Kouvola’s top-flight rallycross history

The Kouvola circuit in Finland returns to top-flight rallycross this month, for it's fifth installment

by Hal Ridge |

The picturesque Kouvola circuit is making a shock return to the World Rallycross Championship calendar later this month, hosting the third and fourth rounds of the revised 2020 calendar, largely thanks to the vision and hard work of Jussi Pinomaki and his SET Promotion colleagues.

Although regarded among the best rallycross circuits in the world, that is well up to the task of holding a World RX weekend this summer, the venue has only hosted rallycross’ top flight four times and its tenure at FIA international level hasn’t been all positive.

Prior to Finland’s return to the European Rallycross Championship schedule at Kouvola in 2010 after an 11-year hiatus, it was the Hameenlinna circuit that hosted Finland’s round of the then cottoned ‘ERC’.

Kouvola was added to the European schedule after a successful 2009 FIA candidate event, where invited driver Per Eklund had claimed victory in a Saab 93. It was during that round where the seeds were sown for young Finn Toomas Heikkinen (who became Eklund’s protégée before going on to achieve success in the Global Rallycross Championship and World RX) to switch from formula racing to rallycross. But that’s another story for another time.

It was Kenneth Hansen Motorsport driver Liam Doran who claimed a maiden career Supercar win at Kouvola almost exactly 10 years ago, overcoming a post-practice engine change then passing champion-elect Sverre Isachsen in the final corner of the final to claim victory, Isachsen slowed by engine troubles. Of the driver like Doran still racing in World RX today, Jani Paasonen was classified 11th and Rene Munnich was 14th, both driving different iterations of Skoda’s Fabia. Timur Timerzyanov and Jussi Pinomaki, now significant players in the Gronholm RX team today, finished on the Division 1A (Super1600) podium for SET Promotion, while Andreas Bakkerud was sixth.

But, with an FIA Observer at each of the 10 rounds scoring events against various criteria, come the end of the season the FIA Off-Road Commission announced that Finland had scored just 485 points, 10th in the ranking behind Germany and Hungary, and was dropped for 2011, as Austria, Holland and Norway returned to the schedule.

Finland was back for 2012, now moved to September as the penultimate round of the campaign. In a rain-hit event it was Timerzyanov who completed a dominant season aboard a Hansen Motorsport Citroen DS3 to secure his first Supercar crown, flanked on the podium by Doran, now driving for his own team, and Swede Peter Hedstrom.

The event was significant for the Hansen squad, as Kenneth Hansen’s eldest son Timmy made his first international rallycross start, deputising for an ill Alexander Hvaal, and climbed through the finals in the torrential conditions, to finish the final fifth. You can read more about Timerzyanov and Hansen’s Finnish event in the new book, Kenneth Hansen | Fourteen, out now.

In the Super1600 division, Bakkerud finished fifth and took his second crown, while Reinis Nitiss finished 12th in a Peugeot 206. Swedes Robin Larsson and Anton Marklund topped the TouringCar class and another World RX driver of 2020, Kevin Hansen, took honours in the JRX Junior category.

Timerzyanov and Hansen were again in the fight in 2013 in a pair of DS3s, but it was American Tanner Foust who claimed victory in an OlsbergsMSE Ford Fiesta, Doran finishing fourth at arguably his best circuit. Nitiss won in Super1600, by then driving for SET Promotion.

Kouvola stayed on the World RX roster for its first term in 2014 and in wet conditions similar to 2012 on the second day of the event, it was again Foust that won, this time in a Marklund Motorsport-run Volkswagen Polo, with OlsbergsMSE pair Bakkerud and Nitiss completing the podium. Now KYB Team JC driver Janis Baumanis finished second in the Super1600 final, Swede Daniel Lundh won the TouringCar class and a pair of debutants in the RX Lites Cup (later called RX2 International Series), Kevin Hansen and Niclas Gronholm, finished first and third.

Whatever the weather this month, the Finnish round is sure to deliver action aplenty, and with it being a double-header, World RX-only weekend, there’s a change for two drivers to add their name to the exclusive list of three to have so far claimed the biggest prize in Kouvola.

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