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GP Week : Issue 168
RALLY >>> INTERVIEW Jari-Matti on home ground in 2011 “Mikko Hirvonen, who is nearly five years older than me, was selected from that test but Timo seemed to be excited about me. He also wanted to give me an opportunity, so he could see how really young drivers are developing. He had never worked with such young drivers as I was at that time. “Timo sent me to England to meet Pentti Airikkala, to go to his driving school and do some training with him. Pentti provided me with a base in England so I could apply for a British driving licence. “Pentti started putting everything together so I could start to do British rallies. He found a co-driver for me, Carl Williamson, and a team. He started to take my career for ward and his plan was to build me into a factory driver. “We started off with a Renault Clio but Timo said that he wanted me to move to a four-wheel-drive car, and Pentti found the team with a Mitsubishi for me. Pentti was at the start of everything for me back then. He had the contacts, which was very important After we got a good result in the 2002 Rally GB, Timo Jouhki made all the plans for me.” How did the contacts help? “Pentti was taking me to the rallies at that time and we were basically travelling around together. This was good because I was such a young guy. At that time my parents were working back home but Pentti was around to look after me and also help at that time when my English was not very good. “This was a great help when you are working with a team and a co-driver where you could only speak English, translating things I didn’t understand. It was an important role. It gave me confidence when everything was completely new.” How has the sport changed since your first ‘RAC’ Rally? “I think that 2002 was a golden age in the WRC. For the 2002 RAC Rally my competition number was 35 and I started 31st car, in a Group N Mitsubishi. All 30 cars ahead of me were World Rally Cars. There was just one World Rally Car after me – that was Valentino Rossi! “This year (2012) there were only 31 entries on the rally. I finished the 2002 rally 17th overall and all the cars ahead of me were World Rally Cars. All of them were works or official team cars except for Alistair Ginley’s private World Rally Car. Eight different manufacturers were running World Rally Cars that year! The rally was very long. Every morning started early, with very long days. I remember being very tired, it was my first experience of such a long rally. “At that time there were also had a lot of spectators. There was a great atmosphere. You could see the people everywhere. The event was much better promoted than it is nowadays. I can remember so much about that event, everything was new. Having since done over 100 world championship rallies, there are some rallies nowadays that you don’t really remember so much, but your first one you always remember.” I know that Henri Toivonen had been your schoolboy hero but that was before your time. But did you have anybody whose example you wanted to follow? “For sure; Marcus Gronholm. He was the one I was following. Ten years ago when I came here, to Cardiff, I was in Malcolm Wilson, Jari-Matti and co-driver Miikka Anttila 43 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: