Formula 1 grand prix-winner Heikki Kovalainen has become the latest high-speed Finn to try to establish a rallying career.
Mika Häkkinen, the 1998 and ‘99 F1 World Champion, used to be a regular at the Arctic Lapland Rally and his 2007 world championship-winning McLaren replacement Kimi Räikkönen split up his F1 career with two seasons in the World Rally Championship in which he claimed a best result of fifth.
As a Citroën junior he also won a French national rally and was pipped by team-mate Sébastien Ogier to Rally della Lanterna victory in 2010.
Current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has now also become an Arctic Lapland regular and won a rallycircuit event two years ago, and he has not hidden his intentions to turn his passion into a career.
Kovalainen has beaten him to that though, as an impressive sixth place on his Arctic Lapland debut in 2015 led him to picking up rallying as a hobby a year later when he started racing sportscars for Toyota in Japan.
He has moved up the Japanese Rally Championship ranks in a two-wheel-drive Toyota GT86 CS-R3 and was this year’s secondary class champion with a best overall finish of fifth. Throughout he has been co-driven by Sae Kitagawa, and for the last three years has been run by Rally Team Aicello.
His time in the Super GT sportscar series will now come to an end, with rallying and time back in his home land of Finland taking priority after two years of strict travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When one chapter is closing, another chapter opens and you won’t get rid of me quite yet,” Kovalainen announced in an Instagram video.
“I’m still passionate about motorsport, and the passion towards rallying has really grown. As you may know, I’ve done a few rallies this year and it’s something that I’ve always been really interested in. I know I won’t be a WRC champion anymore, but it’s something I want to do a bit more, I want to improve.
“So the plans for next season are revolving around a rally program. At the moment the plan is to rally in Japan, move up to the four-wheel-drive category hopefully with a little bit faster car.
“The rally schedule is much easier compared to the GT schedule. Much less testing, less events, so it won’t require myself being all the time in Japan, so it gives me lots of time to spend with family and especially with my wife.
“So at this point in my life, it is really an important part of the decision. That’s the plan for next season.”
Factory WRC driver Takamoto Katsuta’s dad Norihiko drives for Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Japanese branch in the JRC, and with four overall wins claimed the top class title this year in his factory-developed Toyota GR Yaris for the first time after six titles since 2010 in other classes.
As Toyota does not yet have a Rally2 or Rally3 version of its Finnish-built Yaris, it is likely Kovalainen would pilot one of TGR Japan’s GR cars if he was to stay with the brand.