A Talented World Champion winning along 3 Manufacturers

Juha Kankkunen

Born in Laukaa, Finland in 1959. Kankkunen’s WRC debut was at the 1979 1000 Lakes Rally. From there he took part in Toyota, Peugeot, Lancia, Ford, Subaru and Hyundai teams. He won the WRC driver’s championship title in 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1993. Kankkunen retired from WRC in 2002. He currently takes part in historic car rally events around the world.

In 1991 Kankkunen won his third title with a Lancia Delta Integrale. Safari Rally back then had animal guards on machines.

Kankkunen was taught how to race on an ice track from his father, who enjoyed rally and ice racing as a hobby. He started his rally career in 1978 in the Finnish Rally Championship in a Ford Escort RS2000. He raced 5 rounds. The next year, Kankkunen took part in the 1000 Lakes Rally and finished fourteenth overall despite the race being his first WRC race.

In 1983, Kankkunen joined Toyota Team Europe (TTE) thanks to a recommendation from Timo Mäkinen, the legendary Finland rally driver. He met the team’s expectations after ranking sixth in the Celica twin-cam turbo at the 1000 Lakes Rally that year. Kankkunen took his first steps in becoming the “Flying Fin” with TTE. In the 1985 Safari Rally, he gained his first WRC win in the Celica twin-cam turbo. At Ivory Coast Rally the same year, he gained his second win of the season. It is said that Kankkunen learned the key to winning rally rounds during his time with TTE.

The next year, in 1986 Kankkunen changed team to Peugeot, and won 3 rounds in the WRC which lead him to win the titleship at the age of 27. Back then, he marked the record of the youngest driver to win the title. Colin McRae sets the new record being 27 years and 109 days old in 1995.

Kankkunen winning the 1986 WRC Championship in a Group B Peugeot 205T16E2

Kankkunen winning the 1986 WRC Championship in a Group B Peugeot 205T16E2

In 1987, when the regulations changed from Group B to Group A, Kankkunen moved to Lancia. He won two rounds and again, took home the championship in the Delta HF 4WD. Kankkunen went back to TTE in 1988. He won the 1989 Rally Australia in the Celica GT-Four ST165. This was a first ever win for Toyota’s 4WD rally car.

In 1988, Kankkunen raced in a Peugeot 205T16 at the Paris Dakar Rally. He finished in first place.

In 1990, he went back to Lancia again. Although he had a close battle with Carlos Sainz racing with Toyota, he lost the battle to end up third for the season. In 1991, Kankkunen won back the title with Lancia.

In 1993, Kankkunen returned to TTE, and drove the new Celica GT-FOUR ST185. This return was due to the fact that Sainz (who already signed to the team) had to cancel the contract due to sponsor issues. Kankkunen replaced the seat. The development of the new car didn’t go as planned, and Kankkunen found difficulties controlling the car. However, he won his fourth drivers’ championship and also brought home the manufacturers’ title to the Toyota team.

Nicky Grist, who was Kankkunen’s co-driver in 1993, commented “Juha during rally racing is always calm. I have never seen him nervous on race days. Juha is a person of experience, and every rally round I get to spend with him is precious.” Kankkunen’s rally style is best shown in tarmac, rather than in gravel. He won and earned points in the gravel rallies as gravel are his favorite rounds. On the other hand, on tarmac rallies, he explained that he does not push too hard, and as long as he keeps a good pace, the results follow. However, we have seen that he wasn’t slow on tarmac either. During the 1993 WRC Catalunya, the first gravel race of the season, Juha and Grist pushed hard to finish in third place.

TTE entered 4 cars in the 1993 Safari Rally. Behind is the backup service car and staff.

Kankkunen stayed with TTE until 1996 and changed team to Ford in 1997. He stayed with the team in an Escort WR car. Kankkunen then moved on to the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) in 1999. Fans and teams thought that Kankkunen would not be able to win anymore, but he won his home race in Finland in an Impreza WRC99. This became his last win.

During the 2001 Finland rally, Kankkunen raced with Hyundai in an Accent WRC. The next year, he competed again with Hyundai in the WRC, but this became his last year in the championship.

In 2007, he set a new world speed record on ice in his privately-owned Bentley Continental GT. He averaged 321.65 km/h and maximum speed of 331 km/h (206 mph). In 2011 he topped the speed record by marking 330.695 km/h in a Bentley Continental Supersports convertible.  

Kankkunen’s last win at the 1999 Finland rally.

Juha Kankkunen WRC Record of victory

Times Year Event Co-driver Car
1 1985 Safari Rally Fred Gallagher Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo
2 1985 Rallye Côte d’Ivoire Fred Gallagher Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo
3 1986 Swedish Rally Juha Piironen Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2
4 1986 Acropolis Rally Juha Piironen Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2
5 1986 Rally of New Zealand Juha Piironen Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2
6 1987 Olympus Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta HF 4WD
7 1987 RAC Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta HF 4WD
8 1989 Rally Australia Juha Piironen Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST165
9 1990 Rally Australia Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
10 1991 Safari Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
11 1991 Acropolis Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
12 1991 1000 Lakes Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
13 1991 Rally Australia Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
14 1991 RAC Rally Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
15 1992 Rallye de Portugal Juha Piironen Lancia Delta Integrale 16V
16 1993 Safari Rally Juha Piironen Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
17 1993 Rally Argentina Nicky Grist Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
18 1993 1000 Lakes Rally Nicky Grist Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
19 1993 Rally Australia Nicky Grist Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
20 1993 RAC Rally Nicky Grist Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
21 1994 Rallye de Portugal Nicky Grist Toyota Celica GT-FOUR ST185
22 1999 Rally Argentina Juha Repo Subaru Impreza WRC99
23 1999 1000 Lakes Rally Juha Repo Subaru Impreza WRC99

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