The British Rally Championship, which has been supported by Pirelli for the last six years, was launched to media last week in Curborough: a sprint venue just down the road from the headquarters of Pirelli UK in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire.
A wide variety of competitors, teams and cars were present – including the strikingly liveried Pirelli Star Driver car of Jukka Korhonen: the latest of a long line of drivers to get a fully-paid drive in the British Rally Championship courtesy of the renowned Italian tyre firm.
This year the British Rally Championship switches to a two-wheel drive only format, so the for the first time the Pirelli Star Driver car is a Skoda Fabia R2: a state of the art 1.6-litre rally car that puts out in excess of 170 bhp through a sequential gearbox.
Korhonen will contest all six rounds of the British Rally Championship, starting with the Rallye Sunseeker International, based in Bournemouth from 24-25 February. The event is run mostly on gravel, meaning that Korhonen will be making use of Pirelli’s famed K6 gravel tyre, which has already racked up an impressive winning record at home and abroad.
We caught up with Pirelli’s protégé as he put the new Skoda through its paces, and acted as a high-speed chauffeur as he gave the assembled media a taste of what life behind the wheel was like…
Q&A with Jukka Korhonen, 2012 Pirelli Star Driver
Jukka, what are your impressions of driving the Skoda Fabia R2 for the first time since you were selected as Pirelli Star Driver?
JK: “Mostly I am just very happy and very grateful to Pirelli for this amazing opportunity! I only did a few kilometres at the press day, just for fun and to give people some rides in the rally car, but that was enough to remind what a good car this is. It’s certainly one of the top R2 cars out there and I think we can fight for the overall win on every rally; that is the target.”
So your aim is to win the championship?
JK: “That is why we are here; it has to be our objective. I was looking at the British Championship trophy that was here during the press day and there are some very famous Finnish names on it. It would be fantastic if we were able to add our name to that trophy – and I think we have the car and the tyres to do that.”
How important is testing going to be?
JK: “Testing will be very important: I still need to understand the car and there is a lot that is new to me. Luckily the TEG Sport team is working very well so I hope I can learn quickly. Tarmac in particular is a completely new surface for me: I have only driven on asphalt during the Pirelli Star Driver shoot-out and at the press day just now. But I’m not worried: this is a very nice challenge for me and I think we can do well on Tarmac also.”
And at the same time you’re driving on the Finnish Championship with Pirelli tyres as well?
JK: “Yes that’s right; I have a Mitsubishi Evo 9 in Finland, which is the first time I have experienced a four-wheel drive car. It’s very different to the Skoda but I think it is good for you as a driver to switch between cars: it means that you need to concentrate very hard on your driving style and really understand how different cars behave.”
The Finnish Championship has already started: how did you get on?
JK: “We had a really good start at the Arctic Rally in January: we finished fifth overall and we were setting the same sort of times as Juha Salo, who is a six-time Finnish Champion. Terenzio Testoni, one of the senior tyre engineers from Pirelli, came out to Finland. He was really helpful and gave us a lot of advice about the tyres, which I am sure made a big difference. Now we just have to make an equally good start in Britain!”
How are you going to prepare for the British Rally Championship season?
JK: “In Finland I still have my Ford Fiesta R2 car from last year and I am going to drive that to get some practice. The Skoda is actually more powerful than the Fiesta, but it helps to be driving the same basic type of car. Then we hope to do some testing with the Skoda, and of course I’ll be listening carefully to all the advice I get about the tyres from the people at Pirelli. If you are really familiar with the different types of tyre and what they do, then it helps your performance. Really, I just can’t wait to start: driving is the best preparation!”