Hanninen takes Swedish P–WRC victory
Finnish driver Juho Hanninen and co–driver Mikko Markkula (Mitsubishi) drove a confident rally to score their first P–WRC victory on the opening round of the 2008 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Uddeholm Swedish Rally. The duo also equalled their best result to date by finishing eighth overall and taking a WRC driver point. Fellow countryman Jari Ketomaa (FIN) brought his Subaru home in second on his debut P–WRC outing, albeit 1min 23.2secs adrift, followed by Patrik Sandell (S, Peugeot) who snatched the final podium spot from Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) on the last stage.

Reigning Finnish Rally Champion Ketomaa set the pace from the outset holding the lead for the first three stages proper on day one but he was soon challenged by local lad Sandell whose three consecutive stage wins from SS3 saw him open up a 16–second lead. On its debut full–time appearance in the P–WRC, the Peugeot 207 S2000 made a fantastic start to its season in the hands of 2006 J–WRC Champion Sandell and although the Swede commented that while making in–roads on the times of the Group N cars on the straights was hard, he believes the 207 is faster on the twisty sections.

Hanninen soon stepped up to chase Sandell’s tail from SS6 and after a brief time in third for Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) (SS7 and SS8), Ketomaa settled into the final podium spot. Sadly for Sandell, five kilometers into SS11 he slid wide into a snow bank and it took two and a half minutes for spectators to help him back to the road and for him to clear his radiator of snow before he could get going again, losing the lead and dropping to fourth. The Swede fought hard with Prokop on the final day eating up a deficit of 14.2 seconds and the Czech driver went into the final stage with only a 1.2sec advantage, only for Sandell to come out 11.2 seconds ahead. Sandell also wins the P–WRC Sprinter Standings for the rally.

Aware of the beneficial experience of Scandinavians on this event, Uwe Nittel (D, Mitsubishi) drove his own rally and stayed out of trouble. Having contested the rally three times before, the last time of which he finished seventh overall in the Lancer WRC, his experience paid off and he eased off the throttle on the stages that were a bit more tricky, to finish fifth.

One of the four P–WRC drivers to drive the all–new Impreza, Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) held back a little on day one as he struggled to find a rhythm. He still couldn’t put his finger on what wasn’t feeling right on the second day and spun on SS11 causing a front right puncture six kilometres before the end which cost him over half a minute. Things improved by the final day and the reigning P–WRC Champion took three points for sixth. He now hopes to spend time testing in Japan before Argentina.

Armindo Araujo (P, Mitsubishi) took no risks on day one and even though the car felt good, he didn’t have a good feeling with his own driving. But a new car, new team and new engineer for the season took some adjusting to and the Portuguese drove with points in mind, to eventually take two points for seventh, despite dropping time with centre differential problems on the final day.

On only his second WRC event, Bernardo Sousa (P, Mitsubishi) set out to gain experience and to reach the finish, but he had a couple of spins on SS6 and SS7, losing 20 seconds on the latter. Then a slow roll onto his roof, six kilometres into SS10, caused by pace notes that were too fast, saw him lose one and half minutes while spectators helped right the car, and his progress was hindered by a cracked and muddy windscreen and no brakes. He spent the final day fighting to keep Campedelli behind him to take the final point for eighth.

Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) worked on building his confidence on the first day driving at about 80%. He went off the road on SS7 at a hairpin and dropped two minutes while spectators helped back on to the road, only to stall at the start of the following stage, dropping another 20 seconds but, like Sousa, he battled for eighth and was finally pipped at the post by the Portuguese.

The P–WRC’s first Indonesian competitor Subhan Aksa (IDN, Mitsubishi) wanted to take experience away from this rally but it took some time for him to get used to the weather conditions. He started to build up his speed through the first day but a spin and gearbox problem on SS5 set him back a little. He also hit a snow bank later in the day and another on SS11 on day two. Happier once the snow had started to melt, he fought to stay ahead of Jussi Tiippana (FIN, Subaru) on the final day, to finish in a very credible 10th.

On his debut WRC rally, Tiippana had actually only covered 50 kilometres in a four wheel–drive car prior to the event. On SS4 he had a spin about eight kilometres into the stage, stalled and lost about a minute in the process. But the 19–yearold’s aim was to gain experience and he brought his Subaru to the finish in 11th place.

Fabio Frisiero (I, Mitsubishi) had no problems throughout but having not contested a rally since New Zealand last year, he felt a little rusty and he eventually finished 12th.

Evgeny Aksakov (RUS, Mitsubishi) had no problems although having grown up in the snow, he said his only real problem was that there wasn’t any! He did however go off the road on SS9 when he lost three minutes but he continued to finish in 13th position.

Andreas Aigner (A, Mitsubishi) started well, holding fifth through most of the first day and he was happy to be so close to the pace of the Scandinavian P–WRC drivers. But his luck changed on day two as he went off the road only two kilometres before the end of SS10 and lost 18 minutes as spectators helped him rejoin; he also had to change a broken wheel. Annoyed with his mistake, he got back on a charge to win the final stage of day two but a spin in SS17 on Sunday saw him drop another 40 seconds before finishing 14th.

Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Mitsubishi) had an unfortunate opening day as a problem at refuel resulted in him running out of fuel in the middle of SS4. The young Norwegian picked up his pace on day two despite managing some understeering but he was frustrated that he couldn’t match the times of the likes of Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru). He eventually finished 15th.

Entered into the rally by the organisers, Flodin started well reaching third at best by SS7, despite a spin on the first corner of the first stage proper on day one. Unfortunately he went off the road on SS9 when he lost his front bumper and hitting a snow bank on SS11 saw his radiator clog up with snow, sidelining him for the day. He fought back on the final day, winning SS16, to eventually finish in 16th.

Stefano Marrini (I, Mitsubishi) drove the first day with a broken gearbox and complained of a lack of engine power throughout the rally, to finish 17th.

Evgeniy Vertunov’s (RUS, Subaru) new Impreza was built in one day not long before the rally start so it was quite unfamiliar to him from the outset. He had a front right puncture on SS4 which he drove on for seven kilometres, costing a minute, but the biggest difficulty for him was the suspension settings which he plans to work on during the upcoming weeks. Unfortunately an excursion into a snow bank on SS11 saw his rally come to an end.

Also entered into the event by the organisers, 2007 P–WRC Sweden winner Oscar Svedlund (S, Subaru) had a small offroad excursion in SS3 but engine problems on SS7 made life a little difficult as he was down on power for a few stages. Then the engine started misfiring on SS9 and on SS10 he slipped off the road mid–stage and, like many, he relied on spectators to right his car. To prevent further damage he retired at the end of day two.

Gianluca Linari (I, Subaru) struggled with a fever for most of the rally but despite running trouble–free for the duration, he finally retired with a broken suspension after hitting a snow bank on the penultimate stage.

Nasser Al–Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) also struggled a bit with confidence in the new Impreza on a surface that is not his favourite. Top speed on the fast straights was a challenge but the handling in the twisty sections was far improved from the previous model and the Qatari ran trouble–free until the final stage of the event when a spin saw him beached on a snow bank and unable to continue. In complete contrast to this weekend’s snowy conditions, he now heads to the sand dunes for the Saudi Arabian round of the FIA European Cup for Cross Country Bajas, Hail Saudi Baja.

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Sebastien Loeb (F), Dani Sordo (E), Gigi Galli (I) and Xevi Pons (E), former JWRC and P–WRC driver Jari–Matti Latvala (FIN, Ford) took his maiden WRC victory, entering the record books as the youngest driver to do so.

1st – Juho Hanninen, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
"I’m happy with the result. I took the speed off today as we had quite a big gap and there were big rocks so I wanted to avoid a puncture. It’s been a long day but after what happened last year I’m not celebrating until after scrutineering! After last year’s disappointment this is a really good start to the season."

2nd – Jari Ketomaa, Subaru Impreza:
"I would like to have won here but I am very happy with second on my first P–WRC rally. WRC rallies are much longer than I am used to – probably three times the length of rallies in the Finnish championship – so I’m learning how to take care of everything better to make it last longer."

3rd – Patrik Sandell, Peugeot 207 S2000:
"I am so happy that this feels like a victory! Emil [Axelsson] and I were talking about all of our good rallies and this feels better than all the others. The car is fantastic and even though we are missing a little power at the top end we will have the 2008 engine for Argentina so I’m looking forward to seeing how much better it is then. When we started here we hoped for a top three finish which we achieved but we never thought we would also be fighting for a win so that was a bonus. This is more than Peugeot Sweden and France could have hoped for."

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