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 MÃ¤kinen 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
Although he made a name for himself with Mitsubishi, his early races were indeed in the best car available at the time.
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 MÃ¤kinen he never finished a race in any of his exploits as a privateer.
First victory in a Ford
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.
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.
World domination with Mitsubishi
This would prove to be the most successful combination, Mitsubishi built a car that ran in perfect sync with the driver.
His incredible high-risk driving style was something to watch out for in the 90s, it was MÃ¤kinen 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
After winning his 4th title with the manufacturer, he had his name immortalized with the release of the limited edition Lancer Evo Tommi MÃ¤kinen.
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.
All or nothing
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.
Living on the edge like this ultimately led to one of his biggest accidents in 2001 when his established co-driver Risto MannisenmÃ¤ki 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.
Timo MÃ¤kinen (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.
Switch to Subaru
In what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt to revitalize his career, he would jump ship and join Mitsubishi’s bitter rival, Subaru.
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 MÃ¤kinen, they finished last, Subaru was doing better but MÃ¤kinen 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 MÃ¤kinen Racing
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 MÃ¤kinen 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.
Victory as a team leader
In 2018 he became the first champion as a driver and team leader when Sebastian Ogier won the drivers’ championship.
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 SÃ©bastien Loeb retired.
New role with Gazoo Racing
In 2020 Gazoo Racing would take on a bigger role and MÃ¤kinen would step down from the team’s lead role.
MÃ¤kinen 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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