Auckland rally driver Mark Tapper will compete in this weekend’s Rally of Finland, a round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, having been given medical clearance after breaking his wrist at home in June
This is the fourth event for the New Zealand driver in the Pirelli Star Driver programme where the 28-year-old drives a Ralliart Italia prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X as part of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) driver scholarship programme.
Having returned home to Auckland after the Rally of Greece in June, Tapper broke his wrist and suffered a shoulder injury in a fall while cleaning windows. Being fit for a return to competition this weekend is relief for the team, including Christchurch-based co-driver Jeff Judd.
“To me, the main thing is I’m still going to do Rally Finland,” said Tapper having been informed officially he was clear to drive. “I’m realistic; I’m not going to be competitive with this fairly significant injury. But I just want to do the rally and keep doing the mileage.
“I have a doctor who went through all the proper processes with the surgeons and gained the necessary clearance with the FIA to allow us to compete this weekend.
“He is happy, and so is the surgeon, that no matter what, it won’t do more damage to me, even if I was unfortunate enough to have an accident. His words were I’m going to know I’ve got a right arm by the end of the event and, sure, there is going to be some discomfort to contend with.”
Covering 345 kilometres of twisting crests, brows and sweeping turns through the forests of Finland, the event known as the Rally of 1000 Lakes is similar in style to New Zealand and highly regarded by WRC drivers. Based in the bustling student town of Jyvaskyla, the three-day competition includes a short publicity stage on the Thursday evening.
“Looking at the maps we’ve been provided and looking at the lay of the land you can certainly see why it is called the land of 1000 lakes. There are certainly lots of places you could get wet if you went off the road,” comments Tapper.
The Finnish rally is another new event for Tapper and Judd; the opportunity to drive in new events is one aspect of Tapper’s Pirelli Star Driver campaign that the pair has enjoyed enormously. Tapper says reviewing footage taken while doing their reconnaissance is an important key to learning the roads and avoiding obstacles.
“People think it’s about driving a car from A to B as fast as you can and that’s it. But there is so much that goes on before we start and getting the notes right is one of our biggest jobs. We video the second pass of reconnaissance and go do the rally in front of a television later with me watching and Jeff calling the notes.
“I guess, as everyone has warned me, it’s getting the crests right and anticipating the car placement. I need to figure where the car needs to be placed on entering a corner or crest and know where it is going to end up when you land so you’re on the right part of the road for the next corner or crest.”
Due to his injuries, Tapper isn’t expecting to be as competitive against the other four Pirelli Star Drivers who are all contesting the same designated rounds of the World Rally Championship in the Production category as Tapper.
“Finland isn’t the same sort of physically extreme kind of event, not the same heat or being as tight and twisty as, say, Greece. I’m sure it’s not going to be easy and I probably will suffer a bit because of my drop in fitness but we’ve got a plan in place when I get home to start working on the fitness again big-time pre Repco Rally Australia in September.”
Against an entry field dominated by Nordic drivers who excel on the fast flowing roads, Tapper will start ahead of Formula One star Kimi Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom in a Fiat. Top seed is local driver Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus) who currently lead the WRC drivers’ chase, but Tapper says last year’s winner in Finland, Sebastién Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena (Citroen C4), are expected to be the ones to beat.
Tapper and Judd will contest Repco Rally Australia (4-6 September) before the final two events in the Pirelli Star Driver campaign: Spain (1-4 October) and Great Britain from 22 to 25 October.