After the Finnish Championship rally in Kouvola, which went well, my Toyota Celica was supposed to have just a minor service and check-up before the home race Rally Pohjanmaa. While servicing we saw that there were more broken parts than expected which gave us more work than we had thought, for example we had to change the turbo. The time was running out but we managed to get the car ready one day before the rally. Now it was time to set the lights because there would be stages driven in the dark. Unfortunately one of the teeth of the front CWP came off and went through the top of the transfer box causing leakage of oil. All of it leaked out. We had only one day to change the transfer box but the mechanics did a brilliant job and managed to fix the car on time. The race started approximately one hour late on our behalf due to occasional delays but finally we were able to start our first stage. But the turbo did not last. I managed to drag the car about 800 meters to the first crossroads but that was it, the race was over. The turbo had been changed, only about 50 kilometers driven, but the car with all its technical details never tells you beforehand when it is going to break down.
The disappointment in the Top Building Rally in August was so overwhelming that I needed to drive again somewhere and soon. We decided to drive in Kouvola because of the fast and hard surfaced roads in the Kymenlaakso area which we liked. I had driven in Kouvola 2007 so it really was time to go there again. Three stages, each of them twice plus Tykkimäki as power stage. Our starting number was 92 and by the time we were starting the race it was raining heavily making the roads slippery. Right away on stage one a slippery left almost caught me and gave me palpitation. It was a bit stressful to drive on stages one and two because the slippery places changed a lot but luckily the rain stopped before stage three and the driving started to feel fun. My co-driver Juho Hänninen did a good job in reading notes to me and his comments every now and then motivated me to do my best. The car was working perfectly and racing was nice. I did not let the thought of possibly breaking wheel bolts ruin my driving. And the bolts did not break! We took the car intact into the finish and we won our category (no one else in our category) but the most important thing for us was the fifth position overall (had we competed overall). And we would have won the Finnish Championship Category 2 with a 30-year-old car!
The Corona pandemic struck the world on March, 15 and took the rallies out of the calendar. Luckily the situation got better during the summer and finally at the end of the summer some rallies were driven. Lahti Historic Rally was to be driven at first but it was cancelled because of the corona situation. The rally was changed from the European championship rally into a national rally which was driven in Lammi during one day only. There were three stages driven twice each (six altogether) and the reccé was done in the morning of the racing day. I had driven the last time in February so I was a bit excited. My driving was not so good but I was not alone with that problem. The break in driving had done its task. We drove the fastest time on stages one and two. At the beginning of stage three our brakes started to get soft and I thought we had a problem with the wheel bearing but all of a sudden the whole tire came off. Luckily the runaway did not hit anybody and I managed to keep the car on the road. Not much damage but we had to retire. The wheel bolts of the rear tires were changed but the front bolts were old. There was some stretching in the bolts of the front left wheel and they broke down. We had not checked how worn out the bolts were before starting stage three. We have to be more careful in the future and check the parts of our rally car properly.
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.
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.