After a long (northern hemisphere) spring break, the Finnish Rally Championship resumed last weekend for the Keski-Uusimaa SM-rally, the first gravel event for the 2008 season.
Jussi Valimaki, the 2005 APRC champion, headed into the rally second on points in the Group A category. But there had been plenty of change in the Valimaki camp over the break, with a new sponsorship deal from Hankook tyres, and Risto Pietiläinen slipping into the co-drivers seat. Long-time co-driver Jarkko Kalliolepo had agreed to partner Jukka Hiltunen for the remainder of the season, while Pietiläinen brought a wealth of experience, having spent many years in the WRC as co-driver to Harri Rovanperä.
Held near the city of Kerava, just noth of Helsinki, organisers were forced to drop one stage, making the round incredibly short with only 67kms of competitive rallying spread over seven stages.
That put plenty of pressure on all the crews, and after the first four stages, Valimaki was suffering with brake problems. However with his main Group-A rival, Ari Vihavainen, losing time with a puncture, Valimaki was able to control his pass for the rest of the event, 10th overall and just 3rd for Group-A, but earning enough points to vault him into the Group-A championhsip lead.
After the event Valimaki commented, “10th position overall does not make me smile. During the pre-rally tests I suffered a complete engine failure and a fire. The preparations for the rally didn’t go as planned…considering these facts, I strongly believe that (it) is an excellent result for us”.
“We suffered slight brake problems as I was worried about the stopping distance. I saw Championship leader Ari Vihavainen changing wheel on the stage and immediately I changed my strategy. We rally for a series of seven events; I decided to handle the fight for victory to Jarmo Mikkonen and Jukka Hiltunen. I focused on gaining the third position which put me into Championship lead again. We all had a stressful week. Fortunately it ended with good result”.
The series now has a short break before round 5 in mid-July. And that leaves only three more events for Valiamki’s Lancer Evo 8, the Group-A cars not eligible next year. “The homemade group-A cars can be put into the trash can. The next two rounds are known for their very fast paced sections, blind crests and high jumps. (Better suited to) World Rally Car than homemade Group-A car. Vihavainen is rallying on his home stages…we have to work hard work”.
Keski-Uusimaa SM-Rally Group-A
1. Jarmo Mikkonen & Hannu Ervasto, Peugeot 206 WRC, 34.13;5
2. Jukka Hiltunen & Jarkko Kalliolepo, Ford Focus WRC’03, +14,4sec
3. Jussi Välimäki & Risto Pietiläinen, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, +1.19,5sec
4. Arto Juolahti & Pasi Nurmi, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, +1.26,7sec
5. Timo Pulkkinen & Lasse Miettinen, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, +1.54,1sec
Finnish Championship Group-A Points:
1. Jussi Välimäki, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, 49 points
2. Ari Vihavainen, Ford Focus RS WRC’01, 47 points
3. Arto Juolahti, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, 32 points
4. Janne Tuohino, Subaru Impreza WRC’03, 25 points
5. Timo Pulkkinen, Subaru Impreza WRX Sti, 25 points