FINLAND’S FINEST: Mikko Hirvonen (kneeling) and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen (at rear) planted trees yesterday at Kyogle High School.
FINLAND’S FINEST: Mikko Hirvonen (kneeling) and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen (at rear) planted trees yesterday at Kyogle High School. Cathy Adams

Drivers rally to plant trees

FINLAND'S Jari-Matti Latvala loves wildlife and respects the rights of protesters, but will be doing his best to avoid both when Repco Rally Australia gets underway tomorrow.

Latvala and fellow drivers - including the current World Rally Championship leader, Mikko Hirvonen, and five-time champion Sebastien Loeb - made a pit stop in Kyogle yesterday to plant a few shrubs in what will become a 'rally garden' at the local high school.

The flying Fin took time out from his busy 'reconnaissance' mission of the rally route to attend the low-key event and pitched himself as a peace and nature lover.

“I understand that if they want to protest, then that is OK, but I want to do the rally,” Latvala said.

“If they are on the road, then I hope they are on the side of the road, not blocking the road.

“I see the point of why they are protesting, but we are not destroying the forest and that is why the NSW Government is supporting the rally.”

On his reconnaissance of the course yesterday Latvala said he hadn't spotted any of our famous wildlife such as kangaroos and koalas, just a 'couple of birds'. And he plans to avoid any collisions with our native animals.

“I've always enjoyed being in Australia, I like the landscape and the nature over here,” he said.

“I don't want to hit any animals and if I hit a kangaroo it would not be nice. I would be upset.

“But when we drive there is always a possibility for that. I'm from Finland, and in Finland nature is a very important part, and we have animals in the forest. Unfortunately, these things happen even if you drive in the normal traffic.”

While all the drivers, who are big sports stars in Europe, looked a little bemused to find themselves planting shrubs at a small-town school, they all took the 'media opportunity' in their stride.

“It's not my everyday job, but I think we managed to do that OK,” Hirvonen said.

And Loeb, who has been knighted in his homeland of France, stuck around after the planting ceremony to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the students.



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