Marcus Grönholm New rally world champion from Finland
The relative - or actually inordinate - success of Finns in the major motor sports disciplines would make an excellent subject for study or perhaps a doctoral thesis. Double Formula One champion Mika Häkkinen had to settle for a silver medal in 2000. The only other Finn to win the title was Keke Rosberg in 1982.
The Finns' success in rally competitions has been even more dizzying. Of the twenty-two championships to date, they have bagged a dozen: Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen an impressive four each, and Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola and Timo Salonen one each. In November 2000 a sixth Finnish name was added to the list of champions: Marcus Grönholm.
The final round in the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, was won by the British driver Richard Burns. According to observers, Marcus Grönholm took second place without even trying his hardest, although a fifth would have been enough to clinch the world championship. Adding to the sweetness of his victory was the fact that it was the first time that he had competed in every round of the championship - and therefore he won it at his first attempt. That the champion is said to have gone through the whole of the long season without a single noteworthy driving error bears witness to his maturity and skill. Errors like that happen to competitors with more established reputations than his - as can be expected when one is driving at the limit of risk.
Rally driving in the genes
One possible explanation for the Finns' success in motor sports is tradition, which is often passed on to a second generation. When Marcus Grönholm was born in February 1968, the bug was waiting to bite him, because his father Ulf Grönholm had won the Finnish rally championship twice. Young Marcus took part in his first race as his cousin's navigator. When he needed one of his own, he didn't need to look far before choosing Timo Rautianen, with whom he won the championship. Rautiainen is married to Marcus' sister. It remains to be seen whether the bug will bite again: Markus Grönholm is married and has two daughters and a son.
He got his driving licence in 1987. Only the following year he won the Finnish junior championship in the A category and senior championships began following in the 1990s. Talent scouts from the big car manufacturers began paying attention to the young talented driver, who was only waiting for a car worthy of his skilled handling.
His victory in Jyväskylä in 1998 finally flung the doors wide open for him. No fewer than four factory teams offered him contracts. Grönholm chose Peugeot Sport, which was coming up fast as a rally contender. He was their factory driver in 1999 and competed in a few rounds of the world championship with moderate success. He had set his sights high, but in the world of tough competition also realistically far. No one expected both car and driver to win their respective championships as soon as they did. "How did this happen?" the champion himself wondered.
Cool and easy, but fast enough
Not that 2000 was a bed of roses for Markus Grönholm and Peugeot. Having to drop out of the Monte Carlo, Safari, Acropolis and Cyprus rallies nearly sealed their fate, but wins in the Swedish, New Zealand, Neste Finland and Australian competitions, second places in Portugal and Great Britain, fourth in San Remo and fifths in Catalonia and Corsica brought home the points needed to put him ahead of Britain's Richard Burns and win the championship.
In earlier years Marcus Grönholm had a reputation as an exuberant driver who perhaps sometimes tried too hard - and several times crashed out as a result. He says himself that it was due to tough pressures and a need to show what he could do, given that he got a car for only one race now and then. When he landed a factory deal it calmed him down. "It can be that I nowadays calculate my actions more," he said after winning the world championship. Peugeot team boss Jean-Pierre Nicolas is astonished at Grönholm's ability to learn quickly. "The thought that he will be even better next year blows the mind."
The list of Finnish world rally champions should contain seven names by rights, because the legendary Markku Alén won the unofficial championship, the FIA Cup, away back in 1978. In his assessment, what makes the Finns good competitive drivers is a suitable mix of boldness, temperament and cool deliberation. "Although you have to drive fast to win, you must remember your limit. Perhaps part of the Finnish character is an ability to remain `cool' also in difficult and surprising situations"