Mikko Heikkilä has finished fifth in his home rally, WRC Secto Rally Finland. The Finn suffered mechanical issues and a puncture on Friday, but the Skoda driver battled through to to sixth by Saturday and climbed a position further on Sunday’s opening stage.
Mikko Heikkilä and co-driver Samu Vaaleri finished a difficult Secto Rally Finland in a commendable fifth place. The home WRC rally proved to be a challenging one for the Skoda driver, but his competitive pace on Saturday and the final day on Sunday propelled him from the 18th position to all the way up to fifth place in the WRC2 class.
Heikkilä's rally was colored by misfortunes right from the first special stage on Friday, as gear shifter issues halted his progress at the starting line. A puncture on the third special stage further extended the gap for the Nurmijärvi driver. Despite the setbacks, Heikkilä managed to shine on Special Stage 9 - Hattula 2, where he set the fastest time.
"I feel really frustrated. This is our seventh consecutive rally that somehow goes wrong for us. Coming here, our expectations were high, but they shattered with the gear shifter issue during the first acceleration. And then, the puncture in Myhinpää, which I can't really put on my own account; there must have been something sharp on the road that caused the puncture, as we didn’t hit anything," expressed Heikkilä on Friday.
On Saturday, Heikkilä focused on steadily climbing up the standings, avoiding major risks. His efforts paid off, as the Skoda driver gained seven places to secure a higher position by the end of the day's stages.
"We decided to avoid taking bigger risks today, as planned. There’s not much of a gap to the fifth place, so we’ll see if we can climb further in the standings. The roads got quite rough during the second run. We hit a rock in Rapsula, and the wheel bearing took a hit, but other than that, it went fairly well," Heikkilä summarized his afternoon performances.
Sunday's schedule consisted of four special stages. Heikkilä secured the fifth position right from the first stage of the day. Driving for TGS Motorsport during the Finnish WRC rally, Heikkilä confirmed his fifth-place finish as he crossed the finish line.
"It's a big shame the race turned out like this, and we couldn't do much about the setbacks. There was still driving to do after Laukaa, but after the puncture in Myhinpää, the leaders pulled away too far. Saturday and Sunday went according to plan, with no mistakes or major incidents. When running on a tight budget, it's not worth taking unnecessary risks just for stage times. The route was fantastic again this year, but of course, it's disappointing when we come here primarily to compete for positions rather than just enjoy the stages," Heikkilä reflected.
As part of the European Rally Championship, Heikkilä will continue his competition season at the Czech Rally in two weeks, driving for The Racing Factory team.
"A huge thanks to everyone who made this possible. At the same time, apologies to my partners for the way this event turned out. It's surely frustrating for all those who are with us. Let's hope our luck turns around at some point. Thanks also to the spectators for their support along the route and on the liaisons. It's an amazing feeling to drive in a home event with a large audiences and great encouragement. Next up, the ERC Czech Republic, and it's going to be a different kind of challenge. The asphalt will be slippery, but we'll try to drive smartly," Heikkilä conveyed his gratitude.
Heikkilä's rally season will continue at the Barum Czech Rally, the seventh round of the Rally Championship, on August 19-20.
WRC2 final results
1. Sami Pajari 2:43:15,0 Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 FIN
2. Adrien Fourmaux +33,8 Ford Fiesta Rally2 FRA
3. Nikolay Gryazin +1:07,8 Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 ANA
4. Andreas Mikkelsen +1:31,5 Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 NOR
5. Mikko Heikkilä +2:00,6 Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 FIN