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Sunday, October 17, 2021

The primary title of a Finnish WRC legend

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Tommi Makinen was wishing he’d not gained the World Rally Championship.

“If that is what it means, then I believe I’ll give it again to Colin or Carlos,” he grumbled.

What may he presumably imply? Might the Finn actually imply he didn’t need the game’s high prize, only a few hours after clinching it in Australia?

“After I woke this morning I assumed I had died,” he continued. “And this afternoon I want that I had!”

Ah, now the penny drops. Makinen was affected by a hangover – in Finnish, appropriately, that’s a ‘kankkunen’ – and the easy act of placing one step in entrance of the opposite was testing the person who has outdriven everybody this season, barely placing a foot fallacious in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

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The get together had been in full swing for a number of hours and when somebody thrust a bottle of beer into his hand at Perth airport earlier than he boarded the 747, he simply checked out it in horror and shook his head.

Forward lay a frightening journey, one that will take him by way of Singapore to London and on to Helsinki for a press convention, earlier than Hannu Mikkola would acquire him by helicopter and eventually ship him to his dwelling in Jyvaskyla the place he may sleep it off. Profitable ain’t simple.

Makinen clinched his first of 4 world titles in 1996 with two rounds to spare together with his fifth victory of the season in Australia

Picture by: Motorsport Images

However this yr Makinen has made profitable look very simple certainly with 5 wins out of seven begins. Engine failure in Indonesia was the one time that the Mitsubishi let him down, and he needed to give greatest to Colin McRae in Greece whereas he and his Ralliart group fought to take the blame.

“I made too many errors in the course of the rally,” insisted Makinen.

“We merely ran out of appropriate tyres on the finish,” was group boss Andrew Cowan’s admission. Gracious in victory, the pair of them…

“I informed them that in the event that they gave me the price range to signal Tommi and run him for the season, then I’d ship the world championship. However in return, I informed Tommi that I might need a second yr with him to defend the title. I obtained precisely what I wished and after that I needed to ship” Andrew Cowan

They may afford to be just a little smug about life for, between them, they’d promised and delivered Mitsubishi’s first world crown. On the finish of 1994, Makinen had been sizzling property regardless of having gained however one World Rally occasion. He signed with Mitsubishi for 1995 and, mid-way by means of Catalunya final yr, confirmed an additional two years.

The importance of this dedication was not instantly obvious as Mitsubishi was not, at the moment, famous for consistency in its degree of help for the collection. However Cowan admitted earlier this yr that there had been some powerful negotiations in Japan, the place the deal was solely clinched when he caught his neck out and promised the Japanese the earth.

“I informed them that in the event that they gave me the price range to signal Tommi and run him for the season, then I’d ship the world championship,” he mentioned. “However in return, I informed Tommi that I might need a second yr with him to defend the title. I obtained precisely what I wished and after that I needed to ship.”

And ship he did. The Mitsubishi has proved to be the category of the sphere this yr. Victories in Sweden and on the Safari obtained the ball rolling, whereas Argentina, 1000 Lakes and most not too long ago Australia put the consequence past doubt. Makinen was by no means headed within the factors race from begin to end and was sizzling favorite for the crown by the point the groups set off for the collection’ furthest outpost.

Victory in Sweden got the ball rolling on Makinen's season and he was never headed in the points thereafter

Victory in Sweden obtained the ball rolling on Makinen’s season and he was by no means headed within the factors thereafter

Picture by: Motorsport Images

“This has been my dream ever since I used to be a small child,” mirrored the brand new champion. “I’ve spent the final 5 – 6 years making an attempt to achieve this second and now I’ve lastly made it. It’s an unbelievable second. It feels superb however, so quickly after the victory, I don’t actually perceive what has occurred.”

Makinen says he knew that he would win the rally in Australia, however would he add the crown to the occasion win?

“The final day was the most important stress,” he mentioned. “I needed to preserve all the pieces in good situation, however on the similar time drive quick sufficient to maintain my focus.”

It’s unhealthy sufficient when simply an occasion win is at stake, however when rallying’s biggest prize is dangling tantalisingly earlier than your eyes it will get harder with each passing mile.

“I wasn’t concentrating as a lot as I ought to on the ultimate stage,” he admitted. “I used to be fascinated by different issues!”

Profitable the rally was by no means unsure – having Carlos Sainz end third was much less easy to repair. The Spaniard had run in Kenneth Eriksson’s shadow for a lot of the occasion however, because the end approached, he launched a final ditch assault. The hole closed with each mile, however Eriksson held on and the title race was determined in Australia by his four-second benefit over Sainz.

“That was a tense second,” admitted Makinen. “I wasn’t certain if Carlos may take Kenneth. I believe it could not have stopped me profitable the championship in San Remo, besides it was good to do it right here.

Sainz was Makinen's closest challenger for much of the year, but two late season wins for McRae (right) put him a distant second in the points

Sainz was Makinen’s closest challenger for a lot of the yr, however two late season wins for McRae (proper) put him a distant second within the factors

Picture by: Motorsport Images

“The top of the final stage was probably the most thrilling second of the entire rally. It was fairly tight once we noticed that Carlos was so near Kenneth! However now there isn’t any stress anymore and we are able to think about having fun with life. It was an excellent rally for us in Australia.”

Co-driver Seppo Harjanne has now taken two world championships, the primary with Timo Salonen in 1985. His expertise was essential to the younger Makinen, submitting off the tough edges and honing him into the champion he’s as we speak.

“I believe my work is finished with him now,” says Harjanne, though that isn’t to recommend that he’s about at hand over the playing cards to another person. “There’s nothing a lot to provide him now besides maybe educate him to maintain his ft on the bottom. That would be the exhausting half for him.”

“It has been simply unbelievable this yr. Solely as soon as has it damaged down and any issues have been from my very own errors. If I hadn’t damaged two steering arms in Acropolis, we must always have gained that rally” Tommi Makinen

For Makinen, his journey dwelling was punctuated with questions as he was sharing the flight with the media. However his thoughts was now away from the alcoholic haze and the realisation that he had achieved his childhood dream was sinking in. So what has made the distinction this season? Why has he appeared a lot in management, so freed from stress?

“It’s been fairly a simple yr for me,” he explains. “It was clear from the beginning that we had a full championship programme and so we knew what was potential. I had extra expertise than final yr when so many issues have been new and now I do know the automobile in addition to my hand. It’s a superb automobile, in all probability the perfect, and solely two occasions have been new to me.”

However these two new occasions – Safari and Argentina – fell to the flying Finn and he reckons that was good luck.

“OK, not simply luck, however we have been lucky to have the correct automobile,” he says. “It has been simply unbelievable this yr. Solely as soon as has it damaged down and any issues have been from my very own errors. If I hadn’t damaged two steering arms in Acropolis, we must always have gained that rally.”

The Acropolis was one of only two rallies in 1996 where Makinen finished and didn't win. Here, he took second to McRae

The Acropolis was one in all solely two rallies in 1996 the place Makinen completed and did not win. Right here, he took second to McRae

Picture by: Motorsport Images

Makinen’s tactic this season has been to focus on particular phases and actually assault, usually opening up large gaps to the opposition.

“It was an excellent plan for me to consider the toughest phases and go flat out when the others would possibly resolve to be slower,” he says. “You need to drive flat out from begin to end, after all, however generally it is advisable to select a stage to make one hell of an excellent time. It has labored each time.”

On the face of it, Makinen has had it simple. Even profitable the 1000 Lakes Rally – his dwelling occasion the place the stress to succeed is excessive for any Finn, not to mention one chasing the world title – by no means appeared unsure.

“That was the toughest rally of the yr,” he insists. “Juha [Kankkunen] was at all times placing stress on me and I needed to give completely 120% effort from the primary stage to the final. In Australia I used to be capable of drive at simply 100% and take no extra danger than essential. It was simpler than I assumed.”

When he appears again on the season in his quieter moments, Makinen will cite the Safari win as a spotlight. And whereas he says that profitable the 1994 1000 Lakes was a turning level in his profession, the Mitsubishi group factors to his Safari recce as the purpose the place his championship marketing campaign actually hit the highway.

“Tommi had broken the recce automobile,” says Cowan, “and we informed him that he must cease driving the occasion his approach and do it ours if he was to have any hope of even ending, not to mention profitable. The penny dropped and he began to hear. From that second on, he obtained his head round the issue.”

Makinen agrees. “There was rather a lot to study in Kenya, however due to the power of our automobile we have been capable of drive a really quick recce. It taught me how sturdy the automobile was and I knew all alongside how briskly I may drive the rally. The others weren’t so certain …”

Unconventional plan of attack for Safari paid off

Unconventional plan of assault for Safari paid off

Picture by: Motorsport Images

Had Makinen not pushed so brilliantly this yr, and had Mitsubishi not been capable of area such a dependable automobile, the title race may have gone on for longer. However that will have taken the group into the relative unknown of San Remo and Catalunya. The blended floor Italian occasion won’t have been an issue, however it’s no secret that the group was hardly relishing having to battle for the world title on the Catalan asphalt.

“Now we are able to chill out,” says Makinen. “We will go flat out to see if we are able to win. In fact Carlos shall be very quick in Catalunya and so will Subaru. We had deliberate an additional take a look at for Spain however there isn’t any level as subsequent yr’s automobile is totally completely different. I’ll drive solely to make the perfect instances.”

Profitable the title as soon as is one factor. Makinen can now begin specializing in Kankkunen’s 4 titles. Can he retain the title in 1997?

“[The 1997 car] is already quicker than the present automobile, particularly on asphalt due to its completely different rear suspension. You’ll be able to actually drive it exhausting and it handles very effectively certainly” Tommi Makinen

“I believe we’ve got an excellent probability,” he says. “We have now an excellent automobile, regardless that it’s not a World Rally Automotive. It’s a fourth evolution of the Lancer and the Japanese have labored very exhausting on it.

“I believe it’s already very promising. It’s already quicker than the present automobile, particularly on asphalt due to its completely different rear suspension. You’ll be able to actually drive it exhausting and it handles very effectively certainly.”

Did Makinen actually consider Cowan when he promised him the title in return for his signature?

“That’s a hell of a tough query to reply!” he says. “I don’t actually know. However in the long run it has been a unbelievable yr.

“We have now completely the perfect automobile for gravel and we don’t should do something. We nearly did not want to check the automobile, simply put numbers on the doorways and exit to win the rally.”

Makinen's confidence in the Mitsubishi package for 1997 was vindicated - although Subaru pushed him hard

Makinen’s confidence within the Mitsubishi package deal for 1997 was vindicated – though Subaru pushed him exhausting

Picture by: Motorsport Images

What occurred subsequent

When the brand new World Rally Automotive period of the WRC started in 1997, Mitsubishi caught to its weapons with a variant of its Group A ethos and was rewarded with Tommi Makinen taking his second title. However whereas 1996 was a snug cruise and acquire for Makinen, 1997 was far nearer and he solely clinched it by a single level over Colin McRae courtesy of a flu-ridden drive to sixth on the RAC Rally.

McRae left to rue recurring cambelt failures in Portugal, New Zealand and Finland, plus an accident in Indonesia that also may have swung the stability in his favour. A late season spurt, profitable three on the trot, meant the Scot ended the yr with 5 wins to Makinen’s 4, however having retired extra regularly too.

All three Subaru drivers gained rallies in 1997 – Piero Liatti, Kenneth Eriksson and McRae locked out the primary three rounds – whereas Makinen took till spherical 4 in Portugal to attain the Lancer Evo 4’s first win. However he adopted it up in effective model with Mitsubishi’s first win on tarmac in Catalunya, benefitting from revised rear suspension, demonstrating that his efficiency in main the second leg of the Monte Carlo season opener was no fluke.

Additional wins in Argentina and Finland, once more beating Kankkunen (signed by Ford mid-year to exchange Armin Schwarz) proved essential in tipping the stability for Makinen, who was as soon as once more the one Mitsubishi driver to win – though Richard Burns demonstrated his star potential with second in Kenya and pushed McRae a lot of the approach on the RAC earlier than a late puncture.

Now partnered by Risto Mannisenmaki after Seppo Harjanne’s retirement, Makinen made it three on the trot in 1998 however required an enormous stroke of luck to take action. Dominated out of the RAC when he plucked the right-rear wheel off on a concrete block, title rival Carlos Sainz solely wanted to complete fourth to safe his third world title. The Spaniard appeared set to take action, just for his Toyota Corolla’s engine to fail on the ultimate stage of the rally, agonisingly nearby of the end.

In contrast with Sainz’s ultra-consistent marketing campaign, Makinen’s season had extra in frequent with McRae’s 1997 with three retirements from the primary 4 rallies both aspect of victory in Sweden. Two extra DNFs in Corsica and Greece required a hat-trick of victories throughout Finland (his fifth in a row on the 1000 Lakes), Sanremo and Australia to maintain him within the hunt.

An unconventional way of winning a third world title - Makinen believed he was down and out after losing a wheel and being pulled over by police, only for Toyota engine trouble to deny Sainz

An unconventional approach of profitable a 3rd world title – Makinen believed he was down and out after dropping a wheel and being pulled over by police, just for Toyota engine bother to disclaim Sainz

Picture by: Motorsport Images

After the drama of 1998, Makinen sealed his fourth consecutive title with a spherical to spare in 1999, one other Toyota engine failure – this time for Didier Auriol – ruling his closest rival out of the hunt in Australia.

He started a streak of 4 consecutive Monte Carlo Rally wins and claimed a season-high tally of 4, as back-to-back wins to finish the marketing campaign elevated Burns – now with Subaru – into second, overhauling Auriol.

Makinen’s spell of dominance was lastly led to 2000 by Marcus Gronholm and Peugeot. His solely win got here on the Monte Carlo season opener as he slumped to fifth in factors, however 2001 appeared set to yield a report fifth title when victory on the Safari gave him a 10-point cushion over Ford’s McRae.

Nonetheless a run of 4 rallies with out scoring, together with a stage one exit from Finland, and a heavy back-injuring crash at Corsica which dominated co-driver Mannisenmaki out for the remainder of the season, opened the door for a late cost from Burns. The highest three have been break up by simply two factors heading to the finale in Wales, the place Makinen once more crashed early, because the Englishman claimed his solely world title.

Dominant on the 2002 Rally Argentina, he crashed out on the ultimate stage and solely mustered two extra podium finishes that yr

After so many triumphs collectively, the Makinen-Mitsubishi axis was break up for 2002 because the Finn headed to Subaru to exchange Peugeot-bound Burns. However success was fleeting – apart from his now-traditional Monte victory, earned with the assistance of a penalty for younger upstart Sebastien Loeb – and he was usurped as group chief by Petter Solberg, who scored his first win within the Wales finale. Dominant on the 2002 Rally Argentina, he crashed out on the ultimate stage and solely mustered two extra podium finishes that yr.

He retired on the finish of a 2003 season that topped Solberg as champion by beating fellow old-hand McRae’s Citroen to the ultimate step on the rostrum, whereas Mitsubishi by no means got here shut to a different WRC win after the 2001 Safari.

Following a disastrous 2002, Mitsubishi skipped 2003 after which withdrew part-way by means of 2004, returning to attain solely two extra podiums in 2005 courtesy of Gilles Panizzi (Monte Carlo) and Harri Rovanpera (Australia) earlier than departing for good at that season’s finish (though privateer Daniel Carlsson took third on the 2006 Rally Sweden).

The final win for the Makinen and Mitsubishi axis came on the 2001 Safari before his title campaign collapsed

The ultimate win for the Makinen and Mitsubishi axis got here on the 2001 Safari earlier than his title marketing campaign collapsed

Picture by: Motorsport Images



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