Prokop flies to J-WRC win in Finland
Czech driver Martin Prokop and co-driver Jan Tománek finally took their first win of the season, the third of their J-WRC career in their Citroën C2, on Neste Oil Rally Finland, the fourth round of the 2008 FIA Junior World Rally Championship after another closely-fought battle with Michal Kosciuszko (POL, Suzuki). Patrik Sandell (S), who closed his gap to the leader from 48.4sec gap overnight to just 17.5 seconds, brought his Renault Clio home in second ahead of Polish driver Kosciuszko, who finally took third. Kosciuszko closes the gap in the J-WRC standings to just two points to Championship leader Sébastien Ogier (F, Citroën), who chose not to nominate the rally as a points-scoring round. Shaun Gallagher (IRL, Citroën) lies just two points adrift of Kosciuszko in third.

This rally was really a two-man battle for the better part between Prokop and Kosciuszko who were almost in a league of their own as they traded stage wins and seconds. Patrik Sandell was hot on their heels throughout however, stealing some stage wins en route, but he just couldn’t match the pace of the lead duo enough to dislodge them and he held third from the start line. That was until the Polish driver made a mistake whilst leading, went off the road in SS20 and the 1min 57.9secs it took him to rejoin gave Prokop and Sandell a decisive advantage. Kosciuszko fought back but, unable to make up the lost time, settled for third.

Amazingly, Jaan Mölder (EE, Suzuki) who started the rally with a two-week old broken ankle from a skydiving accident, held fourth for the first two days. The Estonian seemed undeterred as it was ‘only his throttle foot’ and was more concerned that it had prevented any fitness training since his accident. But an off-road excursion on SS20 stopped him in his tracks, relinquishing fourth to Aaron Burkart (D, Citroën). The German driver had a shaky start, unhappy with his stage times, and gearbox and clutch woes caused problems on day two but he stayed put once in fourth and was happy to take the five points, keeping his Championship hopes alive.

Shaun Gallagher (IRL, Citroën) found day one difficult as he lacked confidence and couldn’t find a rhythm. But day two was a different story as more confidence meant he could attack more. He had a small off-road moment on SS12 which cost 10 seconds but he dominated fifth position for the day, having a private battle with Burkart. Going off-road in SS20 cost him four minutes but he continued trouble-free to finish fifth, also still keeping his Championship hopes alive.

The J-WRC’s youngest competitor Kevin Abbring (NL, Renault) enjoyed the rally, driving with an aim to finish to gain experience. He made a cautious start and was able to pick up his speed on the second loops of stages but an off-road excursion bent his steering on SS12 which meant he dropped time on the following stages, costing about a minute in total. A slow puncture five kilometres before the finish of SS18 cost another 40 seconds. But the Dutch 19-year-old was ecstatic to score his first J-WRC points for sixth. He also scored maximum points as first finishing ASN driver for the Dutch KNAF which now trails the French FFSA by only four points.

Gilles Schammel (LUX, Renault) drove safely on day one to stay on the road but struggled a little with confidence and couldn’t find a rhythm. A broken gearbox mount on SS13 made life difficult. The problem was solved in service but powershift and brake problems affected him later. A puncture on SS22 made progress difficult on the final day and he held position to finish seventh.

After rolling out of the rally last year, Hans Weijs Jr. (NL, Citroën) wanted to keep the car on the road. A heavy landing loosened the radiator on SS5 and his first day didn’t get any better as a failed intercom caused problems on SS10. He went off the road on the first stage of day two bending the steering and taking on board a puncture, which cost three minutes to change and he had clutch problems for the last group of stages of the day. But he took the last point for eighth, scored maximum points for the first finishing Rookie driver and added eight points to the ASN total for KNAF Talent First Team Holland.

On the fourth WRC event of his career, Florian Niegel’s (D, Suzuki) enjoyed his first Finnish rally and ran trouble-free throughout. Driving a Group N2 car, and leading the class for much of the rally, he struggled with a lack of power against his J-WRC colleagues, but he finished a respectable ninth, also scoring eight points for the Rookie standings.

Simone Bertolotti (I, Renault) found day one very difficult as he didn’t have confidence in his pace notes and he had two spins on SS10, which cost 30 seconds. The Italian was happy gaining experience until he rolled on SS12 which stopped him for the day. He ran trouble-free for the final day to finish 10th.

After his big accident in Sardinia, Milos Komljenovic (SCG, Renault) had to overcome a fear of all the crests for which Finland is renowned as he spent the first day slowing down for all of them. Then as his confidence grew, he broke a suspension arm on SS12 which stopped him for the second day, but he restarted to finish 11th, despite driving with a broken steering arm for the final group of stages.

Francesco Fanari’s (I) rally didn’t start well as a broken driveshaft on the opening Killeri superspecial jump eventually resulted in a broken gearbox which was changed Friday morning but they could not restart as the engine had gone on to three cylinders. But he enjoyed his two days of competition, running without any problems, to finish in 12th. He also keeps hold of the lead of the Rookie standings with his result.

On his third J-WRC event, Stefano Albertini (I, Renault) got stuck behind another competitor on SS4 which cost some time. He pulled over to allow a fellow J-WRC competitor past on SS5 after stopping to change a puncture, but was unable to rejoin the road afterwards, cutting short his day of competition. He struggled with set-up early on day two and he was unfortunately sidelined again with damaged steering on SS18. But he eventually finished his first outing in Finland troublefree in 13th.

While Alessandro Bettega (I, Renault) spent much of the event in fifth, the afternoon of day one posed problems as a broken oil sump made handling difficult, but the final group of stages were better once it was changed. Sadly the rocks caused another broken oil sump on SS14 which forced the Italian’s retirement.

Kalle Pinomäki (FIN, Suzuki), who was entered into the event by the organisers as a Guest Driver, was unable to match his second place of last year as his event was troubled. An engine starter problem plagued him through day one but he was lying in fifth on SS5 when a front left puncture pulled him down the order. He had a small roll on SS12 but a broken gearbox on SS14 after hitting a rock ultimately caused his retirement.

Andrea Cortinovis (I, Renault) did not start the event after his driving license was taken by the local police for speeding on the road section during the reconnaissance.

J-WRC leader Ogier, who chose not to nominate this event to score points, drove it for experience but in a Citroën C2-R2 rather than is his usual C2 S1600. The Frenchman finished 36th overall and to compare his result with his other J-WRC colleagues, he finished just behind Schammel.

1st – Martin Prokop, Citroën C2 S1600:
“Today was not so hard but Patrik [Sandell] was trying to put pressure on us. For me it is very important to win here as we have been quite unlucky in the first half of the season. And after our crash here last year, this is wonderful! We made no mistakes and the battle with Kosciuszko was great.”

2nd – Patrik Sandell, Renault Clio R3:
“We tried to put pressure on Martin [Prokop] today but it was not enough. The gap was too big and the last stage too short. We came to Finland to win but after everything that has happened – going in the ditch yesterday and the dust - I’m quite happy with the result as we had some problems at the beginning of the year so everything is starting working and the team-work is better, so I’m happy.”

3rd – Michal Kosciuszko, Suzuki Swift S1600:
“It’s a little bit disappointing but it’s normal when you are fighting so close to make a mistake. Six points are not bad and I think I have shown my potential – I’m really happy with my speed here. It will be a tough end to the season but tarmac should be good for me. I think I can still win the Championship and I will fight for it.”

Back To News
Ypres 2008 Finland 2008 Finland 2008 Finland 2008