Finland is starting to gain a reputation as something of a happy stomping ground for World Rallycross Championship wildcards.
Last weekend Kouvola returned to the schedule after a six-year absence. In its previous appearance, Tanner Foust won on his second of three fleeting appearances that season. This time around, a local driver by the name of Juha Rytkönen joined the party and instantly set about upsetting the regulars.
Like Foust, Rytkönen had enjoyed considerable success at home before his world championship bow – he won the 2019 Finnish Rallycross Supercars title – and also like Foust, his peers weren’t remotely surprised to see him at the sharp end of the field.
Rytkönen won a heat race and a semifinal in round three on Saturday, before taking second place in the final behind Johan Kristoffersson, a man with two World RX titles and now 22 event wins to his name. He was impressed with Rytkönen before the final though, insisting “we didn’t expect less” of his new challenger.
“He rocked up here as a flying Finn and had a fantastic podium straight away on his debut,” Kristoffersson said afterwards. “It just shows that we also have to keep working on our stuff and try to improve our package to be even better, because if someone can come and be P2 straight away, we better keep working.”
Kristoffersson wasn’t the only two-time champion impressed by Rytkönen. Marcus Grönholm’s GRX operation was running Rytkönen, and he was extremely happy with his “laid-back” new charger. A pre-event test set the tone, which lasted throughout the weekend.
“Yes he has been very very good,” Grönholm told DirtFish. “We knew already from his test that he would be quick and he’s so smooth with the car and driving so nicely so we expected it.
“He’s no stress, he’s not panicking at all, he is just taking the starts and [he’s] always in the top, so very, very good.
“He had been rallying in Finland with nice success in the lower classes, he has done rallycross, won the Finnish championship last year in Supercars, he knows exactly this track and he’s quick to adapt.”
Rytkönen’s first weekend in World RX left Grönholm with no doubts that he could continue to perform at the top level should the opportunity present itself.
“Yeah why not,” he said. “Okay we are a private team and we need the funding and a sponsor, so if he can bring something and if he can come up with the budget, I’m happy to discuss with him what he could do.”
After his second place finish in round three, Rytkönen won two more heat races on Sunday and only failed to make the final as a result of a track limits penalty in his semifinal.
He won’t be back in the car for the next two rounds in Latvia though, with Krisztián Szabó, who made the top 10 twice with the team in the season opening Höljes rounds, back in the car.