Thursday | 04 Mar 2021

Hannu Mikkola: A giant of world rallying

A true gentleman. That was the phrase that was heard time and again around the Rovaniemi service park in Finland as the WRC paid its respects to Hannu Mikkola following his passing on Friday.

Without question, Mikkola was one of the sport’s greats. The figures speak for themselves. World champion in 1983, runner-up on three more occasions, a winner of 18 WRC rounds and a podium record of more than one in three bear testament to that.

But it was the human side of this particular Flying Finn that did it for me.

I became hooked on the sport as I watched Mikkola dominate Britain’s RAC Rally in 1978 and 1979 in that iconic royal blue Eaton Yale Ford Escort RS1800. His winning margin was more than five minutes in ’78 and more than 10 minutes the following year.

Video: Hannu Mikkola tribute

Such sumptuous skills made him a colossus in my eyes.

Mikkola came to Britain in 1984 for a British Championship programme in an awesome Audi Quattro A2. Imagine my trepidation when, as a raw teenager in my early days at journalism training college, I came face to face with the man himself at the opening round, the National Breakdown Rally.

Tasked with collecting end-of-stage quotes for the rally’s media team, I thought it wise to introduce myself before the start so he might actually give me a few words worth using during the event.

Hannu could not have been more accommodating. Clearly aware of my nerves, he put me at ease and later greeted me with a warm smile and words of wisdom in the Yorkshire forests en route to a comfortable five-minute win over Jimmy McRae.

Obituary: Hannu Mikkola

Obituary: Hannu Mikkola

Hannu Mikkola, the 1983 world champion and one of Finland’s great rally names has died. He was 78.

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Nearly three months later, Mikkola and co-driver Arne Hertz were back for the Welsh International Rally. I could not have been more shocked when he crossed rally HQ in Llandrindod Wells before the start to shake my hand and inquire if I would be doing the same job.

As I said at the beginning, a true gentleman. RIP Hannu.

Mark Wilford

• Photographer Marko Mäkinen knew Hannu Mikkola since he was a youngster. We are grateful to him for providing a chronological pictorial tribute of Mikkola’s life and career to illustrate these words.