In the right place at the right time, 24-year old Finnish driver, Teemu Suninen, steps into the limelight at M-Sport as one of the two regular factory drivers in their full 2019 World Rally Championship programme.
Young in age as well as top level rallying experience, Teemu has only competed in 13 WRC events in a World Rally Car so far, and in Portugal last year he gained his only podium result so far.
He teams up with 30-year old Elfyn Evans, who has already had four seasons in the WRC and a WRC win with World Rally Cars.
Teemu comes from the Tuusula region in the south of Finland, an area not known for breeding rally drivers, though it is close to the area where World Champion Timo Salonen was based.
“For me this programme is a really big thing, a big opportunity for me to make nice results this year," Suninen says.
"I had been involved in motorsport for a long time. I was driving go-karts from six years old to 18 and then I moved to the rallycross, because my driving opportunities were a lot related to the sponsor money.
"After karting I was thinking to move to rallying, but then I thought it's going to be too big financial jump from karting to rallying. As I developed my competition career all he time I was feeling I needed to succeed every time, to get the budget for the next year.
"I moved to rallycross, attracted by the idea, similar with the karting was we are driving on the track, mostly on tarmac and racing against the others. My first rally was in 2013 when I was 19.
Teemu Suninen in action in a Citroen DS3 R3T at Rally Finland in 2014. Photo: Holmes
"For a Finn going from tarmac to gravel was unusual, though nowadays I believe the karting has changed a bit in Finland and some of the latest rally drivers have come up through racing go-karts.”
The Tuusula area is probably best known as the home of the composer Jean Sibelius, author of the immortal music piece Finlandia, but it is also the location of the tragic 2007 Jokela High School shooting where nine young people died.
“That was my first year in high school. It was in our school, but luckily I was able to escape. Guys from the army opened the door and covered us as we made our way to a safer place.
"I can really remember nearly everything from that day, like how many people there were, what time I went to the school, everything. In the weeks afterwards there's an empty feeling in my life. It affected my life quite a lot.
"It brought all the people involved more close to each other. In our class we started to respect other people much more. I cannot say that it's been positive experience, but let's say it was a hard experience.”
Teemu has been a Fiesta driver for a long time. He started with a ST, went to R2 and recently World Rally Cars.
“The Fiestas have been strong cars in every class and they have made good cars, let's say, to learn to drive and develop as a driver, though for two years I was driving other cars in the WRC2 championship.
"I was teammate with Eric Camilli in the Oreca team, driving Citroen DS3 R3 and then Skoda Fabia R5 cars and the team was being sponsored by Toyota. They spent all this money on training us, but I never rallied their cars!
"In 2015 and 2016 they were developing WRC car in TMG and their plan was to run the team from Germany, but then in the last moment they wanted to change the team base to Finland with Tommi Makinen, and so their plans altered radically. TMG still a big part of the TGR team because they are developing the engines.”
Teemu Suninen is ready for a big 2019. Photo: Martin Holmes
In 2017 Teemu was back driving Fiestas.
“My manager, Timo Jouhki, has had a very long relationship, back to the '70s, with Malcolm Wilson and believed that M-Sport was a good place to grow up and to expand my experience.
"Right now I am really happy to drive in M-Sport because I feel it's like being in a small family. It has been a good place to develop.
"A lot of my international career has been with my co-driver Mikko Markkula. He's been like the biggest coach for me, because he had a lot of experience in world level cars, and I've been working with him because I have learned a lot of things and tips from him to be a fast rally driver.”
For 2019, however, Teemu is changing co-drivers, moving on to another Finn, Marko Salminen.
“I thought it was time to have someone new, get new ideas or more positive feelings in the car. I believe that when you are happy in the car you can do better results.
"I wanted someone different. Mikko read the pacenotes really well, but I just wanted to change the co-driver. Our last event together was Rally Australia where the alternator just broke down. It was nothing to do, as people thought, with the bump we had had with a tree.
"This year I must try to be more consistent, with more experience and more testing I believe I can do it. My plan is to be in top six in the championship by the end of the season, to be able to get good agreements for the coming years.
"Remember that I'm clearly the youngest championship driver in the World Rally Cars, so the other drivers have a lot more experience. I need to go step by step.”
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