What can we deduce from the first Rally1 WRC debut?

Jari Huttunen had driven top-line WRC machinery before this year's Rally Finland, but never in the WRC itself


Jari Huttunen made some World Rally Championship history on last weekend’s Rally Finland, becoming the first driver ever to make his top-class debut in a hybrid Rally1 car.

Huttunen had of course driven the latest generation of World Rally Car before – a Hyundai back in 2019. But those two drivers were in the Finnish championship. Stepping up to world championship level was a totally new experience.

But how did he do?

First things first, it must be acknowledged what a tactically shrewd selection this was from Huttunen and his management. For a Finn, grabbing this chance at home is not only an emotional choice but a safe one as the prospects of performing well are increased.

Plus, if there’s any round of the WRC to prove yourself on, it’s the fastest one of the season isn’t it?

But all of that theory is no good if it doesn’t work in practice. And unfortunately, Huttunen’s performance may not be remembered as it should be as it was spoiled by a catalogue of technical issues that swiftly began to interrupt his rally.

That’s a crying shame, because what Huttunen did show was massively encouraging.

The weekend began with a solid fifth fastest time – equal with defending Finland winner Elfyn Evans – on the streets of Jyväskylä, but the real takeaway was just how unleashed Huttunen was.

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The 28-year-old is a man of few words. Usually a reserved character, he doesn’t often project a message of enthusiasm. But he was visibly on cloud nine after Harju.

“It was an amazing feeling!” he said at the end of the stage.

“I am happy that I didn’t hit anything, so for me I think it’s going quite well! It’s nice to feel the power when you open the throttle.”

But the real test would be what lay ahead in the forests outside the city. Huttunen didn’t need to prove his potential in Finland. A WRC2 winner in 2017 and podium finisher in 2018, ’19 and ’21, it’s obvious that he can drive these roads. But could he drive these roads with an extra 200bhp and a far more aggressive aerodynamic package?

Yes. Yes he could.

A pair of eighth fastest times and then a ninth quickest run over the first loop of Friday may not sound too exciting, but considering the context it was a superb effort.

Huttunen had only sampled the Puma for a single test day beforehand (and that was in Estonia, not Finland) and yet he was setting pace on par with Pierre-Louis Loubet and Adrien Fourmaux who, in Fourmaux’s case, had driven the Puma all year.

And then Huttunen went and pumped in the fourth best time on Harju, just four tenths down on Takamoto Katsuta’s stage-winning effort.

“I enjoyed it but at the same time it feels so crazy,” he told DirtFish at service.

“I don’t know. In some places it’s going quite well, in some places for sure I’m lifting too much and driving too slow. But yeah, we try to learn.

“I know I’m not ready [for this car] yet, but it feels good.”

The learning curve – and positive pace – continued into the afternoon, where Huttunen was yet again eighth fastest on SS7. But that’s where it all began to go wrong.


A fuel pressure problem starved his Puma of power and forced it to stop completely on SS8, and the fear of it interrupting his run pegged Huttunen’s pace back for the rest of the day.

The frustration was obvious. Huttunen felt he had made progress with his driving just when the mechanical dramas unfolded.

“This evening it feels I can make something with the driving and closer with my driving, but you can’t really show that because you have some problems,” he said.

And he was very clear that the plan wouldn’t change despite the hiccup.

“No it stays the same, hopefully the car is OK tomorrow and now I have new things I have to learn. It’s first time I am second on the road so it’s quite a new thing, so I have to learn that.”

But the car wasn’t OK. An intermittent power-steering problem disturbed Huttunen’s flow, and persisted for both Saturday and Sunday. So we never really got the chance to see what Huttunen can really do – either how he can plan and control his pace over a full weekend, and how fast he can truly go.

The post-rally feeling was one of disappointment.

“Uh,” he chuckled when DirtFish asked Huttunen how he’d sum up his weekend, “some good stages but most of them… yeah, to be honest too many problems but that’s rally.”

M-Sport team principal Richard Millener was at least impressed.

“I still think he’s had a positive weekend,” Millener told DirtFish.

“We should be looking at individual splits and his comparison to other crews rather than overall positions. I think if you take away any issues, any loss of time, his overall position will be a couple of places higher in terms of Rally1 category, but it’s not going to make a difference between a podium and where he is.

“And what I want to see is the speed of the splits compared to the experienced guys. And he’s showing in there what we’ve analyzed is very good. So I think he’s still had a very good weekend.


“Considering he’s only really done one day in Estonia testing for this rally and that was before Estonia Rally, so three and a bit weeks ago, his pace has been really good,” Millener added.

“It’s the same thing we’ve talked about before, you see a new young driver step up to the top plate and they have such a good fun time, they are enjoying it so much, their driving is incredibly good.”

It’s certainly true that Huttunen looked reinvigorated by his Rally1 chance, and it’s impossible to disagree that his pace was impressive.

He’s perhaps too old and a little too shy with the media to become a surprise contender for a full-time Rally1 drive. But on pure driving talent Huttunen certainly didn’t look out of place in the big leagues last week.

Let’s hope he can get another chance someday soon to further prove what he can do.