The 21-year-old has earned a fully-funded drive on his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship, competing in the Junior WRC class in a Ford Fiesta R2T.
Lindholm has rallying in his blood: his father is Sebastian Lindholm, a former Peugeot factory driver and the cousin of two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm. Emil is a true all-rounder, with success both on the rally stages and on racing circuits.
He came out on top in a recent shootout held between five young drivers competing in the SM3 class of this year’s Finnish Rally Championship. This tough assessment process tested reconnaissance and pacenote-making skills, mental strength, physical fitness and media awareness.
Organised by AKK Sports, the promotional arm of Finland’s motorsport federation which also organises the country’s famous round of the WRC, the Future Rally Star of Finland initiative began in 2014.
The inaugural winner was Teemu Suninen, who has gone from strength to strength since, recently making a huge impression on his first event in a World Rally Car in Poland. Jari Huttunen and Juuso Nordgren, the 2015 and 2016 winners respectively, are also going places and will make their WRC2 debuts this week.
Lindholm’s preparation for Neste Rally Finland began when he contested the previous JWRC round on Rally Poland. Due to his racing commitments, it was actually his first gravel rally of the season, but he showed promise when he led on the first day, and was fastest on the rally-closing Power Stage after being forced to retire during the second leg.
Since then, he has won his class on the local AutoGlym Ralli – a popular event in the run-up to Neste Rally Finland, where Thierry Neuville was the overall winner. After taking part in the latest round of the ADAC GT Masters series at Zandvoort in the Netherlands last weekend, he returned to Finland to undertake the two-day recce of the Neste Rally Finland stages with his experienced co-driver Tomi Tuominen, who has sat alongside Juho Hänninen, Toni Gardemeister and Lindholm’s own father in the past.
On Thursday morning he will hone the settings of his car on the shakedown stage, before taking on the opening Harju stage in Jyväskylä, which begins at 19:00 local time.
Q&A with Emil Lindholm
Q: Neste Rally Finland is about to start. How are you feeling at this moment?
A: Good! I’ve been waiting for this moment for more than a month. Or actually, for quite a long time: I’ve always wanted to do this rally! I remember last year watching this rally and I was going mad because I wasn’t driving here myself. So I’m waiting for tomorrow, waiting for the rally to start.
Q: What have you been up to since Rally Poland?
A: After Poland, I actually had one free weekend. But after that we had the AutoGlym Rally, which was like a test rally for this. Then last weekend I was in Zandvoort racing in the ADAC GT Masters. So it’s been quite a busy few weeks already.
Q: The focus for the last two days has been the recce. How did that go?
A: Quite well. Some of the stages were familiar to me from last year, because I already did Ouninpohja last year and made pace-notes there. But of course most of them are completely new. It has been very interesting to see what they’re like and I think what everyone says is true: that they’re tricky and there are a lot of jumps. I expect it will be difficult also to manage the tyres, and the fact that there’s a lot of stones on the inside and outside of corners so it will be very easy to get a puncture or lose a wheel.
Q: Are there any particular stages that stand out to you? Either ones you’re looking forward to or ones you think will be difficult?
A: I will be looking forward to Ouninpohja because of course it is legendary. On the other hand, I’m not looking forward to Päijälä, the last four or five kilometres, there’s a really small road which is packed with sharp rocks on every edge. So I would imagine quite a few punctures would happen there: let’s just hope not for us.
Q: In Tomi Tuominen, you have a very experienced co-driver who knows these roads well. How helpful has that been already?
A: That has been a help, because he basically knows all the places where people have gone off in the past. He also knows where stones will be dug out by the WRC cars. So of course he’s an asset in that way.
Q: What will be your approach to the rally?
A: I think we’ll have to go stage by stage and see how the situation develops. If I see that I do have a realistic chance to win then of course I will push for it. But if some of the guys are flying and I’m not able to catch them then I’ll need to back off because I want to finish the rally and get the experience. But in general I would like to see a couple of stage wins from us, and if everything goes well then I hope to be on the podium.
Name: Emil Lindholm
Date of birth: 19 July 1996 (age 21)
Lives: Degerby, Inkoo
Hobbies: Downhill skiing, jogging, music
Named as Future Rally Star of Finland – gets prize drive in Junior World Rally Championship on Neste Rally Finland
Makes JWRC debut on Rally Poland (Ford Fiesta R2T)
Finnish Rally Championship: Two wins and one second-place (SM3 class - Peugeot 208 R2)
ADAC GT Masters (Lamborghini Huracan GT3)
Dubai 24 Hours (Porsche 991 Cup)
Audi Sport TT Cup: fifth overall with two podium finishes
ADAC GT Masters (Lamborghini Huracan GT3)
Finnish Rally Championship: Third place on Vaakuna Ralli (SM4 class – Citroën DS3 R3T)
Audi Sport TT Cup: fifth overall with one podium and one pole position
ADAC Opel Rallye Cup: fifth overall with one podium
Porsche GT3 Cup Trophy Finland: eighth overall
FINRace V1600: second overall
FINRace V1600: fourth overall
About Future Rally Star of Finland
Since 2014, AKK Sports, the promotional arm of Finlannd s motorsport federation and promoter of Neste Rally Finland, has led a project to find promising young rally drivers and help them on way to competing at an international level.
Each year, one such driver is selected as the Future Rally Star of Finland after a rigorous selection process and awarded a fully-funded drive on Neste Rally Finland, the country s famous round of the World Rally Championship.
Drivers under the age of 25 are chosen as finalists for the assessment process based upon their performances in the SM3 class of the Finnish Rally Championship. The assessment is wide-ranging, testing the drivers reconnaissance and pacenote-making skills, mental strength, physical fitness, and media awareness.
The Future Rally Star of Finland is decided by an expert jury. In 2017, this jury consisted of Jani Backman (Promoter of Neste Rally Finland), Phil Short (FIA JWRC Sporting Supervisor), Kai Tarkiainen (Clerk of the Course, Neste Rally Finland), Jari Ketomaa (Rally Coach), Tero Puustinen (Physical Trainer), Mikko Markkula (Reconnaissance Supervisor) and Matti Jaakkola (Sport Psychologist).
The previous Future Rally Stars of Finland
2014: Teemu Suninen
Suninen claimed the WRC3 honours in a fine 17th overall in his prize drive, fighting back from two punctures and a roll. During 2015, he stepped up to four-wheel drive and ended the year as the the WRC2 winner in Britain, before taking three wins on his way to second place in the standings last year. This caught the eye of M-Sport s Malcolm Wilson, and he made his debut in a Ford Fiesta WRC on Rally Poland last month, 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. He ll look to do even better in Finland.
2015: Jari Huttunen
Huttunen had everything thrown at him when he made his WRC debut as the Future Star, including severe food poisoning and brake issues, before a heavy landing forced him to retire on Saturday. He finished up seventh in JWRC. Last year dominated the one-make ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in Germany, winning all but one of the seven rounds. This earned him a factory Opel contract to contest the European Rally Championship in 2017. He ll contest Rally Finland in a WRC2-specification Skoda Fabia R5.
2016: Juuso Nordgren
Nordgren overcame a spin, puncture and broken steering to finish on the podium in JWRC and WRC3 with a total of six fastest times on last year s Neste Rally Finland. After contesting Rally Spain later in 2016, 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.
Photo: AKK/Taneli Niinimäki