Markku Alén, Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala in the Polo R WRCMads Østberg beats Marcus Grönholm in the finalRally legends and WRC stars thrill more than 30,000 fans
Just under 35,000 spectators, glorious summer weather and the most famous rally drivers in one place – the first edition of the “Neste Oil Helsinki Battle” in the centre of the Finnish capital was a resounding success. A few days before the Rally Finland (31/07–03/08) officially gets underway, the Volkswagen works drivers Sébastien Ogier and local hero Jari-Matti Latvala, together with their WRC colleagues Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), Mikko Hirvonen (Ford), Mads Østberg (Citroën) and Juho Hänninen (Hyundai) took on four of the great Finnish drift heroes in rallying: Tommi Mäkinen (Ford), Marcus Grönholm (Hyundai), Juha Kankkunen (Citroën) and Markku Alén (Volkswagen).
Behind the wheel of the current World Rally Cars, the ex-champions proved that they haven't forgotten any of their skills. The fastest legend was two-time world champion Marcus Grönholm, who qualified for the final, narrowly beating Mäkkinen, Kankkunen and “Mr. Maximum Attack”, Markku Alén, who mastered the 1.65-kilometre track with a respectable performance in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC.
After a brief warm up on the demanding cobblestone track, each of the ten drivers in total had two passes of two laps each in qualifying to try and achieve the fastest time to make it to the final. Out of the current WRC drivers, Mads Østberg had a slight edge over world champion Sébastien Ogier and made it to the final. The Norwegian even retained the upper hand over the Finnish spectators' favourite Grönholm and secured the victory with the best time of the day in 1:27.4 minutes.
Quotes after the Helsinki Battle
Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director“I'm so thrilled! That was a fantastic show that the organizers of the ‘Neste Oil Helsinki Battle’ put on, respect! The battles between the legends and the current generation of drivers didn't just delight the thousands of fans, it was evident that the drivers all enjoyed taking each other on too. I think it's a model for the future to make the WRC more appealing to a wider audience as the most spectacular motorsport discipline.”Sébastien Ogier, World Rally Champion“A great event! Even though I didn't win, it was so much fun taking part. You don't often get the chance to meet so many previous world champions at once. Tommi Mäkkinen was my idol when I was young, since I saw him at the Rally Monte Carlo for the first time. The boys showed that they have still got it and it's an honour to have competed against them here. Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén were already world champions when I was born. The result was incidental in this battle, it was the fun and the show that were paramount. As of Thursday at the Rally Finland it's the result that will count again.”Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen works driver“My flat is just a few minutes away from the track. I wish the same were true for every rally: Get up and head straight to the rally car parked outside the door. I think we put on a good show for the many Finnish rally fans. Maybe the track could be a bit longer the next time around. But I had a lot of fun and I think we should bring the legends of the past and the current drivers together more often. It would be even better if they brought their old cars with them – that would be much more spectacular!”
Markku Alén, rally legend“It was an unforgettable experience for us old rally warhorses to come together once again and take on the current stars such as Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. To be honest I was deliberately cautious because Sébastien and Jari-Matti were after me in the Polo R WRC – no ‘maximum attack’ this time. But I told Jost Capito that I would be more than happy to stand in if a cockpit becomes free for whatever reason this season. Ok, that was just a joke!”