Välimäki and Ketomaa Win Titles after Dramatic Turns
Final round of the Finnish Rally Championship
The championship titles of 2007 were decided in wet conditions. The rain that tormented the Mikkeli region made the roads slippery on one hand, and on the other hand heavy for the cars. This final round was rather dramatic and eventful, and all the predictions and pre-rally favourites did not prevail in the end. The competition was exciting ´till the very end. In Group A the title went to Jussi Välimäki and in Group N over 2000 cc to Jari Ketomaa. Joonas Lindroos secured the Group N up to 2000 cc title already in the previous round in Uusikaupunki.
Group A Championship Decided after the Last Stage
Jussi Välimäki and Jarmo Mikkonen started on the Vaakuna-Ralli
route to fight for the championship title with almost the same
amount of points. Välimäki had an ever so slight
one-point-advantage whilst Mikkonen had the advantage of a Peugeot
206 WRC car against Välimäki´s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. However,
the day did not begin so well for either of them: Välimäki had
problems with the gearbox and Mikkonen took a jump a bit too fast,
dipped into a ditch where a rock punctured one of the tyres. Thus
the strongest title contenders arrived in the first service of the
day holding on to positions 7 and 8. Leading the pack was Timo
Mäenpää with his Skoda Octavia, which was a small surprise.
Mäenpää was fastest also on the second stage. Jarmo Mikkonen set the fastest time on SS3, but Mäenpää struck back on stage 4. The order coming into the second service was: Mäenpää, Arto Juolahti, Heikki Westerlund, Jarmo Mikkonen, Kari Ali-Rantala, Kim Niemi and in seventh place Jussi Välimäki who still suffered from gearbox trouble.
53-year-old veteran driver Mikkonen chased his first championship with a vengeance. He was fastest on stages 5 and 6, moving first ahead of Juolahti onto second place and then past Mäenpää to take the lead in Group A. Heikki Westerlund too advanced past Juolahti onto third. Rally however is a sport where anything can, and often will happen...
Mäenpää set the fastest time on the seventh and last stage securing the Group A win of the Vaakuna-Ralli and scoring his first (and last) points of the season. Jarmo Mikkonen was SO close of winning the much coveted championship title when the gearbox in his car broke just before the finish
- The car rolled over the finish line, but just wouldn´t budge after that. 30 years of rallying has sort of made me accustomed to things like these, but somehow this is beyond bad luck, said Mikkonen, incredulous. This set-back however did not discourage him either and Mikkonen promised to continue driving - as, according to himself, the man is not likely to take up golf.
Välimäki, who after a day of problems, twist and turns ended up finishing sixth in the rally, and snatching the title, also had somewhat mixed feelings:
- It was an exiting day. We almost retired on the first stage after the gearbox broke. We lost the first and second gears completely. The rest of the gears still worked however, and we decided to carry on as long as we could. We drove the entire rally with only three gears. You can´t wish Mikkonen´s fate on anyone though, but that´s what rallying is sometimes. It´s nice to be on the winning side, Välimäki mused.
Kari Ali-Rantala finished second in Vaakuna-Ralli after Mikkonen´s last-minute retirement and he moved past Mikkonen in the overall standings to become the championship silver-medallist. Mikkonen was left with the "consolidation prize" of championship bronze.
Two in a Row for Ketomaa
Mikkeli-native Jari Ketomaa started on the route as a reigning
champion to defend his title, even though the task seemed pretty
much like a mission impossible before the final event. Even a win
would not automatically be enough for the gold, but that was the
minimum. So Ketomaa aimed for the win and started the day off with
a fastest time on SS1, in both Group N over 2000 cc and overall. He
established a 4.5 second lead over his closest rival Juha Salo, who
was also the strongest title contender. Kosti Katajamäki, who was
third in the standings before the Vaakuna-Ralli, was fastest on
stage 2, but beat Ketomaa only by 0.3 seconds.
After Ketomaa set the fastest times also on stages 3 and 4, the Group N drivers arrived in the second service of the with Ketomaa leading by 11.6 seconds before Katajamäki. Salo was third, but 4.7 seconds behind him was the young and hungry Matti Rantanen. Though even if Ketomaa did win, Salo needed to finish only fourth to secure the title. On stage five things started happening...
Juha Salo´s car developed brake problems. He managed to reach the stage finish by using the handbrake only. The repairs however took so long that Salo was late for the start of SS6 and received a 30 second TC penalty. Even though he fought hard and set fastest times on the final two stages it was only good enough for sixth place - and championship silver.
- There´s nothing you can do about these deciders. When you look at the season as a whole, we could have upped the tempo a bit. Our pace was too slow in places, analysed Salo.
Jari Ketomaa won both Group N over 2000 cc and the overall competition - and snatched the title after all, making it two in a row. Ketomaa won all the five Finnish Rally Championship rounds that he managed to finish this season.
- The only goal we had this morning was to win this rally. Fortunately, hard work pays off. We made some changes in the car even before this competition and drove extensive tests. The changes worked out and the car was really good. We had a really great day. On stage five we hit a rock and after that the car shook so much that it was hard to see where you were going. And then on stage six I was a bit worried whether the car was going to break down or not. Otherwise everything went well and our speed was extremely high, recounted the double-champ.
Second in Mikkeli was Kosti Katajamäki and third place went to last year´s Group N up to 2000 cc title winner Matti Rantanen after a fine drive. Katajamäki´s second place secured his third place in the championship.
- I´m not totally satisfied with this season, but it was what it was. We had our highs and lows. That´s what rallying is sometimes, he summed up.
A Win and Championship Silver for Nikara
Since Joonas Lindroos secured the title already in Uusikaupunki,
the biggest fight in this class was to be between Jarkko Nikara and
Ville Hautamäki for the silver medal. Nikara stared off strong
setting fastest times on the first four stages. By the second
service of the day Nikara was in the lead with a 20.9 second gap to
Hautamäki. Running third was Vesa Hirvonen, who was not competing
for championship points. His surname namesake Jani Hirvonen, who
was fourth in the standings before the Vaakuna-Ralli, only half a
point behind Hautamäki´s third place, had an off on the opening
stage and had to retire. The new title-holder Lindroos suffered the
Jarkko Nikara continued his wild pace throughout the rally and set fastest times on every stage. He won the final round of this year´s championship by over a minute. Ville Hautamäki was second, and thus ended up third in the championship whilst Nikara secured the silver.
- The day went well - we won, didn´t we! We hit a rock on the last stage and the rim of the tyre bent, but otherwise there were no bigger problems. I can´t be completely satisfied with the silver because our speed was good enough for more, said Nikara before heading off onto the podium to celebrate his Vaakuna-Ralli victory.
- Now we have championship medals in every colour. This is better than nothing... although this season has been so hard for us that even a bronze medal feels pretty good, said the good- humoured Hautamäki.
Third in Mikkeli was Vesa Hirvonen, but since he was not entered in the championship, the third highest points went to Toni Lukander who finished fourth. Ailu Magga, who was tied with Jani Hirvonen in the standings before the final round and was competing for the bronze had to retire after SS5 due to a mechanical problem.
Please find the Official Results via the following link:
and the final Championship Standings via: