World's best returns for round World rally

Hannu Mikkola, the man voted in this magazine by a panel of experts as the greatest rally driver of all time, is to come out of retirement. The legendary Finn is to head the field for this June’s London to Sydney marathon at the wheel of a Ford Escort RS1600.

Mikkola, 57, has effectively been retired since he took part in, and won, the London to Mexico Rally in 1995, reprising his legendary drive to victory in that event when the Escort was new, back in 1970.

The London to Sydney Marathon leaves Parliament Square on June 3 and finishes in Sydney on July 4th after a 10,000 miles route, over 600 of which will be on special stages. The event is open to pre-1971 competition cars, prepared to full rally specification and 96 competitors have registered, with Mikkola listed as Number One.

The event is split into three distinct sections. First it goes overground from London through France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Greece and Turkey. Then the whole field will be airlifted to Thailand where the rally will recommence. This second stage goes as far as Johor Baharu in Malaysia before the second and final airlift to Darwin in Australia. Thereafter it is a straight hack across the outback to Sydney.

Mikkola has high hopes of the event and his car, the same RS1600 which took him to victory in Mexico five years ago. “The Escort is the nicest car I had to drive in my whole career. On that 1995 event it took me just three or four minutes to feel entirely at home, 25 years just fell away and I could feel exactly how the car was going. She’s a very special old Ford so you do have to treat her a little bit carefully and not drive her too fast over the really rough stuff. But, of course, on the other hand this type of Escort is a very robust and reliable car. I know it very well and it’s not going to break.”

In a front-line professional career lasting from the ’60s to the ’90s, Mikkola became one of the world’s most successful rally drivers, winning 18 World Rally Championship events and claiming the Championship itself in 1983. Such experience cannot be claimed by the 19-year old who will sit next to and navigate for Mikkola. Even so, there should be no problem with misunderstanding as the co-driver is Mikkola’s son, Juha. Looking at the teams the younger Mikkola reckons, “We will certainly have the best driver and the worst co-driver, so I’ll have to work hard. I want to do really well and still be speaking to dad afterwards…” AF