Latvala Scores First FRC Win
Finnish Rally Championship, Vaakuna-ralli
The winter season of the Finnish Rally Championship continued last Saturday in Mikkeli, where the Vaakuna-ralli was driven on fast and demanding snowy and icy roads. In Group N both favourites and points-leaders, Juha Salo in over 2000 cc and Joonas Lindroos in upto 2000 cc, had to retire from the competition. The winner in Group N over 2000 cc was Jari Ketomaa and in Group N upto 2000 cc the fastest man of the day was Jarno Kinnunen. Winner of Group A and the overall competition was Jari-Matti Latvala.
In Group A the 20-year-old Toyota Corolla WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala and 51-year-old "rally veteran" Jarmo Mikkonen in a Ford Focus WRC were taking turns at setting fastest times in the early part of the competition. Mikkonen opened with a top time on SS1, but Latvala responded by being fastest on the next stage, and so on. On SS5 it was Mikkonen's turn again, but on stage 6 he had a slight off and his rally ended altogether in a snow bank on the last stage, SS8. Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest on four stages, and he was very pleased about the result:
- I feel really relieved and happy! We finally found our speed in Rovaniemi, but ended up head-first in the snow. Luckily the good speed continued here in Mikkeli. We had no car troubles and our service team worked well, as did the tyres. Next we're off to Mexico and after that we'll continue our quest for the Finnish Championship in Laukaa.
Sebastian Lindholm, the seven-times Finnish Rally Champion made a comeback after a season-long "sabbatical", and proved that he is still a top contender. Lindholm, driving a Peugeot 206 WRC set fastest times on stages six and seven and finished second in Group A and in the overall competition. The man himself wasn't entirely pleased with his return to the championship:
- I said before the start that this is going to be a difficult rally, and that it was. For me driving in winter conditions has always been harder than in summertime, and now I had also had a two-year break from driving on snow. I expect things will go smoother in the summer rallies.
Jari-Matti Latvala took the lead in the championship with 25 points. Jarmo Mikkonen is second, just one point behind Latvala, and Jussi Välimäki is third with 18 points.
Sweet Home Victory for Jari Ketomaa
In Group N over 2000 cc Juha Salo, who was a favourite to win in Mikkeli, was forced to retire as early as at the end of SS1, due to gearbox problems. Juho Hänninen was tipped for being Salo's biggest challenger, but he wasn't in his best form in Vaakuna-ralli, and the man of the hour was local hero Jari Ketomaa. Hänninen set the fastest time on SS1 and SS8, but otherwise Ketomaa, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, was in command of the day. In addition to winning his group Ketomaa was third in the overall competition.
- This is what we came here for! It's a shame that Juha Salo had to retire, but it was still a pretty tight battle with Hänninen. I tried to be consistent throughout the day and drive without mistakes. The car that I have now is very good, but the situation is going to get even better when I get my own car, said the happy Ketomaa before driving onto the podium to greet the cheering crowd.
Juho Hänninen finished second in Group N over 2000 cc and fourth overall. One could detect a hint of disappointment in Hänninen's demeanour, but he readily praised the winner:
- This rally didn't go particularly well for us. There was nothing wrong with the car, I was just unable to get a good feeling about driving at all. Jari ran really smoothly the entire day and it was very difficult to catch him, said Hänninen. Third in the group was Jukka Ketomäki, the best Subaru driver of the day.
Anton Alén, son of Markku Alén, showed strong signs of his driving talent in the early part of the competition. The 22-year-old was running second in Group N over 2000 cc and fifth overall after three special stages, but his rally in Mikkeli was cut short on SS4 due to clutch trouble.
Juho Hänninen has scored points in all of the three rounds so far and is in the lead with 32 points. Jukka Ketomäki is second with 24.5 points and Juha Salo who did not finish in Mikkeli fell from the number one spot into third place. Salo however won the first two rounds, so he's only 0.5 points behind Ketomäki. The winner of Vaakuna-ralli, Jari Ketomaa is currently fourth with 23 points.
Kinnunen Wins Group N upto 2000 cc
Also the favourite in Group N upto 2000 cc was unlucky in this third round of the Finnish Rally Championship. Joonas Lindroos, who switched from a Honda Civic to a Ford Fiesta ST and was in the championship-lead before this rally, had an off on SS2. The stage was stopped for half-an-hour and Lindroos and his co-driver Mika Manninen taken into hospital for routine checks. Kalle Pinomäki driving a Renault Clio was fastest on the first three stages, but he too retired due to technical problems on SS4.
The winner of Group N upto 2000 cc was Jarno Kinnunen who also won the previous round of the championship driven in Rovaniemi in January. Kinnunen set the fastest time with his Honda Civic Type R on SS5 and SS8. Second in the group was another Honda driver Ville Hautamäki and third Ailu Magga, who is now leading the championship after three rounds.
Next round of the Finnish Rally Championship: Peurunkaralli in Laukaa, 11 March 2006