Interview: Sami Heiskanen, Powerpark Alahärmä

from FIA karting

The FIA Karting World Championship – OK & Junior held in Finland at the beginning of September was a major event of the 2019 season. The Powerpark circuit of Alahärmä and its spectacular layout were one of the reasons for this, but the credit also goes to the owner of the site and the organisation of the AKK – Motorsport. A long conversation with Sami Heiskanen, member of the Finnish ASN, in charge of the preparation and running of the event, provided a better understanding of this success. 

SAMI, CAN YOU RETRACE THE HISTORY OF THE CIRCUIT?

The Power Park circuit was created in the early 2000s because the owner, Jorma Lillbacka and his son Pekka, are passionate about motor sport and friends of Mika Salo, a former F1 driver. Located in the countryside 400 km north of the capital Helsinki, Alahärmä hosted two international Competitions in 2002 and 2003. The site has changed a lot since then as it has been surrounded by the largest theme park in the country. The circuit was designed by Mika Salo according to the natural relief of the site and probably under the influence of the Suzuka F1 circuit. The result is very pleasant, according to the Drivers, and spectacular for the public.

WHAT DID YOUR PREPARATION WORK CONSIST OF?

Paradoxically, Alahärmä is mainly used by recreational karts. We have therefore worked hard to make the necessary adjustments for a World Championship. We started six months before the race and we have been working daily for the last three weeks. Our team is not very big, about thirty people, and we also had to participate in the preparation of the Neste Rally Finland, which is the biggest sporting event in our country. In addition to the preparations on the ground, finding partners to help us finance this Competition was also a major task.

HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE SAFETY OF THE TRACK?

Safety is an essential point on which we have done our utmost. Many points have been adjusted to comply with the recommendations of Franz Schreiner, the CIK-FIA’s circuit safety manager. The owner of the site, Jorma Lillbacka, has always been very open to safety needs.

HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO ATTRACT SO MANY SPECTATORS?

JJ Lehto, still a very popular Driver in Finland, has been part of the organisation. He has attracted the interest of the media, TV, radio and press thanks to his personal investment. We also worked closely with Power Park to create an attractive event that coincided with the park’s big closing party. Many visitors had also come for this, for the fireworks, for the concert. Karting was kind of an extra attraction for their weekend. It is estimated that the total number of spectators during the meeting was between 8000 and 9000 people.

“It is essential for young Finnish drivers to have a great home race.”

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AFTER THIS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP?

First, we’re going to take a short holiday! More seriously, I don’t know what will happen in the near future in Alahärmä. We have certainly demonstrated our ability to host a major international race and it is reasonable to assume that it will not be the last. It is very important for young Finnish Drivers to have a big home race because otherwise they are always forced to make long and expensive trips to southern Europe. This explains the presence of 28 Finnish drivers in this Competition.

Karting is an increasingly important element in Finnish motor sport. Tomorrow’s champions, in all disciplines combined, now come from karting, which was not the case some fifteen years ago. That is why we are stepping up our efforts in this discipline, particularly through the AKK Motorsport Flying Finn 100 project, which involves lending karts to apprentice Drivers through clubs and tracks across the country.

“Karting is an increasingly important element in Finnish motor sport.”

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