Date of Birth:08 Oct 51
FIA Championship Titles:1985
WRC Rally Starts:95
WRC Rally Wins:11
Timo Salonen earned the nickname Loysa, which translated from his native Finnish means slack. But this had nothing to do with his slightly rotund appearance, unease at giving television interviews in English, nor his penchant for smoking cigarettes.
Instead Salonen, a successful motor trader, was known as Loysa because of his relaxed demeanour both inside and outside of the car, which played a huge part in Peugeot’s decision to sign him from relative obscurity for its World Rally Championship attack in 1985 with its fleet of mighty 205 T16s.
While Salonen had a proven record thanks to wins in Canada (1977), New Zealand (1980) and Ivory Coast (1981), he was never anything more than a bit-part player in the WRC, landing limited campaigns each season with Datsun, which later became Nissan, the only make to offer him regular employment.
All that changed in the summer of 1984 when, lying in a hospital bed in his homeland following back surgery, a phone call from Peugeot chief Jean Todt offered him the opportunity of a lifetime.
The French firm wanted a steady - but effective - pair of hands to support Ari Vatanen, whose sometimes wayward tendencies meant a solid number two was essential for Peugeot’s bid for the manufacturers’ championship title. Todt was also aware of Salonen’s pace, having competed against him during his stint co-driving for Guy Frequelin before team management ambitions took hold.
While Vatanen led the drivers’ standings by 16 points after two rounds, Salonen was convinced he could outpace his younger countryman, particularly when Peugeot made the 205’s steering a little less heavy at Salonen’s behest. After winning in Portugal, Greece and New Zealand, Salonen was ahead in the standings when Vatanen suffered a huge crash in Argentina, which left him with life-threatening injuries.
Salonen won in Argentina, albeit in trying circumstances, and by claiming his maiden 1000 Lakes Rally victory he was now world champion.
His title defence with Peugeot in 1986 netted two more victories but a plethora of retirements caused by mechanical problems meant he had to settle for third in the final table.
A move to Mazda followed in 1987 but after contesting a further 25 world championship rallies - including a two-year stint with Mitsubishi - Salonen called it a day apart from a one-off return in Finland in 2002 when he drove a Peugeot 206 WRC to 14th overall aged 50.