Q&A with Juho Hänninen
The 2010 IRC champion
Juho Hänninen followed in the footsteps of Enrique García Ojeda, Nicolas Vouilloz and Kris Meeke by winning the Intercontinental Rally Challenge drivers’ title this season. Driving a Škoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, Hänninen, 29, was a contender from the outset with podium finishes, including two victories, on the first five rounds of the 2010 series.
The Finn, who was co-driven by Mikko Markkula, effectively put the title beyond the reach of team-mate Jan Kopecký with second place on Rallye Sanremo in late September and made sure of the prestigious accolade with his third win of the campaign on RACMSA Rally of Scotland in mid-October. He was crowned champion at the IRC Awards Ceremony in Cyprus earlier this month. Here are some of his thoughts on his title triumph.
What does winning the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge title mean to you?
“For sure it means a lot. It’s the biggest title I have won and to win after a whole season of driving is very special. On many events this year the level has been very high and always we had at least five drivers fighting for the victory. I have really had to work hard for this and improve my driving on Tarmac, which has been very important.”
At the start of the season did you expect to end the year as IRC champion?
“Honestly I did not think about it so much. Last year was not a big success for me with some mistakes. I had to do a different tactic this year and not push too hard to win all the stages. When I knew I had a bigger programme I could relax a bit and after making a good start in Monte, when I drove on the safety side a lot, and Kris [Meeke] had his problems it became a launch pad.”
When did you think to yourself that winning the title was a real possibility?
“Finishing second, quite close to Jan [Kopecký] on Rally Islas Canarias was a good result for me and gave me a lot of confidence. After my victory in Sardinia I had even more confidence for the championship, especially because Kris had more bad luck.”
What was your most satisfying performance of the season?
“Finishing second in Sanremo was very special because I was only eighth there last season and struggled. There was a very high level of competition so to be on the podium was very good.”
You beat your Škoda team-mate Jan Kopecký to the title – what was that like?
“We know each other well and spend a lot of time together so we are friends as well as team-mates. We all know how fast Jan is on Tarmac and on gravel he is very good too so he is a difficult opponent.”
And what about your Škoda Motorsport team?
“They have been fantastic. They offered me opportunities to improve myself so big thanks to them. I have driven so many kilometres during the last two years and got so much experience and that’s all down to them. Also, we had no mechanical failures, which is very impressive, and let me just think about driving for the championship.”
Was there a low point for you during the year?
“The puncture in the Azores on the second to last stage when I was leading was so, so frustrating. At first I did not believe it could be possible but when I almost rolled out I realised it was real. That was definitely the biggest disappointment of the season.”
What are your impressions of the IRC?
“It’s very, very good. There are a lot of Super 2000 cars, even on the events we did in South America, and there is always a big, big fight for the victory.”
Will you be back to defend your title this season?
“At the moment it’s open and I am not sure what will happen. For sure I would like to start the season and do Monte Carlo but after that we will see.”