Archive for the ‘Pilots and Drivers’ Category

There will be a lot of Finnish drivers that I will write about in this blog, but I wanted to start with one of the maddest of them all. Juha Kankkunen – a four-time world rally champion, Dakar winner in 1988, and winner of Race of Champions in 1988 and 1991. The only rally driver to win championships with 3 different manufacturers.

Juha was born on 2 April 1959. He lived in a farm in central Finland, near the roads where the 1,000 Lakes rally takes place. His father was a hobby driver and thaught Juha to drive on ice. Juha already knew how to drive on snow and ice when he was – how old you think – fifteen? Sixteen? No. He was seven. If this is not impressive enough, he owned his first car when he was 12 (nice laws they have in Finland). During the next couple of years, between high school and weekends of frozen powersliding, he received lessons from a family friend. This friend was no other than Timo Makinen – a legendary rally driver who brought fame to Mini.

Juha’s first professional competition was in the 1979 1,000 Lakes rally in which he finished 14th. During the next couple of years, he took part in various local rallies and was eventually spotted by the Toyota team. He signed with them for the 1983 season and entered the Group B World Rally Championship. At the time, Toyota wasn’t explointing the newly-introduced Group B regulations which allowed into the race evolution models of the production cars with 4WD (four wheel-drive) and turbo- and super-charged engines.  This left Juha with a less-powerfull 2 WD (two wheel-drive) car. He stayed with Toyota for two years, always finishing in the top seven (except for Rally Cote d’Ivoire in which he failed to finish). The biggest surprise was his victory in the Safari rally in 1985. That made him the first rally driver to win the African event from his first attempt.

In 1986, he dived into the deep waters of rallying, signing with Peugeot and competing with a proper Group B machine. That season, the tragic death of Henri Toivonen marked the end of the Group B rallies which were notoriously dangerous both for the drivers and the spectators. Initially disqualified from the last rally (USA), the Peugeot team filed legal complaints against FIA, claiming unfair scrutinity over the cars. They were allowed back and Juha managed to take the last Group B title from Markku Alen.

After the Group B ban, Juha signed with Lancia, driving the legendary Delta HF, and won the 1987 championship. In the following years, he repeatedly switched from Toyota to Lancia and back again, winning the 1991 and 1993 championships. Later in his career, he also competed for Subaru and Hunday. Juha retired from active rallying in 2001 with a total score of 23 rally and 700 stage wins. Still, this wasn’t enough for him. In 2011, Juha set the world speed record on ice, achieving 330.695 km/h (205.5 mph).

These days, Juha splits his time between his house in Monaco and his farm in Finland. He is famous for his car collection which includes six Ferraris (rare ones like 288 GTO ) and three genuine Group B monsters – Peugeot T16, Lancia S4 and Audi Quattro S1 (E2). Recently, he published an autobiography titled My Road.