Juha Kankkunen was embarrassed. This wasn’t part of the plan. He had shown himself up at what was a big moment for Toyota – the preparation for the arrival of a hugely important new car.
The Toyota had spun and the Finn had incurred the wrath of the mechanics.
“Don’t you know how to use the brakes?” they asked the moustachioed one.
Looking slightly bashful, he replied: “Actually, no.”
The brake bias had been wound 100% to the rear, so when Juha stepped on them at the first corner of significance, they locked and pirouetted man and machine.
That was 39 years ago. That was Kankkunen testing the Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo ahead of its world championship debut at the 1983 1000 Lakes Rally. With a recently signed contract in his pocket, a then 24-year-old was delighted to have realized the dream of driving a factory car in the world championship.
Testing new Toyotas is something he’s still doing close to four decades on.
With four world championships, 23 WRC wins and 75 podiums under his belt, he’s got the brake bias sussed. And when he stepped aboard the new Toyota, 2022 style, there was nothing but utter deference from the team.
And that respect starts at the top; fellow Toyota star Sébastien Ogier walked past a suited and booted Kankkunen on the second day of Rally Japan and smiled.
“Morning boss,” said the Frenchman.
The boss had been tasked with giving the Toyota Yaris Rally2 concept car its maiden test run in public on Rally Japan.
This test was nothing like 1983. There would be no fighting to keep the ‘Whistling Pig’ in a straight line through some of Finland’s most fearsome forests here.
No, this one was a dash around the cones on Saturday night’s Okazaki City crowd-pleaser.
Kankkunen was typically professional and brought the car to the finish with no spin and plenty of smiles – especially from Toyota Motor Corporation CEO Akio Toyoda.
Having found the taste for testing Toyotas again, Kankkunen told DirtFish he would be ready, willing and able to do some more running next season.
“The car is not coming until Monte Carlo 2024,” he said, “so there is a whole year [of testing] next year and the engineers and the guys, they want feedback from as many drivers as possible to get an idea if they are going in the right direction.
“OK I have been driving all of these cars anyway so I can tell my opinion what I think and what is the place you can improve the car a bit more, and concentrate for that and things.”
And he even has an idea of where it would be best for him to test.
“Especially the winter test,” he said. “I would like, because in Finland we have the good places to do winter tests. To do some testing on the proper spiked tires and give them information about how is it working, this can be nice.
“I drove, last winter, in a Fiesta [Rally2] on the ice in Lapland. I know how the Fiesta R5 goes, so I can tell straightaway how the Yaris is behaving there.
“If they need me to test a little bit more, I should like to test there.”
Since starting out in rallying in 1978, Kankkunen has amassed close to 250 starts. All that experience means he knows how a rally car needs to run.
He added: “It has to be an easy car. Somebody jumps in like you and you have to trust the car 100% and it has to be very easy and simple to drive. If you need to fight from the first corner with the car, then you cannot ever get any results and it can be dangerous as well.”
With brake bias dialled, there’s no question, Kankkunen’s got this testing thing sussed.