Thursday, 20 November 2014

EXCLUSIVE: 'Much more than I expected' - Joni Wiman on his rise to the top

Going into the final round of the 2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross series there were four drivers capable of winning the championship, all of which were looking for their first titles in the ever growing competition.

In his first year of competition in the top Supercars category, it was young Finn Joni Wiman who took the title, a result he describes as 'the best highlight' of his rookie Supercars season. His Red Bull GRC triumph was his second GRC title in as many years after a strong 2013 in the GRC Lites championship saw him win every round en route to championship glory.

Going into the Vegas finale, Wiman held the championship lead but super-quick Ken Block was hot on his heels with the  ex-F1 duo of Speed and Nelson Piquet Jr. also in with a shout of taking the championship. Despite the three challengers behind him, the Olsbergs OMSE driver knew exactly what needed to be done.

"On the team we did the math ahead of time and I knew before I got there that as long as I finished second in the race, I would win the championship." He says, "I stayed focused on that."

With moving up to the big leagues alongside the likes of Tanner Foust, Ken Block, Scott Speed and co. for 2014, how did Wiman think he'd fare up against such motorsport royalty?

"I wanted to go into the championship with an open mind and with realistic expectations." He tells me. "At the first race, in Barbados, I saw that I could be competitive and I would have been very happy to finish this season in the top three. Winning the championship was much more than I could have expected for my rookie season."

Despite taking the title, Wiman was one of two championship contenders who didn't win a final all season, consistency being key to his championship. For Wiman, a race win is just the next box to tick in his short but hugely impressive career.

"The feeling when you win a race is amazing" Wiman says. "It’s the next achievement in my career that I have to look forward to."

Despite becoming a rallycross superstar in just two short years, it wasn't always the discipline that the 20-year-old had his eye on, even with his Scandinavian roots.

Wiman previously spent time competing in Formula Renault 2.0 in the UK winter series and the hotly contested North European Cup. Prior to that he had finished second in the European karting championship and was a top ten finisher in the Finnish Championship. However, as is sadly too often the case in European single seater racing, Wiman's career hit the skids in 2012 when the funds dried up.

"It was a struggle sometimes to find the budget to be competitive when I was racing Formula Renault in Europe and that became frustrating" he says. "I was about ready to quit racing altogether in 2012 when Marcus suggested I give rallycross"

Before too long, Gronholm had helped Wiman into a seat in the then-new GRC Lites championship for 2013 with the crack Olsbergs team, under the watchful eye of team owner Andreas Eriksson.

"Andreas is very committed to developing young drivers" Wiman says,  "and after a good season in Lites last year, he gave me the chance in Supercars."

A background in open wheel racing may not seem like the ideal training ground for a future rallycross champion, but he isn't the only driver in the Red Bull GRC field to have come from an open-wheel background. He's not the only one to be very competitive from the off either. The cars and tracks may seem worlds apart, but it's the unique nature of Global Rallycross that means adapting from one to the other isn't as difficult as one may think.

"It seems like they’re worlds apart and for sure the cars are very different." Wiman agrees, "but winning races on tarmac is about smooth, consistent driving and in that way, my open wheel background was very good preparation for driving in rallycross in America where the tracks are narrow and mostly tarmac."

 It's been a remarkable rise to the top for Joni Wiman, and now with 2014 consigned to the history books, attention now turns to 2015. For most of us anyway.

"It’s too soon to think about 2015, we’ll be able to start talking about 2015 plans in the new year." says Wiman. "Right now, I’m enjoying the winter in Finland and thinking about the holidays with my family. But it will be back to training, spending time in the gym, and testing in preparation for 2015 before I know it."

Read the full interview with Joni Wiman HERE

Images - Larry Chen, Garth Milan, Alison Padron, Joni Wiman, Bluebeam, OMSE, Red Bull GRC, Red Bull Content Pool

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