Mika Häkkinen successfully completed a three-day test in the forests around Rovaniemi in preparation for his first Arctic Rally, which starts this Friday in Finland. Häkkinen will drive a World Rally Championship Mitsubishi Lancer WRC2 on the event, having had a total of six days’ testing and a four-day recce within the Arctic Circle with his co-driver, Arto Kapanen.
Häkkinen, who won the Formula One World Championship in 1998 and 1999 for McLaren Mercedes, has faced a steep learning curve behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi Lancer on snow and ice, in temperatures that plummeted to 30 degrees below zero during his most recent test on Friday.
"These tests are to give me as much experience behind the wheel as possible," said Häkkinen. "I have to practice listening to the pace notes that Arto is reading to me, and learning about the car, but accurately judging the level of grip on the snow is not easy.
"This is a steep learning curve for me but I am enjoying the experience of driving the Mitsubishi Lancer. On the frozen lakes, where there was nothing to hit, it was a lot of fun, but in the forest you really have to concentrate because the trees are very close and you are travelling very fast!
"My confidence in Arto is there – he has so much experience co-driving, and the team is very professional having won the World Rally Championship so many times. It is a nice dream to be able to drive a rally car, particularly in the north of Finland, it is a great chance. From what I have seen of the Mitsubishi team, they are doing the maximum preparation to win this rally. In my mind, I am here to enjoy it but at this professional level we have to eliminate all possible mistakes.
"So far I have had experience driving in all snow and ice conditions. I have driven on a stage that had water on it in the morning, ice in the afternoon, on a stage that was covered in snow, on a stage that was being cut up with gravel coming through. I have driven on new tyres, and old ones too, so the team is doing its best to give me as much experience as possible.
"It has been interesting to have Lasse Lampi helping me too, making fine adjustments for the rally. The daylight up here is very short, you start in the dark and you finish in the dark but, in between, it is bright sunlight! You have to make adjustments on the car for the various conditions and you realise how important it is to have such a good team behind you."
Häkkinen will have the young Finn, and friend, Kristian Sohlberg as his team-mate in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC, and will drive one of 48 Lancers on the rally. "I want to wish Kristian the best of luck on the rally too," said Häkkinen.
Thus far, Häkkinen has steadily built both speed and confidence, and Lasse Lampi, a former winner of the Arctic rally and Mitsubishi’s test driver and technical advisor, is highly impressed with Häkkinen’s progress.
"The first time that I went in the car with him, I realised that this guy is professional with the car," said Lampi. "He is using the engine very well. I expected him to rev the engine very high, because the Formula cars have high-revving engines, but he said to me that there was good torque on the bottom end, and I agreed. He said, OK, we stay with low revs.
"He is very studious. He is pushing more and more, and I thought for sure we would lift him out of a ditch at some point, but we haven’t had to yet."
The 38th Arctic Rally is based around the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, starting on Friday, January 24, and finishing on Saturday, January 25.
Finland is plus two hours GMT.Published 21 January 2003