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23-year old Finnish driver, Jari Huttunen, makes his debut as an official team driver at the WRC Swedish Rally at the wheel of a Hyundai R5 as part of the Hyundai Driver Development Scheme (HDDS). Martin Holmes chats to the young man who could be Finland's next big rally star. Jari Huttunen's R5 experience is limited essentially to the Neste WRC Rally last year in a Fabia, then Wales Rally GB in a Sarrazin team Hyundai. Last October he was selected for the HDDS by Hyundai after a major shoot-out process. He was already the winner of a prize drive under the Neste Oil Rally’s Future Rally Star scheme in the 2015 event, driving a Citroen DSD3 R3 car. He was the winner of the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in Germany in 2016, and finished second in the 2017 European Rally Championship (ERC) for juniors under 27.
Jari Huttunen 2017 Rally Finland

Jari Huttunen drove a Skoda Fabia R5 to WRC2 victory on the 2017 Rally Finland. Photo: Holmes

Being a Finn marks him down as a determined driver worth following, but what is unusual is that he comes from a region of Finland little known for producing rally stars. Kiuruvesi lies north of Jyvaskyla, almost half way between Jyvaskyla and Oulu. Jari explains: “Where I’m coming from there are not a lot of rallies or rally fans. When I was seven years old I started karting and competed on that for 11 years.
"Then we had no more money so we change and start rally. When you start rallying it is much cheaper, but after that it's not so cheap, but I think my record is quite good and my dad started to give me money, so now I’m here!
"Nobody in my family had been rallying, so I am a bit unusual!" he says. If there were no rallies to go and watch and presumably no friends at school that were interested in rallies, what made you interested in rallies? “It's difficult to say. I am driving normal cars a lot. When I was five years old my dad gave me a normal car and I was able to go driving every day.
"I am country boy, I live on a farm. I drove on farm tracks in summer and on ice tracks on lakes in the winter. So I have a lot of places where I could drive, many, many kilometres!"
Jari Huttunen Opel Adam

Jari Huttunen drove an Opel Adam in Germany as he gained experience.

A lot of your early rallying was in Opels. Was there any reason for that? “Actually, I started with Suzuki, driving two rallies with Suzuki Swift. The Swift was a very good car, very very cheap. "After that I bought an Opel Kadett which was cheap and also a quite good car, but I rolled it, so I put the 16 valve engine, gearbox, suspension, everything like that into the Astra. After that I moved on to a Citroen C2 R2.” How did you become selected for the Neste prize drive? “If you drive Finnish Championship rallies and get top five results you can join the selecting process," Huttenen explains. "They look at your pacenotes, your physical condition and movement, check medical things, and then select one winner for the award.
"The prize drive was terrible! Too many problems, both me and my co-driver were sick all the rally! It was horrible, but luckily it did not stop my career.”
Then you went abroad and competed in Germany in the Adam Cup? “After we won the Finnish Championship in 2015, and again we have the same problem. No money. So we looked around for countries where you rally on tarmac. All the rallies in Germany are tarmac. "I think we were driving eight rallies. I won seven rallies and as a prize for winning the series Opel give me an R2 factory car in ERC. The R2 is good car to learn in and the ERC is very good learning area. "It was also good for me because every rally was new.”
Jari Huttunen and Marcus Gronholm

Jari Huttunen (left) and two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm (second from right).

How did you come to be selected by Hyundai? '
“Last year Marcus Gronholm called me and asked if I wanted to do some rallies with a four-wheel-drive car. Of course I said yes! "But I didn’t realise he meant Neste Rally Finland with a Printsport team Skoda R5 car. So when I realised that, I said I thought I was not ready yet, but happily Marcus say ‘yes, you go’.
"Actually we won the WRC2 category on this rally! Immediately afterwards Hyundai called me to see them for a selection process. "There were 16 guys and we're driving on tarmac and on gravel. I was very nervous because I've never driven on tarmac with a four-wheel-drive car.” Who has given you the greatest support in your career, and who pushes you on? “When I started and I’d driven a couple of rallies many of my friends came and helped. After that Marcus Gronholm came along – he’s my manager now and he helps a lot, he and the AKK Driver Academy in Finland.” And finally, do you have a programme, a five year plan of personal ambition? “Yes, if we talk after five years I want to be driving in the WRC and I hope I will win the world championship.”

Related news:

https://rallysportmag.com/new-look-hyundai-i20-r5-huttunen/
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