Hänninen dominates home event to claim back-to-back SWRC victories
Straight off the back of their first series win of the season in Greece, this weekend Finnish pairing Juho Hänninen and Mikko Markkula won the 2011 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship at Neste Oil Rally Finland in their Škoda Fabia S2000, for the second year in-a-row, picking up 25 SWRC points and finishing tenth overall to claim one WRC point. The pair seem to be almost unstoppable having racked up four consecutive podiums out of their four nominated rounds completed so far this season.
They didn’t seal the victory without a fight though 2010 Pirelli Star Driver Ott Tänak (EST, Ford) shot into the lead on Day One, unwilling to concede to the more experienced Hänninen, despite being on the Finn’s home territory. However, after the young Estonian won SS1 and SS2, confident after his victory in the PWRC category in Finland last year, Hänninen decided it was time to assert himself. Four stage wins in-a-row (SS3-6) promoted the Finn into the lead and while Tänak rose to the challenge and fought back to win SS7, the unwavering pressure and confidence of Hänninen bearing down on him caused the young Estonian to spin on SS8. When his engine cut out and refused to restart, Tänak had to deal with the frustration of losing over three minutes and falling to fifth in the SWRC. This left Hänninen free to blast through the rough gravel stages seemingly effortlessly, unperturbed by his competitors and delighted to finish over two and half minutes ahead of the rest of the pack.
Meanwhile, Tänak’s troubles promoted 2009 JWRC Champion Martin Prokop (CZE, Ford) into second and Hermann Gassner Jnr (DEU, Škoda) to third on his first competitive outing in Finland. These positions were held until the end of Day Two, but no sooner was Tänak relegated to fifth than he was back on the pace and powering through the Finnish stages with his customary relentless pace to pass then-fourth placed Frigyes Turán (HUN, Ford) on SS10 and Gassner on SS13, the opening stage of Day Three, to move into third. He was too far adrift of Hänninen and Prokop to catch the experienced leaders, but managed to pick up six stage wins on the final day, wowing the crowds with his phenomenal pace and spectacular sideways driving style and narrowing the gap to Prokop to only one minute.
Despite driving carefully as he learnt the unfamiliar roads, Gassner was pleased to finish fourth, earning 12 SWRC points with Turán, Bernardo Sousa (PRT, Ford), Karl Kruuda (EST, Škoda) and guest driver Juha Salo (FIN, Mitsubishi) completing the line-up of eight SWRC finishers. Salo was the first SWRC entrant to enter the Championship in a newly homologated Mitsubishi R4 and was pleased to prove his Lancer’s pace over the tough stages. Unfortunately, on-going battery problems on the opening loop of Day Two and brake problems on the morning of Day Three left him in eighth at the end of the event a result which belied the speed he proved on his home terrain.
1st – Juho Hänninen (FIN): “The last set of stages were really rough so we took the second pass much more carefully. We were more cautious on the corners and tried to avoid the inside lines where it was especially rough. All in all though, I’m happy – the car was good and we had no major issues.”
2nd – Martin Prokop (CZE): “It was quite a good weekend for us, even better than I expected. I came here hoping for third or fourth place so second is really perfect. We have showed some improvement compared to last year but unfortunately we had to stop racing yesterday afternoon because I couldn't keep the pace of Juho [Häninen] and Ott [Tanak].”
3rd – Ott Tänak (EST): "Day One was ok, Day Two was ok until we spun and Day Three was quite a good day! We made some corrections to our pace notes in the morning and set some good times in the afternoon. Of course I'm disappointed I didn't win, but I think we scored good points for the Championship. Now we have to concentrate on the Tarmac events, do some testing and try to find a good set-up."