2014 saw an exciting Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship come to a head in the final round in Las Vegas, four men could win but only one would, that man was the rookie Joni Wiman who was hot off the back of winning the GRC Lites title in 2013.
Some of our regular visitors may remember the Wiman name from his early career in Europe as he made his way up the traditional motor sport ladder, in 2008 he was European Karting Vice Champion and 2010 saw him finish 2nd in the Formula Renault 2.0 UK Winter Series.
As with a lot of flourishing motor sport careers Wiman was faced with a typical problem. “We ran out of money in single seaters and Marcus’ (Gronholm) opinion was to try rallycross for one year and see how it goes.” Wiman told theCheckeredFlag.co.uk
“The plan was to evaluate after that, and if it wasn’t working, we’d stop racing completely. It was a good plan. I’m happy that everything has worked well and, to be honest, I feel really good in rallycross.”
The young-Finn who would take part in the European Rallycross S1600 class in 2002 and take a season-best second place in Belgium. It would seem things were working out as he looked to make the move to the United States.
“I think I’ve said this a million times but the atmosphere in the single-seater paddock was that everyone was doing their own thing and drivers don’t speak to each other much. In rallycross it’s the opposite and I like it a lot when everyone is more like friends.”
Wiman raced against the likes of Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat in his single seater days but he admits that he hasn’t really heard from them since his switch to rallycross.
“I haven’t been in touch with these guys much. I’ve seen them one or two times and of course we say hello but now that I’m in rallycross I keep in touch with my teammates and some good friends I’ve made in that sport, like Patrik (Sandell) and Nelson (Piquet Jr.), especially.”
2013 saw Wiman head across the pond to the Red Bull GRC Lites championship where he would win the championship title in his first year, we asked him how he has found the racing in America compared to Europe.
“Since I raced in the European Rallycross Championship things have changed a lot. Now it’s the FIA World Rallycross Championship and it’s growing. The racing is good in both series but generally, I think the biggest difference is that it feels bigger and more about the show and the fans in the U.S.”
Following his sweeping win in the GRC Lites, Wiman stepped up to the main Supercars class for 2014.
“The biggest difference is the power and that the car is heavier and also: the hardest thing is because the car is so fast that all the situations on the track can really come quick and you need to be able to handle it.
“That was one of my weak points in the start of last season. But once you get used to the speed of the car and the racing, it’s more or less similar to a Lites car.”
For the 2015 season he is joined by the 2014 GRC Lites champion Mitchell deJong, “The Lites racing was great preparation to step up and I think Mitchell is going to do well this year, too” adds Wiman.
We ask what was the high-point of the season (other than taking the championship title).
“Our turning point was the doubleheader weekend in Los Angeles last year. I was a long-shot for the championship and it was do-or-die time. That was the race weekend where I had to do well or I would have lost any chance for the title.
“I gave it everything I had for both races and finished second and third. When we left, we were in real contention for the championship. It felt amazing to have the team pull together and have everything go to plan like that.”
Wiman’s journey through rallycross has been guided by two-time World Rally Champion and some-time rallycross driver Marcus Gronholm.
“He has helped me since I was racing in go karts and year by year he has taken on a bigger role in my career. Now, he is basically taking care of everything in my career. We keep in touch daily. There is always something he or I are talking about.
While Gronholm has been on hand to give career advise he has left it down to Wiman to drive how he wants to.
“On the driving side, he has never told me what to do. He always tells me ‘You know what to do.’ Sometimes I think it would be nice to hear more from him, since he has so much experience, but it feels good to know he has confidence in my driving.”
Each driver has their own way of preparing for a race but Wiman admits his preparation time is spent mainly trying to relax.
“I don’t prepare myself that much. I’m usually just trying to relax beforehand. The racing is really intense and we’re jumping in and out of the car all the time.
“It’s a really long day as a race day, and all I can do to relax before is what I like. If it’s a track I’ve been at before then I’m looking at videos and data we’ve got to be ready and fast right away.”
Despite taking the championship title in 2014, a event win has eluded Wiman so far and the Finn is confident ahead of the season, “I would say for sure I’ll win one or two races. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t.
“Last year I had a chance to win one or two races but at the end of the season we made the decision as a team to play it safe and bring the car home with no risk to maximize our points scoring opportunities. This year, I’ll take it race by race. We’ve been working hard in the off-season and the Red Bull / Bluebeam Ford Fiesta ST is an awesome car. The goal is to put it on the top step of the podium in 2015.”
Rallycross is undergoing an amazing rise in popularity across the globe and it couldn’t be a better time to be a competitor.
“It feels amazing to be in rallycross at this moment in time as it’s growing every year and it feels like there’s so much potential. As I driver, I really love the sport and what all of us drivers want is to see it grow and share it with more and more people.”
The Red Bull Global Rallycross season gets under way on 31 May at Fort Lauderdale and theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will be reporting on the full season.