After eight years in retirement, Finnish rally legend Juha Kankkunen returned to the FIA World Rally Championship in his home country this weekend and finished a very credible eighth overall in his Focus RS WRC car.
The 51-year-old, who won the WRC drivers' title in 1986, 1987, 1991 and 1993, put in a sterling display on the new-look Rally Finland, even though this was his first outing at the top-level since 2002.
Indeed the Stobart
Ford guest man set a number of very respectable stage times, with 15-top ten times out of a possible 19, his best results, two seventh quickest efforts on Friday in SS8 and SS10.
"I was proud to hear the support of so many fans this weekend and was very happy to be here with some of the best rallying people in the world – many of them have known me for more than 20 years," Kankkunen said. "Today was a long day and I struggled to warm up first thing but it was nice to entertain the big crowd with some slides this weekend – even though that's not the fastest way to go!
"I drove at my own pace for this rally and didn't try to catch the title-chasers. My aim was to finish in the top ten finish so I am very happy to have finished in eighth and, of course, ahead of [F1 2007 world champion] Kimi [Räikkönen]."
Kankkunen also got a bit of extra recognition at the finish, when he received the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award.
"I am delighted to receive this," Kankkunen continued. "It has been fantastic to get back behind the wheel. It was a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a World Rally Car [this weekend]. I hadn't spent much time in the latest generation cars and I knew there have been a lot of changes, but I didn't have any undue surprises."
Ford / M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson meanwhile saluted Kankkunen and added that he was proud to see the four-time world champion back and running for the 'Blue Oval': "It has been a pleasure having Juha as part of the Stobart
M-Sport Ford Rally Team this weekend. Considering Juha has had virtually no experience of the new generation WRC cars, it is remarkable that he finished inside the top ten," Wilson summed-up.