Finnish rally legend Hannu Mikkola passed away on Friday, February 26, 2021 at the age of 78. The 1983 world champion had been ill for some time and eventually lost his battle with cancer. The family has now received many statements of support from the rally world. We look back on the impressive career of the eternally calm and collected Flying Finn. He became one of the greatest rally drivers of all time.
Like many Scandinavian fally drivers, the engaging and extremely talented Finn made his debut in a Volvo. With the 444 he drove to seventh place during the Kuopio rally of 1963 in his home country. The following seasons he also raced exclusively in the Finnish rallies. In 1966 he took his first victory. Together with navigator Kari Grönberg he won the Finnish Pohjola rally. That season, he came second in the national championship in his home country, fourth the following year.
International debut in Monte Carlo
That was also the year in which he made his international debut. In Monte Carlo he finished 43rd in the final ranking. He drove the other races that year in his home country, with the Volvo 122. In 1968 he became Finnish champion, and ninth in the Rally Monte-Carlo. That was the definitive prelude to a major international career and the year he won his first 1000 Lakes rally in his home country. Six more 1000 Lakes rally victories would follow. The most illustrious of these was the one in 1975, when Mikkola was told at the eleventh hour that the Fiat-Abarth boss kept the cars in Turin. Mikkola quickly contacted Ove Andersson, who provided him with a Toyota Corolla TE27 and a few TTE men. Mikkola won, with Atso Aho by his side. The winning Corolla was the only Toyota in the competition.
Great successes in monster rallies, masterpiece during 1000 Lakes Rally
At that time, Mikkola had already achieved some great success as a Ford driver. With the Escort Twin Cam he took his first foreign victory in the Internationale Österreichische Alpenfahrt, and in 1970 he won the Daily Mirror London-Mexico rally with Gunnar Palm, one of his most beautiful victories. In addition, he became the first foreign Safari Rally winner in 1972, with the Ford Escort RS 1600. After this, a period began in which Mikkola drove in various rallies with different makes. This was also the case in WRC context. To give an example: Mikkola won the 75 Lakes Rally in '27 with the Corolla TE1000. He did the same with Jean Todt in the Rallye du Maroc, where he came first with the Peugeot 504 TI. And in Monte Carlo he came second with Todt, the tool during the season overture was the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally. At that time, changes of brands / constructors occurred regularly among drivers. Most manufacturers did not compete in every rally, and the drivers were to a certain extent self-employed avant la lettre.
Podium seats with TTE and Ford
After 1975 Mikkola often drove his races in a Toyota. Together with driver / manager Ove Andersson, he was one of the pillars of TTE's growing achievements in Great Britain, the ERC and the WRC. He rode the Celica RA20 to beautiful podium places. During that time he also forged a fond alliance with the Swedish navigator Arne Hertz, also a legend. In 1978 they moved to Ford together, for Mikkola it was a return to the old nest. Not without success, because in the year of the return the WRC podium was reached three times. There was one first place: Mikkola and Hertz won the RAC that season. In addition, the team became British champion, and the Scandinavians also won two ERC rallies.
Vice World Champion and Legendary Bandama Victory
In 1979, Hannu Mikkola finished second in the WRC driver rankings, behind Bjorn Waldegard who took home the first-ever driver world title. Mikkola and Hertz drove the Ford Escort RS 1800 Mk II for most of the excellent season. They won four WRC rallies in 1979. But the most illustrious victory was that in the Bandama rally in Ivory Coast. In sight of the harbor, the golden Scandinavian duo seemed to be stranded with the Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC. Cooling problems almost threw a spanner in the works. Mikkola and Hertz were stranded near the Toyota Team Europe service area. Toyota's old comrades never changed their mind. They repaired the cooling system, Mikkola and Hertz were able to continue and won the Bandama in Ivory Coast. Legendary.
In 1980 Mikkola drove for several manufacturers, even at that time the manufacturers and constructors still regularly chose their rallies. Together with Arne Hertz, the Finn again became second in the drivers classification. In the meantime, four-wheel drive had made its appearance (read: Audi). Mikkola saw the potential, and Audi Sport was only too happy to snare Mikkola. Mercedes-Benz also had plans to capture Mikkola. When the Finn said he was going to drive for Audi, the Mercedes-Benz team boss said: "I think we should buy Audi back." Mercedes-Benz had transferred Auto-Union to VW in the XNUMXs and this was referred to playfully. .
Great gentleman in German service
Mikkola achieved great results for Audi in 1981 and 1982. The Finn was important for the coup that the four-wheel drive Audis committed in the rally world. He finished second and third in the WRC drivers classification those years. The results heralded the jubilee year of 1983. Mikkola was still employed by Audi, his faithful companion Arne Hertz still navigated. Hannu Mikkola and Walter Röhrl (Lancia) were involved in a blood-curdling battle that season. And the 1983 RAC - the last and all-decisive rally of that season - would make the decision. But Lancia had already become the constructors' champion, and to the astonishment of Walter Röhrl, it let Britain go. Italians who go their own way, no one understood this move in 1983 either. It meant that Mikkola definitely took the world title. In the end, he also won the most WRC rallies that season.
WRC goodbye in home rally
The following season, Mikkola finished second in the WRC final standings, while Audi won the constructors' title. The Finn won his last WRC rally in 1987. He came first (with Hertz as a companion) in the Safari Rally, the rally weapon was the Audi 200 quattro. From 1988 he drove several more seasons for Mazda. And the farewell to the very highest level was beautiful and symbolic. That took place in 1993. Mikkola chose the 1000 Lakes rally as a backdrop, the race he won seven times. With Arne Hertz he finished seventh in the Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD. The circle was complete.
Almost three hundred times at the start
Mikkola became a great figure in international rallying, who often climbed behind the wheel even after his active career. In 1995 Mikkola and Gunnar Palm also won the historic version of the London-Mexico rally, with the Ford Escort Mk1. After this he drove in many historical or demo events. He remained a lover. During his official career he started in no fewer than 288 official competitions. He has won 44 WRC rallies and climbed the WRC rally stage a total of 61 times. In total he won XNUMX rally events. Partly for this reason, Mikkola was inducted into the Rally Hall of Fame. That was a rightful tribute to the Finn who kept a cool head in all circumstances and put in very great performances. He became a legend and a monument to rallying. .