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GP Week : Issue 56
>>WRCFEATURE Finns with things to prove EVERY Finnish rally driver dreams of success on Neste Oil Rally Finland. But seldom do they have the chance to drive a fully competitive car, and so not so often do these dreams come true. Eventual participation in the famous Jyvaskyla Big Race, however, remains a critical objective in a Finnish rally driver’s plans. Even for drivers who have succeeded everywhere else in the globe, success on the most important event back home is fulfilment of everything they aspire to. The most recent instance of dreams coming true was with Matti Rantanen, and his Jyvaskyla dreams came real twice. He finished an impressive third in the JWRC category as a Guest wildcard entry in 2006, beating hosts of more competitive Super 1600 cars, then on the 2008 NORF, he rallied a World Rally Car for the first time and after only a short pre-event test session, finished a remarkable seventh overall, top private entry. This year we have two particular drivers with dreams. Jari Ketomaa has entered this year’s NORF in a Subaru Impreza S12b for his World Rally Car debut, and has arranged for this to be fitted with his preferred dampers, Exe-Tc, the type he uses in national Group N rallying. His Group N form is impeccable. From 2006 to date there have been 28 Finnish National championship rallies and Ketomaa has won 16 of them. As a 30-year-old this is a now-or-never project. He feels that his age and experience will be an advantage to him, and believes many people start driving World Rally Cars too early, before they are ready to compete with them at international level. He has good sponsors for this event, the same as those who supported him on his PCWRC challenge last year when he finished third in the series, behind Andreas Aigner and Juho Hanninen. “I have done this event five times before, never in a top car and not so far with great success,” he says. “I finished only once, last year, when we were third in Group N.” He attempted this event in 2000, 01 and 02 to get experience, but this year is really his first big chance to show his talents. “I am trying to reach the top international level. I have changed my job; some of my work now is with Tommi Makinen customers helping to set-up and test their rally cars. Most of my rally life has been in Subaru cars. Finland’s Ralliart manager Pekka Koski made me an offer to drive Mitsubishis for 2006 and 2007, which I accepted, but he could not offer rallies outside Finland, which is what I wanted. When Subaru said they could help me in the PCWRC, I went back to them.” 2009 has started well – he is leading the national championship (now limited to Group N), was Champion in 2006 and 2007, and only missed the title in 2008 because of a clash of dates with New Zealand Rally. Another driver with Jyvaskyalan dreams is 23year-old Jarkko Nikara, who comes from a quite different perspective. Jarkko’s early rallying was with two-wheel drive cars, and his two previous Finland Rallies were with a Civic Type-R and then a Fiesta ST. This will therefore be his first chance to contest his country’s major rally in a four-wheel-drive car, and without the PCWRC and top national drivers contesting this event, he has a strong chance of getting noticed by winning Group N outright. He is one of the five Pirelli Star Drivers, in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, and also comes with high credentials. PSD manager Phil Sport says “Jarkko has proved to be the fastest of the PSD drivers this year; he has incredible speed. He does not make many mistakes, [and] his performance in Sardinia was excellent. He has proved himself to be quick enough on a half dozen or so occasions to make absolute fastest times among the Group N drivers. We have found that an experienced co-driver (Jarkko Kalliolepo, who has been active in world championship events for 10 years, and who in 2005 was the FIA’s APRC champion co-driver) has helped him a lot. This rally is going to be very important for Jarkko. The NORF is traditionally a shop window for natural driving talent.” 45