The cross-over between rallying and circuit racing has been surprisingly rare. But in 1966 the current star of international rallying also won Australia’s “Great Race” to earn his place in circuit-racing history.
Early rally career
The son of a local garage owner, the teenage Rauno Aaltonen raced speedboats and motorbikes before discovering rallying in 1956. Over the next five years he built his reputation and victory on the Polish Rally and in the Finnish Championship during 1961 confirmed a new star.
But he was thankful for the quick actions of co-driver Geoff Mabbs at the start of the 1962 season. Aaltonen crashed their Mini Cooper during the closing stages of the Monte Carlo Rally and was dragged from the wreck by his colleague.
European Rally Champion for BMC
Aaltonen joined the works BMC team in 1963 and further success followed – winning the Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally and a second national title in 1964. The following year was truly Aaltonen’s season – his Mini Cooper S won six rallies across the continent from Czechoslovakia to the RAC to clinch the 1965 European Championship.
The Finn was also expanding his repertoire to endurance racing – driving a factory Austin Healey Sprite at Le Mans and other long-distance classics in 1966. He then travelled to Australia that year for a race of little note in Europe, but of growing importance on the other side of the globe.
Winner at Bathurst
The Gallagher 500 was the first international event in the series that would become known as the Bathurst 1000. He shared his Mini with local driver Bob Holden and took the win after over seven hours on one of the world’s most demanding circuits.
Victory in the 1967 Monte Carlo was his last for BMC and the company’s withdrawal from the sport forced Aaltonen to move on. He drove for Lancia, BMW, Opel, Datsun and Ford among others, but the best years were behind the “Flying Finn”. It was with the Mini that Aaltonen is best remembered and his Australian win was but a footnote in the career of one of rallying’s greats.