Safari Rally winners who also became World Rally Champions
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1986,1987,1991,1993
SAFARI CHAMPION 1985,1991.1993
Juha Kankkunen was famous for his smooth and graceful driving style. He amazed engineers with his ability to preserve the machinery. His reliable and rapid performances meant that he was a factory driver throughout his long career, winning 24 victories and four world titles, with three different manufacturers. The cool cigar-smoking Finn, with a Clark Gable moustache for much of his career, was one of the WRC’s biggest stars.
Juha Kankkunen was born in the right place. He grew up on a farm near Laukaa, a town in central Finland, close to Jyväskylä, the city which is famous for being the home of the 1000 Lakes Rally. His father Pekka was a farmer, who took part in local rallies and knew the rallying royalty of the region, through the Jyväskylä Motor Club. He first drove while sitting on his father’s lap when he was four.
At seven he began to drive vehicles on the farm and at 12 he owned his first car, which was as old as he was. His father was friends with Pauli Toivonen and Juha and Pauli’s two sons, Harri and Henri Toivonen, spectated together when their fathers competed in ice races. Juha soon started racing on ice himself and soon beat his father and other members of the motor club.
It was clear that he had a special talent and the Finnish rallying establishment began to help him, with advice from Timo Mäkinen and financial help from investor Timo Jouhki.
This meant that he started rallying in 1978, at the age of 19, with a Ford Escort RS 2000. A year later he made his WRC debut on the 1000 Lakes Rally, with backing from Finnish oil company Teboil.
He finished 14th. He continued to learn the ropes and at the start of 1982 switched to an Opel Manta. He then gained the support of Toyota Finland for 1983 and was given the chance for a one-off appearance for Team Toyota Europe (TTE) on the 1000 Lakes Rally. He finished sixth and later in the year was seventh on the RAC, driving for Toyota GB. For 1984 Team Toyota Europe boss Ove Andersson offered him a factory TTE drive, alongside Björn Waldegård. In 1985 he won his first WRC event on the Safari Rally in Kenya and added a second at the end of the year on the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire. He finished fifth in the World Championship.
Signed by Peugeot for 1986 to drive the Group B Peugeot 205 T16, he repaid the faith in him by winning in Sweden, on the Acropolis and in New Zealand, to take the World Championship. However it was a bittersweet year which saw the death of his friend Henri Toivonen on the Tour de Corse and the cancellation of Group B by the FIA.
This led Peugeot to withdraw from the WRC. Juha switched to Martini Lancia for 1987 and took a second World title with just two wins. Lured back to Toyota in 1988, he had a disappointing WRC season, but that year won the Dakar Rally for Peugeot and the Race of Champions (which he would win again in 1991).
In 1989, he won in Australia and was third in the championship, but then went back to Lancia in 1990. He won Australia again and was third in the title race. Then in 1991 he took the title again, beating Carlos Sainz’s Toyota, scoring five wins along the way.
He stayed with Toyota in 1992 and won in Portugal and scored six second places, but was beaten to the title by Sainz. With the Spaniard moving to Lancia, Kankkunen went back to Toyota and five wins gave him a fourth title ahead of Ford’s François Delecour.
He battled with Didier Auriol and Sainz for the 1994 title but finished third. In 1995, he was fighting for the title when it was discovered that Toyota had an illegal turbocharger and the company was thrown out of the championship and banned for a year.
Juha did only a handful of rallies in 1996 with Toyota national teams but then signed to drive for Ford for the latter half of 1997. He scored five podiums in eight events and ended the year fourth in the championship.
He was fourth again in 1998, without winning a rally, and then switched to Subaru in 1999, winning Argentina and the 1000 Lakes to finish fourth again. Overshadowed by Richard Burns in 2000, he left the team at the end of the season.
He would reappear a few times in 2001 and 2002 with Hyundai but then left rallying. In 2007 he set up the Power on Ice driving school and set a speed record on ice in a Bentley Continental. He returned for a one-off rally on the 1000 Lakes in 2010 – at the age of 51 – and finished eighth.
A year later he raised the ice speed record to 330.695 km/h, again driving for Bentley. In 2015 he took another world record, driving a Valtra tractor at 130.165 km/h. He has a large car collection at his home in Laukaa, including all four of his World Championship cars. In recent years, his son Niko has become a touring car racer.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1988,1989
SAFARI CHAMPION 1988, 1989
The only Italian to win the FIA World Rally Championship, Miki Biasion, won a total of 17 WRC victories, the majority of them with Lancia. These resulted in him winning back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989.
Miki was born in the city of Bassano del Grappa, at the foot of the Veneto mountains, to the north of Vicenza. He was passionate about motor sport from an early age, but in his youth he studied to become an architect, while also competing in motocross, enjoying some success and becoming an official Aprilia rider.
He was also passionate about skiing. His first adventure in rallying was thanks to a school friend, Tiziano Siviero, who convinced him to take part in an illegal night rally on the underpopulated Asiago plateau. He “borrowed” his mother’s Renault 5 for the occasion and ended up in a ravine, having had to avoid another driver who was spinning in front of him.
The other driver was Massimo Frigo, who offered to help him repair the car. Frigo was the local Opel dealer and the two men remained friends. In 1979, Biasion acquired an Opel Kadett GT/E and Frigo agreed to prepare the car for him. Siviero became his co-driver and they made their debut on the Rally Coppa Città di Modena in March 1979.
After the duo scored some promising results, Miki acquired an Opel Ascona 2000 in 1980, doing well in Italy once again and making his WRC debut on the San Remo Rally, although he failed to finish.
This led to the offer of a Conrero-prepared Group B Ascona 400 in 1981 and he finished sixth on the San Remo Rally. He became a Conrero driver in 1982, taking part in the Italian and European Championships and winning three events.
He was then signed by Lancia to drive a Jolly Club Lancia 037 Rally. He won the European and Italian Rally Championships with seven victories and so moved up to the World Championship with Lancia in 1984 and 1985.
He then joined the Lancia Martini team with the new Lancia Delta S4 in 1986. He won his first WRC victory in Argentina and finished fifth in the World Championship. The following year the WRC switched to Group A and he won the Monte Carlo, Argentina and San Remo rallies, but was beaten to the title by teammate Juha Kankkunen, who then moved to Toyota.
Miki became the lead driver at Lancia and won 10 WRC rallies in the course of the next two years, winning the World titles in 1988 and 1989. He won the Portuguese and Argentina rallies in 1990 but was beaten to the title by teammate Didier Auriol and in 1991 by Kankkunen, who had returned to Lancia from Toyota.
It was time to move on. He signed to join Ford in 1992 but did not win again until the Acropolis Rally in 1993 and was outpaced that year by teammate François Delecour. The 1994 season would be even worse, with a series of frustrating engine failures, and at the end of the year Biasion decided to retire from the WRC.
He would later start competing with trucks in rally raids, and won the Rally Raid Trucks World Cup in 1998 and 1999, driving for Iveco. He then switched to Fiat and won the Italian title, and was taken on by Mitsubishi for two years in raid rallying. He continued to compete in rally raids, in trucks and cars, until 2013.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1996,1997,1998,1999
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1996, 2001
Tommi Mäkinen took a long time to get established in the World Rally Championship, but when he did, he was unbeatable, winning four consecutive titles with Mitsubishi between 1996 and 1999. Twenty-two of his 24 WRC victories came in that period. In 2017 he returned to the WRC as the team boss of Toyota Gazoo Racing – and was soon winning again.
Born in 1964 in Puuppola, a village close to Jyväskylä, the home of the 1000 Lakes Rally, Tommi Mäkinen was one of four brothers growing up on the family farm. Their father had competed in a few local rallies but otherwise the family had no connection to the sport and were not related to the celebrated Timo Mäkinen.
In their teenage years, they cleared a track on which to race on a frozen lake. After completing school, Tommi studied agriculture for a couple of years before joining his father in the forestry machine business. In his spare time, he competed in tractor-ploughing contests and won the Finnish junior titles in 1983 and 1986, becoming national champion in 1992.
The family lived close to the famous Kuukanpää stage on the 1000 Lakes Rally and Tommi became more and more interested in the sport, buying a Ford Escort RS 2000 at the age of 21.
He began competing in junior national rallies, enjoying increasing success. In 1987 he had sold the Escort and bought a Group N Lancia Delta, winning the national title in 1988. The following year, a European Championship programme was put together with a private Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.
Tommi received the support of Timo Jouhki, who had supported Juha Kankkunen, which meant that he would be funded for the next five seasons. He competed in the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) in 1990 and won three times. He moved into the WRC the following year at the wheel of a Mazda.
Following a disappointing season with Nissan in 1992 and then a private Lancia in 1993 and 1994, Ford offered him a factory Escort RS Cosworth with which he won the 1000 Lakes.
Finally in 1995, he landed a full-time factory drive with Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe. There was a row over team orders in Sweden, where he allowed Kenneth Eriksson to win. In 1996, however, there was no stopping him; he won five times and was the runaway World Champion.
He repeated the feat in 1997 and 1998, showing his prowess on tarmac in the second year by winning the San Remo, but both were closely fought titles with Tommi beating Colin McRae by one point in 1997 and Carlos Sainz by two points in 1998.
There were four more wins and a fourth title in 1999 when he finished the year four points clear of Richard Burns. He would win three consecutive Monte Carlo victories between 1999 and 2001 but the Lancer gradually slipped back in terms of competitiveness. In 2002, he decided to join the 555 Subaru World Rally Team.
He won a fourth Monte Carlo at the start of the season but never felt as comfortable as he had with Mitsubishi and retired at the end of 2003, going out with a podium finish in the RAC.
After he left rallying, he set up various businesses, including preparing and selling Group N Subaru Imprezas and opening a rally school in Finland. In the summer of 2015 he was put in charge of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, with the goal of making the Japanese manufacturer successful in the World Rally Championship once again.
The team entered the championship in 2017 with the Yaris WRC with Jari-Matti Latvala, Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi, with Latvala winning for the second time in Sweden and Lappi winning the 1000 Lakes. The cars were competitive again in 2018, their drivers taking five wins and securing the team the World title.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 2001
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1998, 2000
Before 1993, Roger Clark was the only British driver to win a World Rally Championship event – the 1976 RAC Rally. Then, all of a sudden, two drivers came along, both with the potential to be World Champions. The scintillating talent of Colin McRae took most of the glory, but Richard Burns delivered 10 WRC victories and the 2001 World title. And then a brain tumour took him away from us.
To the west of Henley-on-Thames, the wooded Chiltern hills are an affluent area, within easy reach of London. It is a wealthy area, and Richard Burns grew up in comfortable circumstances in an old farmhouse.
His father Alex allowed his son to drive an old Triumph in a field when Richard was 8 and when he was 11, he joined the Under 17 Car Club. Three years later, when still only 14, he won the club’s Driver of the Year award. At 15, he went to Jan Churchill’s Welsh Forest Rally School and then joined the local Craven Motor Club and began competing in local events.
Thanks to the generosity of former rally driver David Williams, he was then given a Peugeot 205 GTI, in which he competed in the Peugeot Challenge in 1990. He won the championship first time out, repeating the success in 1991 before moving on to compete in the Group N class of the British Rally Championship.
He was then snapped up by the Subaru Rally Team, as teammate to Alister McRae in the British Championship.
However, the team, run by David Richards, had already signed the rising British rally star Colin McRae and so Burns’ development was slowed, with only occasional international events and the Asia Pacific Rally Championship in 1994.
Frustrated at his lack of progress, he quit the team and joined Mitsubishi and competed in more WRC events, building up to his first victory, in the Safari Rally in 1998. Later that year, he won the RAC Rally and was signed to replace McRae in the Subaru World Rally Team in 1999, when Colin moved to Ford.
Burns rose to the challenge, winning the Acropolis, Australian and RAC rallies and finishing second in Argentina, Finland and China to end the World Championship runner-up to Tommi Mäkinen.
In 2000, he won the Safari, Portugal, Argentina and Great Britain rallies, but Marcus Grönholm in the Peugeot 206 WRC proved difficult to beat, and Richard was once more runner-up. He would have to try again with Subaru in 2001.
The season began badly, with only a handful of points in the first four events, but Burns dug deep and gradually clawed his way back into contention, with consistent finishes.
His only victory came in New Zealand, while McRae won three times for Ford and Mäkinen three times for Mitsubishi. Four drivers went into the RAC with the chance of winning the title and McRae was leading in spectacular fashion when he crashed out. Burns came through to finish third, but it was enough to win the title.
By then, he had already agreed to join Peugeot in 2002, alongside Grönholm. It was a difficult year for Burns, as Grönholm won the title while Burns failed to win a single event. In 2003, consistent performances (but no wins) meant that he was still in the running to win the title at the season-ending RAC Rally.
On the way to the event, he blacked out while driving to Wales, although fortunately, his passenger, Ford driver Markko Märtin, was able to stop the car and prevent an accident. Burns withdrew from the rally.
Burns was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour and withdrew from rallying to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Treatment was not successful, and his health gradually declined before he slipped into a coma in November 2005.
He died on the 25th, the fourth anniversary of his World Championship victory, at the age of only 34.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1983, 1987
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1972, 1987
At one point, Hannu Mikkola held the record for the most World Rally Championship wins, having won 18 victories, but his career had begun long before the WRC began. He was a seven-time winner of the 1000 Lakes and won the RAC on four occasions, and in addition to the 1983 World Championship, won two Finnish national titles and one British Championship.
Hannu Mikkola was born in Joensuu, in eastern Finland near the Russian border, in 1942. His father worked in the timber industry, making sure that companies’ paper mills were properly supplied.
His father was keen on cars and had money to buy them and so Hannu grew up surrounded by big American cars, notably a 1958 Plymouth Fury, which was what he learned to drive on. His father also knew Osmo Kalpala, a top rally driver in the 1950s, who had won the 1000 Lakes three times.
He became Hannu’s role model. At the same time, Mikkola was studying engineering, which complicated matters as there was no money to spend on competitions. Mikkola had been driving since he was 10 and started his racing career at the age of 21 when he “borrowed” the family Volvo 444 and took part in the Kuopio Ralli, finishing seventh and winner of his class. Given that the top four were Simo Lampinen, Timo Mäkinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Pauli Toivonen, it was inevitable that the news would reach home. The following year, with a Simca 1500, he did a few more rallies.
It was not until the end of 1965 that Leo Jouhki, a well-known rallying investor, agreed to provide him with a Volvo 544 and money to run it, and he finished fourth with the car on his first attempt.
He was soon being funded by the local Volvo importer and by the end of the year was beating established names. He was still studying in 1967 but managed to win two rallies. The following year, he had the opportunity to drive a Datsun on the Monte Carlo and a limited programme of events with a Lancia Fulvia.
Ford then offered him an Escort for the 1000 Lakes Rally with which he won the event. That year, he won the Finnish national championship (which he would repeat in 1974). He won the 1000 Lakes again in 1969 and 1970 with Ford. In 1970 he made headlines by winning the London-Mexico World Cup Rally, which covered 16,000 miles.
Early in 1972, Mikkola became the first European to win the Safari Rally. He continued to represent Ford in the years that followed and won the 1000 Lakes again in 1974, before spending 1975 driving for different companies.
He won the Rallye du Maroc in a Peugeot and the 1000 Lakes in a Toyota. He did not win anything in 1976 or 1977, but in 1978 he returned to Ford and won the RAC, finishing third in the World Cup for Drivers.
The following year, the World Championship began and he won the Portuguese and RAC Rallies for Ford and the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire for Mercedes, ending the year just one point behind the title winner Björn Waldegård.
In 1980, he continued to jump between companies and was runner-up in the World Championship to the dominant Walter Röhrl. He agreed to join Audi in 1981 to develop the Audi Quattro.
Mikkola would give Audi its first WRC victory in Sweden in 1981 and followed up with a second win on the RAC, but the following season he was plagued by unreliability, nonetheless winning the 1000 Lakes and the RAC.
However, he had to leave teammate Michèle Mouton to fight for the title with Röhrl’s Opel. In 1983, at the age of 41, Mikkola finally had his chance, winning four WRC rounds, including a seventh 1000 Lakes to take the World Championship title.
He would win in Portugal the following year and take four second places, but ended up as runner-up to his Audi teammate Stig Blomqvist. He remained with Audi until the end of 1987, his only win coming on the Safari Rally in his final season. He moved to Mazda for four seasons before deciding to retire after a couple of one-off events with Subaru and Toyota in 1993.
In the late 1970s his father retired to Florida and Mikkola started spending the winters there, returning each summer to Finland, where he bought a 10-acre island on which he built a small cottage to get away from the world. He became a TV commentator for a while and worked as an ambassador for Ford and Audi, while his two sons Juha and Vesa grew up. Juha was his co-driver in 2000 when he took part in the London-Sydney Marathon, while Vesa did several seasons of Finnish rallying in the years that followed.
F1 WORLD CHAMPION 1995
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1997, 1999, 2002
When it came to pure speed, Colin McRae was one of the all-time greats in the World Rally Championship. He won a total of 25 World Championship victories, which ranks him fifth on the all-time list. His win-or-bust approach led to many accidents but also captured the public’s imagination.
He was (and remains) the youngest ever World Champion at 27, and was the first British driver to win the title.
Colin came from a rallying family, his father Jimmy beginning his rallying career at the rather late age of 31, when Colin was six years old. Jimmy won the British Rally Championship five times between 1981 and 1988. As a junior, Colin competed in motorcycle trials, winning junior and intermediate championships by the time he was 14. He then switched to cars, acquiring an autotest Mini.
He left school with few qualifications and after working briefly as a mechanic, joined the family’s plumbing business. When he was 17, he made his debut on the end-of-season Galloway Hills Rally. With help from his family, he competed in the Scottish Rally Championship in 1986, with a Talbot Sunbeam TI.
He switched to a Vauxhall Nova Swing in 1987 and made his WRC debut on the Swedish Rally in February 1987. The following year, he scored his first outright win on the Tweedies Rally with his co-driver Alison Hamilton, who soon after became his wife. There were two further victories that year.
Early in 1989, McRae created a sensation in Sweden when he ran as high as tenth in a Ford Sierra before gearbox trouble dropped him back to 15th. He finished fifth in New Zealand and won the Scottish title, with three victories. As a result, he was taken on by Ford in 1990 and scored four stage wins on WRC events.
This led to an offer from David Richards for McRae to drive for Subaru in the British Rally Championship in 1991, which he duly won and he followed up in 1992 by winning all six rounds of the series, although by then the focus was switching to the World Rally Championship. His first WRC victory came in New Zealand in 1993, which won him his fifth place in the World Championship.
In 1994, with the new Impreza, he won the New Zealand Rally and the RAC and ended the year fourth in the championship. It all came together in 1995 with a more consistent performance, with wins in New Zealand and Britain (again), allowing him to take the title, beating his teammate Carlos Sainz, a double World Champion.
In 1996 he won three WRC victories but finished runner-up in the championship to Mitsubishi’s Tommi Mäkinen. He won five rallies in 1997, but was runner-up to Mäkinen again.
In 1998, his three wins left him third in the World Championship and ready to move on. He signed a lucrative deal with Ford to lead the ambitious Focus WRC programme, but despite wins on the Safari and in Portugal, accidents and mechanical trouble left him sixth in the championship.
It was a similar story in 2000 with more accidents and more breakdowns, but he secured wins in Catalunya and on the Acropolis. He might have won the title again in 2001, but after wins in Argentina, Cyprus and on the Acropolis, he made a serious mistake in Australia, failing to report in time to choose his starting position on the Saturday and being put first on the road as a result. That cost him valuable points, which would have made the difference at the end of the year, as he was beaten to the title by two points.
He remained with Ford in 2002 but finished fourth in the World Championship with only two wins. In 2003, he joined Citroën but failed to win a WRC event and finished behind both his teammates Sébastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz.
With the rules for 2004 meaning that only two drivers would be allowed to score points, McRae was dropped by Citroën and failed to find a drive. With time on his hands, he took part in the Dakar Rally in 2004 and 2005 (with Nissan) and the Le Mans 24 Hours (with a Prodrive Ferrari 550-GTS), while also competing in the annual Race of Champions.
He took part in the X-Games in 2006 and made a couple of one-off appearances in the WRC, without any major results. In the autumn of 2007, there were discussions with Subaru about a possible return to the team for the 2008 season with plans being made for a test. Tragically, on 15 September, McRae was killed in a helicopter crash near his home in Scotland.
McRae only won the World Championship once but his exciting style helped to increase interest in the World Rally Championship, particularly thanks to the incredible success of the Colin McRae Rally video game series, which brought millions of new fans to the sport.
WORLD RALLY CHAMPION 1990, 1992
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1992
Carlos Sainz scored 26 WRC victories and two World titles, but he was second or third in the championship on no fewer than nine other occasions. He finished on the podium in almost half of the rallies he competed in. His consistency and speed were legendary, but they resulted in only two World Championships.
Carlos Sainz was the son of a successful real estate developer, who was also the honorary consul of Bolivia in Madrid, having antecedents in South America. Carlos grew up in very comfortable circumstances in the exclusive Madrid suburb of Somosaguas. He was the youngest of four children and liked all sports.
He competed in the national ski championship, was Spanish squash champion at the age of 16 and had a trial with the Real Madrid football team. His elder brother Toño was a rally driver and it was this connection that convinced Carlos to turn to motor sports, while he was studying law.
He started out rallying with a Renault 5 at the end of 1980 and then rallied a Seat Panda in 1981 and 1982. It was easier to find money for racing and he landed backing from Marlboro Spain to race in British Formula Ford, at the end of 1983 and in 1984.
At the same time, he won the Spanish Renault 5 Championship in both years and in 1985 was taken on as an official Renault driver in the Spanish Rally Championship.
He was twice runner-up in the series but then in 1987 he switched to a Ford Sierra Cosworth, winning the Spanish title. He also took part in his first WRC events and won a stage on the Portuguese Rally. He did well in two further outings in France and Britain.
In 1988, he was hired by the Ford Motor Company as teammate to Stig Blomqvist and Didier Auriol. He then switched to Toyota Team Europe in 1989 and in 1990 he won his first WRC victory on the Acropolis.
He won again in New Zealand and at the 1000 Lakes, becoming the first non-Nordic driver to win the event. A fourth win in Britain clinched the world title, in addition to the Asia-Pacific title he had already won.
He won five victories in 1991 but was beaten to the title by Juha Kankkunen in his Lancia. He fought back in 1992 and won his second title with four more wins to beat Kankkunen. He and Kankkunen then switched roles in 1993 and the Finn won the title, while Sainz had a bad year and finished in sixth place.
He moved to Subaru in 1994 with the new Impreza 555 and finished runner-up, but won only one victory on the Acropolis. The 1995 season would be blighted by disputes over team orders which resulted in Colin McRae winning the title and Sainz leaving the team to return to Ford.
He won in Indonesia in 1996 but the title went to Tommi Mäkinen and by 1997 the Ford Escort was slipping backwards, although Sainz continued to score well, even though he only won on the Acropolis and in Indonesia.
In 1998 he went back to Toyota and won in Monte Carlo and New Zealand. His consistent finishes put him in the fight for the World Championship, but he lost out when the car failed 300 metres from the finish line, thus handing the title to Mäkinen. He did not win in 1999 but was still in the running for the title until the last event, but he ended up fifth in the championship.
Carlos went back to Ford in 2000 as teammate to Colin McRae. Again and again, there were problems with team orders as Carlos slowed his car on the final stage of the Acropolis so that McRae could win. Sainz won in Cyprus and finished ahead of McRae thanks to his consistent performances.
He would win again in Argentina in 2002 but then decided to switch to Citroën, winning in Turkey in 2003 and in Argentina in 2004. He left the WRC after that, but returned as a stand-in for François Duval for a couple of events in 2005. He then began competing in rally raids with Volkswagen and won the Dakar in 2010. In 2015 he switched to Peugeot and won the event for a second time in 2018.
With his help, his son Carlos Jr first competed in karting and then in cars from 2010 onwards, with support from Red Bull. Carlos Jr won the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC title in 2011 and the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014, and was promoted to Formula 1 in 2015 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. In late 2017 he switched to Renault. He will join McLaren in 2019.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1981
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1983
Ari Vatanen was a dazzling star of the World Rally Championship in the early 1980s, his aggressive on-the-edge driving style making him a firm favourite with the fans. As the 1981 World Champion, he won a total of 10 WRC victories, including the Monte Carlo Rally, the RAC and the Safari, plus two victories at home in the 1000 Lakes. Later he turned to raid-rallies and won the Dakar four times, not to mention a memorable victory at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Vatanen was born in the spring of 1952 in Tuupovaara, eastern Finland, close to the Russian border, and grew up on a farm. His childhood was marked by the death of his father Aarne, in a head-on collision with another car.
The eight-year-old Ari was a passenger in the car that day and the trauma of losing his father marked him deeply, led him to religion and taught him that life should be lived to the full.
Four years after his father’s death, Ari started driving, at the wheel of his mother’s one-litre car on private roads and, after seeing a car rally in his local village, he was bitten by the motor sport bug.
His father had been a pilot and initially Ari wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, this did not work out so instead Ari focussed on cars. He passed his driving test on his 18th birthday in 1970 and a few months later, while he was studying at the local technical college, he participated in his first rally, finishing second to Hannu Mikkola.
His route to the top was not easy. Initially he worked as a mechanic and took part in rallies with his own Opel Ascona when he could afford to. His first big event was the 1000 Lakes in August 1974, but it was not the breakthrough he had hoped it would be and so spent the following winter as a door-to-door book salesman.
His big break came when Welsh co-driver John Thomas asked him to bring his car to Britain for the 1975 Welsh Rally. They did not do very well but he was invited to take part in the Rothmans 747 Rally in Jamaica, driving a Datsun 120Y.
This brought him to the attention of Stuart Turner of the Ford Motor Company and Vatanen was soon competing with Ford in the British Rally Championship. He won the title the following year. A second British title followed in 1980. By then he was competing in selected WRC events each year with Ford and took his debut win on the Acropolis Rally in 1980.
Ford then decided to withdraw from the WRC but David Richards put together a deal for the factory cars to be handed over to David Sutton, with funding from Rothmans. The Vatanen/Richards duo did well in the second part of the season, winning the Acropolis, in Brazil and the 1000 Lakes to beat Talbot’s Guy Fréquelin and Jean Todt to the title.
He became the first driver to win the title without an official factory team. He did not defend his title in 1982, switching back to the British Championship in a Ford Escort, before moving on to Opel in 1983, for which he won the Safari Rally. He was hired in 1984 to drive for the Peugeot factory team, then under Jean Todt, and Ari won five consecutive WRC events. He was then involved in a serious accident on Rally Argentina during which his seat broke. He suffered life-threatening injuries and spent 12 weeks in hospital.
Ari returned to competition in January 1987, when he won the Paris-Dakar Rally, driving for Peugeot, a feat he would repeat in 1989, 1990 and 1991, the last win with Citroën. In 1988 he famously won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Peugeot, making an award-winning film of the ascent called Climb Dance.
He continued to compete in the World Rally Championship on an intermittent basis, including the 1000 Lakes that year with BMW, but later with Mitsubishi and Subaru. He was second on several occasions but did not win again. In 1994 he went back to Ford, starting out in a semi-works team and then switching to the factory team, but as the years went by he did less rallying and more raids, while also taking part in the Trophée Andros ice races, including sharing a BMW with Nigel Mansell in the 24 Hours of Chamonix in 1998.
Vatanen spent a lot of time on his farm in Provence but decided that he wanted to play a role in politics. In 1999, he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament, and served two terms of office: the first representing Finland, the second his adopted homeland of France.
In 2009, after retiring from politics, Vatanen stood in the election for FIA President, against his former Peugeot team boss Jean Todt, but was defeated. In 2013 he was asked by the Estonian Autosport Union to become its president and he retains that role today. That same year, he was named President of the FIA Closed Roads Commission, responsible for safety in rallying, off-road racing and hill climbing. In his spare time, Ari works as an ambassador for BMW France.
His family remains close to the world of rallying. His son Kim competed before setting up V&V Sport Management, an agency which helps to promote and manage young drivers, including his younger brother Max Vatanen, who competes in the WRC occasionally.
WRC WORLD CHAMPION 1979
SAFARI RALLY CHAMPION 1977, 1984, 1986, 1990
The first official World Rally Champion was Sweden’s Björn Waldegård in 1979. A gentle giant of a man, he was by nature reserved and unflappable. He could calmly adapt to any kind of car, in any conditions. This led to him winning a total of 16 World Rally Championship events, although before the series began he had scored major victories at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1969 and 1970. He is also became the oldest man to win a WRC event when he won the Safari in 1990 at the age of 46.
Waldegård was born in the autumn of 1943 in the town of Rimbo, located in the countryside about 40 miles north of Stockholm, and grew up on a farm. His father competed in club rallies and Björn was a regular spectator during his childhood. At school he was asked to write an essay about what he wanted to do in life, and he wrote that he wanted to become a rally driver.
He had other talents as well, being a strong swimmer and playing trumpet in a local brass band. But once he had his driving licence, rallying was all that mattered to him. He made his debut at the age of 18 in 1962, at the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle.
He would later move on to a Volkswagen 1500 but did not make a big impression at national level until he finished third in the Swedish Rally in 1965. This impressed Porsche Sweden and the 21-year-old Waldegård was hired to drive for the manufacturer.
His first big victory was at the Swedish Rally in 1968 and the following year, he won the Monte Carlo Rally in a factory Porsche, beating teammates Pauli Toivonen, Vic Elford and Gérard Larrousse.
It was a feat he repeated in 1970, while also completing a hat-trick of wins on the Swedish Rally. He also tried his hand at racing with a Porsche on the Targa Florio, in which he finished fourth, with Richard Attwood as his partner. Porsche decided that it could no longer compete with the Alpine-Renaults and so withdrew in 1972, leaving Waldegård looking for work.
He campaigned a variety of different machinery in 1973 and 1974, but without much success. It was not until 1975 when Cesare Fiorio took him on to drive for Lancia’s HF Squadra Corse with the new Ferrari-engined Lancia Stratos, sponsored by Alitalia, that he began winning again.
He won the Swedish and San Remo Rallies, helping Lancia to win the Manufacturers’ title. The following year, he disobeyed team orders in order to beat his teammate Sandro Munari in a famous victory on the twisty mountain roads of San Remo.
He moved to Ford after that and in 1977, driving an Escort RS1800, won his first victory on the Safari Rally, while also winning the Acropolis and RAC events. Ford missed out on the Manufacturers’ crown, finishing just a few points behind Fiat.
He stayed with Ford in 1978, winning the Swedish Rally and finishing second to his teammate Hannu Mikkola on the RAC. His rivalry with Mikkola would be the central theme of the first World Championship for Drivers in 1979, but it was Waldegård who won by a single point, winning both the Acropolis and the Critérium du Québec, but finishing second in four other events. He stayed with Ford for another two seasons, winning rallies in Sweden, Greece and Canada.
He then concentrated on long-distance events starting in 1980, winning the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire with Mercedes and beginning a relationship with Toyota, which would last until 1991 and would bring six more victories: one in New Zealand, two on the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire and three on the Safari.
After retiring from the WRC in 1992, he continued to compete in historic events and won the East African Safari Rally Classic in 2007 and 2011. He continued to make appearances at events but he was then diagnosed with cancer, which he fought until his death in the summer of 2014, at the age of 70.