In the hot seat -- Hannu Mikkola

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You think a twisty 38km stage is tough? What about Hannu Mikkola doing more than 6350km on the Safari? And he enjoyed Ford Escorts much more than Audis

Ford or Audi? Which time gives you the fondest memories?  — Kevin Morrison, Shoeburyness

As a driver I was always more at home with the Ford than with the Audi. I liked the way you could drive with the Escort. The Audi was always a bit like a front-wheel-drive car — if a stage was a bit slippy on slicks I wasn’t too sure we had hope on our side. Also, with English being my first foreign language it was easier to discuss things in the Ford team. And if we came back from a failure it was always about how to win the next one, not a ‘blame game’.

Was the Lancia Fulvia the only front-wheel-drive car you drove? — Jason Wright, Reigate

No. In 1988 I did maybe half a day of the Safari with an Opel Kadett GSi. To be honest I didn’t like front-wheel drive. I always got the feeling that the car was trying to take me somewhere and I was trying to avoid the accident. But the Fulvia was incredible on Tarmac, just like a little go-kart.

Jean Todt was your co-driver on occasion. How did he stack up against the others?  — Clare Greenbaum, London

You could realise immediately that Jean was well organised and that was one of the things you needed most in a co-driver. You can then concentrate on the driving. He also had good contacts, which was very important for getting the drives in the first place. I was sure that he was going to go far.

How did It feel in 1972 when you became the first foreigner to win the Safari Rally?  — Roger Goom, Epsom

At the moment we won it was enough just to win such a big rally. But after that it began to sink in that I had done something quite special, something that would go down in the record books. The other day I was laughing when I watched the Cyprus Rally and these guys were doing 38km of twisty stage with their hi-tech cars with no gear levers, power steering and easy to drive and then complaining about it. I thought, ‘OK put them in the 1972 Safari with 6350km and then they would really have something to complain about.’

What did you do when a spectator stole your time card on the last night of the 1967 Monte? — Bill Wilson, Alloa

We went to the bar! It was that year when we had to carry all eight wheels with the car — and they had to be checked before each special stage. At the start of the Turini, the officials came and took the tyre card for checking. The two cards were together so they may have taken the wrong one. Or someone else may have taken it. Anyway, we started the test and when we got to the end we had no time card.

Which was the toughest the World Cup or the Safari? — David Stark. Newcastle

Without question the World Cup. We were doing so many long stages, especially in the Andes where we were several thousand metres high which made it so very difficult physically. One stage was over 900km long. I would start to fall asleep while driving and Gunnar Palm used to hit me with the pace-note book to keep me awake.

Did you use left-foot braking In any of your rally cars? — Stephen Winkley, Burnley

I had to learn it with the Quattro. It was my first turbo engine in a rally car and the lag was pretty bad. You had to keep some throttle on to keep the power up, which meant left-foot braking. In 1980 when I knew already I was going to drive the Quattro and that it had this problem I started practising with the Mercedes 450SLC, which was easy to do with its automatic gearbox.

You occasionally drove the Merc 450SLC, one of the most improbable rally cars of all time. How did it compare with your Escorts?  — David Ramsay. Winchester

It was not so bad for me. I learned to drive in my father’s big American cars so it didn’t seem so big. Of course it was heavy and slower to accelerate than the Escort, but not so bad when you got it up to speed. And strong for African rallies.

Apart from the down-on-power 1800cc engine, what was the Mazda 323 like to drive and why wasn’t it more successful?  — Matthew Crawford, Kendal

It was an excellent car to drive. The big problem was the turbo — it was too small. We lacked power at the top end. I remember driving a rally in Norway just before they stopped the programme when a bigger turbo had been homologated and the car was very good. We had technical problems to start with — the gearbox was one — but those were virtually cured.

How did the modern era of 4WD Group A cars that you drove (Subaru Legacy RS in Sweden and Toyota Celica Turbo in 1000 Lakes 1993) compare to the Group B cars? — Jon Lovell, Wigan

The amazing progress was with the tyres. I drove a factory Subaru in Northern Ireland in 2000 and later a works Focus WRC at Goodwood. They were just amazing: easy to drive but hard to find the limit. It was a surprise to me how quickly they stopped and also how positive the steering was — its reaction was immediate.

Who was your biggest Group B rival?  — Rob Saddler, Australia

At the beginning — no one! The Quattro was alone with the 4WD technology but then other people realised that was the way to go. We had some good fights in 1983 with the Lancia 037 with Walter Rohrl and Markku Alén, but our real problems started when Peugeot came with the 205 T16. That was a purpose-designed, mid-engined 4WD car and we had a design based on a road car with the engine hanging out over the front axle. The early Audis didn’t even have a front limited slip so for the first two years we had a three-wheel-drive car.

Did the FIA kill Group B off too soon? — Mark Randall, Luton

I always think that they reacted too quickly, as they always do, without talking through the problem. They could have kept the investment and the technology but do what they do now with the WRC cars — reduced power, safe fuel tanks, crash tests and all that kind of thing. It took years for the sport to recover, just at the moment when we had the maximum number of manufacturers and teams involved.

How would you rate your days in British rallying? And who were your biggest competitors in Britain? —  Reg Clayton, Bishops Stortford

I loved doing those rallies in Britain during the 1970s: Scottish, Welsh and all the other forest events. If you were a driver, then you just loved it. And the competition was very hot with Ari Vatanen, Russell Brookes, Roger Clark and many others all capable of giving you a hard time.

Did you enjoy the ‘blind’ RACs with no pacenotes? —  Lewis Gill, York

I feel that those RACs demanded so much more of the driver than when you go on notes in the forest. You had to be ready for anything and everything. You had to try and read the road from what you could see and make sure that if something came you could find a way to drive the car round. It was much more of a challenge — for the driver!

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