Interview: Simo Puhakka, Pro OTK Driver

from FIA Karting

“BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL DRIVER HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY GOAL”

Simo Puhakka will turn 33 on 21st September 2021 and is now one of the most experienced professional drivers in the paddock. The Finn has raced for some of the biggest teams and has numerous podium finishes at international level. He is a multiple champion in his home country, along with three top-five finishes in the World Championship, third in the European Championship in 2020, a WSK title last year, a win at the Macau Grand Prix in 2019 and a victory in the 2009 European Super KF Championship at his favourite circuit, La Conca in southern Italy.

TELL US ABOUT THE KEY MOMENTS OF YOUR CAREER?

I was only four years old when I first got into the seat of a kart. That must have been in 1992. My father raced cars for fun and passed on his passion to me by bringing me to the circuits. At that time, children could participate in regional races from the age of five in Finland. It became more serious when I turned 10, and soon I was competing at national and then international level.

In 2002, I took part in my first European Championship finals, in France at Angerville, in the Junior category. In my country, I won five or six Finnish Championship titles. I knew that my possibilities to race in cars were limited, mainly because of the budgets I had to bring. So my goal was to become a professional kart driver. I am proud to have achieved this.

FOR A FINNISH DRIVER, WASN’T IT QUITE AN EXPEDITION TO GO TO COUNTRIES LIKE FRANCE, SPAIN AND ITALY?

Indeed, especially as we had a very small budget. Fortunately, I was helped by Toni Vilander’s father’s team, an excellent Finnish driver. He represented the PCR brand and introduced me to the Italian factory who supported me for several seasons. From that moment on I could always race in good circumstances, with excellent equipment.

From the 2011 season onwards I concentrated exclusively on KZ. After that I worked with the AVG Racing team in 2014 when they used a Birel ART chassis, before joining the official CRG team in 2015. I only took a break in 2013 when I became a driver coach.



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HOW DID YOUR INTEGRATION WITH THE OTK GROUP GO?

At the end of 2016 I called Mr Roberto Robazzi and we reached an agreement to drive under the Kosmic colours in 2017 and on a Tony Kart since 2018. For me, this is a great challenge, especially to make the Vortex engines win in KZ against tough competition.

The team is really professional and I have a good relationship with all the team members. When I am not racing, I am also present at the OK and OK-Junior races to help the young drivers progress. At OTK there are no secrets between the drivers, all information is passed on between the drivers, mechanics and technicians.

BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL KARTING DRIVER FORCED YOU TO LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY, DIDN’T IT?

Absolutely, but karting is both my passion and my job. The main factories are located in the north of Italy. For me the right thing to do was to move to the Lake Garda area. I have been here since 2009, after doing my military service in Finland. This enabled me to learn Italian quickly and to become more integrated with the teams I have worked for. I rarely go back to Finland. My life here in Italy is almost exclusively about karting. I enjoy it all year round, both on the track and when I work at the OTK factory.

ARE YOU MARRIED, DO YOU HAVE CHILDREN, WHAT ARE YOUR OTHER PASSIONS?

I am single. I currently have a schedule that is not particularly compatible with a family life! Apart from karting, I play ice hockey near my home in Italy. It is a very popular sport in Finland.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR FUTURE AS A DRIVER?

Today I want to continue my sporting career. I think that my experience of more than 20 years in racing is one of my main assets. However, it is difficult to project my career path in the medium or long term. I take it one year at a time.

To continue racing at the highest level, you have to enjoy yourself first and then analyse your own limits. When you start to wonder if you still have the capacity to be really competitive in every race, the end of your career is not far off. Similarly, if your team-mates are regularly faster than you, you have to ask yourself some questions.



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