Lindholm Wins 8th Title
Finnsco-ralli, the final round of the 2006 season of the Finnish Rally Championship took place in Hyvinkää on 30 September - 1 October. In Group A Sebastian Lindholm had more or less secured the title - basically, he needed to finish. Only Jarmo Mikkonen had a slight chance to win it, but only if Lindholm retired or finished ninth or lower. Lindholm however continued on his good and solid pace setting fastest times throughout the second day of the two-day season finale.
- This feels good. It was our goal to win the title and we have now achieved that. We were unable to compete in the Arctic Lapland Rally, so we were "playing catch-up" and had to do well in the rest of the rallies this season. Our team was good, the car too, and we hardly made any mistakes ourselves either, Lindholm summed up.
- This rally was a bit difficult since we had to finish and couldn´t drive too fast, he continued.
- For two days our goal was just to finish and it is hard for a driver to drive like that. Your concentration isn´t quite a 100 per cent, because you´re not pushing for a win, but you can´t slip up either, co-driver Tomi Tuominen added.
Special stage 14 brought bad news for Jarmo Mikkonen. A technical problem forced him to retire at the stage start and his "almost secure" second place finish in this year´s Championship became a fourth place. And one man´s misfortune is another man´s fortune: as Jarmo Mikkonen was forced to retire Jari-Matti Latvala, who did not take part in the season´s final rally, ended up second in the final standings.
Also due to Mikkonen´s retirement Kari Ali-Rantala became third in his home-town rally and ended up third in the Championship, just ahead of the unlucky Mikkonen. Second in the Finnsco-ralli was the reigning Finnish rally sprint champion Tomi Hallia, who is not entered in the rally championship.
Ali-Rantala was naturally pleased about his "surprise" 3rd place in the championship:
- I have been competing for 21 years and this is the first time I finish the season being in the top three in the final standings! And with a non-WRC car. Our goal was to be consistent and finish every rally this season and see how far that would take us. It was great to do well in my home-town rally, but I didn´t have any advantage because this rally has been run on the same roads for so long that they are familiar to everybody.
In Group N over 2000 cc the second day got to a dramatic start when Juha Salo, who was in the lead after Saturday´s leg was forced to retire after the rear end of his car slid into ditch on SS10, the first stage of the day. A stone lurking at the bottom of the ditch broke the suspension on the left rear-wheel and the reigning Champion had to throw in the towel and settle for third place in this year´s championship.
Thus the battle for 2006 crown continued between Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 drivers Jari Ketomaa and Juho Hänninen. Hänninen was in a situation where he had to win, for Ketomaa it was enough to finish fourth. Naturally, Hänninen set out to drive for victory and he was fastest on all of Sunday´s stages. However, Ketomaa hold on to second place throughout the day, even though he himself admitted that he wasn´t going totally "flat out" in order to secure at least the required 4th place.
Juho Hänninen drove a great rally and was rewarded by his first Finnish Rally Championship round win of the season. However, when it come to the title he found his "winning streak" a little bit too late and Ketomaa, who finished second in the Finnsco-ralli, got to celebrate the first ever Finnish Championship title of his career. Ketomaa switched this year from Subaru to Mitsubishi and won three rallies this season.
- This feels great! Right now I can´t remember how many seasons we´ve have been trying to achieve this, it´s been so long. This year we were in the top three in every rally that we finished, and we scored three wins. There was only one retirement. We were lucky too, but you need a bit of luck to become champion. On Saturday, on SS4, we came close to loosing the title. This morning we set out to drive so that nothing breaks, said the overjoyed new champion.
- Well, the first win of the season was bound to come, but it wasn´t quite enough. We were having a good battle with Salo and I was able to push him into making a mistake. I guess he´s human after all, Hänninen joked and continued:
- It was a bit hard to decide how to drive today after Juha retired, but we ended up setting some good times.
Third fastest in the Finnsco-ralli was Jarkko Miettinen, who is not enterd in the championship. Thus the third highest points went to Subaru driver Teemu Laatunen, who was fourth in Hyvinkää.
Matti Rantanen Champion of Group N upto 2000 cc
In this group it was really tight prior to the season finale and altogether six drivers had a shot at the title. This group of contenders however diminished even before the start of the rally as Joni Nikko had to withdraw his entry. Ailu Magga retired on Saturday due to a technical problem after SS 5, and Joonas Lindroos who was in the lead after the first day had his title and medal hopes crushed by transmission problems that occurred between stages 11 and 12.
Matti Rantanen who had won all the rounds this summer wrapped up this season with a victory in Hyvinkää too. Rantanen driving a Honda Civic Type-R crowned everything by taking home the title in Group N upto 2000 cc, which is well-known for its high level of competition.
- We had an unbelievably good, perfect summer. That´s all I can say. Today started pretty hard, but then it became easier when we heard that Ville had closed in on us by 7 seconds on the first stage. That was a wake-up call and we found the same good rhythm we had last night. We had to improve our own performance or otherwise Ville would have caught us up. Our aim, after the poor winter half of the season, was to be in the top three in the rest of the rounds. And it worked well - actually, we were in the lead in each rally, at least at some point, Rantanen said laughing after securing the win and the title.
Posing a biggest threat to Rantanen championship-wise was Ville Hautamäki who ended up finishing third in Hyvinkää and had to settle for silver for the second time in a row. Hautamäki was not overly thrilled about that right after the finish:
- On SS 11 we nearly hit a cliff and we twisted the suspension arms. After service we tried to attack again and ended up taking a detour via a field. It´s fun when you´re having a tight battle with somebody - although it´s not so fun when you´re the one who eventually loses! We lost the title in Valkeakoski where we totally wrecked the car, Hautamäki fretted. However he did find "a silver lining" in the silver medal. - Every year that we have competed we have gotten a medal.
Second in Finnsco-ralli was the second generation rally driver Vesa Mikkola, thanks to a good performance.
- This was our first podium in the Finnish Rally Championship. The entire rally went well. Our speed has been good before, but now everything worked till the end, said the pleased Mikkola.
Jarno Kinnunen, who finished fourth in Hyvinkää secured a third place in the championship standings.
2006 Championship standings.