Don't miss: Helsinki Battle on wrc.com
Past and present WRC drivers prepare for battle in Helsinki
Drivers that have honed their competitive driving skills on Finland’s undulating gravel roads have gone on to win the world drivers’ title on no less than 14 occasions, making Finland the most successful country to ever contest the series.
As we start the build up to Neste Rally Finland (July 31-3August), we want to know who your favourite Finnish rally driver is. We have picked our six candidates based on the number of WRC wins they scored during their careers. Follow the links (above right) to vote for your favourite.
If your favourite driver isn’t listed below, just click through to the official WRC Facebook page and let us know which driver captured your imagination on the stages and why. We’d love to hear your views. The 'Flying Finn' candidates are:
129 WRC starts
19 WRC wins
821 stage wins
Given that Alen drove for the all-conquering Lancia team for most of his career, it’s amazing that he failed to win an FIA World Rally Championship drivers’ title. He did win the FIA Cup for Drivers in 1978 but that's a title that doesn't carry quite the same kudos.
Alen was one of the fastest drivers of his generation and was particularly good at taming raucous Gp B cars that wanted to launch themselves into every corner at break-neck speed.
The fact that he finished inside the top three of the drivers’ standings for five of the seven seasons he drove for Lancia shows how consistently quick he was. But he could – and should – have been crowned a full world champion at least once.
152 WRC starts
30 WRC wins
542 stage wins
Gronholm was the fastest farmer that has ever graced the WRC. When he wasn’t driving tractors on his crop fields, the likeable Finn was winning rallies and world championship titles – one in 2000 and one in 2002.
The bond between Gronholm and Peugeot was incredibly strong and, despite struggling to squeeze his six-foot-plus frame behind the wheel of the diminutive 206 WRC, he was still consistently the fastest driver in the field – impressive with the likes of Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen and Carlos Sainz kicking around.
He would have won more titles after moving to Ford – but a certain Sebastien Loeb put at end to that dream.
152 WRC starts
15 WRC wins
258 stage wins
When he retires, Hirvonen will look back at his WRC record and be reasonably satisfied. Why? Because he managed to win 15 rallies at a time when the sport was being completely dominated by Sebastien Loeb.
Getting any change out of the nine-time world champion was a feat in itself, given his dominance. But Hirvonen almost went a step further. He came within a point of beating Loeb to the world championship title in 2009 after a storming end to the season in his Ford Focus WRC.
Hirvonen may not have won a world title yet, but on his day, he has the capacity to be one of the most spectacular drivers of the modern era.
162 WRC starts
23 WRC wins
700 stage wins
Kankkunen was one of Finland’s most versatile performers. He was well known for wringing every bit of performance out the varied cars that he drove and that success was borne out by the fact that he won three of his four world championship titles with three different manufacturers: Peugeot, Lancia and Toyota.
Kankkunen had a steely determination inside the cockpit. He was there for one reason and one reason only. To win. Clocking up 700 fastest stage times is no mean feat in the WRC and served to highlight Kankkunen’s natural ability behind the wheel.
He wasn’t beaten easily. But if he was, he wouldn’t display his disappointment. He’d simply climb from his car, light a cigarette and smile. That was Kankkunen’s unique style.
123 WRC starts
18 WRC wins
654 stage wins
The nickname ‘Flying Finn’ was first given to Mikkola and it’s not hard to see why. His speed was the benchmark for many seasons at a time when the WRC was awash with talented drivers and capable teams.
The fact that Audi drafted Mikkola in to spearhead the development of its Quattro was as big a compliment that a driver could ever receive. With Mikkola at the wheel, the Quattro gained iconic status overnight and Mikkola claimed his one and only world title with Audi in 1983.
Mikkola was unlucky to only win a single world championship as his talents deserved more. But one stat will provide some comfort: winning his home rally a record seven times. That’s unlikely to ever be repeated.
139 WRC starts
24 WRC wins
362 stage wins
Makinen’s WRC career as a factory driver was relatively short. But he certainly packed a lot into those nine years – namely four world championship titles and numerous rally wins.
Makinen’s association with Mitsubishi was hugely successful and the emergence of new WR Car technology didn’t prevent Makinen claiming a quartet of consecutive titles in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 driving a Lancer that was built to older Gp A technical specifications. Makinen knew how to drive – no matter how old the technology was.
One of the endearing things about Makinen was that he chased victory at almost any cost. He failed to reach the finish on 40.3% of all rallies he entered, meaning if he didn’t win, he invariably crashed trying.