GP of Finland Preview: The Infamous Päijänne!
Finally! Nearly five months after a historic season finale at the popular “Rund Um Zschopau” in Germany, EnduroGP is back! And with an equally well-known event; ‘Päitsi’ (Päijänne Enduro)! The stars of the discipline will tackle this tough race for the second time in as many years, and this legendary race in northern Europe will be ready to provide an intense season opener.
After the success of the first edition last year, Alain and Bastien BLANCHARD (ABC Communication) quickly got back in touch with the HMK, the organiser of this very famous event. Kenneth LAAKSONEN, president of the HMK, and Mauri PENTILA quickly responded in favour of running another winter Enduro in the World Championship calendar!
The HMK, supported by the Finnish Federation (SML), made a point of showing that the sport of Enduro can be enjoyed even in very cold weather, and on snow and ice! This club has organised ‘Päitsi‘ since 1927, and the event has been run every year except for a break during the Second World War (between 1940 and 1948). Previously known as “Päijänteen ympäriajo”, the event takes place around Lake Päijänne. The format is similar to that of a car rally and has seen a number of Finnish World Champions such as Kari TIAINEN, Petteri SILVAN, Juha SALMINEN and Mika AHOLA crowned. In 2017 another local rider won the Finnish GP at Päijänne in his very first participation: Eero REMES (TM)! The Finns even have a saying that you can’t be a real Champion unless you have won (or at least, finished) Päitsi!
Known as “the great Finnish adventure”, this two-day race attracts all types of riders, from experienced veterans to young novices. This year, the 250 entries (made up of EnduroGP + national riders) will start from Vierumäki and battle their way through 11 hours 30mins of racing with 16 different special tests on Saturday, including two night tests! A further 7 hours 30mins and 12 special tests will follow on Sunday, before the riders arrive at the finish in Helsinki. The riders will also have to face long and difficult transfers in the freezing cold, this will culminate in the crossing of Lake Päijänne, which is frozen at this time of the year on its northern shore. This year the race is expected to be harder than ever since the weather is likely to be very different from last year, with much more snow and lower temperatures! So, it goes without saying; extreme conditions await the competitors at Päitsi 2018!
It is in this legendary setting that the riders will, on Saturday March 17, start the GP of Finland on frozen and largely snow-covered tracks. And who knows if this time, with a year of experience under their belts, the stars of EnduroGP will be able to challenge the local riders for the overall victory!
HOLCOMBE ready to defend his crown!
The Grand Prix of Finland will debut 2018’s return to the Enduro 1, Enduro 2 and Enduro 3 class format. And, as in 2016, there will also be the ultimate scratch (overall) class named EnduroGP!
EnduroGP World Champion in 2017’s two-class format, Steve HOLCOMBE (GB – Beta) is facing a tricky task in 2018: defending his title against all the riders in the championship with the comeback of the scratch class! The old adage says: “The hardest thing is not only to win a title, but to defend it!” So we’ll see if this saying applies to the Brit who has worked very hard on his winter preparation and has already ridden in snowy conditions a few weeks ago. The factory Beta rider will not only aim for the overall title, but also for the Enduro 3 title.
HOLCOMBE may well be the favourite to retain his crown, but there are many riders keen to take his place on the throne, starting in his own category E3. Christophe NAMBOTIN (F) is back to his first love; Gas Gas. The Frenchman has declared that it’s the E3 title or nothing! He also has an eye on the EnduroGP title. In the same pit Danny MCCANNEY (GB – Gas Gas) will also be a favourite in the E3 category and the Brit will certainly have a shot at the EnduroGP title too.
In the E2 class a large number of riders are also capable of claiming the EnduroGP title. Starting with the 2017 Vice-Champion, Loïc LARRIEU (F – Yamaha) and the very first EnduroGP Champion in history: Matthew PHILLIPS (AUS – Sherco), who is back in the World Championship despite his announcement last year that he would head home to Tasmania.
In addition to these two stars, Eero REMES, winner of Päitsi 2017, will also be ready to attack for the class and overall titles and will hope to take advantage of his home GP of Finland to take charge early on.
And we can’t rule out an ever-impressive Christophe CHARLIER (F – Beta) who will be ready to challenge after a very promising rookie season. While Alex SALVINI (I – Husqvarna) is back with Franco MAYR in his JET Racing team, and he will aim to prove that he still has all the qualities to be champion.
Who can beat the Finns?
There will be great competition in E1 too with the likes of Britain’s Jamie MCCANNEY (GB – Yamaha) and Brad FREEMAN (GB – Beta), and Italy’s Davide GUARNERI (Honda).
We could also see Eemil POHJOLA (SF – Gas Gas), who was ultra dominant in the Junior class at Päijänne 2017, lead the E1 charge after Round 1.
But there are many local riders who could come to steal the spotlight from all these stars. Former World Enduro rider Marko TARKKALA (SF – TM) is ready to enjoy the taste of victory again. And Aleksi JUKOLA (SF – KTM), Jussi ARVAJA (SF – Sherco) and Henry OLENIUS (SF – TM) could also put in strong performances.
In addition, Antoine BASSET (F – Gas Gas) will finally return to competition after a year of recovery to treat a cruciate ligament rupture in his right knee. And Thomas OLDRATI (I – Honda), Deny PHILIPPAERTS (I – Beta) and Josh GOTTS (GB – TM), could all do well in these extreme conditions.
Note that there will be no Junior or FIM Youth 125cc classes this year at the Päijänne GP. Their first event will be the Spanish GP in April.
This Finnish GP is much awaited by EnduroGP enthusiasts all around the world, but also by the many Finnish spectators who will come in their droves into the snowy forests to watch the action. Also anticipating this special GP will be the International and National Press and Media. The HMK have knowledgeably and passionately prepared this year’s Päijänne Enduro with the aim to show a new side to Enduro for 2018. Get ready for a breathtaking season opener which will be met with nerves and anticipation by all the riders!
– Vierumäki (Päijät-Häme region) ;
– 120kms north of Helsinki ;
– Saturday 17 March : Start 07:00 – Finish 18:30 (Vierumäki);
– Sunday 18 March : Start 08:30 – Finish 15:55 (Helsinki);
– Organisation : HMK ;
– Websites: www.endurogp.org & www.paijanne-enduro.fi ;
– Route: 16 special tests on Saturday – 12 special tests on Sunday;
– Free Entry;
– Nearest Airport: Helsinki-Vantaa