The future of Finnish motorsport is strong thanks to the AKK’s Flying Finn initiative, which aims to unearth the new generation of driving talent in the country by encouraging wide-spread participation at grassroots level.
A nation famed for its motorsport heroes both on the race circuits and rally stages of the world, AKK is working tirelessly to ensure future stars are waiting in the wings to follow the likes of Kimi Räikkönen and Esapekka Lappi by competing at the sport’s highest level.
Raakel Koittola, from AKK Sports, used her visit to Neste Rally Finland to explain the programme’s objectives and reveal how the federation’s work is already bearing fruit.
“The Flying Finn programme combines everything we do to ensure Finland remains the most successful nation in motorsport into the future,” she says. “In Finland ice hockey is really big, it’s accessible and there is a clear path to the top. We have the same kind of path in motorsport and with the Flying Finn we want to make it easier for everyone to understand. So if you’re a five-year-old girl who wants to try karting for the first time and then wants it to be a hobby, we want to make that possible as much as we want the future champions to make it.”
But the scheme is much more than just providing an opportunity for youngsters to try karting for size, as Koittola explains.
“We have recreational clubs for children that promote a healthy lifestyle and for the children who are motivated, talented and gifted we want to have as many opportunities for them as possible. So as part of Flying Finn we have the AKK Driver Academy, an elite training programme which is the Finnish Junior National Team for the best drivers in racing, rallying and rallycross aged 13-25.
“Then we have the Future Rally Star of Finland programme, which gives one driver the chance to contest Neste Rally Finland each year. It’s an 35,000 euros prize and without the scheme there wouldn’t be this opportunity.”
The AKK Driver Academy intake comes through an application process with candidates required to demonstrate previous success and prove “you are really motivated”, according to Koittola.
“If you play hockey you learn when you are six your training diaries,” she continues. “For motorsports we give the young drivers the possibility to learn this kind of commitment from the early age. We want to have our drivers to be their best physically, to know they are motivated. We have mental training, physical training, driver training, we have everything you could want to be ready. We want to give them the opportunity.”
Of course motorsport requires a considerable investment for participants, making it less accessible than “Olympic” sports, as Koittola accepts. “Of course there are many kids interested in rally that don’t have the financial opportunity to show their wings. But if it can become a hobby then there is always the chance it can become something more and we believe that karting can be a hobby that’s not so expensive.”
“Motorsport in Finland is really big and because Finland is really big with not so many cities, motorsport is not really so popular in the cities because there is not the equipment or the locations. But we are working with companies and local clubs by giving them karts so they can be used as a hobby, at an after-school recreational club with half the time spent driving and half the time doing physical activities to encourage healthy lifestyles.
“Motorsport in Finland has this amazing history and since the end of the 1980s, the AKK has been developing the elite training programme and we want to give more children the opportunity to try motorsport, to show the rest of Finland we have these amazing young drivers capable of doing amazing results.
“The AKK is behind lots of local training schemes and is involved with the Girls on Track initiative from the FIA and the EU. We’re taking our karting programme to seven events around Finland, including Neste Rally Finland where we’ve had an amazing response, which shows there is a lot of interest.”
Longer term Koittola wants the Future Rally Star of Finland concept to be expanded into circuit racing and rallycross “because it’s a fantastic concept with three former winners now factory drivers in the WRC”. But rallying yet remains a key focus.
Of course investment is required to keep Flying Finn on the right path as, right now, much of the funding comes from internal AKK sources, meaning more funding is needed. But there are already hundreds of eager youngsters with the enthusiasm to try motorsport for size and the motivation needed to go further. With the AKK’s support that could mean Neste Rally Finland and the FIA World Rally Championship. One day.
Photo: Sami Lamminaho / AKK