The Finnish former rally driver Tommi Mäkinen is undoubtedly among the best rally drivers ever. He has four world rally championship titles to prove it.
He was the second driver in history who achieved that after Juha Kankkunen had won four titles between 1986 and 1993 with three different manufacturers. Tommi Mäkinen did it on his own way, winning four consecutive titles from 1996 to 1999, driving only for one manufacturer – Mitsubishi.
Tommi started rallying in 1987 with Lancia Delta
Tommi Mäkinen was born on June 26, 1964, in Puuppola near Jyväskylä. He started rallying in 1987 with Lancia Delta HF 4WD. His first WRC event was 1000 Lakes Rally, which he didn't finish because of an accident.
In 1988, he expanded his activities to European Rally Championship events and two events of the world championship (1000 Lakes Rally and Lombard RAC Rally), but he gained the biggest success in the Finnish Rally Championship, winning the Group N title. In 1989, he participated in two more WRC events, Swedish Rally and 1000 Lakes Rally, driving the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, but he still didn't finish any of those WRC rallies.
Three wins in PWRC class with Mitsubishi Galant
And finally, in 1990, after he switched to Pro Sport's Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Mäkinen started to finish WRC rallies and even scored three wins. It were the victories in the PWRC class, so he was third in the points at the end of the season. In general classification, he scored points at Rallye New Zealand and Rally Australia, finishing 6th and 7th. Since 1990, Mäkinen's co-driver was Seppo Harjane and they stayed together until 1997.
In 1991, Tommi participated in five WRC events with three different cars. In Sweden and Portugal, he was driving Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4x4, in New Zealand he raced with Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 and finally, at 1000 Lakes Rally and Lombard RAC Rally, he was driving Mazda 323 GTX. His best result was fifth place at his home event, the 1000 Lakes Rally.
WRC seasons with Nissan and Lancia
Another change of manufacturer followed in 1992 when Mäkinen joined Nissan Motorsports Europe to drive Nissan Sunny GTI-R in four rounds of the World Rally Championship. He finished ninth at Rallye Monte-Carlo and eighth at Lombard RAC Rally.
In 1993, Mäkinen returned to the cockpit of the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, participating in three WRC events for Astra Racing. He was close to the podiums, finishing fourth at Swedish Rally and 1000 Lakes Rally.
Maiden WRC win for Makinen at the 1994 1000 Lakes Rally
The season 1994 started with a victory at national Burana 400 Rally in Finland, with Ford Escort RS Cosworth. After few more rallies with Nissan Sunny GTi, Mäkinen appeared with Ford at 1000 Lakes Rally and scored his maiden WRC victory, ahead of Toyota's Didier Auriol and Subaru's Carlos Sainz. It was just a one-off participation for Ford's factory team; later in the season Mäkinen returned to Nissan.
The most significant was Mäkinen's participation at the 1994 Rallye Sanremo with Mitsubishi Lancer Evo II. He didn't finish the rally due to suspension failure, but it was a step forward to a full-time contract with Mitsubishi Ralliart team for the 1995 season.
Tommi joined Mitsubishi in the 1995 WRC season
The season started with fourth place at the 1995 Rallye Monte-Carlo and then Mäkinen finished second at Swedish Rally behind teammate Kenneth Eriksson. From the third round, the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III was in use, but Mäkinen didn't score any more podiums in the world championship. He won at 1000 Lakes Rally, but the event wasn't on the WRC schedule. At the end of the season, Mäkinen was fifth in the WRC classification.
First world title with Lancer Evo III
1996 was a dream season for Tommi Mäkinen, as he won his first WRC title. He opened the championship with two wins at Swedish Rally and Safari Rally. After an engine failure, he lost points at Rally Indonesia but returned to the podium with second place at Acropolis Rally. With three consecutive wins at Rally Argentina, 1000 Lakes Rally and Rally Australia, Mäkinen secured the title two rounds before the end of the season. His main rival Colin McRae won the last two events, but the championship title was already in Makinen's pocket.
Second title with one point gap ahead of McRae
Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, Mäkinen won another title in 1997, this time with just a single point advantage over Colin McRae. Mäkinen was the winner four times: at Rally Portugal, Rally Catalunya, Rally Argentina and Neste Rally Finland. Colin McRae was again in charge at the end of the championship, winning last tree events, but Makinen's sixth place at season-closing RAC Rally was enough for his second title.
Beating Sainz's Toyota in 1988
The season 1998 was interesting because Mäkinen recorded six retirements in 13 events. He still managed to win the title because he won five times and added two more podiums. The season was remembered by a dramatic closure of the Rally GB, the last round of the championship. Mäkinen retired early and was already on the way home, thinking that Carlos Sainz would take the title. But, Sainz's Toyota Corolla WRC stopped just a few hundred meters from the finish line at Margam Park.
Video : Short review of the 1998 WRC season
In 1998, Mitsubishi took manufacturers' title
After a most dramatic ending of any WRC season ever, Mäkinen took his third consecutive title. His co-driver was Risto Mannisenmäki. Mäkinen also secured the first ever manufacturers' title for Mitsubishi, together with teammate Richard Burns.
In 1999, the fourth consecutive title victory followed, which Mäkinen won in a legendary #1 Marlboro-liveried Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI. Mäkinen won four rallies (Monte-Carlo, Sweden, New Zealand, Sanremo) and took the title with a 7-point advantage over Richard Burns who was driving for Subaru.
Two more seasons with Mitsubishi
Mäkinen stayed with Mitsubishi for two more seasons. In 2000, he won only once, at the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, to finish 5th in the championship. The third consecutive victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo followed in January 2001. During the season, Mäkinen was the winner two more times, in Portugal and Kenya, to finish third in the final standings, behind Richard Burns and Colin McRae.
The season was marked by severe accident at Tour de Corse when Makinen's co-driver Risto Mannisenmäki broke his back. In the last two rounds of the championship, Makinen's co-drivers in the new Lancer WRC were Timo Hantunen and Kaj Lindstrom.
Fourth straight win at Monte-Carlo was Tommi's last WRC win
Kaj Lindstrom stayed with Mäkinen in 2002, when he replaced Richard Burns in the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. In January 2002, Mäkinen clinched his fourth consecutive victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo, driving the #10 Subaru Impreza S7 WRC 01, but just after the fastest driver Sebastien Loeb was disqualified. It remained Makinen's last WRC victory in ahis career. Later in the season, Mäkinen finished third at Cyprus Rally and Rally New Zealand, to finish 8th in the championship standings.
Last podium in the last rally
In 2003, Tommi Mäkinen spent one more season with 555 Subaru WRT. His winning streak at Monte-Carlo was stopped by an accident. At Swedish Rally, Mäkinen took the second place. He scored his final WRC podium in his last rally, at Wales Rally GB, finishing third.
24 wins in 139 WRC events
After 139 WRC events, with 24 wins and 45 podiums, Mäkinen ended a fantastic rally career, as one of just two drivers with four WRC titles. He and Juha Kankkunen were later dethroned by Sebastien Loeb, but Makinen's name will forever stay written on the list of the biggest WRC legends.
Makinen is managing the Toyota Yaris WRC entry
After retiring from rallying, Mäkinen was involved in motorsport as a consultant, driving instructor and team owner. One of his jobs, when he was an instructor to Toyota's boss Akio Toyoda, resulted in an agreement to appoint Mäkinen as the team principal in Toyota Gazoo Racing, which entered the World Rally Championship in 2017 with a new Yaris WRC car.