Suninen’s approach has changed for his “second chance”

Teemu Suninen opens up to DirtFish ahead of his WRC Rally1 debut this week in Estonia

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Let’s rewind. It’s around this time in 2017. Rally Finland is drawing to a close with just over 10 miles to run. Competing at the highest level on his home event for the first time, Teemu Suninen is running second.

Sixth place in Poland a few weeks prior had demonstrated potential pace, but Jyväskylä hammered that point home. Suninen smiles ruefully. He remembers the moment well.

“I had two rallies in the [Ford] Fiesta WRC,” he told DirtFish. “I had to show my pace and show my level, so I thought: ‘It doesn’t matter if I crash.’

“If I could show my pace and get a good result then I might get a place in the WRC. But I also understood that if I crashed, there would be no future in the rallying.”


He did crash. But only a little bit.

“Second last stage,” he continued. “I was still fighting for second place.

“I knew, only way to make it was to drive flat out. Sunday was really on the limit. And sometimes over it. I told the people I was with, the people who had supported me for a long time: ‘I am only once doing my first WRC round in Finland with top car, so I really want to go for it.’

“I was really on the limit when I did a small mistake. I went wide and had a spin. Luckily I was able to survive and bring the car home on the fourth position. I had those two rallies. I showed my speed.”


Since that event, Suninen has come and gone from the official M-Sport squad. And he’s been as close as you can get to winning with a second place in Sardinia, 2019.

And now he’s got two more: this week’s Rally Estonia and next month’s Rally Finland.

“It’s different this time,” he said. “This time it’s not about whether I’m on the podium or not. I have proved my pace and skill and now I’m working with the team and delivering what the team wants.”

It’s different, but the same. The likeable 29-year-old is still chasing the same thing: full-time employment at the sharp end of the world championship.

“I really feel it is my second chance,” he said.

It is. In more ways than one. Don’t forget Suninen drove Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC on a one-off in Monza, 2021. Sixth in Italy’s season-closer. Now he’s back in the fastest rally car coming out of Alzenau.

He explained his thinking: “I think we got a bit of trust from the team and they are seeing my potential.”

There’s a pause, Teemu’s picking his words.

“I think,” he said, “I have learned something in these years. I am seeing rallying a bit differently now compared to my first seasons in WRC and, maybe, by my age I have become more clever and I have more understanding.”

Another pause. More consideration.

“I wish that I haven’t become too old and lost any pace!”

The recent Lõuna-Eesti Ralli would indicate he remains young enough. And quick enough. Second on the a south Estonian warm-up, he was close enough to Ott Tänak’s Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid to settle any lingering nerves.

There is, however, still plenty to learn in terms of Rally1 competition. These cars are different. Very. Listening to Suninen is like taking a trip back to the top of last season, when everything was new for everybody.


“The [Rally1] car is somewhere between an old World Rally Car and a Rally2 car. It actually feels more like a Rally2-plus with the hybrid, no active [center] diff and the five-speed gearbox,” he explained.

“The World Rally Car was easier to drive with the active diff and less weight. What we have now is an R5 car with big muscles and a hybrid box which makes the car a bit different to drive.”

The delivery of the battery-powered boost is well documented, but the re-gen still offers food for thought.

“You have to be clever when you are collecting the energy,” said Suninen. “You have to think about the way you are braking – if you are locking the tires then you are not collecting.

Now we are going against the rules we have been taught for so long – the philosophy is so different Teemu Suninen

“The driving style has to change. Everything we have learned for the last 10 years is different now. Before you were very aggressive with the brakes, using them as last as possible. Now you have to be more progressive.

“The weight balance from the car is different as well – the hybrid box is behind the driver, so there’s some more weight at the rear. Sometimes when you turn in you get the feeling the car doesn’t want to turn, but when it does turn, the slide feels like it’s never-ending.”

That all sounds like a lot. How would Suninen compare this week with what he went through ahead of his World Rally Car debut six years ago?

“Rally1 is an even bigger step,” he replied immediately.


“Now we are going against the rules we have been taught for so long – the philosophy is so different. You don’t brake to the maximum and as soon as you’re coming to the end of the corner, you can’t necessarily be thinking about taking full throttle. The rules have changed.”

All that said, what’s possible? Again, there’s a moment to ponder the right way to answer that.

“Look at Elfyn [Evans],” he offered. “I keep Elfyn as one of the top drivers in the world. Before the new cars he was second twice in the championship. But last season he was struggling. He’s still a top driver, but it took some time for him to get used to the [Rally1] car – maybe it took him nearly one year.

“What can I do in one rally?”

He blows his cheeks as he thinks about what lies ahead.

“I keep in mind that the team is telling me what to do,” he added. “I expect to be the driver to bring the car home, to take the points. But if the feeling is good and I have good pace then why not go for it?

“These are difficult rallies [in Estonia and Finland]. You cannot drive safely; you are nowhere if you drive safely and don’t go flat out. In these rallies we don’t get so many mechanical issues and only punctures are coming from the ruts. Normally it’s all about the performance.”

Answer the question Teemu.

“Of course,” he said, “it’s possible to win. But I would not see it as realistic. I would say there would be something wrong. If I would win, for the rally, it would be wrong.”

He pauses again, deep in thought.

“Podium might,” he said, elongating the second of those two words to underline the might-ness of the might, “be possible in Finland. That’s from my point of view and only if everything goes well.

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“But that’s still far away.”

The return to rallying’s top-flight?

Starting this week, that’s closer than ever for the Finn.