If there’s one nationality that’s best associated with Ford in the World Rally Championship, particularly in the 21st century, it’s Finland.
Aside from current megastar Kalle Rovanperä, all of the nation’s best drivers of the past two decades have driven for Ford in the WRC – and Rovanperä did drive a Fiesta R5 on two rounds of WRC2 five years ago!
Jari Huttunen is the latest flying Finn to wade into WRC battle with a Ford underneath him, as he makes his top-class debut on Rally Finland this week in a Puma Rally1. At the moment it stands as a one-off opportunity, but the 2020 WRC3 champion is far from the only Finn to drive a blue oval-badged rally car on his home stages.
From full-timers who starred on their local turf to spectacular privateers, here is DirtFish’s top 10 Finns in Fords on Rally Finland.
And remember, this is a subjective list. So if you disagree, let us know where we went wrong in the comments section below.
10 Juha Kankkunen
The four-time world champion’s WRC career isn’t best remembered for his two-year tenure with Ford in 1997 and ’98, but Juha Kankkunen found refuge in the manufacturer after Toyota’s ban for 1996.
KKK never won Rally Finland in an Escort WRC, but in his two attempts he was never off the podium with an extremely close battle with Tommi Mäkinen’s Mitsubishi in 1997 (that Kankkunen lost by just seven seconds) and then third a year later, this time behind both Mäkinen and Toyota’s Carlos Sainz.
Kankkunen would make one more Rally Finland appearance in a Ford in 2010 as a celebration of his 50th birthday, driving a Focus WRC to a credible eighth overall.
9 Jarmo Kytölehto
Perhaps not a household name from Finland’s illustrious list of world rally stars, but an incredibly effective driver who always performed well against the world’s best on the stages he knew best.
Jarmo Kytölehto started two Rally Finlands in a Ford, and he podiumed on both of them. Considering he was a privateer driver up against the very best, that’s an incredible achievement that earned him a works Subaru drive for Finland in 1998.
Kytölehto’s first rostrum was in 1996 where he was third overall in an Escort RS Cosworth, while a year later he had his hands on a WRC version and repeated the result.
While his results card doesn’t read as well as Kankkunen’s, the fact Kytölehto only ever started 21 WRC events and yet scored a podium twice in Finland make his results the more impressive.
8 Kyösti Hämäläinen
Kyösti Hämäläinen only ever won one round of the WRC, but if any driver were to pick where they wanted to taste the winner’s champagne, they’d surely all pick at home. That’s exactly what Hämäläinen did back in 1977.
Up against all the legendary and more esteemed Finns of the era (Markku Alén, Pentti Airikkala, Ari Vatanen, Simo Lampinen, Timo Mäkinen, Hannu Mikkola et al), Hämäläinen wasn’t exactly the favorite to win in his Escort RS1800.
And yet it was the #14 Ford that arrived back in Jyväskylä at the top of the pile after an impressive blend of speed and consistency.
Hämäläinen did compete on future Rally Finlands in Fords but failed to scale the same heights, never reaching the podium again let alone winning.
7 Timo Mäkinen
The original Mäkinen, Timo may be far more famous for his three Rally Finland wins on the bounce in a Mini throughout the mid 1960s, but he also holds the distinction of winning the very first Rally Finland to be part of the WRC back in 1973.
And that was in a Ford Escort RS1600.
Mäkinen’s relationship with Ford began in 1970 and he was always competitive at home, finishing second in 1970 and ’72 and also in ’74, either side of his win in ’73. Such consistently good performances are what help Mäkinen to seventh on this list.
6 Jari-Matti Latvala
Jari-Matti Latvala was Finland’s main hope for success throughout much of the 2010s and he duly kicked off the decade with an emotional first home victory for Ford.
And although he’d later go on to win in both 2014 and ’15 and challenge heavily for success in 2017, those drives were in Volkswagen and Toyota cars. Despite his obvious talent, the 2010 win was as good as it got for Latvala in Finland in a Ford.
It was a massively accomplished performance though where J-ML fended off the attention of the dominant Citroën C4s of Sébastien Ogier, Sébastien Loeb and Petter Solberg to win by a shade over 10 seconds.
His best other results were third in 2009 and another subdued third in 2012 where, despite Latvala’s incredibly strong pace that season in the Fiesta WRC, Ford was outclassed by Citroën.
5 Mikko Hirvonen
A winner of just one Rally Finland in his career compared to Latvala’s three, Mikko Hirvonen nicks ahead of his old team-mate here purely because of his generally superior pace when the two were matched up against each other in the same car.
As understudy to record Finland winner Marcus Grönholm, Hirvonen had the perfect tutor and duly shadowed him in 2006 and ’07 – taking third and second places respectively.
When Grönholm retired, Hirvonen let Sébastien Loeb in for a 2008 Finland win the nine-time champion ranks as one of his greatest ever, but Hirvonen put the Finnish flag back to the top with victory in 2009.
He was on the pace in 2010 too before a massive accident brought his rally to an abrupt end, while in 2011 he was quickest throughout most of the event but wasn’t able to convert his speed into a result due to a strange incident with a tree that lost Hirvonen his brakes.
4 Ari Vatanen
One of the most beautiful and committed rally drivers to watch, Ari Vatanen was – unsurprisingly – a strong performer on his home stages but this ranking is as much about a drive to second as it is to first.
Vatanen’s first forays on Rally Finland were defined by a string of agonizing retirements though. From his first Finland in a Ford in 1975 straight through to 1978, Vatanen failed to make it to the end.
But in 1979 and 1980 he took second and finally got that first win in 1981 en route to the world title.
However, Vatanen’s greatest drive in Finland was behind the wheel of a Sierra RS Cosworth in 1987. As he made his comeback after the terrifying Argentina crash that almost cost him his life, Vatanen showed no signs of fear to net second place.
He and the rear-wheel-drive Sierra were no match for the four-wheel-drive Lancia Delta of Markku Alén, but despite several setbacks Vatanen was best of the rest, edging Stig Blomqvist in a similar car.
3 Marcus Grönholm
At the turn of the 21st century, Marcus Grönholm was practically untouchable on Rally Finland. Throughout his Peugeot period, he was only defeated at home once – ironically by Markko Märtin in a Ford.
But once Grönholm joined Ford himself, he proved unbeatable too.
He was utterly dominant in 2006 on his first run in a Focus WRC but was made to work for it on his final ever Finland appearance in 2007, fending off the attention of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.
With two wins from two Ford starts in Finland, it says a lot about the quality of some of his compatriots that Grönholm should only be third on this list.
2 Hannu Mikkola
No driver has more Finland wins in a Ford than Hannu Mikkola. Of his record-equaling seven Rally Finland wins, over half of them were scored in a car wearing the blue oval badge.
The first came all the way back in 1968 with an Escort Twin Cam – a victory Mikkola duly repeated in both 1969 and ’70 to establish the combination to beat at the turn of a new decade.
After a couple of accidents and a spell away from Ford, Mikkola returned to the winner’s circle in 1974 for his fourth and final Escort-powered Finland win in an RS1600, shading team-mate Timo Mäkinen.
He’d have another couple of cracks of adding more Ford Finland wins to his collections in the late ’70s but a broken distributor and head gasket failure put paid to those aspirations.
1 Tommi Mäkinen
Tommi Mäkinen’s Ford Finland record pales into insignificance compared to Mikkola’s, so it’s perhaps a controversial pick to rank him first in this list. But the sensational circumstances and the effect Mäkinen’s 1994 win had on his career means he simply had to top the pile.
A Nissan driver in the two-wheel-drive Formula 2 category in ’94, Mäkinen was anything but a proven quantity at the head of the WRC. But having spotted his eye-catching run to fourth the previous year in an Astra Racing Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford prepared one of its works Escort RS Cosworths for Mäkinen in 1994.
It proved to be an inspired decision. Locked in a close battle with that year’s world champion Didier Auriol, Mäkinen held his own.
A spin on the second day dropped him behind Auriol’s Celica but Mäkinen clawed back the time to overhaul his rival and record an historic victory that swiftly earned him a Mitsubishi contract, and the rest as they say is history.
Mäkinen would go on to win a further four Rally Finlands on the bounce with his new employer, but his success with Ford set him up for his world championship-dominating career and was the ultimate example of what a local star can do on stages they know like the back of their hand.
We promised (and delivered) a top 10, but we couldn’t not mention the exploits of a few other Finns who made an impression in Ford machinery.
An obvious choice is Teemu Suninen who was in the thick of the podium fight on just his second ever top-class start in 2017, behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta WRC. But his performances in later years were fairly unextraordinary which denied him a spot in the top 10.
Jari Ketomaa shocked everyone when he rocked up in Finland 11 years ago and arrived at the end of the first stage two tenths up on Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën.
Considering he had never driven a World Rally Car in the WRC before and had only competed in one WRC event so far that year, it was an incredible achievement – but unfortunately it wouldn’t last as, after falling to fifth, Ketomaa crashed on SS8.
Throughout the mid 2000s, Janne Tuohino became a bit of a secret weapon for the works Ford team on the Scandinavian rounds.
After impressing with seventh in Finland in a privately entered Focus WRC in 2003, Tuohino was called up to score manufacturer points in 2004 – in place of François Duval – and brought home a strong fifth place result.
Juho Hänninen‘s WRC career is far closer aligned with Toyota than it is with Ford, but he made his top-class debut in a Fiesta and was right in the thick of the Rally Finland fight in 2013 with an M-Sport-built machine.
Lying fifth overall after the first day (with a second-fastest time in his pocket) was a giant-killing run but it unfortunately came to an end on Saturday morning when he ran slightly wide, clipped a rock and retired due to the damage.
And while he may not have the record seven Finland wins that his cousin Marcus Grönholm does, but Sebastian Lindholm does have strong form on his home round of the WRC, and particularly so in a Ford.
Fourth in 1997 with an Escort WRC was the undoubted highlight but over the years he scored four more top seven finishes in Escort and Sierra RS Cosworth machinery.