Raikonnen hits the grit

2009-08-01 00:00

FERRARI ace Kimi Raikkonen, fresh from finishing second in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, takes time off from Formula One this weekend to compete in the Rally of Finland.

A keen rally fan, Raikkonen will be at the wheel of a Fiat Abarth in the S2000 category of this ninth leg of the world rally championship led by Ford’s Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen.

Raikkonen’s co-driver, Kaj Lindstrom, says the 2007 F1 champion is a natural behind the wheel of a rally car.

“His handling and driving skills, like the lines he takes and so on, are at a very high level —  outstanding, actually,” Lindstrom, who used to team up with mutliple rally champion Tommi Makinen, told wrc.com

“On the test, I was quite surprised by how quickly he got used to the gravel and got the car to perform. It’s a very comfortable feeling for me to be in the car with him in Finland — even though it’s a high-speed rally. You can see that he controls the car and not the other way around.”

This is the pair’s first gravel rally after competing in two snow and one tarmac rally previously and Lindstrom insisted winning was not the priority.

“It’s all about fun. We haven’t talked about any result that we want to have and I think that’s the best way to do it.

“If we can do three good days without mistakes, and hopefully without punctures, then we will get some result for sure, but with the amount of experience he has there’s no point in setting any targets.

“We’ll just see. We’ll go there with the aim of having fun and making life difficult for the other drivers!”

Raikkonen’s appearance on his home rally comes in the same month that five-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb expressed his interest in competing in Formula One.

The Frenchman’s team Citroen were quick, however, to rule out any switch this season with their ace driver embroiled in a battle royale for the 2009 title with four rallies of the season to come.

His lowly seventh-place finish in last month’s Rally of Poland left Loeb one point behind his arch rival, Hirvonen, who like Raikkonen is on home gravel this weekend.

The Rally of Finland started on Thursday with Hirvonen going for a hat trick after wins in Greece and Poland.

Loeb is counting on history repeating itself as he won in Finland 12 months ago to kick-start his ultimately successful title bid, having gone into the 2008 edition trailing Hirvonen by three points in the drivers’ standings.

“It would clearly be more comfortable if we had a lead of, say, 20 points going into this rally,” joked Loeb.

“We were three points adrift of Mikko before last year’s visit. This time, the gap is narrower and there are only four more rallies to come this season. As I see it, it’s as though the championship will be beginning afresh in Finland, and our only option will be to attack.”

The Rally of Finland ends tomorrow.


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