- October 08, 1951
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Even though thirty years have passed since the glory days of the Group B era of rally cars (1983-1986) that period will always be considered the golden age of the world of rallying because of the incredible overpowered cars and master drivers who used to drive those beasts. The interesting thing is that it was neither a long period nor were there too many drivers who became world champions. In fact, only four drivers were crowned world champions with Group B cars – Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen. When looking the numbers, Timo Salonen was the best among them, with most wins during the Group B era.
Salonen was one of the legendary 'Flying Finns', who conquered the world in 1985 with the Peugeot 205 T16. That year, he set a record which remained unbeaten for the following 20 years – he won four WRC rallies in a row. The next racer who achieved such a feat (and won six in a row) was Sebastien Loeb in 2005. However, one record still remained unbroken – Timo Salonen's record of winning seven rallies during the Group B era.
The total number of Salonen's WRC victories are 11, seven of them with the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 and 1 win with a Fiat 131 Abarth, Datsun 160J, Datsun Violet GT and Mazda 323 4WD. He recorded 95 WRC events between 1974 and 1992, with one later outing at 2002 Neste Rally Finland.
Timo Salonen was born on October 8th, 1951. He started rallying in 1974 with a Mazda 1300, which was the car of his first WRC rally in Finland. In the following two seasons, he competed with Volvo 142 and Datsun 160J at the Finnish rounds of the European Rally Championship and at the 1000 Lakes Rally.
In 1977, his WRC programme expanded to three rallies. One of them was the Criterium Molson du Quebec (Rally Canada), where he achieved his first WRC victory. He was driving a Fiat 131 Abarth, together with his co-driver Jaakko Markkula. In 1978, still as a privateer in a Fiat 131 Abarth, Salonen repeated his 2nd place finish at the 1000 Lakes Rally.
Salonen's good results gave him a place in the Nissan factory team (Team Datsun Europe) for the 1979 season. In 6 world championship rallies, he achieved three podiums with the Datsun 160J and finished 4th in the championship standings.
Cooperation with Nissan/Datsun continued in 1980. He competed in eight rallies and scored his second victory, at the Motogard Rally of New Zealand, with his co-driver Seppo Harjanne. In 1981, he scored his third victory, at the Rally Cote d'Ivoire behind the wheels of a Datsun Violet GT, again with Seppo Harjanne.
Over the next three seasons, Salonen didn't achieve any more victories, so after six seasons of driving for Nissan, it was time to leave and find a team which was capable of winning.
Jean Todt invited him to drive for Peugeot in the 1985 season. Salonen began that year by playing a supporting role to Ari Vatanen but he quickly proved capable of being in a leading role, especially after Vatanen's near-fatal accident in Argentina.
In 1985 Salonen set a record by winning four rallies in a row, and with a total of five victories he became the world champion. He won at Portugal, Greece, New Zealand, Argentina and Finland. In 1986, Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 was the dominant car again and Salonen's new teammate Juha Kankkunen won the world title. Salonen finished third in 1986 season's standings, with two victories (Finland and Great Britain).
After Group B was banned in 1987, Salonen chose Mazda Rally Team Europe and their 323 4WD. Out of 4 WRC rallies, he finished only one (Swedish Rally) and was victorious in it. It was his last world rally win. In the following three years, until 1990, he continued to drive for Mazda, achieving 3 podiums.
In the final 2 years of his WRC career, he was driving for Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe. At the wheel of the Galant VR-4, he wasn't competitive enough and after the 2002 season, he said goodbye to rallying. Ten years later, he was presented with a chance to try the Peugeot 206 WRC at the Neste Rally Finland. His performance was not disappointing and he finished in the 14th spot. After retirement, he occasionally competed at various historic and show events and minor rallies in Finland.
Finnish rally fans gave Salonen the nickname 'Löysä', which can be translated as slack or calm, and that word is the best description of his relaxed attitude and calm behaviour.