Friday | 12 Nov 2021

The Godfather of Finland’s rallying greats

Forget Tommi Mäkinen. Forget Juha Kankkunen. And Jari-Matti Latvala. Mikko Hirvonen? Nope. The same goes for Harri Rovanperä. Kalle too. And Teemu Suninen and Toni Gardemeister.

If it’s the most successful man in Finnish rallying you’re after, it’s none of the above. But you’re on the right line. Looking in the right place. He’s behind them. He’s behind all of them.

Step forward Timo Jouhki. And say hello to the most famous Finn you’ve never heard of – and that’s just the way he likes it.

Jouhki has always had a passion for rallying and as good a driver as he was, he’s always understood that he’s better in the world of commerce.

Video: One-hit wonder Harri Rovanperä

Born into a family investment firm, Timo demonstrated his shrewd business acumen early and now presides over the whole operation. Watching Kankkunen struggle to find funding for the right car and the right kit in the 1980s got Jouhki thinking. Maybe he could help.

He did help. He did a deal with a man who would go on to become the first ever four-time world champion.

“The deal with Juha was different,” explains Jouhki. “Back in the early days, this was still my hobby – it wasn’t a professional thing in the way it is today. I just wanted to help him back then.”

Today, Buag Sports remains one of the most respected driver management companies in all of motorsport. Initially called Promoracing, Jouhki’s firm changed the way such management worked in the WRC.

Jouhki set Juha Kankkunen on the road to becoming a four-time world champion

In the early days, an eye for a deal and the ear of the right contact were the key attributes for somebody guiding a rising star. Jouhki professionalised the whole landscape. And that process started with Mäkinen.

The Puuppola driver was genuinely on the brink of giving up. He’d taken a shot, but things just weren’t working out for him. That was July 1994.

A couple of weeks later, in a deal brokered by Jouhki, he drove for Ford Motorsport and won the 1000 Lakes Rally. He didn’t look back. Five years later, he too was a four-time champion.

“I wanted to do things differently,” Jouhki said. “We started to work very closely on the fitness side, the media side, we went into every aspect of a driver – we had to make sure we were getting the right one.”

Jouhki's skiils launched the top-level career of Tommi Mäkinen

Such was the worthiness of a Jouhki endorsement, when Hirvonen and Latvala arrived, M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson joined Buag Sports in investing in their future. And such was the involved nature of this ‘management’ firm, an 18-year-old Latvala rocked up at the Acropolis Rally with his own Timo-supplied rally engineer, Esko Reiners.

“We don’t like to leave anything to chance,” Jouhki adds.

Jouhki’s investment put Harri Rovanperä in a Grifone-run Toyota Corolla WRC on the 2000 Rally Finland. He finished third, signed for Peugeot and helped the French manufacturer to the top of world rallying. It’s little surprise Rovanperä Jr now resides in the Buag Sports stable.

But it’s not always plain sailing. When Teemu Suninen was struggling at M-Sport earlier this year, Jouhki stepped in and helped ease his exit. He’s the master of making things happen.

Mikko Hirvonen was another Timo Jouhki protegé

“Everything is easy and straightforward with him,” Suninen said of Jouhki. “He helped me get out of tough moments, but he has so much experience of so many scenarios. Without him, when I came from M-Sport, maybe I could have done one rally in Finland [in a Rally2 car], but he helped me to get two rallies.

“He knew that if I went to Jyväskylä for just one event then I would take big pressure. He helped me do Spain as well and this really helped.

“For me, I think we have to describe him as the father of Finnish rally drivers.”

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