Where are they now? Teemu Suninen and the other Future Rally Stars of Finland

22.7.2017 14:02Three years ago, a new initiative to help promote up-and-coming young Finnish rally drivers was launched by AKK Sports, the promotional arm of the national motorsport federation and the promoter of Neste Rally Finland.

Every year since, one young driver competing in the SM3 class (for two-wheel drive R2-specification cars) of the Finnish Rally Championship has been selected as the Future Rally Star of Finland, after an assessment testing attributes such as pacenote-making, mental strength, physical fitness and media awareness. The prize has been a fully-funded drive in Neste Rally Finland.

The first winner back in 2014 was Teemu Suninen, for whom the prize has proven to be a huge launch pad: next week he contests Rally Finland in a World Rally Car for the first time, after impressing all on his debut in Poland recently.

Here we look at Suninen and the other past winners, all of whom will be in action on Rally Finland again this year.

2014: Teemu Suninen

How did he do in his prize drive on Neste Rally Finland?

Despite being in his first full season of rallying, former kart racer Suninen claimed the WRC3 honours in a fine 17th overall on his World Rally Championship debut. Fighting back from two punctures and a roll, he showed his speed with 12 fastest stage times against the Junior WRC regulars.

What did he do next?

Suninen's home triumph opened plenty of doors, gaining him the backing of renowned driver manager Timo Jouhki and of Toyota Motorsport (TMG) for 2015. After another WRC3 win in Sardinia he stepped up to four-wheel drive and ended the year as the the WRC2 winner in Britain. In 2016 he claimed three wins on his way to second in WRC2, battling factory Skoda driver Esapekka Lappi while driving a privately-entered Fabia R5.

What is he doing in 2017?

Those results caught the eye of M-Sport's Malcolm Wilson. Suninen began the season by continuing in WRC2 but got to make his debut in a Ford Fiesta WRC on Rally Poland. He grasped the opportunity with both hands, claiming a stage win on his first full day in the car and finishing up sixth overall, only losing out on fifth on the last stage. Now, he gets the chance to shine again on his home roads.

2015: Jari Huttunen

How did he do in his prize drive on Neste Rally Finland?

Huttunen had everything thrown at him when he made his WRC debut, including severe food poisoning and brake issues, before a heavy landing forced him to retire on Saturday. He was able to return on Sunday to complete the rally seventh in Junior WRC, having mixed it with the leaders with his stage times.

What did he do next?

After winning the SM3 title in his national championship, Huttunen headed for Germany in 2016. Despite his unfamiliarity with asphalt, he dominated the one-make ADAC Opel Rallye Cup, winning all but one of the seven rounds. This earned him a factory Opel contract to contest the European Rally Championship in 2017.

What's he doing in 2017?

Huttunen came close to winning on his debut in ERC Junior, denied in the Azores by a broken driveshaft on the final stage, before he took second in the Canary Islands. He'll contest Rally Finland in a WRC2-specification Skoda Fabia R5, in which he recently made his four-wheel drive debut on the local AutoGlym Rally.

2016: Juuso Nordgren

How did he do in his prize drive on Neste Rally Finland?

Nordgren quickly impressed on his first WRC appearance, tying for the lead of the Junior category after winning the third and fourth stages. A spin, puncture and broken steering set him back later on the first full day, but he still finished on the podium in JWRC and WRC3 with a total of six fastest times.

What did he do next?

Nordgren returned to the WRC before the end of the year for his first rally outside of his home country, in Spain. He held a podium position in the Drive Dmack Trophy on the opening day, and after a setback he began setting competitive times on asphalt before a late crash.

What's he doing in 2017?

This year Nordgren has stepped up to a Skoda Fabia R5, and claimed second-place finishes on his first two starts in the Finnish championship. Although he recently crashed out of the AutoGlym Rally, he hopes to be able to start Rally Finland in another Skoda.

2017: Emil Lindholm

This year's Future Rally Star of Finland is Emil Lindholm, who will drive a Ford Fiesta R2T in the Junior WRC on Rally Finland.