Katajamäki Successfully Defends Arctic Victory with a Group N Car
The season-opening Arctic Lapland Rally was driven in Rovaniemi on 26 - 27 January. The overall two-day competition was won by Marcus Grönholm´s protégée Kosti Katajamäki, who beat even the WRC cars of Group A with his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Katajamäki, Group A Finnish Champion from 2005, won the rally last year with a Ford Focus WRC.
Arctic Lapland Rally also hosts the first two rounds of the Finnish Rally Championship 2007. In Group A the winners were Jarmo Mikkonen on Friday and Juha Vuorela on Saturday, in Group N over 2000 cc Kosti Katajamäki and Jari Ketomaa respectively and in Group N up to 2000 cc the highest points were scored by Jarkko Nikara and Joonas Lindroos.
Mikkonen and Vuorela Win the Opening Rounds in Group A
In Group A Jarmo Mikkonen, driving a Ford Focus WRC was fastest on day 1, i.e. the first round of this year´s Finnish Rally Championship. To everyone´s great surprise Ioannis Papdimitriou of Greece, also in a Ford Focus WRC, was leading the group after five special stages, but Mikkonen set fastest times on stages 4 and six and ended up winning the first round. Jussi Välimäki, the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship 2005 winner, was a solid second with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 and Papadimitriou eventually had to settle for third place.
On Saturday Mikkonen started by setting the fastest time on the first stage, but then had a huge off on the second stage and he lost nearly 1.5 hours digging the car out of the snow bank. Jussi Välimäki took the lead, but his car developed technical problems on the fifth stage of the day and the Mitsubishi driver was forced to join Mikkonen on the Retirements list. The lead was inherited by Juha Vuorela who kept his position until the end of the second round of this year´s championship. Kai Eklund with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 finished second in Group A and third was Kari Ali-Rantala driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7.
After two rounds of the Finnish Rally Championship Juha Vuorela is in the lead with 17 points.
Katajamäki and Ketomaa Victorious in Group N over 2000 cc
The reigning Finnish Champion Jari Ketomaa started the new season with a bang. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 driver was fastest of all (including Groups A and N up to 2000 cc) on the very first stage of Arctic Lapland Rally 2007. On the two following stages the fastest times of the group were set by Juha Salo, Ketomaa´s team-mate, and Teemu Arminen driving a Subaru Impreza WRX. Ketomaa was fastest again on SS4, but Kosti Katajamäki took the lead in both Group N and the overall competition.
Katajamäki fought a tight battle against second generation rally driver Anton Alén but held his position throughout the rest of Friday´s stages and scored the highest championship points in the group from the first round of the season. Katajamäki also held the lead of the overall competition after the first day of running, ahead of the WRC cars of group A. Anton Alén is not entered in the championship, so the second highest points from the first round went to Juha Salo and third highest points to Jukka Ketomäki. Jari Ketomaa had an off on SS5 and lost 15 minutes in getting his car back on the road. Ketomaa ended up retiring after the last stage of the day.
On Saturday morning Juha Salo was wide-awake and set the fastest time on the first stage. Jari Ketomaa who retired on Friday could no longer compete for the overall victory of the two-day Arctic Lapland Rally, but was driving for the win of the second round of the Finnish Rally Championship. And he did very well too. Ketomaa was fastest on the second stage of the day, and after Salo lost nearly 47 seconds to Katajamäki´s fastest time on the third stage Ketomaa took the lead and did not relinquish it. Jukka Ketomäki was second and Juha Salo ended up on third place in the second rally of the 2007 Championship.
Katajamäki, the winner of round 1, was fourth fastest in Group N over 2000 cc in the second round. However, Katajamäki won the overall two-day Arctic Lapland Rally ahead of Subaru driver Anton Alén, who was in the lead before the final stage of the rally. Juha Salo was third in the overall competition and the best Group A finisher was Kai Eklund with his fifth place.
After two rounds of the Finnish Rally Championship Kosti Katajamäki is in the lead with 18.5 points.
Nikara and Lindroos Dominant in Group N up to 2000 cc
Jarkko Nikara, the reigning Junior Finnish Champion, moved into the "big boys league" this year and made a strong entrance by setting fastest times on four of Friday´s six special stages. He won the first Group N up to 2000 cc round of the season by 34 seconds before second-place-man Joonas Lindroos, who was fastest on stages 4 and 6. Third was Ailu Magga with a solid performance in his hometown rally. Fourth was Ville Hautamäki, and the best non-Honda driver was Petri Vuorenmaa who finished fifth with his Renault Clio Sport.
Day 2, and the second round of this season´s championship, begun with Jarkko Nikara continuing his good pace from the previous day. Nikara set the fastest time on the opening stage and kept his lead, even though Ailu Magga was fastest on the second and Joonas Lindroos on the third stage. Then, on Saturday´s 30 kilometres long fourth stage, Nikara ran into car trouble (oil leakage) and was forced to retire.
Joonas Lindroos took the lead and went on to win this second championship round. Ville Hautamäki drove a solid rally and was rewarded by second highest championship points. Ailu Magga finished third. All of the top three finishers relied on Honda Civic Type R´s.
After two rounds of the Finnish Rally Championship Joonas Lindroos is in the lead with 22 points.
TahkoSpa Ralli, the next round of the Finnish Rally Championship takes place in Nilsiä near Kuopio on 17 February 2007.