead from stage one and never gave it away, thus securing his sixth title in the FRC.
- The season has been very demanding for us, I rate this title very high on my list. The first one is always the most memorable, but this one is a close second, Lindholm was saying at the finish. He won the event with a 37.4 second lead before Juuso Pykälistö, also in a Peugeot.
Lindholms title was secured on SS 10, where his only rival for the title, Janne Tuohino, rolled his Ford Focus RS WRC 02 and was forced to retire.
- Just before the end of stage 10, at the last right-hand bend, the car just slipped into the ditch and that was it, off we went with a bang! The front suspension on the co-drivers side was ripped off, so it would have been impossible for us to continue, even if we had managed to get the car back on the road, commented Tuohino at the scene.
The second place went to Juuso Pykälistö, who was visiting the FRC backed by Peugeot Sport. Pykälistö was complaining the cars total unsuitability to the fast and flowing Finnish gravel roads.
- The differential ratios in the car are so slow that we are way too much behind the others in top speeds, he mumbled.
The biggest media interest of the weekend was gathered by Pykälistö, as he was co-driven by Risto Mannisenmäki, who took part into his first event since the accident he had in Corsica 2001 with Tommi Mäkinen.
- Our co-operation with Risto went very well. Its just my own performance I am not too happy about, as we were not able to keep up with Sebastian, said Pykälistö.
Third place went to Jarmo Mikkonen in a Focus, who thus managed to make his mark in the championship order by beating Jouni Ampuja , leaving the Toyota Corolla WRC driver just one point behind Jari Viita. Viita, who finished sixth in his Focus, took the bronze medal with the smallest possible points difference. Ampuja was not a very happy man: - Congratulations to the winners, he commented briefly. There was nothing I could do, the Corolla is just getting too old for this thing. Especially on such fast and slippery surfaces driving with mechanical differentials is so much stiffer, he pondered. We started the rally with no pressure, not giving even one thought to the bronze medals. On Sunday morning it suddenly started to seem possible and the hunger got bigger, said Ampuja. After stage 9, Ampuja was only half a second behind Mikkonen and beating him would have secured Ampuja the desired medals.
FRC points standings in Group A over 2000 cc, event 7/7: Sebastian Lindholm, 100 p.; Janne Tuohino, 87 p.; Jari Viita, 61
Dramatic developments in Group N
Hannu Hotanen, Juha Salo and Marko Uutela (all Mitsubishi) were the only three drivers with any chance for a medal in the Group N over 2000 cc Championship. Only the order had to be decided.
Uutela was the first one to choose his final position, as he retired on stage 7 after a puncture had damaged his car Marko with his co-driving wife Tiina took the bronze medals.
On Sundays first stage Hotanen started his final attack to beat Salo, who had build a 57 second lead during Saturday, partly due to Hotanens puncture. His fortunes ran out rather quickly, as he went off the road on the first stage of the day. He was already planning a suitable place for the silver ware, when he got a phone call to the stage, where he was still standing with his badly damaged machinery, contemplating lifes misery. Salo had broken a drive-shaft later on the same stage and was running out of time in the service, as they did not have a spare one with them.
- After all this drama, it feels as if the title was really meant for me and Sami (Räsänen, the co-driver), said Hotanen. I know this was an expensive way to secure the title, but I can only be happy and I definitely did it my way, Hotanen said laughing. In the past, he has made a bit of reputation with spectacular accidents.
The top honours in the event were thus left for others for the taking, Jari Ketomaa with his Subaru Impreza harvesting the highest score. The former World Champion, Timo Salonen, also took part in the rally with a Mitsubishi. He came sixth in class with 2 min and 19.2 sec behind the winner. It has been great fun, but the boys are just going too fast for us, Salonen commented. He is rumoured to make a come-back to the FRC with a WRCar in 2004.
FRC points standings in Group N over 2000, event 7/7: Hannu Hotanen, 80 p.; Juha Salo, 74 p.; Marko Uutela, 64 p.
Janne Vähämiko in his Volkswagen Golf kit car secured the title in Group A up to 2000 cc as expected. His main rival Sami Vatanen won the class in Valvoline Rally with his Opel Astra, but as Vähämiko came second, the silver medal was the best Vatanen could do. The bronze went to Henri Tuomisto, also with an Opel Astra.
The runner-up Sami Vatanen is planning to run in the British Peugeot 206 Super Cup and in the Italian Subaru Championship in 2004.
FRC points standings in Group A up to 2000 cc, event 7/7: Janne Vähämiko, 97 p.; Sami Vatanen, 86 p.; Henri Tuomisto, 64
In Group N up to 2000 cc, Timo Mäenpää with his Honda Civic Type-R had already the title in the bag and had left the field open for the others to fight for the top honours in the last event. Aki Teiskonen (Honda Integra Type-R), after a good show in the British Championship Trackrod Rally the previous weekend, had decided to go for the silver medals. He only needed to finish higher than Tomi Lantta (Honda Civic Type-R) to secure the silver.
The event was won by Toni Klemets (Civic Type-R), Teiskonen second and Jarno Kinnunen third. Lantta came in fourth and took the bronze, leaving Teiskonen with his desired silver medals. Next season will probably see the 22-year-old Teiskonen in the British Rally Championship, hopefully with a Super 1600 car.
FRC points standings in Group N up to 2000 cc, event 7/7: Timo
Mäenpää, 88 p.; Aki Teiskonen, 62 p.; Tomi Lantta, 58 p.