Fri 25 Nov 2022

Kovalainen: The more rally I can do, the better

Could the sight of ex-Formula One racer Heikki Kovalainen around rally service parks become a regular occurrence? The 41-year-old certainly hopes so.

Kovalainen was a popular face at FORUM8 Rally Japan, competing in the WRC2 category in a Rally Team Aicello-prepared Škoda Fabia R5

The Finn was competitive against his more seasoned rivals and finished fourth overall in the category - just 1min 9sec down on eventual winner Grégoire Munster, despite running the older model Fabia.

“An awesome experience,” is how the Finn summarised his WRC debut, going on to say: “I have followed rally from the TV for years and I have been a big rally fan my whole life. To be able to participate in this event – it was a dream come true.” 

Kovalainen is a regular in the Japanese championship and, this year, won the overall title. He did, however, admit there was a steep learning curve stepping up to a WRC event.

“It’s just much longer, obviously the whole week,” he said of FORUM8 Rally Japan. “In the Japanese Championship, we just do the recce on Friday then on Saturday, Sunday it is 60 to 120km of stages.

“As a whole it is just a lot longer and a bigger event. In terms of roads, they are very similar to the Japanese Championship and especially the twisty roads are not new to me. The high-speed stuff and rain is actually new,” he offered, explaining there had only been one day of wet conditions over his past six years of rallying in Japan. 

For Kovalainen, competing in FORUM8 Rally Japan was a strategic decision as he now eyes more options to compete going forward.

“Funnily enough, I am from Finland but I have local knowledge of Japan. It does make a big difference.

WRC2 - FORUM8 Rally Japan

“I have no illusions that, if I did go somewhere else, it would be a lot harder and more difficult task. That is the reason we chose this rally because we are a small team, and I am still relatively new to rallying so we thought this is the best starting point because we know the rallying scene and roads.”

Having lived in Abu Dhabi for the previous eight years, Kovalainen has just moved back home permanently, taking up a role as a Formula One commentator. He stressed that he would not be doing the full season, though, as he wants to leave time spare for rallying, potentially starting out at domestic level.

“The Finnish [rally] championship is quite competitive and fun to do. The roads are quite different so there would be a lot to learn, but we will see if we can find a good package for that. I might still do some stuff here in Japan, I am really happy with the Aicello guys and they are keen to do more here. This is a relatively familiar scene for me.

“The more rally I can do the better.”

So, could a blast through Ouhinpohja at Secto Rally Finland be on the cards soon?

 “I drove past it the other day. I was driving from the north to south of Finland and I went through Jyväskylä. I saw a junction to Ouhinpohja – I said to my wife, ‘do you know that road?’. Even she knew.

“I asked if we should go have a look but she said let’s just get to Helsinki,” he added with a smile.

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