Wednesday | 23 Nov 2022

Hämäläinen: This is not for males only

It would have been impossible to wipe the smile from Reeta Hämäläinen’s face she came to terms with being a world champion at FORUM8 Rally Japan.

The Finnish co-driver successfully navigated Emil Lindholm through the final round of the season to see the Škoda pairing crowned WRC2 champions - completing a clean sweep for Finns across WRC, WRC2 and WRC3 in 2022.

“It is amazing, it has not sunk in yet,” Hämäläinen beamed as she tried to process her new world championship title. “It feels unbelievable, oh my god, fantastic.”

Following the demise of fellow title contenders Kajetan Kajetanowicz and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak on the second stage of the rally, Lindholm and Hämäläinen knew they simply needed to finish fifth or higher to usurp defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen of his crown.

“We had the point of view that this is a normal rally,” explained Hämäläinen. “We knew what we had to do and where we had to finish. We knew it was P5 to get the world championship - that was always the target.

“We were so lucky with what we did on Saturday because on Sunday, with this rain and these tyres, we lost quite a lot of time in the last two stages,” she reflected, referencing the wet and slippery final-day conditions which saw her and Lindholm drop from the overall lead to eventually finish third.

It is a remarkable feat for the pairing to achieve this success in their rookie WRC2 year and just their second season competing together. The moment offered the 34-year-old the perfect opportunity to reflect on her upward trajectory - particularly since 2019 when she was not sure if she would be able to continue co-driving after a battle with cancer.

“Being sick, losing your health is a personal thing and it is different for everybody, but of course I have learned from it.

“It was bad, but it wasn’t all bad. You somehow appreciate more the time you have here, and you can do what you love.

“This? This is just amazing. To be honest, I did not imagine to be here because in 2019 when I was really, really sick I thought that was it - I can not do rally anymore because my health won’t take it, but luckily I was wrong.”

Hämäläinen is far from the only female to leave her mark on the higher levels of rallying in the past twelve months and she is quick to reel off the achievements of her peers.

“Last year [and again this year] Sara Fernández won the European Championship. I know her and she is a hard-working person and totally earned it.

“Then Isabelle [Galmiche] with Loeb at Monte-Carlo was amazing. It was historical as it has been so long since Fabrizia Pons [won a WRC event].

“Somehow, they are all idols, also Ilka Minor. Here there are a lot of great women doing good things. Enni [Mälkönen, WRC3 co-driver champion] is also doing an extra good job and it's really nice to have women here so we have company.”

It is not just inside the cars where a growing cohort of females are making their presence felt in the WRC, but also in the service bays - with Hämäläinen making special mention of her mechanic at Toksport, Alexandra Fernandez.

“She is one of the best mechanics, she creates a fantastic spirit in the team. She spreads incredibly positive vibes around the team.”

But being a woman competing at the elite level of motorsport and the impact that can have on the next generation of drivers and co-drivers is not lost on Hämäläinen.

“I think it is cool. The best moment for me is when a little girl comes and says she wants to be like you or her parents come and say you are her idol.

“Now they realise they can also do rally. This is the nicest point for me – if I can inspire girls to come into this sport.

“This is not for males only.”

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