Opinion: Mäkinen has the Midas touch in WRC

It’s easy to spot the people who have really successful careers – because they then tend to go and do something different equally well. Look at Tommi Mäkinen. It might have seemed improbable for a farmer from Puuppola in Finland (close to the home of Rally Finland in Jyväskylä) to eventually become a four-time world rally champion, but he managed to do it.
Tommi Makinen (FIN) of team Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT celebrate on the podium in manufacturers first place after winning the World Rally Championship Chile in Conception, Chile on May 12, 2019 // Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool //

It seems even harder to believe that the same man would then go on to build a team from scratch, designing a car that was radically different from the others. But he did that, too – and won the world championship with it. Both drivers’ and constructors’ titles, as it happens.

But Tommi – quiet, gently spoken Tommi – has succeeded in taking Toyota back to its glory days, ever since his Tommi Mäkinen Racing squad, based out of that motorsport metropolis that is Puuppola (population 1300), entered its Yaris WRC into the world championship for the first time in 2017. From 2018, they’ve won a championship every year.

Never, ever underestimate Mäkinen. Colin McRae observed many years ago that the unassuming Finn always had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. “Even when he has a problem,” said McRae, during one particularly troublesome Safari Rally, “he seems to have that problem in exactly the right place. I don’t know how he does it.”

Juho Hanninen (FIN) of team Tommi Makinen Racing is seen racing in special stage Sassari – Argentiera during the World Rally Championship in Alghero, Italy on June 16, 2019 // Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool //

Now it’s time for the next chapter. Toyota has announced that it will in effect be bringing its World Rally Championship operation in-house (a bit like it does for the Le Mans team) and Mäkinen will move to a new role as motorsport advisor. This means he will be hands-off from the WRC as of January next year and will not attend every event – although the structure in Puuppola will remain to run the cars.

Mäkinen isn’t revealing much about his future beyond what he’ll do with Toyota, where he’ll also help develop the manufacturer’s sporting road cars. Don’t be surprised if you see similar icons to the Mäkinen Edition Lancer Evolution VI emerge in years to come.

Intriguingly, though, he also says he’s got some other “new challenges and ideas” that he hopes to find time for. Tommi always has a plan. And it normally surprises people.

Anthony Peacock