Juha Salo Dominates Arctic Lapland Rally
The 2008 season of the Finnish Rally Championship started in the Arctic Circle last weekend. The Group N over 2000 cc drivers, led by rally winner Juha Salo, dominated the overall two-day competition. Jussi Välimäki won in Group A and in Group N up to 2000 cc the winner was Joonas Lindroos.
Välimäki Number 1 in Group A
The current Finnish Champion Jussi Välimäki started the second day of the Arctic Lapland Rally in a similar fashion than he had done on the first day. He set the fastest times with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 on the first three stages of the day. At the same time his lead over his closets rival, Ford Focus driver Jukka Hiltunen, grew by a couple of seconds on each special stage.
On Saturday morning the top five positions in Group A remained the same as they had been at the end of Friday´s leg. During the afternoon things started to happen. On the fourth stage of the day, SS10, the fastest time was set by Ari Vihavainen with his Ford Focus WRC. He did it again on the next special stage, and after Jukka Hiltunen who was second after Friday´s leg, had an off and ended up stuck in the snow, Vihavainen became Jussi Välimäki´s closest rival. Although Vihavainen´s gap to Välimäki was already over 55 seconds. But then again, Vihavainen´s second place seemed pretty secure since his lead over the third place man Arto Juolahti was over a minute. This order of the top three competitors remained the same all the way to the finish.
- Yesterday we had our share of problems and they cost us the chance to fight for the overall victory. Today we pretty much just cruised around, but I´m really happy with the group win. The last time we were able to reach the finish line here in Rovaniemi was in 2002, said Jussi Välimäki.
- I think this engine has come to the end of its road. The oil pressure warning lights were flashing etc. This was a long and hard rally, and I´m very happy with the second place. It was a good climb from yesterday, Ari Vihavainen summed up his Arctic experience.
- We took it nice and easy avoiding unnecessary risks. Everything worked well with the car. Our best result thus far had been the win in Group a up to 2000 cc in 1993! This was a good start for the season, said Arto Juolahti who ended up third in Group A.
The reigning Championship silver medallist Jarmo Mikkonen retired due to an off on SS10. He was running fourth at the time.
Juha Salo Victorious in Both Group N and Overall
Juha Salo, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, further strengthened his lead on Saturday´s first special stage - especially when the second place man, Subaru´s Jari Ketomaa, was only fourth fastest on the opening stage. The second stage of the day, SS8, brought a slight surprise when Jarkko Nikara, competing for the first time with a Group N over 2000 cc rally car, set the fastest time of all.
On SS9 the "normal" order was restored. Salo was fastest on the 30 kilometres long stage. The following speed test was also among the longest, 30-kilometre-long stages of the rally. Fastest through SS10 was Salo´s Mitsubishi team-mate Kosti Katajamäki. Salo however held on to the lead, and Jari Ketomaa continued in second place, ahead of Katajamäki. Jarkko Nikara´s attack came to an unfortunate halt when he had an off and spent half an hour shovelling snow. The young gun was eliminated from the battles at the top and he eventually retired after SS11.
Katajamäki who was chasing his third Arctic victory in a row kept increasing his pace towards the end. He set the fastest time on stage 11 and was only 1.5 seconds behind Jari Ketomaa in second place. On the final stage Katajamäki was fastest again and managed to move ahead of Ketomaa into second. Salo´s lead however was so strong that nobody was able to threaten him.
- You have no idea how long I´ve been waiting for this win! Today was easier than yesterday. We drove the last couple of stages almost at a liaison speed. It was not that easy to be the first car on the route, but it went pretty well. The full jackpot feels really great. The car worked extremely well and that gave me even more confidence, explained Salo.
- I pushed like crazy at the end. It´s always nicer to fight for the win, but we were right at the limit there - I couldn´t have driven the whole rally like this! With a new car there were some adjustments to be made throughout the competition, but this is a good place to continue from, commented Kosti Katajamäki on his final spurt.
- I´ve never had a better rally here in Rovaniemi and that´s something I have to pleased about. Losing second place stings quite a bit though. I drove as fast I could, even towards the end, but just could not match Kosti´s speed, said Jari Ketomaa with mixed feelings.
Matti Rantanen, who was running fourth in Group N over 2000 cc after Friday, had an off on Saturday´s first stage, SS7. Teemu Arminen suffered the same fate on SS9.
Joonas Lindroos in Command in Group N up to 2000 cc
Joonas Lindroos, who had been in the lead in Group N up to 2000 cc from Friday´s stage four onwards, dominated Saturday´s leg from start to finish. He set the fastest time with his Honda Civic Type R on special stages 7, 8 and 9. When half of the stages of leg 2 were driven, Ville Hautamäki in second place was already over a minute behind Lindroos.
The status quo remained almost up to the finish line. On the last stage, a super special driven at the Mäntyvaara trotting track, Lindroos slackened his pace a little. Fastest in the group was Erno Randelin, and also Ailu Magga who was driving in front of his home-town crowd, was faster than Lindroos through the twist and turns of the track. This however did not change the order of the top three: Lindroos drove to an overwhelming victory beating Ville Hautamäki by nearly 1.12 minutes, whilst Ailu Magga secured third place.
- I started off with ice tyres on Friday, and they were not the best possible option. There was more "extra action" than ever before! We then changed to snow tyres, like everyone else, and things started to go well. Today we pretty much took it nice and easy to secure the win, Lindroos summed up.
- We had no significant problems, the car worked well. We lost the lead yesterday. After that Joonas just simply drove faster and I tried to keep Ailu behind me. I´m very pleased with the twenty points I got here, especially when this rally traditionally has not gone that well for us. I´ll take my hat off for Joonas though, said Ville Hautamäki.
- Of course it´s always nice to compete on "home turf", but this was a tough rally. Friday morning I didn´t quite trust the car and today we had problems with the front brakes for the first two stages. Luckily we were able to fix that. We have to come up with something for the next round in Laukaa - Joonas especially is just so fast, Ailu Magga pondered.
Please find the results of Arctic Lapland Rally here and the Championship standings here.
Next round: Peurunkaralli in Laukaa, 15 - 16 February 2008.