Hänninen clinches P-WRC home victory in Finland
Local driver Juho Hänninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula (Mitsubishi) scored their second victory of the season on the fifth round of the 2008 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Neste Oil Rally Finland. Patrik Flodin (S) finished a distant 2mins 30.2secs adrift in his Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX in second, and the final podium spot went to local Guest Driver Jussi Välimäki, also in a Mitsubishi. Hänninen’s victory sees him reduce his deficit to Andreas Aigner (A, Mitsubishi) to just eight points in the P-WRC standings, two points ahead of Jari Ketomaa (FIN, Subaru).

While Hänninen set the opening pace, guest driver Juha Salo (Mitsubishi) soon left his fellow P-WRC competitors in awe as he confidently took control of the P-WRC by SS3 and followed by winning most of the day’s stages. Trading stage wins with Hänninen, he increased his lead to 18 seconds before an off-road excursion 14km into SS16 truncated his event. With his main Championship rival Aigner lying so far ahead in the Championship standings, Hänninen needed to make the most of Salo’s misfortune to renew his position in the P-WRC and he protected his spot to the end to claim maximum points.

While Flodin fought hard for and dominated third for the first half of the rally he was promoted, behind Hänninen, to second half way through day two. But the Swede, on only his second P-WRC outing this season, was pushing to such an extent that by the end of the day his exhaustion was apparent. Revived for the final day, he drove carefully to hold onto second.

Finnish Rally Championship leader Valimäki, who was awarded a Guest entry for this event, struggled to find a rhythm at the start but things soon improved. Despite missing a junction on SS9 and a broken differential on SS10, he held fifth position by the end of the first day. Day two was difficult as Valimäki injured his ribs after an awkward landing which caused him pain on the many jumps that characterise this rally. But he kept his head together and benefitted from others misfortunes, moving up to third by SS16, where he stayed.

Considering his high expectations on his home event, Ketomaa suffered a slightly frustrating rally. Second in the P-WRC standings coming into the event, he tweaked his Impreza’s suspension through the first day but was unable to make a dent on the times of the lead Mitsubishis. His inability to match the times of Salo and Hänninen left him resigned to chasing third, until disaster struck on SS16 when he rolled mid-stage. It took four minutes to regain the road but the car bodywork was so damaged it was amazing he could continue. And he did so in style, clocking a stage win before the end of the day, and another two on day three which pulled him into fourth to score a welcomed five points.

Driving for the Autotek team, Oscar Svedlund (S, Subaru) broke the rear left suspension after a heavy landing on SS3 and had problems with set-up and brakes during the first day, and he held overnight in ninth. With more trust in his car, things looked up on day two as he worked his way up to fourth, despite a scary moment in SS21 when he narrowly avoided a roll. A blinding stage time by Ketomaa early on day three saw the Finn pass Svedlund, leaving the Swede for fifth.

On his debut outing in Finland, Fumio Nutahara (J, Mitsubishi) wanted to take it easily enough to learn the roads and the speed to approach the jumps before he started pushing too much. He had a couple of spins in SS10 which cost 20 seconds and an engine worry after the end of SS21. But he kept his head, thoroughly enjoyed his event and his sixthplace finish was the best of the non-Scandinavians – always an achievement in Finland where Scandinavians rule. Jussi Tiippana (FIN, Subaru) was driving for Subaru Rally Team USA entry – the team behind drivers Travis Pastrana (USA) and Ken Block (USA) – while the Americans competed in the X-Games with former P-WRC champ Niall McShea. The Finn made a slow start to the rally complaining he was ‘driving like my grandmother’ although he started to enjoy the second day more. He had a small off-road moment in SS13 losing 10 seconds and Nutahara passed him on SS22 leaving him to seventh but he succeeded in finishing problem-free, taking two points for seventh.

Evgeny Aksakov (RUS, Mitsubishi) had a relatively trouble-free event although he dropped two and a half minutes on SS5 with a spin. But on his first time in Finland he took an easy approach, steadily improving, to take the last available point for eighth.

Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) started steadily but soon picked up his pace, enjoying every stage on his first time in Finland. For most of the event he ran as the top non-Scandinavian, reaching fourth at best by SS16 and was over the moon that he won SS18. But a roll on SS19 soon pulled him down the order and the spirited Italian eventually finished in ninth.

Fabio Frisiero (I, Mitsubishi) had a good start to the rally, remembering that his only other time in Finland in 2006 saw him roll. He claimed that the stages were too difficult for him but their beauty made it worthwhile! He was happy to finish in 10th.

Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Mitsubishi) struggled with confidence on day one which his times reflected so he drove to gain experience in a field of so many experienced Scandinavians. Unfortunately a gearbox problem from SS14 made life difficult but he stayed out of trouble to bring his Lancer home in 11th.

Giovanni Manfrinato (I, Mitsubishi) had a spin on SS4 and was stuck for one minute. Things improved but he lost the use of his brakes in SS10 which saw him go off the road again momentarily. But he lost a wheel on SS12 as a result of broken wheel studs which stopped him for the day and he restarted day three to finish in 12th.

Teemu Arminen (FIN, Subaru) struggled a little on day one and a small off-road excursion on SS12 and a missed junction on SS14 cost him some time. Things improved later on day two but the car’s engine control unit went into safety mode on SS16 so he had to switch the car off and restart to get going again which cost a minute. He was then stuck in the dust of Ketomaa ahead after Ketomaa’s accident. Unfortunately an accident for Arminen before the end of SS20 caused too much damage to continue.

Driving for the Gaboko Rally Team, Tapio Suominen (FIN, Mitsubishi) enjoyed a good first day but a broken steering arm on SS12 saw him sidelined from the event.

On his third P-WRC rally, Indian competitor Naren Kumar (Subaru) found the first day difficult but enjoyed driving the stages. He had a spin on SS5 but engine woes just metres before the end of SS10 forced him to retire.

Evgeniy Vertunov (RUS, Subaru) overshot a junction on SS2 but things improved for the rest of the group of tests. Stages six and seven saw him overshoot three corners but his difficult day worsened on SS8 when engine problems sidelined the Russian from the event.

Subhan Aksa (RI, Mitsubishi) didn’t have a good feeling with the car on day one on his first time on Finnish roads and an off-road excursion 10 kilometres into SS8 unfortunately resulted in too much damage to continue.

Current P-WRC leader Andreas Aigner (A, Mitsubishi) chose not to nominate this event but contested the event for experience. Unfortunately he went off the road on SS7, into retirement. Aigner’s Portuguese Red Bull Rally Team-mate Bernardo Sousa (Mitsubishi) was also entered as a privateer but a recently aggravated old shoulder injury prevented the youngster from travelling to Finland and he faces a race against time to get fit for the next P-WRC round in New Zealand in four weeks time.

1st – Juho Hänninen, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“This is a very important result. We needed these 10 points to keep our Championship hopes alive. We had a very good rally with Juha [Salo] on Friday and Saturday morning which was really enjoyable. After his mistake it was difficult to keep a rhythm without losing too much time or taking risks. I look forward to New Zealand as I like it very much so I think it’s possible to score some good points there.”

2nd – Patrik Flodin, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“I’m really happy. It’s been a perfect weekend and our speed was really close to Hanninen and Salo. Yesterday, after Ketomaa went off, I slowed down a bit as I didn’t feel the pressure any more. I only had one scary moment on stage two when I almost went off. But it’s so nice as it was a long time ago, almost one year, since we have had a good result in WRC.”

3rd – Jussi Valimäki, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“It was a really difficult rally and yesterday was a terrible day with a broken rib. This morning the doctor taped my chest so it was much better. I think this was the best result possible considering all things, and also that my last WRC rally was Finland in 2006.”

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