Welcome back to another episode of Star of the Week series. It’s been nice long weekends totally filled with karting and especially the very best of them all – karting World Championship in Campillos. There were 4 our racers on the grid and all of them made absolutely brilliant job. And it’s our northern neighbours actually we must surely proud of as one of their young guns took the title in OK class. It’s hard to believe that this is the first World Championship for Finland. And it’s almost as hard to believe that our guest this week is none else than newly crowned Wolrd Champion Tuukka Taponen!
Tuukka tells us his story. How he started in karting being two-years old. Yes, you’re absolutely right to read it again and again. After that it has been a journey which took Tuukka racing all over the world outside Finland. Even Hiiumaa is not exception as Tuukka took part of Estonian Championship event there two years ago.
With age of only 15 years Tuukka is now at the very top of the karting world. His talent and working ethics is now noticed even by Maranello squad of Reds. How it all led here we are glad to have Mr Wolrd Champion himself to tell his story.
We hope you enjoy our conversation!
Tuukka Taponen – Champion of the World – how does it sound? What does this highest title in the world of karting mean to you?
It feels really great to be the World Champion and make Finnish history by being the first one to take the gold medal and at the same time the only one to have now have two World Championship medals! Winning the World Championship also gives me a confidence boost for the years to come.
Please tell us how much work and dedication has gone to achieve this incredible result?
I started karting at two years of age, so you can count have many years is already behind me 😊. This was my fourth international karting year, so I already have over 50 international competitions in the bag. I don’t think you’ll find any other race driver among my competitors who have worked harder than me for their career. However, the championship cannot be won alone, and the whole team has done their best this year to provide me with the equipment with which the championship was finally won.
How did you end up in this sport? What is your story?
My father has motorsport background and has always tuned cars and engines. He also competed in Rally cross competitions himself. Also my mother did a few races in the same category. I was always with my parents at the competitions, already as a toddler and when I was two years old my father bought me my very own kart. After this my life has been more or less at the paddock here in my homeland Finland and also abroad.
Do you also have your favourite special racing number and what is the background story for it?
When I started racing I got the number 48, after that number sticked with me for many years. Before the World Championships in the OK category my favourite number was 9, because with that number I won my first European Championships partial race with Tony Kart in 2020 and from the same starting grid I also took the Vice World Champion title last year. From this day on my favourite number will be 8, since this was my starting number when winning my first World Championship.
Who are the key people for the success you have endured this far? How have they helped and supported you?
I have many people in the background. Certainly the most important of these is Jussi Kohtala, the owner of Kohtala Sports, who has walked alongside me in many roles for the last 4 really, every day on the track and partly off-track as well. In addition to that, of course, my own family. Roberto and Erica Robazzi and the whole Tony Kart Racing Team, the mechanics of recent years Oskari Kuortti, Tomi Leivo and Mansel Smith. In addition to these, such gurus as Ossi Oikarinen, Jaakko Ojaniemi, Tommi Pärmäkoski and Andy Symonds have all joined the battle forces to prepare me for the formula side, all of whom have experience up to the F1 level. In addition to these, I already have a good number of extremely important sponsors and partners.
Clearly the field of OK consists of highly talented and experienced drivers so how does one become World Champion? In your opinion, what really makes the difference in this sport which is measured in thousandths of seconds?
There are certainly differences between different teams and materials, but in the end, the equipment is what it is and you are not able to influence on it yourself. The driver’s job is to focus on their own work and work from morning to night, day to day, and year to year to develop themselves in every area. It must also be understood that motorsport is ultimately teamwork. With talent, you have a good start, but with hard work and hard self-confidence, you can go even further. You also need to be able to appreciate the people around you.
What kind of preparations (mentally and physically) for how long did you do before the most important race of the year? How much and which kind of training are you doing to be in a perfect shape for karting?
I didn’t get to test at Campillos at all before the pre-race and the World Championships. At this point, it was extremely important to be self-confident and to have the team’s performance at the maximum. The target was clear, as the World Championship silver had already been achieved from the previous year. The pre-race was driven in a test-driven manner with no performance goals.
I have always been in good driving condition because I started karting at a very young age and always drove a lot. Before this year, I received training instructions from the Flying Finn Academy national team, but since the beginning of this year, the former personal Coaches of Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel, Jaakko Ojaniemi and Tommi Pärmäkoski, have been responsible for that side. At this point in your career, versatile fitness is always good. On driving days and travel days, I don’t do anything extra, but on almost every other day I do varied exercises according to the program.
How much time and energy do you focus on the setup of the kart? Is it just your feedback from driving or do you use data analysis also? Which is more precise in your opinion?
I tend to spend almost all the time outside of driving in the tent, giving feedback on the equipment and my own driving to the mechanic, team leader, and engine tuner. I also help the mechanic adjust and clean the car. I actually develop my own driving only through my own knowledge and feeling of the car. I use data more to compare material and so does the team.
There were 3 official Tony Kart factory drivers (you, Joe Turney, Juho Valtanen) who all finished in top 9. BUT! You beat them all and by more than 20 seconds! How did you manage that with the same material (chassis/engine)? Did you with your team (mechanic, engineer etc) develop something new and different for the title fight?
I tried to focus only on what I was doing, so in the end I did not know with what kind of adjustments or tire pressures my teammates were driving. Tire pressure was certainly one of the most important things, which on my behalf was spot on. Of course, my own doing on the track was also on a good level. Surprisingly easily, the victory was achieved. Valtanen and Turney are experienced drivers and it has been nice to work with them over the years and I have also learned a lot from them. They are both really skilled drivers, but at the same time good team players and nice guys. I would think they will get more out of themselves too when there is a young and fast contender on the team for them too. Only one can win and this time it was me. Like I said karting is ultimately teamwork and from my team’s point of view it worked out well in my opinion when all 3 were among the top 9.
Please tell us about the final in the World Championship. What did you feel during it and especially in the final phase of the race when you were really flying?
Of course, crossing the finish line first felt awesome. After the first laps, when I moved to the top I tried to drive as fast as possible, but at the same time relaxed. I didn’t think of it as the World Championship final but rather as a normal practise session. I didn’t look back. I always heard the noise in the same place behind me, but in the second half of the finals when I looked back, I was surprised when there was no one there. The last laps I just enjoyed myself, I focused on driving calmly but still full out until the finish line. On the final lap, I tried to make the fastest lap of the race, but it didn’t work. But the time in the second to the last lap still seems to remain the fastest lap of the final :).
Could please share us how did you become the driver for the most prestigious team in karting – Tony Kart Racing Team?
In the 2019 season, I won the first European Championship of my life with a big margin. That year, I won about 50% of the heats of the European Championships. I fought until the last competition for the European Champion title, eventually remaining in 4th place in the series. All of these achievements we accomplished with Kohtala Sports as a private team, of which we were very proud.
After that year, Tony Kart was interested in getting me on their team for the 2020 season. However, we did not reach an agreement on the terms of the agreement in the winter and started the season with the same team as in 2019. In the early part of the year, we got to drive two races before the race break caused by Corona. During that time, Tony Kart contacted us again and the terms we applied for in the winter were accepted and we finally reached an agreement surprisingly easily.
Now you have won the highest title in karting – are you now moving up and enter the car (single seater) racing? Your goal is F1 and there have been talks about you and Scuderia Ferrari. If not a secret, please tell us about this connection.
Together with the background team, we have carefully considered the plans for the coming years. Winning the World Championships didn’t really change my own plans in any way. I was also able to say my own opinion for the coming year and it was great to see that the whole background group agreed. I am going to drive another year of karting in the OK category, which will surely come as a surprise to many. We have always believed in our own choices and they have also paid off. This is also how we plan to continue in the future. In the future, the goal is to rise from small formulas to Formula 1 and be the next Finnish F1 world champion. It’s been great to see that the performances have been noticed on Ferrari as well and that’s why I’ve already received two invitations to their FDA Scouting Camp. I’ve been really happy with my performance there, so I couldn’t demand or expect more from myself. I have always believed in my own doing and it has also been noticed in recent years. And I believe that work will be rewarded many times over the years to come. Time will tell where I find myself in a few years. But the career continues!
If you could choose from whatever era in the world of motorsports, which racing car (kart, formula etc) you would race and on which track, why?
Formula 1 and the Portimao track. It looks like a great track and there are a lot of altitude differences, which I have also liked on the karting tracks.
Drivers usually have lots of ups and downs in their career but clearly you have held your head up, kept on working and the result of last weekend speaks for itself in that matter. With your enormous experience, could you please give advice for young drivers how to overcome difficult moments/results in this sport and how to improve as a driver?
You have to learn to admit your own mistakes and you have to learn from them. Mistakes made by others cannot be corrected, so you should focus on doing your own thing. Bad competitions should not be thought about too much, focus on the future. You should listen to the more experienced and wiser. First you have to learn to drive. After that, you can take target to be the fastest. In the end, you have to learn to win. Hard work is rewarded and it must be remembered that the driver is never complete. Never give up!
Usually karting is started as a family sport (kid as a driver and father as a mechanic etc). What are the 3 most important tips for families who are beginners in karting but want to succeed?
Karting is often a common hobby for the whole family at first and as such it is worth starting and spend as much time on the tracks as possible without making any adjustments to the kart. The most important thing is to drive laps in both rain and dry
Parents should move to the side at the point where it is no longer fun for the driver or parents or if the knowledge is no longer simply enough to take the hobby forward to the next level. At this point, one should dare to ask for more experienced help
Do not do everything on behalf your children, but let them participate and learn for themselves
Born 2006, 15 years old
3 time Finnish Champion (Raket, OK-Junior, OK)
World Champion (OK)