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Salo Breaks the Duck in Laukaa

12.03.2007 / Salo Breaks the Duck in Laukaa

The fourth round of the season, and also the last rally of the so-called winter season, was driven in Laukaa on Saturday 10 March. The roads were familiar from previous years and the route ran partly in and around the same area as Neste Oil Rally Finland. The weather was mild, which has been typical for this winter. The best pace was kept by Jussi Välimäki in Group A, Juha Salo in Group N over 2000 cc and the overall competition and Jarkko Nikara in Group N up to 2000 cc.

Jussi Välimäki Wins Group A

Jarmo Mikkonen, who was in the championship lead before Peurunkaralli, had had enough of his problem-riddled Ford Focus WRC in the eve of the Laukaa-based rally. He had sold the car and thus started the rally with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7. Mikkonen´s closest rival Jussi Välimäki, driving a similar Mitsubishi, was fastest in Group A on the first two special stages of the day, whilst Mikkonen was only fourth fastest. On stage 2 a problem with the engine forced Mikkonen to retire. Heikki Westerlund suffered the same fate - he had to retire from third place due to a gear-box failure.

In the meantime Välimäki continued to set the fastest times of the group. His toughest competition was Kai Eklund, behind the wheel of the only WRC car in the rally. This was Eklund´s first Finnish Rally Championship rally with the Toyota Corolla WRC. He was the second fastest man in Group A from the get-go. After Westerlund retired Mika Eloluoma driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 took over the third place in the group. This was also the order at the finish line as Välimäki was fastest on all of the six special stages of the day. Mika Eloluoma was later disqualified after his car did not pass the final scrutineering. Thus Arto Juolahti, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7, moved up to third place.

Jussi Välimäki also chased the lead of the overall competition, but lost a couple of seconds per stage to the respective Group N stage winners. After SS5 Välimäki was only 0.3 seconds behind the overall leader Juha Salo, who was only 7th fastes on that particular stage. In the end, the gap between Välimäki and Salo was 1 second, exactly.

- The early part of the day was fine. In Valkola (SS 6) we had a bit of extra "action" when the car begun to overturn, but luckily we got back onto four wheels, Välimäki recounted the events of the rally and especially the last stage.

Jussi Välimäki took the lead in the standings. Kai Eklund and Arto Juolahti (on equal points) also moved past Jarmo Mikkonen onto second and third place respectively.

Salo in Command of Group N and the Overall Competition

Before Peurunkaralli the three-time Finnish Champion of Group N over 2000 cc Juha Salo was without a maiden win in this year´s series. He set out on the route with one single aim - to finish first. Salo´s pursuit of victory got off to a good start as he was fastest of all on the first two special stages of the day with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. The same could not be said about Salo´s closest rivals: Kosti Katajamäki, who was in the championship lead before Peurunkaralli, overshot the very first corner and lost 20.6 seconds to Salo. The winner of the previous two rounds and the reigning Finnish Champion Jari Ketomaa had to reitre after stage number two due to a broken turbo.

Juha Salo set the fastest time of both Group N and overall also on stage 3. Behind him battle for the other top spots in Group N over 2000 cc was raging between Anton Alénin and Kosti Katajamäki as well as Toni Klemets, Teemu Arminen and Jukka Ketomäki. Anton Alén broke Salo´s three stages long "winning" streak on SS 4, but Salo kept his lead nonetheless. Alén was fastest also on stage five where Salo spun and was only fifth fastest in the group. On the last stage of the day Salo set another fastest time and sealed his victory. The gap to Anton Alén who came second was 4.4 seconds in the end. Kosti Katajamäki finished third and lost his place at the top of the standings to Salo.

- We spun on stage five. That was not part of the plan, but otherwise everything went well. The lead that we established in the morning was enough, even though the roads were pretty slushy in the afternoon, Salo said.

- We lost so much time on stage two that we couldn´t catch Salo. It was our own fault, we just drove too slow. Still no win, but we´ll keep trying, said Anton Alén.

Jarkko Nikara Dominates Group N up to 2000 cc

Peurunkaralli did not start that well for the championship leader in this group either. Joonas Lindroos was only fifth fastest on stage one. The fastest time was set by the reigning Junior Rally Champion Jarkko Nikara. This young gun, who also won the opening round of the season in Rovaniemi, was fastest also on stages two and three. Joonas Lindroos on the other hand had to retire on SS 3 due to a broken drive shaft. Lindroos was running second after two special stages.

Jarkko Nikara continued his good pace and was quickest again on stage four. Lindroos´ retirement only strengthened Nikara´s position in the lead. His gap to Vesa Hirvonen, who held the second place after four stages, was already a minute. The battle for places 2 - 6 was going on strong between Vesa Hirvonen, Ailu Magga, Jani Hirvonen, Antti Rintamäki and Ville Hautamäki. On special stage five the fastest Group N up to 2000 cc was Ailu Magga. Jarkko Nikara lost 3 seconds, but naturally kept his spot at the top. Magga moved ahead of Vesa Hirvonen onto second place.

On the last stage of the day the fastest time was set by Vesa Hirvonen and that secured him a second-place-finish after all. Ailu Magga was left third. Just. The gap between these two was eventually a "staggering" 0.6 seconds. Jarkko Nikara´s winning margin was more substantial: over one minute.

- The day went really well. The car functioned well, and so did the guys inside. We managed to stay on the road, only on the first stage the nose of the car brushed a bank. We were able to take it easy towards the end, Jarkko Nikara said with a grin.

Vesa Hirvonen is not entered in the championship, so the second highest points went to Ailu Magga and third highest to Jani Hirvonen. Joonas Lindroos kept his lead despite of the retirement. Magga moved up to second and Nikara, thanks to his win, to third.

Next: Keski-Uusimaa ralli, the fifth round of the Finnish Rally Championship, takes place in Kerava on 16 June 2007.

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