Two out of two. The Finns had a great start to this rally season. Both winter events took place, and in addition, the WRC caravan visited unexpectedly. Also the historic debut of the new WRC class in the second Finnish championship event. It is good for a rally to live in this patch of land.
The second stage of the Finnish championship took place despite the heatwave that hit northern Europe. Unlike Norway, where this time the third event of the championship was canceled not because of Covid but because of melted snow and ice, Finnish nature has still preserved some of its winter heritage. The action took place in the vicinity of the city of Kouvola, which is located in the south of the country, between Helsinki and Vyborg. It is often assumed that all Finnish roads are the ones we see in the summer during the Thousand Lakes Rally or the past weekend in Lapland. And this is not entirely true. Finland is full of roads that are very reminiscent of the Baltics – fast, wide, and flowing. Only more of forests, lakes, and hills. It was the roads raced by Finns and several guests last weekend. And among those guests was one extremely interesting participant.
European Rally Championship Junior Class champion Estonian Ken Torn has been in “extra work” for some time now with the latest FIA and M-Sport prospect – the new class and its first copy of the Ford Fiesta Rally3. This class is designed to fill that considerable gap between R2 / Rally4 and R5 / Rally2. And while technically the transition from these classes is extremely easy for the driver, in monetary terms it is a significant step, despite the lower prices of older R5 cars. So the FIA decided to add an extra step. Also, this class should replace the gradually disappearing old dukes – Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza cars.
The Rally3 car is very similar to the R2 / Rally4, but differs from them in one very important thing – it is driven by all four wheels. The three-cylinder 1.5-liter engine generates about 215 hp, and this M-Sport piece costs 99.999 Eu. It would seem that the stats for a 4WD car are really modest. But here the whole point is that this car was designed for sports, so its weight and handling characteristics compensate for the relatively low power. And the transition from it to R5 / Rally2 will probably be even easier, both in sports and financial terms.
This weekend was the car’s debut. M-Sport Poland, which produced this car, had several goals. Among them was the desire to overtake all Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution cars. And it almost succeeded because one old Mitsubishi slipped after all. K.Torn, on the other hand, made a spin in the fifth special stage, which could have cost that lost place. After 6 stages and 111 kilometers, Ken Torn with Ford Fiesta Rally 3 remained in eleventh place in the overall standings. That Mitsubishi – 9th.
Following this rally, M-Sport held a test session attended by 15 former rally competitors who drove Mitsubishi cars. They were given the opportunity to try out a new Ford piece. It is unknown how many new orders M-Sport received, but the first cars will reach customers next week. So far, this is the only choice in this class, but the variety of cars will be complemented by PSA and other manufacturer Rally3 cars. This class will be fully integrated into the WRC and ERC Championships.
But let’s get back to Finnish affairs. The fight for the title of rally winner and Finnish championship takes place between 4 crews – T.Asunmaa, E.Lindholm, J.Salo, and M.Heikkila. For the first four special stages, everything went in normal mode, the drivers pushed hard, measured the times, looked for solutions to be even faster. After the fourth SS, the first four were allotted in just 19 seconds. But after that, everything changed. The weather on Saturday was not very good. Heavily cloudy, quite dark, and very windy. Moreover, a real Finnish blizzard started before the last two special stages. In places, it covered 5 to 10 centimeters of snow. So T.Asunmaa, who started first, faced a wall of snow on the road. The snow-clearing operation cost the multiple champion more than a minute and a drop from third to seventh place. E.Lindholm, who runs the MRF tires program, was slowed by a gearbox sensor problem, which also cost around a minute. For veteran Juha Salo, tons of snow also cost significantly more than he would like. And here, the fifth starter M. Heikkila already had a slightly cleaned road and after maintaining the former pace, won his first victory in the Finnish championship event. After two events, Juha Salo is now leading the championship. The Finns will return to the rally tracks at the end of May.
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Photos – Tapio Lehtonen / Rallirinki, Taneli Niinimäki, Merita Mäkinen, Hannu Rainamo, Tarja Lipsanen