lauantai 29. joulukuuta 2012

Personalized suits and helmets

Since fashion blogs are very popular I thought that I should write about suits and helmets. Maybe I'll get another segment of readers than just rally fans by writing about clothes and stuff :)

During my time in rallying I have sometimes wondered about the mismatch between the high level of cars and the low level of helmets&suits people use. Many times you see top of the line cars with Motec engine management, Reiger suspension, best engines money can buy etc. Then you see the driver wearing a 5 year old helmet and a suit that would fit more to garage working than driving the car. Both the helmet
and the suit not the best available to begin with. If you ever ask about the suit or the helmet the answer usually is that "they are expensive". I understand lower requirements on the driving equipment
if you have a tight budget as a regular Joe and driving as a hobby every now and then. But when you have a 30 000 – 200 000 eur car and spend 15 000 – 100 000 every year for driving the season then does the
extra 1 000 eur for upgrading the helmet and the suit really matter? Might even look better in the eyes of the current and potential sponsors.

As a co-driver life is easier for me since I don't have to buy the car, tires, maintenance, service trucks etc. On my seat you also notice the difference of the equipment. You get what you pay for. Item by item I
have increased the quality of products that I use. For last season I upgraded my suit and later in the season also my helmet.

I spent a lot of time searching in the internet for different suits by different manufacturers. I ended up with a suit from MIR Raceline in Italy. The manufacturer is more known from karting, but makes also rally, rallycross and racing suits with the latest FIA standards. The pricing for a custom made suit with requested colours and embroidering was the best I could find. I personally like to pay for a product and not the brand so that's why I didn't immediately go for the more known Sparco/OMP/Alpinestars brands and end up paying for the brand and not the product. Especially the embroidering was important for me since the thread needs to be fire proof material and only penetrate the outer layer of the suit. Quite a hassle trying to
get the sponsor logos to a standard suit after it has been manufactured. Also in the scrutineering  the officials quickly see that everything is factory made and don't have to spend their time too much checking the suit in detail. When using better driving gear few things really are obvious. For starters the underwear with good design and cutting helps you not noticing that you are wearing them. With the actual suit one thing you immediately notice is the weight. The ones in the higher end of the spectrum are much lighter than the cheap ones. No surprises in the previous points. However one thing that surprised me with the MIR suit was the "shining fabric" that I ordered the suit with. Like the name says the fabric really stands out against the normal racing suit fabrics by being shiny. The surprising thing was that it doesn't seem to get shabby so fast as the normal fabrics in racing suits. I have used my suit in testing and races for one year now and usually the suits start to show wear and tear at this point. Especially on the thigh area where I always support the pace note book. This fabric has really stood well against use and looks like brand new.

Before Neste Rally Finland I also decided to change my helmet. I had been really happy using my Peltor G78 which is already a good helmet, but a couple of things had started to annoy me little by little. The
main thing was the microphone boom. With the Peltor boom you always have to be careful not the get it tangled somewhere and always adjust it to its place before the stage. The boom position is especially
annoying if the driver's boom accidentally switches place and you have to listen to heavy breathing on the stage. Makes you feel like you are in a porn movie and if its not extremely disturbing you don't want to
ask the driver to adjust his boom on the stage and momentarily break his concentration :) The other little thing with the Peltor helmet was that even the never G79 model didn't seem to move the game forwards like the best brands always should. I had gotten used to thinking that Peltor is one of the best, but the G79 to my eyes seemed to offer exactly the same as G78. Except in an uglier package. The beauty of design is purely my personal opinion. So I ended up buying a Stilo WRC DES helmet. I like the fixed microphone boom which is integrated to the helmet structure, the good fit when wearing it and the fact that I think it's a good looking helmet. Since my aim is to use the helmet for a long time I started to think about getting a personalized paint job for it. Painting a helmet pretty much eliminates the possibility of selling it unless I suddenly would become world famous... Again the usual internet search: who paints helmets, where and for how much? With this field I also asked experiences from friends. I ended up sending the helmet to Gerard Mariaud in Joutseno. He has been painting everything from motorcycles to helmets for years and years. Again the price also played a significant part. The price spectrum ranging between 200 and 1 000 euros between different painters.

Deciding the design was more difficult. I wanted the helmet to be personal. I went through different designs and figured out what would suit me and in which colour. In the end I figured out the design all by myself. For main colour I chose pearl white. White goes with anything you know. All the graphs would be in black. So a simple black and white helmet. Except that the design isn't what you would call normal. I have Michelin gravel tyre pattern going over the helmet from front to back.

On the right side of the helmet I have a quote from my rally idol Henri Toivonen "The time is not the problem, but my heart you know" If I'm not mistaking it was Henri's comment in an interview during one rally when he was competing against faster 4wd Audi of Michèle Mouton with his 2wd Opel. Anyway it's just something that stuck into my mind when watching Henri Toivonen tribute video over and over again as a kid.

On the left side I have a quote in Finnish from a famous Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen. Loosely translated as "Life is human being's best time". Simple but true and one should always remember to live life to the fullest. On the left side I also have a Finnish comic pig Wagner, but I'm playing it safe with the copyright laws and I have blurred Wagner from this picture in the internet.  For those who are not familiar with the pig in question it's Finland's most popular comic and is published in Finland's biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. Wagner is sometimes totally inconsiderate, sometimes very thoughtful, sometimes very simple, sometimes very philosophical. Basically full of contradictions. For some reason I have always felt him as a kindred spirit...

One more quote from the movie Forest Gump to end these thoughts about suits and helmets -> "That's all I have to say about that".

sunnuntai 16. joulukuuta 2012

Finnish 4wd rally cars, the future?

I know that I'm touching a sensitive subject here, but the idea is so tempting that I just can't let it pass. Could we use non-homologated cars in Finnish 4wd championship? The same goes for 2wd cars also, but in my eyes the 4wd class is more vulnerable with the already high costs and cars that are sooner or later going to meet the end of their homologation.

I read from new Hanaa! -magazine about Esapekka Lappi's rally in Spain and there it was mentioned that in Spain there is a possibility to build your own "N1" 4wd rally cars using Mitsusubishi Evo's or Subaru's mechanical parts. The suspension can be whatever and same goes for electrics. Weight of the car either 1200kg or 1300kg depending if you are using a 34mm or 36mm restrictor. Chassis has to be from a production car (I'm not interested in seeing "I did it myself group B fiberglass works of art") and you can fit a bodykit to fit the axles.

As an eternal pessimist I'm worried that the price for new R5 cars is going to be out of reach for many 4wd drivers in Finland. And I guess that goes for many other countries also. The possibility to lift the group N mechanical parts to some other car would enable having many different brands on our rally stages which otherwise would never show up to Finnish rallying. All you need is a cheap chassis donor car from Germany or one that some Finnish insurance company has "bought" with exploded air bags. Then put the roll cage in and fit the mechanical parts. I'm not even trying to speculate if the mechanics fit to some car or would the suspension work at all, but I can't help but speculate with some of the cars out there. Or what how big would the resale market for these cars be. For example your own WRC/S2000 replicas: Fabia, Fiesta, DS3, Countryman or Polo
Why stop there if you can use your imagination? Here are some of my personal favorites for thinking outside the box: Alfa Romeo GiuliettaBMW 135 CoupeHyundai VelosterToyota GT86 and Audi A1.

One can always speculate with wild ideas. Most likely these kind of rule changes are never going to happen in Finland, but it's always fun to think "what if".

tiistai 11. joulukuuta 2012

Testing for 2013 season

It's December already and about time to start winter testing for 2013 season. So what has changed for 2013? Basically everything except the series. I'll continue in Finnish rally championship and my season starts from Arctic Lapland Rally in the end of January. Andreas will try to drive abroad next year and it would have been a bit of a challenge for me to take few months leave from work combined with a house loan and the rest of the black holes making all the money disappear.

So next season I'll switch co-driving for Jari Kihlman -> Arctic Cross Racing
At the same time the fwd Fiesta R2 changes to a group N 4wd Mitsubishi Evo 9. A totally new challenge for me since I have never even sat in a 4wd rally car. In the beginning of December we had a chance to test the evo on snow. Testing was really needed since the car is brand new and has never been driven except in a test bench. I have seen a few rally cars and have to give credit to the car. The attention to detail is magnificent when the car has been built.

Jari comes from Kuusamo which is quite far north and also has good test roads. I hopped into my car and drove up there one weekend. 950km one way from Helsinki is quite a trip, but since there's only a limited amount of time when we have a possibility to test together it's good to use the time we have. I guess most rally people are used to driving long distances, so you just put the cruise control on and try not to get too bored.

In Kuusamo we planned to drive as much as we could. It was to be expected that with a new car we would have little problems to solve. Also I would have get used to a faster accelerating car and Jari would have to get used to my voice and maybe ask some adjustments to my reading rhythm.

Everything went really smooth during the day. We encountered virtually no problems and managed to drive more than we expected. I had always thought the group N cars to be somewhat heavy and clumsy. I had to adjust my perceptions a little bit. The evo was surprisingly light footed and seemed to turn nicely. From co-driver's seat it looked like Jari didn't have to "wrestle" the car at all. What didn't come as a surprise was the power. Compared to the R2 fiesta the evo has roughly double the power and only few hundred kilograms more weight. So on a fast road the scenery certainly moves faster. So we had a test day that went really well. Now still some more testing and waiting for the start of the new season. After the first test I'm certainly looking forward to Arctic Lapland Rally in Rovaniemi.

lauantai 24. marraskuuta 2012

Team sport

Of course rallying is a team sport and you rely a lot on the people around you. The driver trusts the co-driver and the other way around. Both rely on their mechanics. During rallies all spend their time next to each other in hotels rooms, recce car, rally car and service car. You have to get along and more or less work under pressure. For anyone who knows the sport this goes without saying. A team sport.

There's also another aspect to rallying being a team sport. For most part the rallying community is a social punch of people and that's why I like it. Since the cars are start to stages on championship order you are always next to your main competitors. That doesn't really make a difference. Most of the crews are still finding it easy to chit chat when waiting in line to get to the stages. When somebody has had difficulties with the car setup there are easily 3-5 people speculating the setup and what could help. Same goes for lending stuff like tape, batteries, pliers etc when you are on the stages. On the service park the stuff that you lend/sell are just bigger -> windscreens, drive shafts, bumpers etc. The kind of an unwritten rule is that if you can't beat the opposition with driving skills then they simply are faster than you. Can't call this a team effort, but maybe more of a close community effort.

lauantai 3. marraskuuta 2012

Co-driver's equipment

Someone asked once that why my equipment bag is so big? Simply because as a co-driver you have to carry a lot of stuff with you to the rallies.

First of all you have the normal stuff that the driver's also have: suit, underwear, socks, shoes, balaclava, HANS device, helmet, camel bag. The HANS device and helmet aren't something you easily carry in a bag since they require a lot of space. Especially the helmet. These take a lot of space in the bag since the rest of co-driver's equipment fit into a compact space. Driver's also have gloves, but obviously those don't mean much space wise. Instead of gloves I have two watches. One as a primary watch and the other as a back up.

Then the stuff in the co-driver's bag: Pace note book or two depending on a rally, different kinds of pencils/pens, extra led for pencils, eraser, a notepad for keeping team plans and other papers, organizer's road book, a small flashlight, electrical tape(always handy to have around), spare battery for watches, spare battery for intercom, couple of spare fuses, couple of protein bars, couple of recovery drinks, mobile phone, small piece of cloth for wheel nuts so that they don't melt inside the snow when changing tires from front to back, small screwdriver, small pliers.

In winter rallies I also have a couple of chemical "glove warmers" which warm up when you open the package. Nice to have if you retire and have to wait a couple of hours standing on a snow bank. Of course you have your normal winter clothing in the car with you, but since the warmers only weight some tens of grams they are nice to have around.  For testing I have a map book with all the roads in Finland. That isn't with me inside the rally car simply because it takes a lot of space and weighs maybe half a kilo.

So that's pretty much it. A lot more than just a pace note book and a road book that many picture the co-driver to have in a rally car. Of course it would be lighter to drive around without many of the items, but if they weight roughly a kilo then it doesn't make that much of a difference in my eyes. The annoyance of not having them around when you need them is bigger than the extra weight carried inside the car.

lauantai 27. lokakuuta 2012

Tahko-ralli 13th of October 2012, Nilsiä

After Finnish rally championship had ended I had a chance to sit one rally in my brother's group F BMW M3. My friend Aki who normally co-drives for my brother Mikko couldn't make it and of course I volunteered to sit in the M3. I had gotten used to the Fiesta R2 with 170hp, top speed of  ~160km/h and pace notes in my hand. In M3 you´ve got a bit under 300hp, top speed of  ~200km/h and no pace notes. So a bit of mental adjustment to be done. We all headed to Nilsiä already on Friday since the start was so early that there was no sense to wake up 3am in the morning if you tried to sleep at home. At Nilsiä there were 91km of special stages so a nice long rally for one day.

It wasn't to be our rally unfortunately. The roads were really fast. We just didn't have the guts to leave the braking points as late as the fastest drivers when the speeds were over 150km/h or so. On some stages we were banging against the rev limiter and the digital speedometer was showing 205km/h. On stage number five our average speed was 130km/h and the fastest cars had 136km/h. On legendary Ouninpohja stage in Rally Finland the average speed is 130km/h -> with WRC cars and using pace notes. In the beginning of the rally we had some under steering problems, but we got those sorted out in the first service. After that the driving was easier and Mikko had more confidence in the M3.
Picture by Ari Lehikoinen. Ari is the man who has sprayed the orange colour on Mikko's M3. Ari also paints other stuff than car so a true artist.
But it was a nice event and definitely my last rally for this year. There aren't any more rallies in Finnish rally calendar so all I can do is to wait for next year. If there aren't any major changes in plans probably the next time I'm sitting in a rally car is during winter testing around Christmas time. I counted that during 2012 I did 7 FRC events, 2 smaller local rallies, Neste Rally Finland and some testing. So 10 rallies + roughly 5 weekends of testing. Added to that physical training and pace note training. It's good to unwind a little bit now that I have the chance.

maanantai 17. syyskuuta 2012

Talotekniikka10 ralli 15th of September 2012, Kerava

What a fantastic rally! We were fighting for second place in the Finnish 2wd championship, bu that wasn't meant to be. The stages were mostly really fast and there was no hope of fighting against more powerful Civic type-r of Ville Hautamäki. That became very clear after two first stages.

Picture by Marko Mäkinen, official pictures of Finnish Rally Championship

That didn't spoil the day though. We had an excellent battle in our class with Joonas Lindroos' C2 R2 and Jukka Korhonen's Fiesta R2. All three were inside few seconds on every stage. For example on sixth stage only two tenths of a second separated us and Lindroos. On the next one all three drove exactly the same time! Not even a tenth of a second separating the cars. We weren't fighting for championship points, just for bragging rights so it was good fun. Of course we had to finish the rally with Andreas. But on the other hand it's easier to drive fast than just cruise around. So after a lot of fast driving we finished third in our class and sixth overall among 2wd cars. That meant we finished third in the championship. Can't complain and have to be really happy about the result. There were seven rallies in the championship and none of the top three cars retired even once. Our lowest class result was fourth with two wins, three second places and one third place. With those results I can just look back and say that it was a good season! And of course not forgetting the biggest adventure of the year -> our WRC round Neste Oil Rally Finland. For a first timer it was a dream come true to be on the legendary stages. Especially when we had trouble free rally and a great result.

Only constant in life is change and that goes for rallying also. Have to write something about next season when year 2013 is nearer. Before that there is still one more training weekend at the Vierumäki sports center. So saying hi to the now already familiar rowing machine. Good fun if you are into masochistic stuff :) But before that still one more rally. Co-driving for my brother in his M3. Let the gravel fly!

lauantai 8. syyskuuta 2012

Merikarvia rally 18th of August

A couple of weeks after Neste Rally Finland it was time to get back to our familiar Finnish championship. The championship continued near Pori in Merikarvia. The good thing was that the playing field was equal to everybody. There hadn't been a championship rally near Pori in ages so the stages were new to everyone. The stages turned out to be mostly fast and wide, but then you suddenly were also driving on narrow and slow roads. A quick attitude change was required from time to time. 

We started the first stage with our normal pace. After the stage it was a bit of a surprise to find out that we had been fastest in our class with a margin of almost 17 seconds. Obviously driving the NORF a couple of weeks earlier helped to keep rust out of driver's wrists. The second stage was interesting. First driving on a really narrow "summer cottage road" and then in the blasting several kilometers flat out without even touching the brake pedal of our R2 Fiesta. We lost time to bigger engine d Honda Civics, but again were fastest in our class. 

The third and fourth stages followed the same pattern. Driving with our normal rhythm and being fastest in our own class. The most interesting part of the rally was stage number five. By being 44km long it was roughly half of the rally. The stage also had very challenging roads so it wasn't a stage you could just cruise through. We tried to attack on the stage since it suited our small R2 car quite well and the was a slim chance of catching Ville Hautamäki's civic which was only 15 seconds ahead of us. We didn't catch Ville, but managed to win our class by 1min30s so can't complain. The overall championship standings after Merikarvia remain very interesting. Joonas Lindroos secured the 2wd championship win, but Andreas is in a close battle with Ville Hautamäki for the second place in the season finale in Kerava on the 15th of September.

lauantai 11. elokuuta 2012

WRC, Neste Oil Rally Finland 1-4th of August

Secret agent Austin Powers had a "things to do before I die" list in of one the movies. On my list was to one day be able to participate in Finland's WRC event. The rally of the Thousand lakes, the rally of the Thousand tales, Suurajot, Jyskälä. Many names, but everybody knows what the names mean. Well that can now be marked as done. And at the same time got to co-drive through long version (33km) of Ouninpohja. Twice.

But If we start from the beginning. Preparation for "Jyskälä" had been long and Andreas had done a big job of securing sponsors, spare parts, mechanics etc. I helped more on the normal side of team plans, fuel calculations, hotel reservations and so on. The recce from Monday to Wednesday was surprisingly relaxed we had enough time to drive through the stages with some thought and get good pace notes.

The rally really started on Thursday. The not so fun part was to drive 1,5 hours from Jyväskylä to Lahti for three stages. Then back to Jyväskylä. All the cars gathered to Lahti harbour for people to see and hear the drivers being interviewed. My girlfriend was there to see me which was nice.

Posing in Lahti harbour. The shiny blue MIR suit is good for blocking all the sun heat. Picture by Tiina Ketolainen.
From Lahti we drove to the first proper stage Koukunmaa. The first stage didn't go too well for us. We were both quite nervous. In the beginning of the stage I was reading too much forwards and Andreas wasn't driving on the car's limits either. After the stage we got our act together since what was there to be nervous about. More people, but the same Finnish roads as usual.  The next stage was a super special in Lahti horse race track. We managed to drive on a normal rhythm and beat our Norwegian partner. Third and final stage for the day was Mynnilä. It was already 10pm when we started the stage and we even installed extra headlights.

In Mynnilä stage. Picture by "Juha_Koo"
It was good to get a couple of good stages after the first nervous one. After Mynnilä it was time to head back to Jyväskylä and the night service. Luckily we had excellent mechanics in the service so we didn't have to worry about them to check the car and getting it to parc fermé. It was quite late when we finally managed get back to hotel. Around 12.30am or so.

After 5-5,5 hours of sleep it was time to get up and head to breakfast. Normally you would be quite tired with so short sleep, but since you were so exited to continue the rally you didn't even feel that tired. Friday started with Urria and its famous jump. We took the jump carefully and managed to drive a good time for the morning. A good start. Next stage was 22km long Jukojärvi. I personally really enjoyed the stage. As a road it wasn't too fast or too slow. All the time turning somewhere.
Picture by "Jack Bacon"
After Jukojärvi we headed to service. After the service we were to drive first round of stages Mökkiperä, Palsankylä and Lankamaa. Mökkiperä didn't start too well. One of our biggest competitors Jukka Korhonen had gone off into a ditch and that distracted us a little bit. The car didn't block us in any way, but you immediately started to think "what does this mean in the overall results?". Until that point we had been driving stage times which were only few seconds apart. Palsankylä went quite OK. Personally I liked Lankamaa stage a lot. It's a very difficult stage for a driver and a co-driver. At some point it's really fast and then slower. All the time quite narrow. But if you have good pace notes the speeds are in some sections quite respectable.
Entering a junction. Picture by Tiina Ketolainen.
Then back to service and going to Mökkiperä, Palsankylä and Lankamaa for the second time. The roads were rougher, but not too bad since people had been scaring us before the rally that they would be even worse. Not much to report about the second round except I again enjoyed the Lankamaa stage a lot. There was a small timing error in the Lankamaa stage and for a short period of time the results showed us being fourth overall in the standings right behind Citroën and Ford factory cars. People cracked a few jokes about that. The very last stage for the day was Killeri super special. The Norwegians beat us this time since we took the first round a bit too carelessly. But the rally had been going OK and we were happy to get through the day without any problems. Also we were looking forward to getting a good night sleep since around 7,5 hours of sleep was in the cards.
Posing with Tuija Huttunen. One of the many people who in Finnish rally training donate countless hours of their personal spare time helping  the young drivers. I'm still quite energetic at 10.30pm and with only 5,5hours of sleep on the previous night. Picture by Juha Huttunen (also one of the helping people in training)
Saturday. The last day of rally Finland. Still around 143km of special stages to go. 66km of those driven in legendary Ouninpohja. Leustu 1 and Surkee 1 started the day however. Leustu was a very nice stage. First on a smaller road and then on a really fast section. We had a bit of a moment in one left hand junction where a down hill braking caught us by surprise. Lost a couple of seconds since Andreas had to throw the car more sideways than optimal and that kills the momentum with a fwd car. After Leustu 1 and Surkee 1 we had service then the same stages were driven again. We took a bit of a gamble by continuing with a low car. We speculated that the roads might stay in better condition than they actually really where. Well you win some and you loose some. Sometimes you have to make decisions.
Some deep ruts on Leustu or Surkee junction. Picture by "Jack Bacon"
After the service was the legendary Ouninpohja. We tried to convince each other that it's just a Finnish road like every other stage. Still in the start line of Ouninpohja 1 you could sense our concentration was above normal. First you have 6-7km of fast roads going up and down, then the really fast sections going basically flat out, then the Kakaristo junction and after fast narrow road almost to the finish line. The first run wasn't easy for us and we were pretty humble guys at the finish line. In the beginning I read a bit too much forwards until I got the rhythm improved. Also Andreas had his hands full since there were places on the stage where we were jumping even though we didn't have it in the notes. The stage really is that fast even for a R2 Fiesta.
One of Ouninpohja crests. Picture by Jenni Lehtola.

Storming through Ouninpohja. Picture by "Jack Bacon"

Jumping again. Picture by "Jack Bacon"

Landing. The normal ride height isn't that low. Picture by "Jack Bacon"

Second time through Ouninpohja was much easier. The stage was more or less in muscle memory and you knew what to expect. Still at one slower left hand corner I realized that the pace was so fast I hadn't had a chance to fully inhale during the past couple of kilometers. Funny what you might notice during such a fast special stage.

At the Ouninpohja 2 finish we were happy and sad. Happy that we were second in class behind Joonas Lindroos and also at the same time second fastest 2wd car. Sad that the rally was over. We had virtually no problems during the rally and the stages were spectacular. The atmosphere on stages and even on the road sections is unbelievable. There are people standing by the road and waving even on the road sections. If you need to pass someone on the road sections they try to make as much room as possible and wave when you pass them by. What an adventure. Hopefully got a chance to go back again.

On the podium celebrating the second place. Picture by Juha Huttunen.

tiistai 17. heinäkuuta 2012

SM O.K. Auto rally in Kouvola 13th-14th of July

Second summer rally in the Finnish rally championship. This time in Kouvola and on very fast and challenging roads. Adding some spice to the normal entry list were WRC Academy driver Elfyn Evans from UK and Nil Solans from Spain. It was interesting to see their pace in among the regular runners.

There had been some rain before the recce, but luckily the weather stayed cloudy during the recce and rally. On Friday after the recce we had one super special stage on Kouvola rallycross track. 1 kilometre long sprint didn't much raise the heart beat. We lost 1,8 seconds which was quite a lot on such a short stage. Didn't really matter sine we still had 90km of stages to go, but it's always better to win time on a super special than to loose. If you loose time you have to fight those seconds back in the forests between the trees.

On Saturday every stage were to be run twice. We started with the longest one of them all. 16,75km should wake up everyone. We drove with our usual pace and managed to be the fastest in our class driving the same time with Jukka Korhonen. A bit of a surprise really since we didn't push it or take any risks.

The next stage was where all the action was during the rally. I created some for us by being late with one note and we half spun losing about 5 seconds. That was minor compared to some of our R2 competitors. There was a big jump on the stage where Jukka Korhonen and Juho Annala crashed their cars heavily. Here is a youtube clip of the place Kouvola special stage 3 jump and here is Jukka's in-car clip Jukka Korhonen jump and crash Jukka and his co-driver Mikael were OK and can fix their car for Neste Rally Finland, but unfortunately Juho and his co-driver Tuukka were taken to hospital, because of Juho's back pains. His season is over, but luckily nothing permanent and he should be back on the stages 2013 with his C2.

After the third stage we only knew that Jukka and Juho had crashed, but since the online results didn't work too well we kept on driving with the normal pace the following two stages before the service. On the fourth we even had a small "moment" when cutting a left hand corner a small cliff lifted our car on two wheels. After service we found out that we were leading before Elfyn Evans who had driven very well considering his fiesta had WRC Academy settings. I chatted some time with Elfyn and his co-driver and asked how they liked the rally. Our lead was quite comfortable, but we kept the normal pace on the stages that were now run for the second time. We only lifted a little bit on the last one. First ever class victory really made us smile. Only niggle was that three fiestas were taken to technical inspection for 45minutes before we even got to the podium. Minor nuisance for mechanics before victory celebrations.

So much for Kouvola. Now the focus is on Neste Oil Rally Finland planning recce/rally schedules, eating schedules, fuel calculations, checking technical regulations etc. First time for me in a WRC event and something I have dreamed of all my life. Hopefully we'll be fast and make it to the finish.

maanantai 25. kesäkuuta 2012

Spring "break"

Since during spring there aren't any rallies in Finland we went to UK to watch Pirelli International rally on 27th and 28th of April. Not driving, just seeing how the process of competing in British rallies works. And by we I don't mean just Andreas and me. With us were Andreas' trusted mechanic Niko and one of our familiar competitors from Finland: Jussi Vainionpää and his co-driver Mika Juntunen. Mika also belongs to the same training team as us. So all in all a jolly good group of people.We participated in the recce and watched the stages next day. Narrow roads from the Finnish perspective. Still fast though so nice to watch. Other than that things didn't seem that different compared to our own championship.

So what else. Training. In Vierumäki we had our physical tests. So rowing in the rowing machine + a dozen different physical tests. In May we had also a driving weekend to get some feeling of the cars on gravel and also to try different setups. The training weekends also bring up the social side of rallying since there is always time for a chat. 

During May we also participated in one actual rally. Ovisepät -rally wasn't part of the Finnish rally championship, but since you were allowed to use pace notes it served as a good practice session. The stages were old Finnish WRC round's stages. Fast and lots of crests. On one stage there was even few kilometers of tarmac. 

The spring break away from the championship went by quite fast and seems July-August is going to be particularly busy. Two championship rounds and Finnish championship round Neste Oil Rally Finland. 

maanantai 18. kesäkuuta 2012

POP Pankki -rally 9th 0f June 2012

After a long spring break from rallying it was finally time for the next Finnish rally championship round in Lapua. The roads were known to be extremely fast since we the stages are the same as last year. In 2011 I was co-driving for a car which rolled on the second stage so I was hoping not to repeat that experience.

We made whole new pace notes even thought we could have used Andreas' old ones from 2011. There have been some improvement in the notes and time wise you don't even save much when using the old ones. The schedule was really relaxed during the recce and we had plenty of time to make sure we ate enough and maxed our energy resources for the next day.

Andreas and Esapekka Lappi before the start of the rally. Picture by "Jack Bacon".
On Saturday the first one was a really fast over 20km long stage. The specialty of the stage was a 5km long very fast tarmac section. The stage seemed to go fine, but we lost 10 seconds to Jukka Korhonen who was fastest in our class. 
Picture from a first stage junction. Taken by "Jack Bacon".
After the first stage we already had first service where we decided to push harder on the second one. Our concentration was tested in the start of the stage where a red flag was raised and we had to wait in the car for 15 minutes for a restart. Somebody's car was blogging the road. We pushed quite hard right from the beginning. We overshoot one junction quite early in the stage and later almost went off the road. The stage seemed very slippery and Fiesta's rear tried to overtake us from time to time. We lost only 10 seconds which was OK all things considering. Link to youtube  In-car special stage 2 We had a bit of a moment at 6min30sec. 

On the third stage we drove OK and lost 5 seconds. That seemed a bit odd since we didn't make any notable mistakes. After third stage we had the last service. Jukka was leading the class quite cofortably, but second place was still possible for us with a little bit of luck. We decided to push on the last one. The last stage was first one driven again. We wouldn't be able to drive the stage much faster than that. We improved our stage time by 15 seconds. Still we lost 0,6 seconds to the fastest time in our class. In overall results we were fourht in class and dropped to third place in the championship. Not the end of the world. After the rally we found out that the differential wasn't probably working OK. So in the future some work with the car and testing for setups. Then the next championship round on the 14th of July in Kouvola.

maanantai 30. huhtikuuta 2012

SM Vaakuna rally, Mikkeli 26th of February 2012

Winter season's final Finnish Rally Championship round was held in Mikkeli. Luckily the weather wasn't as cold as the previous year when the temperature was around -32 celcius.

The rally started already on Friday evening with an 11 kilometer super special stage. The stage circled on a horse racing track before heading into the woods. In the woods the road was narrow and had a lot of loose snow outside the ruts. We lost some time when the rear stepped out of the ruts a couple of times.

Picture by "Jack Bacon"

On Saturday morning things luckily turned brighter. Long and challenging stage number 2 went really well. We beat Joonas Lindroos by ten seconds and took the class lead. However the class lead disappeared during the next two stages. Those were wide and fast roads. We don't have a lot of power in our car so if the rear steps out even a little bit it kills the speed.

Before the last stage the situation was clear. Joonas was leading by 15 seconds so without his mistake positions weren't going to change. The last stage went really well and we even managed to catch the car which started ahead of us. We weren't able to pass him so we just cruised to the finish. After steady start of the season we are now second in the 2wd championship so things are really well after the winter season. Next round of the Finnish Rally Championship will be held on 8-9th of June.
Picture by "Jack Bacon"

lauantai 4. helmikuuta 2012

Arctic Lapland Rally, 27th-28th of January 2012

One week after Riihimäki rally it was time to head to Rovaniemi in Lapland. Arctic Lapland Rally is a legendary rally in Finland and like the name says it's held on the Arctic Circle. The rally is twice as long (233km of special stages) as the normal Finnish championship rounds so we had three and a half days for the recce. The stages were awesome. Even the shortest one was 20km long and the longest was 47km! A real challenge for me since the roads in the Arctic Lapland Rally are the most challenging in Finnish championship. The winter had been perfect for ensuring firm coating of snow and ice on top of the roads. During the recce the temperatures were between -17 and -30. Had to use more than just a T-shirt when walking outside.

We started to the first stage around 1pm on Friday. We were once again fighting against the all Citroën C2 R2 front. Sergey Karyakin from the WRC Academy was entered to the rally with a Fiesta R2, but he had withdrawn before the start. Shame since it would have been nice to compare our speed with one of the WRC Academy guys. The first stage was a super special that we would drive three times during the rally. For a super special the stage was actually really good since it was 3,7km long. We just drove it through with normal speed and managed to be fastest in our class. With a huge margin of 0,1s. The main thing is not to win the super specials, but not to give any easy/stupid seconds away to the competition. Those are hard to get back in the forest between the trees.

The second stage was a proper stage with 23km of fast roads. We lost 5 seconds to the class leader, but we were happy to get the rally properly under way. I managed to be late with the pace notes once when going through somebody's yard, but luckily there wasn't anything tricky with the corner and had the time to catch up immediately. After this stage we entered the service for the first time and then headed for two long stages which were to be driven in the dark.

In addition of driving in the dark the rally there was a problem off snow dust hanging in the air. Similar phenomenon as Greece or Cyprus WRC rounds have with the gravel dust. When the temperature is cold enough and there is no wind there is a risk of snow dust and these two stages now had the dust hanging in the air. The third stage wasn't that bad with only the occasional dust. We lost 3 seconds to the class winner on the 32km stage so one could say that the battle for the lead was quite even.

After 60 stage kilometers we were 6,1 seconds from the class lead. The fourth stage was also a long one with 36km. On that stage the snow dust really was a problem and you could only see 20-30 meters in front of you. We even dried if we could see better using only the normal day time driving lights. That sometimes helps if there is really much snow in the air and the extra lights doesn't reflect so much from all the snow in the air. That trick didn't provide any assistance. One thing that really saved our day was the fact that we used an accurate trip meter for checking the distances during the recce. No we relied on the pace notes when keeping the throttle to the floor half blind. It worked. The margins weren't huge, but we managed to eat 4,9 seconds from the class leader and were only 1,2s behind when going back to Rovaniemi for the super special and overnight  service.

On the super special we attacked a bit too much and went wide one corner loosing time. Without that small mistake we would have been in the class lead, but had to settle for the second place when heading of to bed. The time difference after 100 stage kilometers was 0,9s! Excellent battle and the spirits were high since with differences like this you don't have to sleep in the car half of the rally. In the 45min service we changed the brake discs and pads and drove the car to parc fermé around 9.30pm. 

After good night sleep it was an early wake up for breakfast and getting the car out of parc fermé after 8am. Our plan was to attack on the first stage and that we certainly did. We were trying a bit too hard and our driving wasn't neat enough especially on the junctions. We lost almost 20s on the 30km stage. Luckily there were still 100 stage kilometers to go so the game wasn't over yet. We decided to tidy up the driving a bit for the next stage which was also 30km long. Well that wasn't to be. One kilometer from the start of the stage we heard a loud banging noise from the front. We thought that a drive shaft was broken, but when Andreas tried to brake he realized it might just be a brake caliber problem. Apparently when changing the discs and pads one of the brake calibers wasn't tightened properly. We stopped on the stage, took out the front left caliber and switched a spare wheel since the rim was broken too. Then drove 28km with only using the hand brake. Luckily the last 10km was a really fast section so we didn't have to slow down too much. In any case we lost 10min 35s. 
Just to make sure we were on a good mood the driver's side window got stuck 3/4 open for a 50km road section in -23 degrees temperature. It got a bit chilly in the car. We don't usually play with the windows too much, but Andreas opened it in a junction because he couldn't see through the window since it was frozen from the inside. The R2 car's heaters don't have enough power to keep the side windows open when the temperature is below -15 or so. Even our water bottles near the floor of the car were 2/3 frozen since only the area near the roof is even somewhat warm. The windshield stays open since it's electrically heated. 

Picture is from the fast 10km section. No brakes anymore, but still almost managed to jump.

On the service we managed to get 3,5/4 of the brakes working and close the driver's side window. Even though we had lost a lot of time you should never quit trying. The plan was to pick up any left over points since those might be really valuable in the end of the season. We still had two stages and 70 stage kilometers to go. Anything could happen. On the second last 23km long stage we lost only 4s to the stage winner. A really good result since the brakes weren't 100%. That helped since now we knew we didn't at least take a 30s beating. Something else helped even more. We got an SMS from our service crew before the very last 47km marathon stage. Others crews had had their share of problems(technical or digging the cars out of snow banks) and miraculously we were now second in class and third overall in the 2wd category! That really lifted the spirits and the plan was to drive "fast without risks". Below is our in-car clip from the stage.
Meaning not taking any risks, but also not to lift the throttle if there wasn't any reason to take the bend slower than normal. In the end of the stage we found out that we had been fastest in class by 17,6s and secured the second in class and third overall in 2wd!

Goes without saying that the spirits were quite high in the car! Starting with 0,9s to the lead in the morning, the dropping over 10min and then fighting back to second place. An emotional roller coaster, but that's why the Arctic Lapland Rally has the reputation of being an adventure. After the Arctic Lapland Rally we are now third overall in the 2wd championship standings since the SM2 and SM3 classes are fighting for one title only. The next championship round is on the 25th on February in Mikkeli. Before that we have AKK's training weekend and also one small rally on the previous weekend before Mikkeli.

torstai 19. tammikuuta 2012

Riihimäki -rally 14th of January 2012

Riihimäki -rally had the honor of being the first rally of the 2012 Finnish Rally Championship. The weather had been really warm and things weren't looking too good for a winter rally. On the previous weekend we headed 450km north of Helsinki to Nilsiä where one could test tyres and car in proper winter conditions. Two days of testing went well and the whole crew got the chance to get some routine of their tasks.

Any worries of a proper winter rally vanished during the week before the Riihimäki -rally. Colder temperatures and some snow enabled a nice winter rally. The first stage of the rally was super special held in the center of Riihimäki on a horse race track. We didn't try anything special and kept driving really clean. The stopwatch appreciated that and we were the fastest 2wd car in the Finnish championship. This year the 2wd cars have been divided into two categories. SM2-class competes with maximum 2 liter cars (civics, fiestas, R2 clio) and the SM3-class with R2 and R1 cars. Both classes fight for one 2wd championship. The R2s are faster on narrow and technical roads and the bigger engined cars on faster stages. Our SM3-class in funny in that way that we are the only crew driving a Ford Fiesta. Everybody else has Citroën C2 R2s in normal or max guises.

The second stage we drove too calmly and lost 12 seconds to Joonas Lindroos in our class. Lindroos was second in Finnish 4wd championship in 2011 and now stepped one step down back to 2wd drive cars. So we didn't loose to a slow driver, but anyway would have been nice to continue leading our class. Third stage was more to our pace and we only lost a few seconds to Lindroos. We headed to the first service second in our class.

After the service there were three stages where we basically drove neck and neck with Lindroos. Didn't manage to close down the gap however. After those three stages we headed back to the service area for our second service. The tactic for the last two stages was quite obvious. No heroics and secure good points with the second place. That was quite easy to do. We also finished fourth overall with the 2wd category. A couple of civics were also faster than us on the fast roads. Next day after the rally we went and drove the stages though again to see where we could have driven faster, improve our pace notes and read the notes with better timing. An exercise I definitely recommend.

Next rally in the championship is the legendary Arctic Lapland Rally 27th-28th of January in Rovaniemi at the Arctic circle. A two day rally with 233 special stage kilometers and some epic scenery. Since the rally is so long we'll fly to Lapland already on Sunday and start the recce on Monday.