There’s nothing new about a Finn winning in Finland and Hämäläinen’s credentials – two national titles – were right up there. But at his previous eight attempts at the 1000 Lakes Rally, his best result was ninth in a Chrysler Sunbeam Avenger in 1975.
Two years on, he would be a contender, not least because he had been handed Ford’s official test car for the rally.
The Escort RS1800 he drove was tuned to the same specification as that of team-mates Björn Waldegård and Ari Vatanen. It was Vatanen who suggested Hämäläinen for the event.
Video: One-hit wonder - Kyösti Hämäläinen
Ari retired on the third stage but there remained further flying Finns in the shape of Timo Salonen and Markku Alén in their factory Fiat 131 Mirafioris. Alén was out front until Saturday afternoon, but Hämäläinen simply wouldn’t let him off the leash.
Taking six seconds out of Alén in the Kokkosenlahti test convinced Hämäläinen of his own chances of a famous win. He pushed on, even harder. The contest was decided in the next loop of stages, when Markku hit a rock and retired soon after. Hämäläinen was in the clear and on his way to an incredible win.
One of the more remarkable facts about his sole WRC success is that it came without co-driver Martti Tiukkanen reading a single pace note for the whole 450km of competition.
During the recce, Hämäläinen had ridden along with both Mikkola and Timo Mäkinen and was convinced of his own ability to memorise the route. So he did.
“Martti didn’t say much anyway,” said Hämäläinen, “but he didn’t open his mouth once. Not even when we passed Alén’s car parked at the side of the road.
“I was a bit miffed that Martti didn’t mention it until after the stage finish, because I’d attacked the wild crests and jumps of that stage with high risk. Martti said if he’d told me about Alén I would surely have lost the rhythm and might have gone off the road. Well, he was right actually.”
Hämäläinen kept the test RS1800 – registered POO 489R – on the road to score his one and only WRC win ahead of Salonen’s Fiat.
The Finn remained a 1000 Lakes regular for the next 11 years, but never came close to repeating that towering success of 1977.
Photographs by Marko Mäkinen