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Sordo Retires Ari Vihavainen Wins Eventful O.K. Auto-ralli in Kouvola

09.07.2007 /

Sordo Retires - Ari Vihavainen Wins Eventful O.K. Auto-ralli in Kouvola

Weather forecasts promised pouring rain, but the day of the sixth round of the Finnish Rally Championship was a scorcher. For the first four stages Citroën Sport driver Daniel Sordo was in the lead of the rally, as expected, but on SS5 he had an off and the young Spaniard´s run came to a premature halt. For the first time this season, the overall competition was won with a Group A car as Ari Vihavainen beat the fastest Group N finisher Jari Ketomaa by a mere 0.1 seconds. In Group N up to 2000 cc the winner was Joonas Lindroos.

Finally a Change of Luck for Vihavainen

As it was to be expected, Dani Sordo with his manufacturer team WRCar was fastest in the early part of the rally. However, on stage 5 a surprising left after a crest caught Daniel off-guard and he had an off that ended his run. Sordo, who drove his Citroën C4 WRC in Kouvola as a test for the forthcoming Neste Oil Rally Finland, lead the O.K. Auto-ralli by 41.6 seconds after 4 stages. Behind the leader, a fierce battle ensued between Ari Vihavainen and Jarmo Mikkonen. Vihavainen´s Ford Focus was finally in very good form and Mikkonen, who had initially entered a Mitsubishi, managed to get himself a WRC Peugot at the very last minute.

After Sordo´s off the pace was set by Jarmo Mikkonen, who was fastest on stages 5 and 7. Ari Vihavainen fought hard, however and he was fastest on stages 6, 8 and 9. That was enough to secure him the overall win.
- This was the first success we´ve had during our WRC project, so it feels good! The route was good too, was Vihavainen´s answer to the question: "how does it feel to win".

Jarmo Mikkonen was pleased about finishing, but something was still nagging the man:
- I´m happy about today, apart from one mistake that cost us the win and naturally that annoys me a little bit. Also the car still needs to be worked on, but it´s good to go on from here.

Third in group A was Jouni Ampuja, took part in his hometown rally with a Subaru Impreza WRC 03. Ampuja is not entered in the championship however, and therefore the third highest points went to Kim Niemi driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 5.
- The end result was good, especially since we drove for about a kilometre with a flat tyre. We were even gaining on the guys in front of us towards the end. The car is old, but it still runs like clockwork, Niemi mused at the finish.

Jussi Välimäki stayed in the points´ lead, even if he did not participate in the Kouvola rally due to another competition abroad. Jarmo Mikkonen moved up to second place, past Juha Vuorela who had to throw in the towel just before the start because the gearbox joystick in his Toyota Corolla WRC was broken. Also Arto Juolahti, who scored fourth highest points with his fifth place finish "overtook" Vuorela in the drivers´ standings.

Ketomaa´s "Winnig Streak" Continues

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 driver Jari Ketomaa has this season won every round he has finished. A winning streak might not be the exactly correct term to use since there are also two retirements in between the wins, but Ketomaa definitely has a certain finish-and-win regime going on. The win in Kouvola did not come easy, as it rarely does in Group N over 2000 cc. Ketomaa and Juha Salo, driving in the same Mitsubishi importer team, each set four fastest times and in the end the gap between the two at the finish was 6 seconds, exactly.

In this group, the first man to attack the route was points´ leader Kosti Katajamäki. Like the other top guys, he drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Katajamäki was fastest on SS4, i.e. the short super special stage driven on a nearby rallycross track, but on the following stage his rally was cut short due to an unfortunate retirement caused by Daniel Sordo´s earlier off.
- Daniel Sordo had had an off and his car was upside down on the road. There was nobody warning us and we came behind a bend with full speed. There was no other choice but to try to avoid hitting the car and the people on the road. I tried to steer my car and go around them and ended up in the ditch. A rock there bended my right front tyre under the car and that was the end of our competition. A very unfortunate situation but what can you do. Luckily nobody got hurt, Katajamäki explained.
Juha Salo and Jari Ketomaa moved ahead of Katajamäki in the standings.
- Today was good. Stage two didn´t go so well for us, not the second time around either. Our gap to Juha was too big on such a short stage. We were flat out all day, but evidently we need to go faster still, as Juha is so close, said the winner Jari Ketomaa modestly.
- This round was a bit better than the previous one in Kerava, but we really need to win. We have already done a lot of work on the car and are a bit more confident now. Neither one of us, me or Jari, drove slow today. Stages one and seven were our stumbling blocks today. We should have been bolder, second-place man Salo analysed.
Third in Group N over 2000 cc was Toni Klemets with his Mitsubishi Lance Evo 9.

- I´m happy with the result, but the gap to the top two guys was too big. Apparently this was a difficult rally for the others too since there were so many offs. Towards the end I was taking it a bit easier since my closest rivals both in front of and behind me retired, Klemets recounted.

Joonas Lindroos Increases Lead

First driver from Group N up to 2000 cc to set out on the route was points´ leader Joonas Lindroos. His pace in the early part of the day was so good that even if he set the fastest time on just three stages out of nine he won by a margin of 21.1 seconds, beating Ville Hautamäki who came second.

After the very first stage Lindroos´ lead was already over 17 seconds and the rest of the field was unable to catch him. After five stages Jarkko Nikara was running on second place, but still the gap to Lindroos was 16.6 seconds. Nikara, who was second in the standings before the O.K. Auto-rally, had an off on SS6 and had to retire. Ville Hautamäki "inherited Nikara´s place and third was Erno Randelin, who secured his first podium finish this season. All the top finishers drive a Honda Civic Type R.

- We were at the front from start to finish, so naturally I´m very pleased! This time the pilot was "awake" from the get-go, unlike in Kerava. We didn´t have any problems and things are looking good in the championship standings, Joonas Lindroos said smiling from ear to ear.

- A rather OK day. Apart from stage one, we were pretty equal to Joonas and Jarkko. On some stages we were faster than Joonas, especially towards the end of the rally, but we lost too much at the start, said Ville Hautamäki who set two fastest times.

- It was a pretty good rally for us. We were really competing with Jani Hirvonen in the latter part of the day for third place.
I´m really pleased, said the happy Erno Randelin.


Next round:
Uusikaupunkiralli, the 7th round of the Finnish Rally Championship 2007 takes place in Uusikaupunki on 1 September 2007.

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