Lindholm Dominates in Uusikaupunki
The penultimate rally of the 2006 season of the Finnish Rally Championship was driven last Saturday in Uusikaupunki. Even though the day of the rally itself was sunny the few rainy days before the competition had made the gravel roads very slippery. After eight special stages the winner of the day was Sebastian Lindholm.
Lindholm started strongly by setting fastest times on the first four stages. He was also quickest on stages 6, 7 and 8, so the day was in effect dominated by the Peugeot 206 WRC pilot. The seven-time Finnish Champion relented only on SS 5 and even then he only lost two tenths to Jari-Matti Latvala.
- I´m feeling pretty good right now. The car performed well, but on stages 5 and 6 we had tyres that were a bit too soft. It was slippery in some places, Lindholm said and continued about the title battle:
- There are approximately 200 kilometres left, so nothing is decided yet. We have however managed to increase the gap.
Sebastian Lindholm´s strongest challenger Jari-Matti Latvala was steadily second quickest throughout the day and managed to beat Lindholm´s time on SS 5.
- It went well on one stage, but even there we won only by a small margin. It´s just impossible to drive this car fast enough. We need more speed. The last round is a really long rally, so anything can happen. However, it won´t be enough if we win in Hyvinkää if Sebastian finishes second. I´m disappointed in our summer season, because it didn´t go that well, said Latvala who was second in Uusikaupunki.
Lindholm and Latvala were one and two in both overall standings and in Group A. Third in their group was Jarmo Mikkonen driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, who finished over 3 minutes behind the top two guys. Fourth was Heikki Westerlund and fifth Kari Ali-Rantala.
A Welcome Win for Jari Ketomaa
Winner in Group over 2000 cc was Jari Ketomaa who set fastest times on two stages, SS 6 and 7. In addition to the winning his group, the Mitsubishi Evo 9 driver was quick enough to finish third in the overall standings too.
- I´ve always dreaded this rally, it´s not one of my favourites, doesn´t suit me. But now this happened! Although we were aiming for a win from the get-go. Anton was really fast today though, said Ketomaa at the finish.
- Today was good, but there´s one long rally left. We have to finish at least second in the last round and have to go "flat out" to secure the title, he continued.
Second in Group N over 2000 cc was Anton Alén with his Subaru Impreza WRX. Alén set the fastest time on SS 5 and he was ultimately beaten by Ketomäki by a very small margin.
- It wasn´t quite enough. I´m a bit disappointed because we only lost by 3.6 seconds in the end. We made some mistakes, but Jari was just quicker today, said Alén.
Juho Hänninen finished third and set the fastest times on stages 2 and 8 along the way. On SS 2 he was even second quickest overall, with only Sebastian Lindholm in a WRC car being faster than him.
- It´s difficult to say anything about the last round at the moment. We have to come up with something to be able to challenge the other guys. It´s going to be tough, but we still have a shot at the championship. We just have to win in Hyvinkää - like it was our plan here too, Hänninen said.
Juha Salo was leading the championship before the rally in Uusikaupunki, but luck wasn´t on his side there. Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, like Ketomaa and Hänninen, the reigning champion Salo begun the day by being fastest on stages 1, 3 and 4, but then the problems started. He spun on stage 5 and hit a rock on stage 6. In the end Salo had to throw in the towel on the last stage due to a broken suspension arm. That leaves this year´s championship wide open as Ketomaa and Hänninen moved ahead of Salo in the overall standings.
Matti Rantanen´s Winning Streak Continues
As usual, it was extremely tight in Group N upto 2000 cc. Matti Rantanen ended up scoring his third consecutive win after setting fastest times on special stages 1, 3 and 4, but the differences were extremely small at the finish. Rantanen beat second-place-man Kalle Pinomäki by only 3.9 and Jarno Kinnunen, who finished third, by 12.6 seconds. Renault pilot Pinomäki was pushing hard towards the end and was quickest on stages 5, 6 and 7. A slight surprise was the fastest time on SS 2 set by Jani Hirvonen.
- Maybe we were trying a bit too much and were too careful of the stones on a couple of the last stages as Kalle was able to catch us. We broke a suspension arm on stage 5, but they were able to change that in service. I nearly made this day really difficult for myself. On stage 6 we were going flat out taking big risks. I´m glad that it ended like this, Rantanen said.
- In Hyvinkää we have to push really hard, he continued about the title battle.