Remembering Hannu Mikkola 1942-2021
Today, we pay tribute to the late, great Hannu Mikkola, one of the finest drivers in World Rally Championship history.
It's a solemn day for Rally and Motorsport fans alike as we hear of the saddening news that Hannu Mikkola, 1983 World Rally Champion and iconic driver for Audi and Ford in the 1970's and 1980's, has died at the age of 78.
Mikkola was a true giant of Rallying and an absolute behemoth in the 1970's and 80's. In a career spanning over 30 years, the Finn was a seven time winner of the fast and dangerous 1000 Lakes Rally, his home event, which is a record that he shares with Finnish compatriot Marcus Grönholm. In fact, his first World Rally win would come at this prestigious event behind the wheel of the legendary Ford Escort RS1600 in 1974. It was a feat he repeated the following year, this time at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla.
Mikkola in the Escort RS1600, 1979 Rally Portugal
It was in the late 1970's however that the reserved Finn would rise to stardom. Again behind the wheel of a Ford Escort, this time in the improved RS1800. In 1978, he took a memorable win at the RAC Rally in Great Britain on his way to Third in the overall standings. Mikkola followed this up in 1979 with a further four triumphs. Of these four, three came at the wheel of the Escort RS1800. He improved on his overall Championship position as well, finishing runner up in the standings to Swede, Björn Waldegård, albeit only by a single championship point.
1980 would see a continuation of this fine form, despite dividing his loyalties away from Ford at several events, he scored four podiums on merit of his pure speed and consistency over the arduous rally stages, but failed to win an event. Nonetheless, his consistency again saw him to a runners up spot in the championship.
In three years, having been Championship runner-up twice and third once, it seemed a strange decision for Mikkola to leave his successful Ford outfit for the fledging Audi team in 1981. Little did anyone know the astronomical success the Bavarian outfit would later achieve.
For many years prior to 1981, Four Wheel Drive cars were strictly prohibited from competing in the World Rally Championship. However, a swift change in regulations removed this convoluted law and allowed manufacturers to test the limits of off-road capabilities with an AWD powertrain. Audi would be the first to take advantage of such a change, and with the assistance of Mikkola, developed the Iconic Audi Quattro.
The Quattro was not favoured at first, with many commenting that the car was too heavy for the tight and complex Rally stages that would comprise the 1981 season, however this couldn't be any further from the truth. Mikkola won in his second event with his new team and car in Sweden and would win again at the season closing Rally GB. In total, the Quattro took 3 wins in total that season, a solid start for the outfit, Mikkola was again a fine third in the overall standings.
1982 would see Audi demolish all that stood before them. The Quattro took 7 wins all season, two of which came from Mikkola, and despite Walter Röhrl winning the driver title, the combined efforts of the Audi team secured them the Manufacturers crown, the first for a Four Wheel Drive Rally car.
Having finished either Runner-Up or Third in the standings for the last 5 years, there was a fear that the clearly immensely talented Mikkola would not win a thoroughly deserved World Rally Crown. With Audi's pioneering 1982 season, many other teams were wising up to the idea of AWD, and as such competition would be fiercer going forwards. Fortunately, 1983 saw Audi still at the peak of their powers
1983 is widely regarded by motorsport fans as one of the finest battles between two teams since records began. This season is best remembered for the underdog Lancia team securing the Manufacturers title, the last for a RWD car. But this was also to be the year Mikkola made good on his talents. He won four rallies and was second in a further three, exhibiting his smooth and consistent driving style as he went on to secure the Drivers title for the first and only time in his career.
As defending champion in 1984, Mikkola again put in a strong showing for the season, scoring a win and seven podiums as he finished runner up to his Audi teammate, Stig Blomqvist. By 1985 however, Audi's time at the summit of WRC was up. Other competitors had caught up and surpassed the pioneering Bavarian team, and with the chaotic Group B era of Rallying now well underway, Audi started to fade away into the foreground.
Unfortunately, with this change in the guard, Hannu Mikkola started to fall away too. By this time, Mikkola was in his early 40's and as a result he started to be used sparingly by Audi, contesting only four Rallies in 1985 and only one the following year in 1986.
In 1987 however, the Finnish great had time for one last hurrah. At the Safari Rally in Kenya, Hannu Mikkola took his Eighteenth and final World Rally win. He competed sporadically in various rallies from then onwards, most notably at the wheel of the failed Mazda 323. Before retiring in 1993, 10 years after his championship triumph with Audi, and at the 1000 Lakes Rally where his first win had come almost two decades prior.
An immensely talented individual, Hannu Mikkola was most certainly an icon of the time and holds a significant contribution in the development of Rallying to it's current form with the pioneering Quattro. His pure consistency and ability was showcased with that frankly remarkable set of results from 1978 to 1984 where he finished top three in the standings every single year. Even now, his 18 Rally wins puts him in the top ten all time winners list, even with the arrival of many more talented generations of drivers seeking to overhaul him, many of which will cite the Finnish great as their biggest inspiration.
Hannu Mikkola 1942-2021