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GP Week : Issue 55
well. Not many people have got excluded from three World Championship rallies in a year... "Not good. The first time came Rally Finland in 2006 when I was driving a works Mitsubishi Lancer World Rally Car. I was excluded but it was my own fault, a very stupid mistake not to wear the correct safety underclothes. “Then came Sweden 2007 which was a technical issue, when the officials decided that the way the fuel pumps were embedded in the Mitsubishi fuel tanks was not correct. We had been using the same fuel tank system for some while and everyone thought it was legal. I felt things were badly handled, because the officials knew before the rally that they would exclude us as they had seen the fuel tank beforehand, so why did they allow us to carry on? “By the time they excluded me in Spain in 2007 it was incredible, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. We had rented a locally prepared car and the cars had the steel pieces below the door removed, which was not allowed. I was already on the way home to Finland when I was summoned to go to the stewards' meeting and I just did not bother to go back to the rally." It really looked that Juho would win the Production Car Championship programme in 2008 at the wheel of the Ralliart New Zealand team car but it all ended in disappointment: "When we set out for the final round in Britain I was the favourite to win the title. Then it all went wrong on the event, and my rival Andreas Aigner won the title instead. “Things had gone so well as the season progressed but before we went to Britain I already knew I had the programme with Skoda to look forward to. Without that offer, losing the title would have been catastrophic. But it had been very close, I was so near to becoming the first Finn to win the PCWRC, and being one more World Rally champion from our country. It turned out very strange how unlucky was Andreas after he won the title. Winning the title did nothing for him in rallying." Any special PCWRC memories? "Yes, many, mostly good ones! 2008 started with good battles with Patrik Sandell. He made a mistake which let me win in Sweden then we had technical problems (a water pump belt) in Greece but after restarting in Superally I still got some points after a big attack on the final day. “Then in Finland we had the biggest battle of the year with Juha Salo. There was a lot of pressure on that event but we got another 10 points, but we made a stupid mistake in New Zealand. “Another 10 points came on the very difficult Japan rally but we had the disappointments of making mistakes in Wales. The most impressive memory however was in Greece. My co- driver Mikko Markkula and I did not want to abandon our broken down car beside the track, so we waited for the official breakdown truck to arrive. “They put our car on the back of the truck and off we headed, Mikko and I sitting alongside the driver in the cab. 300 metres later I suddenly realised we were hurtling off the track into the trees! It took hours before we were finally back in the service park, and could get everything ready for starting the final day." Then came the phone call from the Czech Republic: "Pavel Hortek, the Skoda team's marketing manager, contacted me after Rally Finland 2008. I did not know whether to take this call seriously, “I assumed they were making phone calls to a lot of other guys. It was a happy moment but I did not get carried away by it all. I had the chance to drive a Skoda very soon after that – they brought a car to make a tests with Sebastian Lindholm in Finland in September and invited me to go along. I have now been many times to Czech Republic, I think I must have spent two months in the first four months of the year there. I enjoy the place, people are nice and friendly." Why has the Skoda proved so competitive? "A lot is to do with the team's long experience, running many different types of car, and the whole car is basically very good. “I have a very good relationship with Jan Kopecky – he must be one of the best team mates you could want. We seem to have a very similar sense of humour, which is good because we spend a lot of time together. He tells me many things about tarmac driving and about his country as well! “The IRC series has given me my first chance of driving in a manufacturers' team. These days the level of competition in the IRC is very good. When you look at IRC events, many drivers are able to win the stages and the lead can change many times. That is something that does not happen at this time in the WRC." And the one question which everyone wants to ask: Why are you called Juho when the usual name in Finland is Juha? "I don't know. It must seem strange, but I am happy to notice that Juho is coming to be a more popular name these days. Maybe my parents made a mistake, I really don't know!"