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GP Week : Issue 45
5 Minutes with ... Mika Kallio After two strong 250 seasons, the Finn has raised eyebrows with his strong MotoGP debut with Ducati. He spoke with MICHAEL SCOTT Finland has a huge motorsport reputation – but, rather surprisingly, not much of it on two wheels. Apart from Jarno Saarinen, already hailed as a racing genius when his career was cut short by the notorious fatal crash at Monza in 1973, there has only been a handful of high-level Finnish racers. Mika Kallio, born nine years later, has plans for at least one more. After five years of increasingly close challenges in the 125 class and two more on a KTM 250, he’s moved up to MotoGP on a satellite Pramac Ducati – and straight away started overtaking established riders to score strong top-ten finishes in the opening two rounds. He’d already placed sixth in pre- season Jerez tests, and has adapted to the Italian bike better than new factory rider Nicky Hayden, a former World Champion. Small, blond, and speaking with that stereotypically Finnish monotone so familiar from generations of Finnish rally and racing drivers, Kallio is likewise betrayed by a frequent wry smile. He’s definitely having fun … GPWEEK: Have you been surprised adapting so quickly to MotoGP from the smaller classes? MIKA KALLIO: I wanted to be in the top 10 in the first two races – so it was a good start. But I also looked at Lorenzo and Dovizioso, and in their first year in MotoGP immediately they were good. When I was fighting with them in 125 and 250 I would beat them sometimes. Of course it’s still just a motorbike. Normally, I think if you are good in one class, then for sure you have – you know how to ride a bike. MotoGP is different, but the throttle is there and the brake is there, and you just need to find a different style. A different style in what way? Like always when you change to a bigger and heavier bike you need to ride more sharp (ie: acute) lines. You are a little bit slower in the corner, then you need to understand how to accelerate out as soon as possible. For 125 and 250 it was 20 more important to keep the speed in the corner and be smooth. With this bike it’s completely different. It’s more important how you open the throttle. Physically, some might think you’re more of a 250 rider. How heavy are you, and is being relatively small an advantage? My weight is 58 kg. Of course in the smaller classes it was better that I was light. In this class for sure for acceleration and braking it’s better to be lighter, but many places when you need to change direction really fast, and when you are light you don’t have so much power. Also if you are taller you have more … how you say, torque. Some places you win and some places you lose. Why are you a racer? (Quiet smile): Why am I racer? My dad was a racer (he was Finnish 125 champion) and when I was young I was always watching the races and in the paddock. Always I was interested about racing. My first race was in 1997 in 125, in Finland; then I raced for three years in Finland, and then I jumped to the Nordic championship. Went to Europe in 2000 – that’s it. Did you start out with road-racing? No. In 1997 in winter-time I start in – we call it ice-road-racing. We use motocross bikes, a little bit modified. It’s something we do just in Finland. With spiked tyres – not like ice speedway, with really long spikes, but seven or nine mm. And the tracks have corners … like motocross, except it’s flat without jumps because it is on a lake. Some people think the Finnish are a bit crazy … at least the way they drive and race. Is it true? I don’t know if we are crazy or not. I think we are more or less the same as everyone else, but we are more quiet, and a bit different. A little bit – we don’t want to talk so much, and like this we are a little bit on the side, compared with other people. But we do have many good motorsport So you’ve never done a day’s work in your life. No, no. I stopped school when I was 15, in 1998, and went to where my dad was working as a crane operator, for two years. Just for money, so I could buy some pistons or whatever. In 2000 when I started racing in Europe I stopped work because I had no time. Do you feel the lucky guy to be where you are? Yes, of course I am lucky, but my feeling is we deserve it, because we were working really hard when I started racing. In my family there was not any money, so we were repairing bikes for other riders, making engines for a lot of people, and made complete bikes for racing, to make money so we could race also. This work was 24 hours all the time, and we also had a job. In that time, from 1997 to 2002, when I arrived here for 125. That five years we were just working, working all the time. And I didn’t see much of my friends and like this. That’s why I think we deserve. You guys give up a lot for your racing. It’s like this, but like always in life you need to choose what you want. I didn’t see my friends, but what I can get from this life is really good, and there will be some nice memories when I am 60. riders, like in Rally and Formula One. I don’t know why. If not a racer, what would you have been? I never think about that. When I was five or six I was watching these races on TV, and thinking – one day I would like to be there. Then when I tried the first time, I saw – okay, I was quite good already in my first laps, so I thought maybe I have some chance to be somewhere. So then step by step I went better – like in 2000, racing in Europe, I saw that these riders in Italy in Spain, they had nothing really special. If we can train a little bit more we can be there also. And after that I was just concentrating – and one day we were here.