Given a rare opportunity in a top works rally car on home soil, Tommy Mäkinen didn't waste it
As the 1994 World Rally Championship heads towards its close, three drivers have emerged with a chance of securing the title: Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen in Toyotas and Subaru's Carlos Sainz.
In Finland, at the end of August, where the Neste 1000 Lakes Rally was the eighth qualifier of the 10-round series, all three drivers were there for this incredibly fast competition around the lakes and through the pine trees. Indeed, the trees are so close to the edges of the stage roads that GP circuit inspectors would surely have fits if they were ever driven over one.
The stages undulate so much that the event is considered one of the most suspension-testing of the entire series, along with the Safari and the Acropolis. Blind crests follow each other in rapid succession, and cars are so often airborne that the most important feature of any set of pace notes is the precise indication of how to approach each of these brows.
The skill of jumping, especially when a crest is combined with a corner, is doing so in such a way that the car becomes stable again the moment it regains ground contact.
Anyone can take a crest quickly and leave the ground. It is the return to it which demonstrates clearly whether a driver did so correctly, for each landing can magnify tenfold the slightest take-off error. When a car is airborne, even by just a fraction of an inch, it has no steering, no braking and no acceleration. What it does on landing will be the result of the driver's control input immediately before the car lost contact with the road.
Driving a car in the 1000 Lakes Rally is tantamount to having it under control for about three-quarters of the time and out of control for the balance. It's by no means easy, especially as jumps can follow each other in very quick succession, often combined with tricky bends.
Apart from a couple of mixed-surface crowd-pullers, the special stages are on dirt roads, but they are generally smooth (at least for the first few cars). The surfaces are well founded and impacted and some are even bonded. They remain as dirt roads, rather than tarmac ones, because they are easier and cheaper to repair in the springtime after the ravages of seasonal temperature extremes.
But back to the title protagonists: not one of them could match the performance of a man who, until this event, had not scored a single championship point. Last year, we said of him, "A man who really must very soon be snapped up by a full works team. He certainly has a talent which any astute team manager should have noticed by now." That man is 30 year-old Tommi Mäkinen, having a turn at the wheel of a works Ford Escort RS Cosworth.
While some of his opponents experienced mechanical faults or delays due to driver error, he kept his car going perfectly, hardly placed a wheel in the wrong place and finished with a lead of 22s. The Toyota Castrol team sent two Celica Turbos for luha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist and Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli. A third, privately entered, car was also sent for Tomas lansson/Ingemar Algerstedt of Sweden. It was actually one of the new shape Celicas, originally scheduled for its first appearance in Australia this year. However, it was a Group N version, which may have made it quicker to prepare.
Another Celica was driven by Marcus Grönholm/Voitto Silander and another by Sweden's Thomas Rådström/Lars Backman. Marcus is the son of the late Ulf Gronholm, tragically killed in a testing accident some years ago.
Ford entered four Escort RS Cosworths, although not all of them hailed from Boreham. The nominated works crews were Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup. Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons, Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne and Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot, the latter crew having only their second competitive drive in a 4wd car on the loose. Sebastian Lindholm/Timo Hantunen were driving an Escort Cosworth built by Gordon Spooner Engineering, one of several such outfits spawned by ex-Boreham rally mechanics. The car's differentials had been borrowed for the occasion from Boreham stock.
The works Fords were equipped with revised engine electronics, providing more power and better torque than hitherto. The cars of Delecour and Mäkinen were serviced by the Boreham entourage, whilst the Giesse car of Thiry was looked after by RAS, the Italian-owned outfit based in Belgium, and that of Vatanen by Germany's Schmidt Motorsport. Even the service plans were different; Boreham staff were responsible for one, Seppo Harjanne for another and Juha Piironen, now walking around unaided and as jocular as ever, for the other.
Throughout the rally, Delecour would not admit to continued ankle discomfort after his April road accident and quickly changed the subject whenever it was broached. But his foot specialist, an old school friend, was in constant attendance, and it was noticeable that the French driver was leaning back in his seat and bracing his legs after every special stage.
The Schmidt outfit had a second Escort Cosworth for Austrian Raimund Baumschlager and his German co-driver Manfred Hiemer, whilst another Escort RS Cosworth was driven by Finnish girl Eija Jurvanen, with Kari Jokinen, and another by Mika Sohlberg/ Risto Mannisenmäki. The Prodrive outfit sent just one Impreza 555 for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya for their first visit to the 1000 Lakes since 1991.
There were no cars from Mitsubishi Ralliart in the UK, but the Finnish importers put in two Group N Lancers for Jarmo Kytölehto/Arto Kapanen and Jouko Puhakka/Keijo Eerola and a Group A Galant for Lasse Lampi/Pentti Kuukkala.
Mitsubishi Germany entered two Group N Lancers, one for the two girls who are in line for this year's ladies' title, IsoIde Holderied from Germany and Tina Thörner from Sweden, and one for Argentinians Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie, the latter crew destined to have a very short rally indeed.
The Czech national team sent two works Skoda Favorits for Pavel Sibera/Petr Gross and Emil Triner/Jiri Klima, their interest being the 2wd category. Others in that category were Belgians Grégoire de Mevius/ Willy Lux (Opel Team Belgium Astral, Costas Apostolou/Dionisis BeIlas from Greece in their Renault Clio, and, from the UK, Alister McRae/David Senior in a Nissan Sunny, entered by Nissan F2, as were Finns Ari Mökkonen/Risto Virtanen in a similar car.
The days when British privateers used to troop to foreign events of note seem to have long gone, but this year three such crews made the trip: Adam Kent/Nigel Whiten in a Peugeot 106, lain Harper/Graham Thompson in a Vauxhall Nova and Christopher Beavan/Paul Gosling in a Skoda Favorit. All three finished, in 36th, 37th and 38th places respectively.
Another crew worthy of mention was Tapio Laukkanen/Jorma Kaikkonen in a Group N Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, a pair judged by the rally organisers from their performances throughout the year to be the most sponsorship-worthy newcomers in the country. They enjoyed a free entry, backed by the organisers themselves.
After mixed weather throughout the recce period, the day of the start dawned bright and sunny. The first stage was a five-miler on which Kankkunen set best time by 1s over Auriol and Mäkinen. Recalde became the event's first casualty on this one when he ditched his car and the spectators had to resort to rolling it over to get it back to the road. The operation was done at the cost of the oil cooling radiator and the result was retirement. The Argentinian said afterwards, "I guess it's better to go out on the first corner of the first stage than the last corner of the last stage."
The second stage produced even greater carnage. Some three miles before the end of this 15-miler, Kankkunen put his Toyota off, rolled, landed on his wheels and then rolled again, this time over some rocks which did untold damage to the car, even bending the roll cage. He and Grist, both uninjured, managed to carry on, but with the left rear suspension almost non-existent. Service was not allowed between stages two and three and on the third stage they came to a stop when, with a thrown alternator drive belt, the battery became unable to supply enough power to drive the fuel pump. They managed to force the belt (it was still under the bonnet) back on to its pulleys, but the whole episode cost a great deal of time and at the end of that stage they were down in 76th place, from then on mixing it with the privateers and driving in dust and ruts.
Vatanen also had a mishap on the second stage when he ran slightly wide on a bend and caused his left rear suspension to collapse. He did the next one on just three wheels, the left rear having flown off the car, and came out with the diminutive Fabrizia Pons sitting on the bonnet in an attempt to lessen the effective weight on the rear. But the ploy was not enough. The rear differential guard had been rubbing on the ground and was soon holed, a knock with a stone then cracking the diff itself. The oil having been lost, the car made it to service, where damage was declared to be too serious to continue, so the first of the Schmidt cars was out.
The second went hardly any further when Baumschlager rolled his Escort on the third stage. "It's the shortest rally I have ever done," said Konrad Schmidt afterwards. After all this, Mäkinen held the lead, which he had taken in stage two.
McRae was slowed on the fourth stage when a gearbox leak allowed oil to enter his Nissan's clutch housing, causing severe slip. Afterwards, the box was loosened (without being changed, which would have contravened the regulations) and the clutch flushed and cleaned, but at the cost of 17m road lateness which brought 2m 50s of penalty.
Sohlberg was slowed when an electrical short circuit caused his Escort to fill with smoke, whilst Mökkonen, having lost all gears except fifth, stopped when bits of the lost ones eventually destroyed his remaining one.
Kankkunen was taking every second of service time he could squeeze from the schedule. Fearful that the scrutineers might reject the car on the grounds that it was not legally roadworthy and, indeed, unsafe, the team was resorting to all manner of regular cosmetic attention, not to mention attempts to straighten the bodywork, realign the wheels and getting the car to handle as it should. Adhesive tape and bodywork hammers were also being put to regular use.
The man from Laukaa had very little hope of even scoring a single championship point, but he drove on resolutely, saying that he was doing it for his fans who had paid to be out there watching the action. He steadily climbed back up the leader board, making his battered car, with pop-riveted panels and much adhesive tape, perform almost as well as a pristine example straight from the build shop. Lindholm stopped after rolling on the fifth stage, the well-known Myhinpää, and pushing his car across the line minus its left rear wheel and with a broken front right rim, whilst Jansson was slowed by a failed turbocharger which he had to endure for two stages before it could be replaced.
Thiry overcame a power steering defect and found his car more to his liking after hardening the suspension. Sainz, on the other hand, asked for softer front struts. Despite all the pre-event testing that goes on nowadays, nothing is absolutely right until a rally itself gets under way. It used to be said that as soon as numbers were put on the sides of a car, its wheels were likely to fall off. Not far wrong, and it is often the case nowadays that drivers use the early stages of a rally to get their transmissions and suspensions set up as they like them.
By the time the rally got to its brief midday stop at Pieksämäki, Mäkinen's lead was up to 22s over Auriol, whilst Kankkunen, his Celica beginning to look more like a car than a piece of junk, was putting up surprising times and had climbed to 55th place. Holderied was experiencing engine overheating, whilst Rådström had a rear shock absorber top mount break, allowing the unit to punch its way up through the rear window. Laukkanen was slowed when a stone jammed a rear brake caliper. Puhakka, driving at number 21, emerged as the Group N leader and complained that he was being slowed by Group A cars ahead of him. Following him in the group were Kytölehto and Jansson.
Intermittent rain was falling by this time and it was odd when drivers arrived at a sunny finish to exclaim "it was raining like hell in there".
On the 10th stage, Mäkinen spun on landing after a jump and, as it was a narrow piece of road, he took some time to get the car pointing the right way again. This cost him the lead, which was taken by Auriol.
Meanwhile, Holderied's overheating became worse and she was arriving at stage finish lines in clouds of steam. Much water and oil was being added at every opportunity and the plan was laid to change the cylinder head gasket at the end of the leg.
Sainz went into a ditch briefly on the 11th stage, breaking his left rear strut top mount and puncturing both rear tyres, although the latter did not bother him too much because he was using Pirelli's anti-deflation foam-producing inserts, a copy of Michelin's system. Sibera also hit something and spun, arriving at the finish with a flat left rear tyre on his Skoda and no right rear tyre at all. The Harju stage, right in the middle of Iyväskylä, began on one of the city's dual carriageways before entering a park. The surfaces were both tarmac and dirt but most of the leading drivers chose slicks. The big danger here was kerbstones, and most people were taking great care not to clout one of them.
Later, Lampi lost about half a minute when a front strut top mount broke, and another 1m 30s in road penalties after having it fixed, whilst Delecour, still flexing his legs and ankles after each stage, complained of losing a little power.
At the end of the leg, where Kankkunen's still-crooked car was being straightened further, Holderied had a new head gasket and Sibera a replacement rear beam axle, Auriol was still in the lead, but only by two seconds from Mäkinen. Sainz was another 25s back and Thiry another 43s, followed after 8s by Delecour.
Some 60 of the original 84 starters began the second 12-hour day. Immediately, Holderied was in trouble when her new head gasket blew. She struggled through the remainder of the day, with frequent fluid replenishments, hoping that her engine would last until the gasket could be changed again at Laajavuori in the evening. Miraculously, she made it.
Grönholm, after experiencing a severe frontal vibration on the first stage, discovered at service that his front right shock absorber bolts had not been tightened the previous evening. When this was done, the Toyota was in good shape again.
Sohlberg damaged his front left wheel and tyre when he hit a rock whilst cutting a corner; lansson had new front wishbones fitted; Laukkanen's engine was overheating due to low fuel pressure and consequent weak mixture.
On the first stage of the second day. Makinen wasted no time showing who was boss. He made best time by four seconds and retook the lead over Auriol by two seconds. On the next stage. Thiry rolled just before the flying finish. He was able to carry on, but soon afterwards his engine overheated and, when he got to the end of the day's third stage leaking both oil and water, he called it a day and handed in his time card.
Sainz had an anti-deflation insert break away from its fixing inside his front left tyre. the loss of balance causing much vibration which was disconcertingly transmitted through the steering to the wheel and the driver's hands. Puhakka's rally came to a sudden end on the third stage when he rolled, his car vanishing into the undergrowth. The stage was stopped for 16 minutes whilst an ambulance went in, but we are happy to record that Puhakka, after a spinal operation the next day, is on the road to recovery. It seems that a ball joint broke during a heavy landing, this later causing a front wheel to fold under, sending the car off the road on a fast section.
Laukkanen lost much time after two fuel pump failures, whilst leader Mäkinen lost a little time when he chose tyres which were too hard. Auriol, in the meantime, seemed to be clawing his way back towards his Finnish rival, knowing that he had the disadvantage by being first on the road. However, this advance was short-lived, and by the end of the day Mäkinen had opened out a 22s lead over the Frenchman.
At Valkeakoski, where there was a short stop before a spectator stage around one of the town's industrial areas, Kankkunen had got up to 18th place, which was quite remarkable even though the stewards had agreed overnight to his restarting sixth on the road on the second day.
Vital championship points were at stake and it was important for Toyota that Auriol should finish ahead of Sainz's Subaru. This would enable the Cologne team to clinch the makes' series in Finland.
In the afternoon, a strong wind blew the dust away before it had any delaying effect, whilst back at Laajavuori the traditional Michelin Man on the Rantasipi Hotel roof was blown off his perch, crashing to the ground in front of the main entrance and deflating with a loud hiss.
On the 23rd stage, eighth of the day, Grönholm put his Celica off into an escape road, scattering spectators but miraculously not hitting any of them. He lost a little time but did not damage his car. At the end, where he arrived trailing a ribbon of crowd control tape, he said that it had been caused by loss of control due to a swerve to avoid spectators in his path. The incident shook him considerably and it took him several stages to recover his composure and speed.
Mäkinen spent a few stages with his wheel alignment awry, but it did not seem to slow him down and he stayed ahead of Auriol. Jansson, after leaving a plume of blue smoke in the 24th stage, needed a new turbocharger, whilst Auriol lost some 5s when his engine stalled at the start line. It almost happened again on the next stage, but when the engine's control computer was later changed, and a turbocharger valve replaced, there was no more difficulty leaving start lines with maximum traction and acceleration. Saarenpää endured sauna conditions for a while when he had to put on his interior heater to reduce the effects of engine overheating. Later, he holed his sump and retired. Pasi Laaksomaa, driving a Galant at number 55, had a brake line burst at over 100 mph and shot through the crowd tapes, fortunately without hitting anyone or anything. He managed to fix the leak and continue.
Mäkinen lost an estimated I0s when he did a stage with his tyre pressures too high. He also hit a stone with his left rear wheel but continued unperturbed as the antideflation insert worked. Sainz, on the other hand, didn't want to risk a repeat of the earlier vibration causing by the loosening of a tyre insert and chose to do the last stage without such protection. But it slowed him down in the early part of the final 23-miler as he drove carefully to avoid a puncture.
At the end of the leg, routine service was carried out before cars booked into parc fermé. Delecour's clutch and gearbox were changed, more because of fears that he was inadvertently riding the clutch than because of any obvious defect, whilst Holderied, her engine now on just three cylinders, had her second head gasket change. The team had all their fingers and toes crossed, hoping that the engine would survive the final day. It did, but not before the turbocharger was disconnected to lessen strain.
Triner, who came to the end of the day's last stage with a cracked windscreen, explaining that it had been caused by a child who threw a stone, had a new screen fitted at the end of the leg.
Barring mistakes or mechanical failures, Mäkinen's lead over Auriol seemed pretty decisive, but Sainz was only another 7s back and the Frenchman was obviously concerned that the Spaniard might get past him on the final day. In fourth place was Delecour, another 3m 10s back, two minutes ahead of Grönholm.
Whilst the weather had been reasonable during the first two days, with only the odd shower laying the dust (and providing additional grip, strangely enough) on some stages, the third and last day dawned dark and miserable. It was raining steadily, which was much to the leader's liking. In the dry, to be first on the road was a disadvantage. In the wet, it didn't matter so much, and the faces of both Mäkinen and Harjanne were beaming when they emerged from the hotel to head for the closed park. But on the first stage those smiles vanished. Sprays of water soaked Harjanne's feet and at service afterwards the turbocharger intercooler was found to be faulty and replaced. Then the smiles returned!
Sainz lost a little time when he went wide at a corner and ditched momentarily, whilst Auriol felt reassured that he would be able to hold the Subaru driver at bay. When Sainz lost a little more time when he hit a rock on a long stage, just four from the end, the Frenchman showed distinct relief, and when the next long one was over, with only two short ones to go, the fight for second place was about over. There was no disputing Mäkinen's supremacy in his Escort, of course, but all eyes were watching closely the duel between Toyota and Subaru, not to mention the remarkable comeback by Kankkunen, who came up from 76th to ninth place to score two championship points.
Four stages from the end, Kytölehto, who was leading the Group N category from Jansson, hit a stone and punctured his left front tyre. He was obliged to stop to change the wheel because, he explained, an oil cooler line ran very close to that rim and was at risk of being damaged if he continued on the flat. This meant that he lost a massive four minutes, allowing Jansson to take the Group N lead by just six seconds.
One stage later, Kytölehto was trying so hard to regain the lead that he all but went off the road. Meanwhile, Jansson, trying equally hard, went off the road into a field, totally destroying the car and giving the category for the second year running to a very surprised Kytölehto.
Mäkinen's victory places him in a good bargaining position, even though Ford will not be entering cars directly from Boreham from next year onwards. Various offers have already been made to the likeable chap from Central Finland, a near neighbour of Kankkunen, as a matter of fact, and it remains to be seen what he will drive in the future. A pity that talent spotters don't seem to spot in advance any more. The makes championship is now settled in Toyota's favour, but three drivers retain a chance for the personal crown which, in our book, is what really counts. Two rounds remain, the Sanremo Rally in October and Britain's RAC Rally in November. The out come is still anyone's guess. G.P.