10 Feb 08
Finnish driver Juho Hänninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula (Mitsubishi) drove a confident rally to score their first P-WRC victory on the opening round of the 2008 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, the Uddeholm Swedish Rally. The duo also equalled their best result to date by finishing eighth overall and taking one point in the WRC drivers’ championship.
“I’m happy with the result,” said Hanninen. “I took the speed off today as we had quite a big gap and there were big rocks so I wanted to avoid a puncture. It’s been a long day but after what happened last year I’m not celebrating until after scrutineering. After last year’s disappointment this is a really good start to the season.”
Jari Ketomaa (FIN) brought his Subaru home in second on his debut P-WRC outing, albeit 1min 23.2secs adrift, followed by Patrik Sandell (S, Peugeot) who snatched the final podium spot from Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) on the last stage. Reigning Finnish Rally Champion Ketomaa set the pace from the outset holding the lead for the first three stages proper on day one but he was soon challenged by local lad Sandell whose three consecutive stage wins from SS3 saw him open up a 16-second lead.
On its debut full-time appearance in the P-WRC, the Peugeot 207 S2000 made a fantastic start to its season in the hands of 2006 J-WRC Champion Sandell and although the Swede commented that while making in-roads on the times of the Group N cars on the straights was hard, he believes the 207 is faster on the twisty sections.
Hänninen soon stepped up to chase Sandell’s tail from SS6 and after a brief time in third for Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) (SS7 and SS8), Ketomaa settled into the final podium spot. Sadly for Sandell, five kilometers into SS11 he slid wide into a snow bank and it took two and a half minutes for spectators to help him back to the road and for him to clear his radiator of snow before he could get going again, losing the lead and dropping to fourth. The Swede fought hard with Prokop on the final day eating up a deficit of 14.2 seconds and the Czech driver went into the final stage with only a 1.2sec advantage, only for Sandell to come out 11.2 seconds ahead. Sandell also wins the P-WRC Sprinter Standings for the rally.
“I would like to have won here but I am very happy with second on my first P-WRC rally,” said Ketomaa. “WRC rallies are much longer than I am used to - probably three times the length of rallies in the Finnish championship - so I’m learning how to take care of everything better to make it last longer.”
Despite losing the P-WRC lead when he went off on Saturday, Sandell was delighted with his third place. “I am so happy that this feels like a victory! My co-driver Emil [Axelsson] and I were talking about all of our good rallies and this feels better than all the others,” said Sandell. “The car is fantastic and even though we are missing a little power at the top end we will have the 2008 engine for Argentina so I’m looking forward to seeing how much better it is then.
“When we started here we hoped for a top three finish which we achieved but we never thought we would also be fighting for a win so that was a bonus. This is more than Peugeot Sweden and France could have hoped for,” he added.