Hannu Mikkola, an original “Flying Finn”, sadly passed away on the 26th February 2021, beaten by an opponent that not even he could compete with; cancer.
CLT remembers a true racing great.
Hannu Mikkola was born on the 24th May, 1942, in Joensuu, Finland. Though he showed early promise, his first real taste of rallying came at the age of 21, in a Volvo PV544; a Scandinavian rite of passage, some would say.
In 1966, he won his first rally, the Pohjala Ralli in his Volvo 122, and won the seriously fast, world-renowned 1000 Lakes Rally just two years later in 1968 behind the wheel of his Ford Escort Twin Cam; it would be the beginning of his love affair with the American marque. His win was so good, in fact, that Castrol made a film about it.
In fact Mikkola would go on to match Timo Mäkinen’s record of three successive 1000 Lakes Rally wins, including the record-breaking event of 1970, which contained 52 stages and 460 kilometres of race surface.
1970 also brought a famous victory in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally alongside Gunnar Palm, whilst 1972 saw him become the first overseas winner of the East African Safari Rally. Although it wasn’t yet a WRC event, people were taking notice. And he was revelling in his Ford Escort.
In 1974, Hannu Mikkola had his first WRC success, alongside John Davenport in his trusty steed, the Ford Escort RS 1600. But more importantly, it was on home soil, the 1000 Lakes Rally having been included that year on the WRC’s must-visit circuits.
1975 brought success in the Morocco rally, alongside current FIA president John Todt, and yet another victory in the 1000 Lakes Rally, though those successes were in a Peugeot 504 and Toyota Corolla respectively. It was a short-lived break from his beloved Ford Escort.
He was back behind the wheel of a Ford Escort by 1978, the RS 1800, and won the British race, the RAC Rally, that year, before victories in Portugal, New Zealand and Britain again in 1979 brought the Manufacturer’s title to Ford. He missed out on the Driver’s Championship by a solitary point, despite winning a further victory in the Rallye Cote d’Ivoire behind the wheel of a Mercedes 450 SLC 5.0 (I have no idea why).
If the ’70s were crucial foundations for Mikkola, then the early ’80s not only defined him, but saw the Finn lay the foundations for, arguably, rallying’s most important technical introduction; four-wheel drive.
After 1980 had seen Mikkola, once again, finish runner-up to Walter Röhrl and his Fiat 131 Abarth, the love-affair with Ford ended and he moved to Audi for the 1981 season, where he would lead the team, and arguably the world of rallying, into the era of four-wheel drive; with the Quattro.
In his first season for Audi, and in the Quattro’s debut season, he won the rally of Sweden and the RAC rally, plus a podium finish in the 1000 Lakes Rally and a fifth position in San Remo, resulting in a podium position in the Driver’s Championship. It was a taste of things to come.
1982 brought another RAC Rally win and a victory at the 1000 Lakes Rally, but further reliability problems, as in ’81, hampered his overall progress. The Quattro was almost there. And then came 1983.
Known by most people as the year Group B was introduced to racing’s vocabulary, 1983 saw the debut of the Lancia 037 a car designed specifically for this classification. Audi’s Quattro, however, was still designed to Group 4 specs, which meant substantially different performance; and at the hands of Walter Röhrl, it was widely expected to be his year.
Which is why Hannu Mikkola’s championship winning season is remarkable.
What’s arguably even more impressive, however, is the fact that, at a time when most drivers raced in selected stages, the priority often being the Manufacturer’s title, Mikkola raced in all 12 rallies, winning four and collecting seven podium finishes in total. He won the Driver’s Championship by 23 points.
And he is still the oldest World Rally champion.
The following year, Mikkola finished second to Audi compatriot Stig Blomqvist, but still claimed victory in Portugal and was on the podium no less than eight times; consistency.
1985 saw the infamous Group B reach its climax, with cars such as the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2, Lancia Delta S4 and Renault R5 Maxi Turbo tear up all manner of surfaces on the world’s finest rally stages. And of course it was also the debut of the Audi Quattro S1 (And S1 E2).
Mikkola only raced four rallies that year, the Championship blighted by several infamous instances that quickly drew the FIA’s attention to a competition that was getting out of hand.
Mikkola won his final rally, the Safari Rally of Kenya, in 1987, and continued racing with Mazda until easing himself into a deserved retirement in 1991.
Hannu Mikkola raced, and won, during arguably the most competitive era in the history of rallying, when drivers including Walter Röhrl, Henri Toivonen and Michèle Mouton graced the sport. His victories, never mind the fact that he led Audi, and the world, into the era of four-wheel drive (and remained successful throughout the crazy “Group B” era) ensure he is firmly placed in the automotive hall of fame.
We wish his family our heartfelt condolences. He will be sorely missed. But his outstanding legacy will remain for a very long time; and continue to inspire. Kiitos Hannu.