Tommi Mäkinen isn’t always at his most expressive in front of a television camera. This time, the Finn couldn’t have been more eloquent. Not far from the end of the final stage in Sweden in 1995, the rally leader pulled over and made his point.
He wouldn’t become the first Finn since Markku Alén in 1988 to win in Sweden. Instead, the result, decided by Mitsubishi team management in Karlstad on Saturday night, would go to Kenneth Eriksson. Stepping from his car at the end of the event, the Swede looked embarrassed by the situation. He shouldn’t have been, he’d driven superbly.
Ahead of the second round of the championship, the crews admitted the Swedish conditions were just about perfect, with solid ice and reliable snowbanks on the Värmland roads. Winner of the final Group B event nine years earlier, Juha Kankkunen admitted the fast snow rally remained his favourite. “I was born in Finland,” said the Toyota star, “but I started my driving on ice and snow – of course I like this rally. It’s best of the year.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Subaru man Colin McRae. The Scot had finished on the podium on his last two Swedish starts and headed to that year’s event chasing a win.
“It’s the best rally of the season,” said McRae. “When the conditions are like this, it’s great. It’s so fast, the car’s sliding all the time.”
It’s not often that McRae started a rally ahead of his two-time world champion team-mate in terms of experience. Surprisingly, this was Sainz’s first visit to Scandinavia’s frozen north.
“It will be difficult to fight for victory,” he said, “but I want to come back here and try to win.”
A lack of experience was not something Mats Jonsson, drafted in to drive a third factory Impreza, could claim. The Swede had competed at home 15 times and won twice.
None of the factory teams were in Sweden 12 months earlier, of course, as rotation meant Thomas Radström won the FIA 2-Litre World Rally Cup for Manufacturers round. Radström would have a works Celica GT-Four at his disposal this time around.
Toyota regulars Didier Auriol and Kankkunen were looking to make up for a lackluster opener in the French Alps, but it was more of the same in Sweden. Radström was the best of the Toyotas in third, more than a minute up on his team-mates but the same distance off the front-running Mitsubishis.
Once again, Toyota’s Celica had struggled to deliver the sort of performance seen from the Turbo 4WD the previous season – but that’s not to downplay what had been a strong performance from the stand-in Swede.
These new service rules are stupid. We have all these professional people and we can’t do anything. It’s possible the team could have fixed the problem and we could have still been in the rallyColin McRae, following his retirement with an engine fault
One thing which had made life slightly easier aboard the Japanese cars was the deployment of locally made Lappi tyres.
The Subaru drivers campaigned for the same, but Pirelli was having none of it and made them stick with their own covers. Ultimately, the Swedish event was an entirely forgettable one for the Prodrive-run team, with all three cars retiring with the same engine fault as the coating came off the cylinder liners, jammed the oil pumps which then hiked the oil pressure and detonated the engine.
After the opening day, McRae was running third, but 24 hours later he and Jonsson both stopped on Saturday’s final test. Sainz went out with the same problem at the start of the day.
A frustrated McRae turned his ire on the governing body and its new-for-1995 service restrictions.
After a second no-score in succession, McRae echoed François Delecour’s thoughts in Monte Carlo. The Subaru man said: “These new service rules from the FIA are stupid. We sit around at the controls for all that time and the team aren’t allowed to touch the car. The teams are spending all this money and we have all these professional people around and we can’t do anything. It’s possible the team could have fixed the problem this morning and we could have still been in the rally. It’s crazy.”
Delecour was another engine-related day-two casualty, leaving fellow Ford Escort RS Cosworth drivers Bruno Thiry and Stig Blomqvist to finish a lowly sixth and seventh respectively.
Up front, the Mitsubishis were really going at it. There were six lead changes on the first day as the Lancers eased themselves 41 seconds clear of the chasing pack. Team principal Andrew Cowan was looking uneasy as Saturday progressed in the same fashion. When Eriksson reached Karlstad at the end of day two, he was one second ahead, but Cowan had seen enough.
The pair were told to hold station.
Mäkinen had other thoughts, and hurled the E2 at Sunday morning’s 20-mile Backa test. Eleven seconds faster than Eriksson, the Finn went back to the front, much to Cowan’s frustration.
To make matters worse, snow had started to fall the previous evening and conditions for the rally leaders (running first on the road) were getting even more complicated. Mäkinen pushed on and built his advantage past the half-minute mark.
On the Langjohanstorp, he did as he was told and ceded his advantage to his team-mate.
What could Eriksson say? Naturally, he’d backed off through the final day, but his second home win had been soured. Cowan stepped up to offer a forthright explanation.
“If it had been Tommi in front [on Saturday night],” said Cowan, “we would have allowed Tommi to win. But it was Kenneth, so it was Kenneth [who won]. Simple as that. We wanted, we needed to get both cars to the finish.”
Some consolation for Mäkinen was the championship lead, as the series moved south from the snow towards the first gravel action of the season in Portugal next month.
Swedish Rally 1995 (February 10-12) Round 2/8
1 Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E2) 4h51m27s
2 Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E2) +12s
3 Thömas Radström/Lars Bäckman (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +1m07s
4 Juha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +2m18s
5 Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +2m20s
6 Bruno Thiry/Stéphane Prevot (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +5m31s
7 Stig Blomqvist/Benny Melander (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +6m49s
8 Tomas Jansson/Ingemar Algerstedt (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) +8m02s
9 Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +9m45s
10 Kenneth Bäcklund/Tord Andersson (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E2) +12m44s
Itinerary: Friday February 10, Karlstad-Falun, 8 stages (120.02 miles); Saturday February 11,Falun-Karlstad, 10 stages (98.48 miles); Sunday February 12, Karlstad-Karlstad, 7 stages (92.88 miles).
Leaders: SS1 Auriol/Mäkinen/Radtröm; SS2 Mäkinen; SS3-4 Eriksson; SS5 Eriksson/Mäkinen; SS6 Mäkinen; SS7 Eriksson/Mäkinen; SS8 Eriksson; SS9 Mäkinen; SS10-18 Eriksson; SS19-24 Mäkinen; SS25 Eriksson
Retirements: Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Subaru Impreza 555) SS9 engine; François Delecour/Catherine François (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) SS12 engine; Mats Jonsson/Jonny Johansson ((Subaru Impreza 555) SS18 engine; Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (Subaru Impreza 555) SS18 engine; Marcus Grönholm/Voitto Silander (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) SS23 gearbox
Drivers’ championship points
1 Mäkinen 25
2 Kankkunen 22
3 Eriksson 20
= Sainz 20
5 Delecour 15
6 Thiry 14
1 Mitsubishi 100
2 Ford 75
3 Toyota 71
4 Subaru 46
Next round: TAP Rally of Portugal (March 8-10)