ŠKODA has enjoyed considerable success at the Rally Finland over the years. But few victories have been sweeter than the one claimed by Juho Hänninen five years ago.
It was the Finnish driver’s first full SWRC campaign in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000, but he and his co-driver Mikko Markkula had already shown hints of what was to come in the previous two seasons.
In 2009, they had finished the Rally Finland in 10th place overall, winning the N4 class classification. A year later, they returned to claim the SWRC category victory and finish 9th overall.
So going into 2011, hopes were high that the Finnish pair, who were driving a Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team (BRR) prepared Fabia S2000 for the Red Bull ŠKODA team, could make an impression on the SWRC championship. But the start to the season they made surpassed even their own expectations.
They finished second in their opening two events of the season, the Rally Guanajuato Mexico and Rally Italia Sardegna, finishing an impressive 8th overall on both occasions. The next event was the Acropolis Rally in Greece, and there they won the SWRC category in their ŠKODA Fabia S2000 by a margin of almost five minutes from their nearest rivals.
And so to the Rally Finland, which in 2011 consisted of 22 stages over three legs and a total competitive distance of 314km. As always, the event was held in and around the Finnish town of Jyväskylä.
After their impressive start to the season, the pressure was on Juho Hänninen and Mikko Markkula in their home rally. The atmosphere around the stages was electric, with an estimated 450,000 fans cheering the drivers on over the three days of the event.
The first leg saw Hänninen engaging in an ongoing duel with his Estonian rival Ott Tänak and at the end of the day his ŠKODA Fabia S2000 was sat in second place in the SWRC category.
But the second leg proved to be decisive as Hänninen / Markkula won seven of the eight stages contested to establish themselves at the front of the field at the end of day 2. Tänak meanwhile dropped back as an incident saw him leave the track and lose a significant amount of time.
Hänninen went into the third day looking to consolidate his lead but still managed to claim a further four stage victories as he ended up winning the SWRC category by a margin of 2 minutes and 37 seconds from Martin Prokop, with Tänak ending up back in third.
As would be expected, Hänninen was elated to claim his second successive SWRC win at his home event, and his third overall.
The result left Hänninen in a commanding position at the top of the SWRC standings with a lead of 18 points. And despite the fact that he finished off the podium in the next two events, the Rallye Deutschland and the Rallye de France-Alsace, a third victory of the season at the RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada in Spain saw him claim the SWRC title for the Red Bull ŠKODA team by a margin of 20 points.