Elias Niskanen landed in the Iberian Supercars Endurance and Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade with a bang, meddling in the fight for the titles he eventually won. The Finn, who started out on snowmobiles, is defending his GT4 Pro titles this year and is determined to make his mark on the Iberian Peninsula.
Motorsport is a great passion for the Finns, even surpassing football, which is the only way to explain the number of drivers that a country with five and a half million inhabitants exports to the international motor racing scene.
Most of them excel in rallying - Marku Alen, Juha Kankunnen, Tommi Makinen, Kalle Rovanpera - but Finland has also given the world two Formula 1 world champions - Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, and Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finns are usually credited with an enormous capacity for car control, perhaps because they have had early contact with snowmobiles, and Elias Niskanen was no exception. “I got interested in motorsport at a young age when I started to go around our house on snowmobiles. Later, my father bought a go-kart for my older sister, and I always tried to reach the pedal, but I only tried it for the first time when I was 7”, says the driver who is racing this season with a Mercedes-AMG GT4 from Lema Racing, teaming up with Portuguese driver Nuno Pires.
The motorsport bug had taken hold of the Finn, and from then on, he embraced his passion for motorsport, following the normal path for a young driver - starting in karting and moving on to single-seaters. Elias Niskanen's talent was evident with titles in Formula Ford Finland (2018) and Formula Open Finland (2020), as well as a stint in the Asian Formula Renault Pro Series in 2019, which resulted in a fourth-place finish.
After a very successful first experience in GT with a second place in the Pro-Am class of Lamborghini Super Trofeo - teaming up with the well-known driver in the Iberian Peninsula, Mikko Eskelinen - the Finn went on a sabbatical year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to competition in Supercars Endurance and Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade in 2022. "I chose this series because, after a one-year break from racing, I received an offer to race in it, and I had heard good things about the series, with many cars competing at a high level. I believe it was a good choice”, he recalls.
Having never competed in a GT4 car before, the Finn was competitive from the start and, with four wins over the course of the season, clinched both titles, a special moment for the Finn. “It feels good to be the champion!” He adds: “My teammate Manuel Gião and my team, Lema Racing, did a great job all season. I believe that we had a good car, and the driver line-up was also strong. It was really important for me, after a year away from racing.”
The driver of the black No.55 Mercedes-AMG GT4 remained in both competitions this year, again with Lema Racing, but this time with a new teammate - Nuno Pires, who makes his debut in the category and in the series.
“I think that the championship is a good steppingstone, especially for young drivers, as you drive on nice tracks and with nice cars. There are also drivers from different levels, and everybody has to have his own teammate”, explains Niskanen. “The level of the series is high! There are drivers at the top that are fast and experienced, and then there are young guns that show real speed. It’s a very high level at the front.”
At the halfway point of the season, Elias Niskanen and Nuno Pires lead Supercars Endurance and are in second place in the Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade, depending only on themselves to secure the titles. “The season started well, with two wins at Algarve, and my new teammate, Nuno (Pires), is really fast. The balance of performance didn’t go our way in Jarama, and our opponents were very strong there, but we still lead the Supercars Endurance, and we will have a shot at the Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade.”
With his imminently Scandinavian demeanor, rational and focused, Elias Niskanen makes it clear what his goals are and those of the whole team: “The goals will be to win both championships! For sure, our opponents will be strong in the remaining races, and there is always the question of the BoP. But we – I, Nuno, and Lema Racing – will work hard to achieve our goals.”
Hailing from Finland, Elias Niskanen looks set to make an indelible mark on Iberian tracks and is well-placed to do so.