Teemu Suninen says his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC drive at this month’s Monza Rally could be the one opportunity he needs to land a return to the World Rally Championship’s big time.
The 27-year-old was named as Ott Tänak’s replacement on Tuesday following his decision to skip the season-closing Monza for personal reasons.
Former M-Sport driver Suninen – who drove for Hyundai in WRC2 at last month’s Rally Spain – wants to demonstrate his potential at the WRC’s sharp end with a top-drawer performance in Italy.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m not going to put any pressure on myself,” Suninen told DirtFish. “I won’t change my approach, I want to find my rhythm and drive my rally.
“In a way this is a one-time chance for me to get where I want to get – to a full-time seat in a World Rally Car. It’s really nice to come to this chance off the back of two strong rallies and two good results.”
Suninen will have a seat fitting for the i20 Coupe WRC this Thursday (November 4), then drive the car for the first time a day later at the team’s pre-event test in Italy.
“I have to find out a lot from the test,” he said. “I want to discover a lot about the car. We have seen this car winning a lot of rallies and two world championships – so I’m looking forward to driving it a lot.
“I didn’t talk with Andrea [Adamo, team principal] or the team about what the strategy will be for the rally. I am just very happy and have to say a lot of thanks to them for giving me this chance.
“I have really enjoyed the time in the team already. I was driving the i20 N Rally2 in Spain and then we were doing some more testing in Italy last week. It was all really positive and good to work with them – we know exactly where the team is going and the i20 N Rally2 really has a very big future.”
Suninen is hoping he can form part of that future next season.
“I want to stay with Hyundai Motorsport next year,” he said. “We talked a little bit about this, but the talk is all about WRC2 in the Rally2.
“I told you already that my ambition is to be back in the top level, but that’s difficult next season.”
Suninen made four starts in a Ford Fiesta WRC this year before departing M-Sport at the end of August. Before that, three full seasons with the team has given him plenty of experience of the current generation of World Rally Cars that will be succeeded by Rally1 next year.
“I know I do have a lot of experience with these cars,” Suninen said. “I understand the aero and things like this, but what will be new for me will be the tires we are using on asphalt. I didn’t drive them on these kind of roads.”
An engine issue on the opening day of last year’s Monza Rally also left Suninen short on knowledge of the mountain stages that form the bulk of the event’s mileage.
“I have already been looking a lot at the onboards. It’s part of the challenge to go to some roads where I have never driven before – for sure it would have been easier if this opportunity came in Finland or Spain or somewhere like that, but I am very happy to take it in Monza.
“I know I can drive well on Tarmac and now this is a good chance for me.”
Suninen took the call from the team on Tuesday and was delighted to accept the offer of Tänak’s car.
“Of course I am sorry Ott cannot compete and these circumstances,” he said.
“I was talking and joking a little bit with Colin [Clark, DirtFish] in Spain and I was saying I would love to take the World Rally Car in Monza, but I didn’t expect it to happen!
“Like I said, it’s tough for Ott, but a real chance for me.”