If you grew up in Finland, just passing a driving test will actually give you a basic introduction to rally driving. Such is the danger of their icy roads during the winter.

So it’s no wonder that so many amazing rally drivers have come from a country with such a small population. Motorsport is now part of the culture, and it has become a time-honored tradition for a Finnish driver to win the local Rally Finland event. Tommi Mäkinen is one of the many local winners of this event, but he is one of the few who managed to dominate the rest of the events around the world. In the 90s, he was almost untouchable and made the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo single-handedly an automotive icon.

Start with Lancia

Lancia Delta Integrale during a race

Via: Wikimedia Commons

Although he made a name for himself with Mitsubishi, his early races were indeed in the best car available at the time.

Lancia Delta HF Tommi Makinen


At the end of the 1980s, after the necessary end of the mad era of Group B, Lancia Delta Integrale HF rally cars were untouchable. It made sense as a privateer to enter one of these cars, unfortunately for Mäkinen he never finished a race in any of his exploits as a privateer.

First victory in a Ford

Via Neil, CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Via: Wikimedia Commons, Neil, CC BY 2.0

He truly established himself on the international scene by winning the Rally Finland (1000 Lakes Rally at the time) behind the wheel of the legendary Ford Escort RS Cosworth.

Via amjayes2 – youtube

It was a watershed moment, even though Ford was pretty much stacked with its lineup of drivers, it had done enough to finally secure a ride with one of the big factory teams.

Related: Here’s What Everyone Forgot About The Ford Escort Cosworth

World domination with Mitsubishi


via: Pinterest

This would prove to be the most successful combination, Mitsubishi built a car that ran in perfect sync with the driver.

Via Flickr

His incredible high-risk driving style was something to watch out for in the 90s, it was Mäkinen at the peak of his powers matched quite brilliantly with a car in his prime as well. Until then, the Lancer was just an econobox, having won 4 titles in a row it had become a new kind of performance car also taking the world by storm.

Has a car that bears his name

Mitsubishi Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition parked outside

Via honestjohn.co.uk

After winning his 4th title with the manufacturer, he had his name immortalized with the release of the limited edition Lancer Evo Tommi Mäkinen.


Via the Classic Accelerator Shop

It was an incredible gesture from the Japanese manufacturer, effectively thanking the man who helped them achieve such incredible results and playing a huge role in popularizing an otherwise underwhelming brand.

Related: Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition Look Back

All or nothing

via 8000vueltas.com

His driving style was fearless, that meant he had crashed a lot. If you look at his stats, you’ll notice that he would get a DNF or finish in the top 3 in just about every race.

Via: Pasi Piesanen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Living on the edge like this ultimately led to one of his biggest accidents in 2001 when his established co-driver Risto Mannisenmäki broke his back. It also marked the beginning of the end for the Finn, as he struggled with other co-drivers and his title challenge fell through.

The Flying Finn



A title awarded only to the fastest Finn, initially awarded to Olympic athletes, but quickly adopted by the motor sport fraternity.

Via: YouTube

Timo Mäkinen (unrelated) is credited as the first to win this title for his rallying exploits in the 60s, but Tommi would be the one to win this title in the 90s for his incredible streak of success.

Related: Rigorous Driving Tests May Be Why So Many Finns Are Great Drivers

Switch to Subaru

2002 Subaru Rally Car

via pinterest.com

In what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to revitalize his career, he would jump ship and join Mitsubishi’s bitter rival, Subaru.

via crash.net

It was not a betrayal however, Mitsubishi was less focused on its rally division and the car was already on a downward spiral in 2001. In 2002, without Mäkinen, they finished last, Subaru was doing better but Mäkinen could not. manage that an 8th place finish both seasons with the team. He was at least able to bow out with a podium in his last event in 2003.

Tommi Mäkinen Racing

The Toyota GR Yaris is essentially a WRC rally car

Via: WRC.com

He may have retired as a driver, but he never left rally racing. The year following his last race as a driver, he created his own team.


They hit the big time when they got a contract to lead Toyota’s WRC team in 2016, with Mäkinen taking on the team’s lead role. Although Toyota has been out of the sport for a few years, they came with big ambitions and deep pockets.

Related: These Are Our Favorite Toyota GR Yaris Features

Victory as a team leader

via Autosport

In 2018 he became the first champion as a driver and team leader when Sebastian Ogier won the drivers’ championship.

Tommi makinen


It’s a huge achievement, and to get there as quickly as they did, it took work. It helped to have one of the best riders, if not the best rider of the current generation, after Sébastien Loeb retired.

New role with Gazoo Racing

Gazoo Racing WRC


In 2020 Gazoo Racing would take on a bigger role and Mäkinen would step down from the team’s lead role.


Paul Tan

Mäkinen has now taken on a more advisory role where he consults with the team but won’t need to travel as much, which he has wanted for a long time now.

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