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How a trailblazing 2022 world champion defied the last word hurdle

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Beginning the defence of a World Rally Championship title, not to mention profitable the 2022 WRC2 co-drivers crown, are days that Reeta Hamalainen thought might by no means arrive. That’s not by an absence of talent or alternative, however one thing way more sobering. She has overcome one of many greatest hurdles one can face in life to develop into the primary girl to win a WRC2 title – most cancers.

Analysis throughout the 2018-2019 low season was each a life-changing and life-affirming episode in Hamalainen’s profession, which begins its subsequent profitable chapter this weekend as she enters Rally Sweden alongside fellow Finn and WRC2 drivers’ champion Emil Lindholm of their Toksport Skoda Fabia.

It goes with out saying that it’s been an emotional and arduous journey for Hamalainen to succeed in this level, headlined by her brave battle to beat the sickness. Her WRC2 victory speech at Rally Japan final November left in no unsure phrases that hers has not been the typical voyage to turning into a world champion.

“That is simply wonderful,” mentioned Hamalainen after pipping former WRC duo Andreas Mikkelsen and Torstein Eriksen to the WRC2 crown final yr. “To be sincere, I didn’t count on to be right here as a result of in 2019 after I was actually, actually sick. I believed that was it, I can not do rally anymore as a result of my well being gained’t take it. However fortunately I used to be flawed.”

Three months on from that history-making feat, the smile stays on the 34-year-old’s face when reminded by Autosport in Sweden that she is the reigning WRC2 co-drivers’ world champion. If profitable the 2022 title was a problem then defending it’s prone to be a good more durable prospect with WRC2’s current inflow of expertise from the highest division, together with former Hyundai driver Oliver Solberg and M-Sport duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith added to the combination. However as Hamalainen has confirmed by her personal private battle, she is up for a struggle.

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“One way or the other it’s nonetheless somewhat bit troublesome to imagine that we now have achieved that and it feels nice,” she tells Autosport. “There might be some stress now that we now have gained the title, however my feeling is that we will do that.

Hamalainen co-drove Lindholm to WRC2 title glory in 2022 after beating most cancers

Picture by: Purple Bull Content material Pool

“I’m so thrilled to be in a rally automotive once more. It was such a protracted break after Japan, it’s simply nice to be in automotive. I’m fairly assured that we’re doing good. I belief myself and I belief Emil, and the automotive, and the crew. We’re going to have a great rally [in Sweden].

“It’s actually good that we now have such a decent competitors there [in WRC2] and it ups the worth of the collection additionally. I take it as a problem.”

Reaching the WRC2 summit final yr has extremely been achieved in solely the second season with former GT racer Lindholm – a driver she has recognized since 2012. However their partnership quickly bore fruit and, because of Hamalainen’s distinctive melodic type of pacenote supply in crisp Finnish, it has develop into an web sensation. Absolutely conscious of her type, even she acknowledges it is “intense”.

“I don’t take into consideration how I learn the pacenotes, however in fact I take into consideration studying them in the best way that Emil understands,” she says. “Effectively, it really works for us. It doesn’t have to work for someone else. In fact I’ve talked about it with Emil, however that is the easiest way for us. If I’m with a distinct driver perhaps I’ll change the type a bit. In fact, I do know it’s fairly intense.”

“Being sick, shedding your well being is a private factor and it’s totally different for everyone, however in fact I’ve realized from it. It was unhealthy, but it surely wasn’t all unhealthy. You by some means respect extra the time you’ve right here, and you are able to do what you like” Reeta Hamalainen

This craft has been honed over 13 years – as rally co-driving isn’t a talent that may be mastered right away.

PLUS: Autosport gets to grips as a WRC co-driver

Hamalainen’s journey began again in 2009, sat alongside rally loving father Tuevo in a restored Alfa Romeo Giulietta on the Historic Vltava Rallye within the Czech Republic. A quick dalliance behind the wheel adopted, earlier than Hamalainen determined that navigating was her most well-liked route into rallying.

Stints alongside a collection of Finnish nationwide drivers together with Laura Suvanto adopted, but it surely was navigating for Jonna Olkoniemi that led to Hamalainen’s huge break; calling notes for Olkoniemi’s godfather, former Ford and Skoda manufacturing facility driver Janne Tuohino. Coincidently, the primary rally the pair contested was Rally Sweden in 2018, but it surely was on the finish of this season the place the brakes have been placed on her profession following the most cancers prognosis.

Hamalainen managed to contest a rally in Finland whereas present process therapy in 2019, such was her dedication to succeed, earlier than the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel emerged by a profitable breast most cancers surgical procedure. A reunion with Tuohino for a correct comeback after the COVID-19 interrupted 2020 season arrived in a top-level Ford Fiesta WRC automotive at Arctic Rally Finland. Sadly, this ended all too quickly as Tuohino was compelled to retire from the ultimate day of the snow rally by damage. He’d harm his shoulder by slipping on ice after stepping out of a sauna.

Hamalainen earned her big break alongside Tuohino before forging successful partnership with Lindholm

Hamalainen earned her huge break alongside Tuohino earlier than forging profitable partnership with Lindholm

Picture by: Jaanus Ree – Purple Bull Content material Pool

In the end this led to a hyperlink up with 26-year-old Lindholm for an in the end profitable WRC-3 marketing campaign in 2021 that yielded victories in Finland and Spain – within the latter, Hamalainen was listed as the driving force to negate a rule loophole – as Lindholm completed third within the factors. They stepped up collectively to WRC2 for 2022 and the remaining, as they are saying, is historical past.

Not wishing to dwell on her previous struggles, Hamalainen is all in regards to the current – and that appears far rosier after her career-high success alongside Lindholm in 2022, headlined by wins in Finland and Greece, supported by an extra three podiums. However there may be an awesome sense of gratitude and achievement to have overcome many hurdles to now enter 2023 as defending champion.

“Being sick, shedding your well being is a private factor and it’s totally different for everyone, however in fact I’ve realized from it,” she provides. “It was unhealthy, but it surely wasn’t all unhealthy. You by some means respect extra the time you’ve right here, and you are able to do what you like.

“I’m actually grateful for everyone that has been concerned throughout greater than 10 years of rallying. It’s not like I can get so far in a break up second. I wanted all these years and all that follow and do all of the work to be right here now.

“It’s actually rewarding to be right here now, as a result of it has been a protracted, lengthy journey.”

To many, Hamalainen is an inspirational determine not solely as a most cancers survivor however as the primary girl to win a WRC2 title. Hamalainen performed a job in maybe probably the most profitable season for girls in world rallying since Michele Mouton completed runner-up in 1982. Finnish co-driver Enni Malkonen lifted the WRC3 co-drivers’ title, whereas Isabelle Galmiche grew to become the primary feminine co-driver to win a WRC rally since Fabrizia Pons on the 1997 Monte Carlo Rally after calling notes for legend Sebastien Loeb eventually yr’s alpine basic.

Requested for her ideas, Hamalainen modestly replies: “I don’t find out about that as you don’t take into consideration these issues in your regular on a regular basis life. However in fact it’s very nice if I can encourage someone to do one thing. Like if a woman begins rallying, that’s wonderful if I can do this.

Hamalainen is credited with a WRC3 win as a driver in Spain 2019 - cleverly exploiting a loophole which didn't stipulate that those roles were abided by

Hamalainen is credited with a WRC3 win as a driver in Spain 2019 – cleverly exploiting a loophole which did not stipulate that these roles have been abided by

Picture by: Jaanus Ree – Purple Bull Content material Pool

“The most effective second for me is when somewhat woman comes and says she needs to be such as you, or her mother and father come and say you’re her idol. Now they realise they’ll additionally do rally. That is the nicest level for me – if I can encourage women to return into this sport. This isn’t for males solely.”

Hamalainen’s story is way from being over and whereas a WRC2 title defence is her purpose for 2022, her final ambition is to overcome rallying’s prime tier. It’s a purpose that appears more and more possible, ought to a possibility to graduate develop into viable.

“In fact [competing in the WRC] is the dream and the purpose,” she provides. “Should you don’t have any targets or desires, then you definitely gained’t obtain something, so you really want to have these. It’s the final purpose.

“I feel we will do it. In fact, there may be tons to do and by some means even now we now have to develop to be at that stage as that’s the prime stage. However I feel we’re going to be prepared for it in time. Possibly not but, however subsequent yr perhaps.”

Hamalainen is fired up to begin her title defence on the Swedish snow this weekend

Hamalainen is fired as much as start her title defence on the Swedish snow this weekend

Picture by: Purple Bull Content material Pool

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