Hannu Mikkola, rally legend, has unfortunately passed away.
Although a lot has changed in recent times, racing is still a niche sport in the Netherlands. It is just a little easier for us to go to ‘the football’ or to a plethora of other sports. Racing is expensive and places where you can do it are scarce in our densely populated country. Things are very different in Finland. Motorsport is of a kind way of life. After ice hockey, it is therefore the most popular TV sport in the country.
Often the Finns can and could see a fellow countryman win. Of course that always helps for the popularity of a sport. With the cold forests in the backyard, there is also just a little more space to practice. No wonder that the history of the sport has so many Finnish racing and rally heroes. How about Rauno Aaltonen, Timo Mäkinen, Pauli Toivonen, Tommi Mäkinen, Marcus Grönholm and Juha Kankkunen. Or from Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Henri Toivonen and Ari Vatanen. The list goes on and on. But a name that should certainly not be missing is that of Hannu Mikkola.
Hannu started rallying in 1963 after initially navigating with a Volvo PV544. With this cat’s back he managed to put himself in the spotlight at Ford, which offered him his first factory contract. It turned out to be a good move for Ford, because in an Escort Mikkola won the first ‘Safari’ rally in Africa in 1972.
In 1973 the World Rally Championship was founded as we know it today. Again Mikkola started a few races for Ford, but he also continued to drive for his own team in those early years and made trips to other teams. Still, he won his first World Championship rally, the 1974 rally of Finland, for the blue oval. In total, Mikkola would win the rally in his own country no fewer than seven times, although unfortunately the rally did not always count for him for the World Cup.
Despite the success, Hannu never participated in all rallies that counted for the World Cup in the 1970s. In doing so, he kept switching cars often. In 1975 Mikkola won the Morocco rally in one Peugeot 504 (next to navigator Jean Todt) and the Finland rally in a Toyota Corolla Levin TE 27. For Toyota it was its first victory in the World Rally Championship.
In 1976 Mikkola did eight World Championship rallies with five different cars, namely an Opel Kadett GT / E, Toyota Corolla Levin TE 27, Peugeot 504 V6, Toyota Celica 2000 GT and a Peugeot 104 ZS. In 1979 and 1980 there were also trips in exotics such as a Mercedes 450 SLC and a Porsche 911. Impressive versatility? Sure. But good for as much success as possible? Probably not.
Fortunately, the regularity and success came after Mikkola switched to the gründliche Audi team with the mighty S1 for the 1981 season. Until that year he had collected a total of eight victories. When the 1984 season was over, nine more had joined all of the Group B violence. Also not unimportant: in 1983 Mikkola even won the driver’s title.
After finishing second in the World Cup in 1984, Hannu remained behind teammate Stig Blomqvist at Audi for the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons, but he could no longer replicate the great success of that before. On the one hand because he no longer participated in all events, but also because Lancia and Peugeot made it increasingly difficult for brass knuckles from Germany. In his last year in the four rings, Mikkola did win the Safari one more time, which now also counts for the World Cup.
At the tail end of his career, Mikkola came into action for another four years for the Mazda factory team with the 323. Unfortunately, it did not become a very successful adventure. After a ‘sabbatical’ in 1992, Mikkola, now 50+, competed twice more in the World Championship in 1993. He did that in two different cars in his own style. The Rally of Sweden in a Subie WRX of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team unfortunately resulted in a failure. Later that year, the old boss said goodbye to his own audience in a Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD with seventh place.
Yesterday the best man died from the effects of cancer. So we conclude by quoting the words of friend and fellow champion Petter Solberg:
Really sad to hear the news about Hannu Mikkola – he was a legend, a proper gentleman, a real champion, and a great father to great kids. Sending all my condolences to his family and friends. RIP
Petter Solberg, 2003 WRC Champion
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