I was in Rally Sweden as a private driver after 15 years. My co-driver was Juho Hänninen and this was our first rally together in WRC on World Championship level. We had high expectations because Rally Sweden was (and is) one of my favorites, but the conditions were poor. That was why they cut the race into half of the original race. We had worked hard to get sponsors for this rally, but we had managed well and we were happy. We felt good.
The race started cautiously seeking for the feeling (stage one). Stage two went better and I found my driving skills again until the troubles started after driving seven kilometers. A cable in the starting engine had been faultily set which caused a short circuit in the electricity system. The engine started to cough and it was impossible to compete. We lost a lot of minutes on stages two and three so we decided to retire. We were so much behind the others it was no use to continue in such a short rally. When the team realized it was their mistake they – together with us – made a decision to give us another go in Rally Sardinia.
Contest was cancelled due the forest fires.
The pressure was enormous when I went to the gravel roads of Spain. Driving off in Wales and taxation problems in Finland were bothering my mind and Manufacturers’ Championships battle needed points. One could see all this in my driving in the morning: no rhythm and horrible to watch. In the afternoon I could be more relaxed and my times started to reach the leading group. But I was so far behind that I was only sixth. On Saturday it was tarmac and I felt more confident because I knew my car worked fine on such surface. It was fun to drive and I tried to drive fast but safe to get the Manufacturers’ points which we needed to win Hyundai. I was 30 seconds behind the lead and could not reach it but I was able to get the fifth position because Meeke drove off the road. On Sunday I came closer and closer to Loeb but ran out of stages and the fifth position was all I could get. Ott Tänak won Power Stage clearly and became second. He was 0,4 seconds better than Dani Sordo. Ott Tänak confirmed his World Championships 2019 victory. He was able to end the 16-year-domination of the French. Thierry Neuville won the race and Hyundai was now 18 points ahead of Toyota in the Manufacturers’ World Championship points.
Traditional forest stages in Wales were muddy and slippery. The rally was driven in the beginning of November and yet it was muddy because the rains in Wales start late September – early November. I should know these conditions because this was my 18th time here but still Rally Wales surprised me. The first stages were sticky and I could not find proper rhythm. It succeeded on stage four, Dyfnant, which was (and is) one of my favourite stages. Good rhythm and good driving but a fatal mistake on stage seven in Penmachno. After a jump, I took a wrong line and landed on mud. The rear of my car lost the grip and I hit a rock which was lurking on the bank. The car started rolling and stopped when the bottom of it hit a tree. The rollbar in the front on the left twisted and that was the end of this rally. This was the first time in Rally Wales that I had to retire due to driving off the road.
Rocky roads and hot weather demanded the suspension and the tires a lot. Last year our team reached one-two positions by driving wisely. That was the tactics this year, too. The race started well because I was the fastest but when the roads got worse I was unable to keep my pace compared to the fastest cars. Our whole team was in the same situation. My times were good if the roads were smooth but on coarse roads the gap became larger. On stage five I had a puncture and I lost 50 seconds. On stage there was rain and the roads were slippery. With hard tires the other Toyotas and I were far behind the lead. On Friday we realized that our car didn’t work on rocky conditions. I was ninth after Friday. On Saturday the situation was the same and we lost time when driving on rocky roads. All I could do was to concentrate on driving smoothly, without mistakes and waiting for others to make those mistakes. Tänak had to retire due to electric problems and Thierry Neuville drove off the road a bit. I caught Kris Meeke by driving and reached the sixth position. On Sunday I took it safe and drove to the finish without any risks and on power stage I tried a bit harder and got two extra points. So I was sixth overall. Ogier won, Esapekka was second (one-two for Citroen) Andreas Mikkelsen was the best Hyundai. He was third.
Monte Carlo didn’t go well and Corsica was a disaster. Driving on tarmac was not good at all, hadn’t been for a long time. I felt pressure because I had to succeed to get the manufacturer’s points. Hyundai was ahead and we wanted to catch them. So I needed a good result in Germany. My aim was to be on top five. At first it was a bit stiff and I just couldn’t quite get it. I was thinking of my driving too much. I had been in Ahvenisto and practiced with Olli Haapalainen and Antti Puri (track specialists). Finally I lowered my shoulders and started to relax in the cabin. Tommi (team principal) phoned me and told me to relax. Just relax and everything would be easier. So it was, even through the whole weekend. Ogier and Neuville had punctures. Finally Toyota had 1-2-3 positions. I was third. On Sunday we froze the situation and didn’t compete with each other. Sordo was fourth and tried to push but he wasn’t able to beat me. I was faster a couple of times and he was faster a couple of times. So I ended up third and was so happy. Another podium in a row.
The beginning of the season went badly. It was time to start the other half of the season in Jyväskylä. Due to the bad beginning of this season we were tenth in the series. We had to help the team to get the manufacturer’s title so we had to succeed in Jyväskylä. So the pressure was huge. Luckily it was my homerally, the stages were familiar and they were more or less the same as in last year’s event. I knew I had to be in top speed right from the first moment of the race which I managed to do. On the first stage I really was racing. One of the hardest racing days of the whole series I had ever driven was Friday. The gaps were only tenths of a second after Friday but we did lead. The race was even harder on Saturday with Meeke, Tänak and Lappi. In Kakaristo on Saturday there was a right-left combination and some concrete to prevent cutting. Last year the obstacle was on the right now it was on the left and I took a slightly different angle and had to go around on the left. I went in on the right hand side and throttled a bit too early and went into a ditch. Of course there was a stone there which I hit and instantly the rim broke down. After that I just tried to manage the stage through and had so many thoughts on my mind. Would everyone pass me now and would everything just go into pieces? But I was lucky and were able to drive so fast even with a broken rim that I was only 14 seconds behind the leading time of this stage. Although even the tire and the side of our car was totally ruined. After the stage we changed the tire and continued the race. Meeke hit the same rock (what a place!) and he had to retire because he broke the suspension. This time I was luckier. We needed the manufacturer’s points so I had to concentrate on getting them and not to do any more damage. E-P Lappi started to drive faster so he passed me. I let him go and concentrated on getting the car over the finish line safely. Our first podium (third position) and good manufacturer’s points because Tänak won. That was our plan, that came true and that was good.
One of my favourites. I was prepared and I felt we could drive for the victory. Our starting position was good which was an advantage for us. We were leading on Friday morning but on Friday afternoon, I made an unbelievable mistake. I couldn’t understand how I cut too early in a slow corner and our car went upside down. There were not many spectators and it was difficult to get the few there were to help us. It took almost eight minutes to get the car back on the road and we could continue the race. There was not much damage but we lost so many minutes. We just tried to drive the rest of the stages and then get the car to service. We damaged our windshield and had to get rid of it. It wasn’t as difficult as one would think. Just a bit windy inside but to keep your head somewhat down and it was okay. I had my glasses on so my eyes took the wind well. Unfortunately on Friday evening we had trouble with steering. The steering jammed and I went off into a small ditch and bush. It didn’t damage the car but with jammed steering we could not continue. The car was fixed and we could continue on Saturday and Sunday (Rally 2 rule). Now I was the first car on the road, so it was a bit difficult. On Sunday we tried to get a few extra points on power stage. Too bad that Tänak had the same steering problem and he lost the lead. He dropped to the fifth position overall.
Friday in Portugal was new. New stages or they weren’t exactly new, they had been driven some 15 or maybe even 20 years ago in Argahil area.Those roads were really nice and the weather was very warm. Well, it was hot because it was over plus 30 Celsius. That wasn’t easy for the tires and the inside of the car was pretty warm. I almost lost my tires on Friday but still I had a good pace. We were close to the top and we felt we might get to the podium this time. Luckily it was a bit cooler on Saturday. We drove the more traditional stages and I was in a good pace. I think we were second in the race after Tänak who was leading. We didn’t have a long gap to Tänak. But then unfortunately we lost our suspension. Our left shock absorber lost its oil and the absorber went soft. Although I tried to drive carefully the absorber broke down. The front upper end broke down and we had to retire. It was difficult to say what really was the reason until they found out that it was the absorber canister which came off. Why that happened we never knew. On Sunday we tried to drive wisely and get extra points on power stage. Unfortunately the car before me had driven off on power stage and the stage was stopped and of course I had to stop. There were red flags and everything and I lost my rhythm after that compulsory stop. No normal drive for me. They gave me a compensated time on power stage but that was not enough for any points. I was a bit frustrated, of course. So, on Saturday we had to retire, then something went wrong and we got time penalty. Yet we were seventh in overall because our team mate retired on the last stage and other drivers had problems on Sunday as well.