Of all the Red Bull GRC rookie drivers in the Supercar Division, none is under more scrutiny than Joni Wiman. The Finnish driver who turned twenty-one last week has been on everybody’s radar since winning the 2013 GRC Lites championship after dominating the entire season. This year he’s been driving the #31 Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta ST. Despite some setbacks, three consecutive podium finishes coupled with solid performances in heats have put him atop the championship standings going into the season finale at Las Vegas. I met Wiman in person at Daytona International Speedway between the Semifinal races. It felt like a million degrees that Saturday and the Olsbergs MSE hospitality area felt like a real oasis. Wiman was also challenged by the oppressive heat that weekend, but still took time to chat with me for a few minutes. Thankfully his English is tons better than my Finnish and I got to find out a little more about this talented, young driver.
MLAS: How old were you when you started racing?
Joni Wiman: I started racing at seven. We’re allowed to do that in Finland, at seven but I started driving at three.
MLAS: Three! That was in a kart, right?
MLAS: Your parents bought it for you?
JW: Yeah and then I did karting until 2009. From there to single-seaters and now I ended up here.
MLAS: What do you do for school? How did you fit racing into your school schedule?
JW: I’m not with a school now. It was a school where I’m a what-you-call car mechanic now, but I was a lot of year with the racing.
MLAS: Last year you won everything in GRC Lites. Did it fall into place perfectly or was there a lot of work into it to have that kind of success?
JW: Of course it’s always a lot of work but I mean everything fell completely right into place. To be honest I would be happy to have win two or three races that year but I won all of them so I was extremely happy after that.
MLAS: What do you do when you’re not racing rallycross?
JW: (smiles) Racing in Finland.
MLAS: You’re like NASCAR’s Kyle Larson. When you’re not racing you’re racing. (laughs)
JW: (smiling) It’s a hobby to drive in Finland. Just for fun, keep the feeling up. That’s my life.
MLAS: Back home in Finland, are people aware of what you’ve accomplished in this country?
JW: Yeah we have quite a good newspapers and so on. They write about it but it’s not so big yet but for sure it’s growing all the time.
MLAS: This is your rookie year. What is your goal for this year?
JW: In first race it was just to improve myself and be quick, but now when I be quick out there in race, I just need to put everything together and for sure top three is my goal for the end of the season and one win now would be really good.
MLAS: When you were growing up were there any drivers that you looked up to?
JW: Kimi of course, Räikkönen is, he has always been the one I’ve been looking up to. I mean on the track. (smiling)
MLAS: What is it like working with Marcus (Grönholm)?
JW: He’s very kind and he’s helping me if I have some problems but we don’t speak too much about driving. He tells me if something is wrong but usually we don’t speak too much about driving.
MLAS: I was under the impression that he was training you?
JW: No. (pauses) He’s helping me with the sponsors and you know, all those things but yeah he’s helping me of course this year with training and driving but not as much as people think.
MLAS: What are your goals in rallycross?
JW: I want to be a world champion someday. If I finally arrive at the world championships so that’s the dream.
MLAS: Would you consider trying other kinds of motorsports like stage rally?
JW: Maybe but I don’t know if driving alone is maybe not my thing. I’ve been racing my whole life against other people at the same time so. Of course it would be fun to try but (shrugs shoulders) yeah.
A Final Word
To me, Joni Wiman is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of dude. He’s unassuming in a sport where some drivers have to act like caricatures of themselves. I’m not saying someday we won’t see posters of a snarling Wiman. However at this point in his career he’s focused on being the best racer he can be. It’s hard to look at his “baby face” and think “hardened competitor” but that’s exactly what he is. This series has a tough line-up and there’s little mercy to be found on the track. Even seasoned veterans have had trouble finding their footing out there but Wiman’s been holding his own since day one, and that says it all. My thanks to Jakub ‘Qba’ Nitka for introducing us. (This couldn’t have happened without you, Q!)
Tickets for the Red Bull GRC finale are still available at http://rbgrclv.com/. The event will be held at The LINQ Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on November 4-5, 2014. Two-day tickets start at USD $55 and $25 for kids aged six to twelve. Your ticket includes access to the paddock which is a beautiful thing. If you can’t make it to Vegas then watch the race on NBC, Sunday November 16th at 1:30pm EST; and again on NBC Sports, Thursday November 20th at 1:30am EST. Don’t forget to connect with Joni Wiman on social media for updates on his adventures on and off the race track!