Reeta Hämäläinen won her first ever WRC3 event as a driver on last weekend’s Rally Spain, finishing an impressive 28.5 seconds clear of title contender Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
In reality, Emil Lindholm doubled up on his Rally Finland success from a month earlier to continue a fine vein of form in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Are you confused yet?
No matter, so was the watching rallying world, but Lindholm and his co-driver Hämäläinen had spotted a loophole and exploited it to brilliant effect.
“Reeta must be a good driver to drive to my notes,” joked Lindholm. “I think she must be the first female driver to win a WRC3 event! It’s quite cool.
“That’s how the pair were entered – Hämäläinen as the driver and Lindholm the co-driver. But nowhere in the WRC’s sporting regulations (DirtFish has double and triple checked) does it say that they had to stick to those roles once the rally was underway.
“Actually I drove yesterday, and today was Emil’s day,” Hämäläinen said on Saturday. “This was my first time with an R5 car, so I’m pretty impressed about myself.”
It was the only choice to do it like that in WRC3Emil Lindholm
Then the Lindholm impression slipped. “No, not for real. Actually Emil has done a really, really good job.”
So while Hämäläinen opened her WRC3 championship account with a handy 29 points for the class win and second on the powerstage, it was Lindholm that drove the pair to that result.
“Let’s say when we’d done the rallies we basically planned we were left with a lot of…,” Lindholm interrupted himself to laugh.
“We wanted to do more rallies to see if we could somehow puzzle together the performance and the consistency and finally get some results. It was the only choice to do it like that in WRC3.”
That’s because competitors in WRC3 can only enter seven rounds with their best five results to contribute towards their final points total.
The same is broadly true in WRC2 – with the best six events from seven to count – but competitors in that division can enter all the events of the season if they want and just opt to not score points – as Nikolay Gryazin has done regularly. And they can do that while still maintaining priority status, meaning they’re seeded in among their class rivals just behind the World Rally Cars.
But if a WRC3 competitor wants to do an eighth round they have to compete as a non-priority crew, putting them a lot further back in the running order than normal.
“Obviously I was somehow aware of the fact that it doesn’t matter who is driving the car in the end,” explained Lindholm.
But it's a bit of a shame in WRC3 you cannot enter a rally without scoring pointsEmil Lindholm
“It’s happened before, I guess Chris Patterson drove a stage back in 2011 when Solberg lost his license,” he added, in reference to Patterson taking the wheel of Solberg’s Citroën DS3 WRC for that year’s Rally Sweden powerstage with Solberg’s licence revoked by police on the road section.
“But it’s a bit of a shame in WRC3 you cannot enter a rally without scoring points, this is basically the rule that forced us to do this because on a rally like this to drive as non-priority at the back of the field you’ll be facing a lot more dirt so it would not have really made sense as we couldn’t compete with the other ones.”
So in thinking outside of the box, Lindholm has exposed a rule that countless of his rivals will no doubt agree needs altered. The question is, how many others will now follow Lindholm’s lead?
He at least won’t in Monza.
“I think for now we won’t,” Lindholm confirmed when asked if he’ll repeat the trick next month.
“You never know what happens but the plan right now is the season is finished and the focus is on trying to make next year happen.”
Lindholm’s gambit will certainly have done him some favors in that regard too. It allowed him to punch in yet another top result off the back of finally winning the Finnish national championship after years of and the WRC3 win at home too.
The start to Lindholm’s season was trickier with crashes on Arctic Rally Finland and Rally Estonia as well as some mechanical drama in Portugal and Italy, but things are now going very well for the Finn.
“Yeah they are,” he agreed, “[and] that was basically one of the reasons we wanted to do Spain because I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve had some bad luck during the year but also I knew that I’m getting stronger with every rally and sooner or later there must be some good results.”
His cheeky Rally Spain entry trick certainly did him no harm in attracting attention either: “The initial reason why we did it was surely just so we could drive this rally but as you say, it’s not bad to get more attention to us especially when the rally was quite OK,” he said.
“It wasn’t mainly for that but let’s say it wasn’t a bad outcome.”