The winter is long in Finland... since late November, the cold and the snow has taken hold of this Scandinavian country. Six months later, this cold snap seems never-ending. And while southern Europe is waking up at the beginning of spring, the thermometer continues to flirt happily below minus 10 celsius in Finland. Vierumäki, 200 kilometres north of Helsinki, was where the riders started the 83rd edition of Päijänne, in temperatures of -13 degrees!
This first round of the Maxxis FIM Enduro World Championship offered a completely different setting than that of the 2017 edition, where snow was scarce. However, that didn’t discourage the 180 riders of the Grand Prix of Finland who raced relentlessly for twelve hours and thirty minutes, with sixteen timed special tests spread over more than 400 kilometres….
The Polar Chill…
“I'm cold…” confessed 2017 Junior World Champion Brad FREEMAN (GB - Beta Boano) at the time control in Jämsä… “We've just had a long one-hour transfer that seemed endless! But I really enjoy riding in these really different conditions and I’m still having a lot of fun!” This was an opinion which was not necessarily shared by some competitors like Loïc LARRIEU (F - Yamaha) and Christophe CHARLIER (F - Beta), or those with troubles such as Davide GUARNERI (I - Honda RedMoto) who fell heavily in Special 2. The day began on frozen soil, the first tests of the day looking very different than those from the special test 4 onwards where the abundant snow depth - more than 60 centimetres - amplified the extreme difficulty of Päijänne 2018 even more ... “The settings I had early in the day were no longer suitable in the “powdered" snow and I struggled more and more” admitted Matthew PHILLIPS (AUS - Sherco), frustrated and losing time from the halfway point.
Needless to say that under such conditions, the Finnish specialists (TAMMINEN, ERIKSSON, AJALA ...) rode to their heart's content. Starting with Aleksi JUKOLA (KTM) leader until mid-day before Eemil POHJOLA (Gas Gas), a well-known former Junior rider in the World Championship, took over after test 9. After pushing hard to close the gap on the KTM rider, POHJOLA was unfortunately forced to give up on special test 13 due to a mechanical problem … as the sun dipped low on the horizon and night fell, the last 3 specials were run in total darkness! Eero REMES (SF-TM) brief leader of the scratch class, battled with his compatriots Mika TAMMINEN (Gas Gas), Toni ERIKSSON (KTM) and Jussi ARVAJA (Sherco) for top honours.
REMES & Jamie MCCANNEY win in E2 & E1…
The factory TM rider had to fight hard in the E2 class against another Finn, Matti OIKARI (Honda), while the Italian duo Alex SALVINI (Husqvarna Zanardo), Deny PHILIPPAERTS (Beta Boano) fought a superb battle throughout the day for the crucial points of the final podium position. Alex SALVINI, the Just1 rider, took 3rd and confirmed his excellent form and his very promising start to the season. But we must give a special mention to the remarkable Deny PHILIPPAERTS who scored a brilliant 4th place result, his best since his debut in the World Championship 8 years ago. It came as something as a surprise for Deny, who is one of the most friendly riders in the Paddock. We must also give credit to another E2 rider, Joshua GOTTS (IRL - TM Electraction) who also performed excellently to grab his best World Championship result; 5th place. These dark horses proved to be outstanding in the category, where PHILLIPS 6th, LARRIEU 7th, OLDRATI 8th and CHARLIER 10th, all struggled in the immense cold and deep snow!
After the retirement of Eemil POHJOLA, it was Jamie MCCANNEY (GB-Yamaha) who was top man in the E1 category, despite the superb performance of his compatriot Brad FREEMAN! The factory Yamaha Outsiders rider offered up a splendid and unexpected victory on the first day of this "fearsome" Päijänne GP. The Manxman held off charges from local rider Jussi ARVAJA, who finished 2nd, and FREEMAN who ‘scratched’ the last two night specials against the Finnish talent! Antoine BASSET (F - Gas Gas) returning to the Grand Prix paddock after a serious knee injury that sidelined him for more than a season, proved he is as strong and courageous as ever, performing well among a talented pack of Finns.
JUKOLA & HOLCOMBE shine…
Steve HOLCOMBE (GB - Beta) honoured his Number 1 plate! He was indeed the best of the "foreigners" in Enduro 3, thanks to his smooth riding which was perfect for the hellish conditions. The 2017 EnduroGP World Champion secured a brilliant 5th place against local riders JUKOLA, ERIKSSON and TAMMINEN who were impregnable today. The factory BETA rider scored important points for the rest of the season even though Gas Gas factory’s Danny MCCANNEY (GB) and Christophe NAMBOTIN (F) also performed well, finishing 7th and 8th respectively.
The first day of the "great Finnish adventure" that is the Päijänne GP kept all its promises while also offering some nice surprises ... including the victory in EnduroGP (scratch) of KTM Finland rider, Aleksi JUKOLA, despite the withdrawal of the Austrian brand from the World Enduro Championship for “marketing” and “economical” reasons.
This freezing Finnish GP will continue tomorrow morning from 08.30 EET, heading towards Helsinki for a shorter second day (7hrs 30mins of racing!) It promises to be another intense and thrilling day!
What They Said:
Aleksi JUKOLA: “I’m satisfied with having won this first day even if I am disappointed for Eemil (POHJOLA) who broke down. Now time for a good hot shower, a night of rest, and I hope to do the double and win my first Päijänne!”
Jamie MCCANNEY: “If I had been told that I was going to start the season in Finland with a win in my class...I would never have believed it! Of course, if POHJOLA hadn’t had a mechanical issue, I wouldn’t be on the top step of the podium, but as we often say; to finish first, first you have to finish! In any case, it feels good to start the season like this even if I’m feeling tired!”
Eero REMES: “The young riders are going strong out the front and it's going to be hard to get the overall Päijänne victory, but I'm happy to have won my category! Tomorrow is another day but I have a good opportunity to make a small gap against my other competitors …”
Brad FREEMAN: “Some people probably didn’t enjoy riding here…I loved it! Although it's tiring, I really enjoyed riding in the snow and on top of that, I won two of the three night stages. So how could I not be satisfied with this excellent third place?!”