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Mikkonen, Salo and Lindroos Celebrated in Uusikaupunki

03.09.2007 / Mikkonen, Salo and Lindroos Celebrated in Uusikaupunki

Uusikaupunkiralli celebrated its 10th anniversary in a crisp and sunny autumn weather. Amongst the competitors some also had cause for celebration, for some the day brought nothing but trouble. Celebrating the victory in both the overall competition and Group A was Jarmo Mikkonen, who in his own words ended a 30-year-long winless draught. In Group N over 2000 cc the win was scored by Juha Salo, whilst his biggest rivals Jari Ketomaa and Kosti Katajamäki were amongst the rally´s unlucky retirees. In Group N up to 2000 cc Joonas Lindroos eventually won the tight battle against Jarkko Nikara by 7.3 seconds. This meant that Lindroos also secured the Finnish Championship in this class.

Mikkonen Finally "Hits the Jackpot"

Jussi Välimäki, who started the Uusikaupunki in points´ lead of Group A, thought that he might not be able to match the speed of WRC drivers Jarmo Mikkonen and Ari Vihavainen with his "new" Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. Välimäki thought right as the fastest times on the first three stages were set by the WRC pair. Mikkonen was quickest on stages 1 and 2 and Vihavainen on SS3. In the first service of the day Mikkonen was in the lead, 5.7 seconds ahead of Vihavainen. At this stage Välimäki was only fifth, 32.8 seconds behind Mikkonen and had also Kim Niemi and Timo Mäenpää ahead of him.

On SS4 Vihavainen an off ended Vihavainen´s rally and Mikkonen had an even stronger hold of the lead. Niemi moved up to second place and Mäenpää to third. Välimäki too moved ahead, but his gap to the lead was already 46.1 seconds. Mikkonen continued to set the fastest times on SS5 and the order of the top drivers remained the same before the second service.

Mikkonen was in command also in the last three stages of the rally, both in Group A and in the overall competition. Kim Niemi held his second place all the way to the finish line, but Timo Mäenpää retired on SS6 due to a broken wheel bearing. Kari Ali-Rantala was eventually third and Heikki Westerlund finished fourth, ahead of Jussi Välimäki.

- The early part of the day wasn´t so good. There were some new parts in the car which we hadn´t had a change to test properly. The final three stages were much better, with a change of tyres etc. This was my first win in over 30 years! The driving felt great, explained the happy Mikkonen.

- This was our best result on the Finnish Championship level. It feels really good, it was a great drive, said Kim Niemi.

Drama in Group N over 2000 cc - Salo Wins the Day

In this class the action begun right after the start, before the first stage, when the reigning champion and one this year´s title contenders Jari Ketomaa had to throw in the towel due to a broken fuel pump before the rally had even really begun. Championship leader Juha Salo and Kosti Katajamäki, who was third in the points before the Uusikaupunkiralli, started their battle virtually head-to-head: on SS1 Salo was only 0.4 seconds faster than Katajamäki.

Then Lady Luck turned her back to Katajamäki as well. He had a puncture on SS2 and the situation was made worse by the fact that the jack in his car was the wrong kind. Katajamäki had to drive through SS3 with a flat to the next service. That caused him to fall to 14th place in Group N over 2000 cc and his gap to the biggest rival Salo was over a minute and 10 seconds. At that point Toni Klemets was running second in the group, 10.4 seconds behind the leader Salo. Teemu Arminen was third, 2.5 seconds behind Klemets.

Juha Salo´s good pace continued on SS4 and he increased the gap between himself and Klemets, and Marko Mänty who had moved up to third past Arminen. Kosti Katajamäki set the second fastest time in Group N over 2000 cc on stage 4, but that only helped him to climb from 14th to 11th. On SS5 Salo was still the fastest in the class, whereas Katajamäki was now completely deserted by the temperamental Lady Luck: a technical fault put an end to Katajamäki´s fight in the rally. Also Klemets´ was forced to retire after an off on SS5.

Salo held his lead all the way to the finish and took a firm grip of the title. The tight battle for second place in Uusikaupunki was eventually won by Jukka Ketomäki. He beat third place man Teemu Arminen by a mere 5.3 seconds.

- My situation became a bit easier when my closest rivals had to retire. Otherwise I would have been forced to drive with a much greater risk. The car had improved a lot, and actually this was the first time during the summer that the car felt good. I have a good feeling going to [the final round in] Mikkeli, but certainly a flawless drive is needed there too, commented Salo.

- This was the first time in ages that everything worked well. On the first stage a distorted brake disc hampered my driving a bit, but after that it started going well. We were able to pick up the speed when it was needed to fight for seconds, said the pleased Ketomäki.

- Naturally you feel a bit disappointed when you lose the fight for second place. It was the tarmac stage that did it. Ketomäki was faster and that´s that. We really did push, and had a couple of "sticky situations" too. There was nothing we could do, Jukka was just faster. We´ll rectify that in Mikkeli, promised Arminen.

Joonas Lindroos Secured Championship Gold in Group N up to 2000 cc

Joonas Lindroos was leading the standings before Uusikaupunkiralli by such a large margin that he didn´t have to win there. At first, the pace was indeed set by Jarkko Nikara, who was fastest on stages 1 and 2. Lindroos was quickest through SS3 and the gap to Nikara was never that big. Coming to the first service Nikara was leading Lindroos by 3.9 seconds. Third at this point was Ville Hautamäki, 3.5 seconds behind Lindroos.

On SS4 Nikara managed to increase his lead. Lindroos remained second, 6.7 seconds behind Nikara. On stage 5 then Lindroos attacked - the result was, in addition to the fastest time in the class, a tenth fastest time overall. Lindroos moved ahead of Nikara and took the lead, by 1.7 seconds. Ville Hautamäki, who was running third, retired after a gearbox failure before stage 5. The third place was inherited by Jani Hirvonen.

For the sixth and the longest stage of the rally Lindroos and Nikara set the exact same time. On SS7 Nikara was again fastest, but Lindroos kept his lead by a "staggering" 0.3 seconds. The stage was set for a final stage showdown. Lindroos was quickest, won Group N up to 2000 cc in Uusikaupunkiralli and clenched the first Finnish Championship title of his career.

- You really had to push right 'till the end. Before the last stage the gap was only that 0.3 seconds, but we did it! This was a tight battle throughout the day and we were driving right at the limit. We really pushed and the lines were quite wide in places, explained the slightly baffled but overjoyed Lindroos.

- I guess we really did secure the title. After a quick calculation the gap to Jarkko is 25 points and that is enough! I´ve got some disrupted seasons behind be, but now we had the whole season with Honda and had the best possible result, said the happy new Finnish Champion.

- There were just too many mistakes. My co-drive lost his place in the pacenotes, the fuel indicator light came on and the car started to jerk, there was a gear-miss in the beginning of the last stage and stuff like that. I guess I was pushing too hard, Nikara fretted.

In the final round in Mikkeli there will be a battle for the championship silver and bronze between Nikara, Ville Hautamäki and Ailu Magga, at least.

Next round:

Vaakuna-Ralli, the 8th and final round of the Finnish Rally Championship 2007, takes place in Mikkeli on 22 September 2007.

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