The Flying Finn: 40 years since Mikkola’s famous win

It was 40 years ago this year that Finnish driver, Hannu Mikkola, claimed the World Rally Championship in the first of Audi’s now legendary Group B cars.

Time flies as they say, and so too did Hannu Mikkola in his day. During a period of international motorsport that will perhaps never be repeated, he built a name not only for himself, but was instrumental in the development of the quattro cars that have likewise gone down in history.

Mikkola’s name is synonymous with the halcyon period of the World Rally Championship (WRC) when legends were made – both cars and drivers – and Audi’s reputation as an international powerhouse was cemented and changed world rallying forever.

The year was 1983 and on the world rally stage it was the first year of the now legendary Group B in the World Rally Championship. These cars were considered monsters, their massive power and performance matched by an aural soundtrack that still raises the hairs on the back of your neck.

For this year, the Audi quattro featured new body parts that were made of Kevlar, as well as aluminium engines, tyres from a new supplier, amongst a host of other changes. During the season, Audi unveiled another evolution model whose modified capacity allowed homologation in the up to 960kg vehicle weight class – creating an extraordinary power to weight ratio that saw these cars literally fly.

For Hannu Mikkola, one of Audi’s longest-serving drivers, it was a standout season as he produced success after success. Two years earlier he had celebrated the first victory of the revolutionary all-wheel drive model in a round of the World Rally Championship, winning in Sweden in February 1981.

Now, in 1983, in the new car he was unstoppable. Of the 12 WRC races that year, Mikkola won four, came second three times and fourth on one occasion to clinch the World Rally Championship by a massive 125 points over his nearest competitor.

In the Manufacturers’ World Championship, Audi finished second by the narrowest of margins – just two points behind the winner.

Mikkola would continue his association with the Audi brand, claiming the gruelling Safari Rally in East Africa for the first time with the all-wheel drive technology in 1987 in what would be Audi’s last victory in the World Rally Championship. It was a commanding performance by any standard.

The Flying Finn’s career spanned more than three decades at the very cutting edge of the sport, of which much was spent at Audi. From the very beginning he was involved as a driver in the development and rally program with the Audi quattro, and he remained associated with the brand well beyond the end of his racing career.

Hannu Mikkola passed away just two years ago, but the Mikkola name lives on, most recently at this year’s Festival of Speed. At this year’s event, Mikkola’s sons Vesa and Juha took part as their father had so many times before, this year driving the Audi Rallye quattro (Group 4) from 1980 and the famous Audi 200 quattro ‘Safari’ from 1987, keeping the past very much alive.

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