Friday 26th June 1964
Born on this day, Tommi Makinen, the Finnish racing executive and former driver. He is the head of the Toyota GAZOO Racing team, which competes in the World Rally Championship (WRC).Mäkinen is one of the most successful WRC drivers of all time, ranking second in championships (4), tied with Juha Kankkunen and Sébastien Ogier and behind Sébastien Loeb (9), and fifth in wins (24). He is a four-time World Rally Champion, a series he first won, and then successfully defended, continuously throughout 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, on all occasions driving the Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. He also aided Mitsubishi to the 1998 world constructors’ title as well as winning the 2000 Race of Champions. Mäkinen’s navigators include compatriots Seppo Harjanne and Risto Mannisenmäki, the former retiring from alongside Mäkinen having previously served 1985 champion, and fellow “Flying Finn”, Peugeot’s Timo Salonen.
Mäkinen won the Group N Finnish Rally Championship driving a Lancia Delta HF 4WD in 1988. Mäkinen’s first world rally win came on the 1994 1000 Lakes Rally (now Neste Rally Finland), in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth. Mäkinen proved a late developer by the standards of some in rallying circles, only nabbing his first full-time manufacturer seat in a Group A formula Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution alongside former Group A rally champion Swede Kenneth Eriksson, in 1995 – but success was to prove spontaneous thereafter.
A cultured Safari Rally win in 1996 proved the platform on which to build a dominant championship lead, which he consolidated by taking the title in Australia, away from runner-up, Subaru’s Colin McRae – a long-time rival. He proceeded to win every drivers’ title for Mitsubishi from 1996 to 1999. The Mitsubishi team, with the Finn and young Briton Richard Burns among its driver personnel, also won its sole manufacturers’ championship in 1998, while late that same year, the licensed Tommi Mäkinen Rally video game was also released. In 2000, despite opening his campaign with victory on the January Monte Carlo Rally, Mäkinen finally relinquished his grasp on the title, being beaten in the standings by new title holder and fellow Finn, Marcus Grönholm. That year Mitsubishi produced a ‘Tommi Mäkinen edition’ of the road version of the Lancer Evolution VI to commemorate his previous title successes. This car had a different front bumper than the regular Evolution VI, while some models also featured a red and white paint job to closely resemble Mäkinen’s rally car.
Mäkinen remained with Mitsubishi until the end of the 2001 season, having finished third in that year’s standings behind Burns and McRae, by now respectively drivers for Subaru and Ford – but not before the inauspicious introduction of team’s first ever World Rally Car on the San Remo Rally. Mäkinen and teammate Freddy Loix struggled with the car before the Finn’s crash on the mountainside roads of the following round in Corsica was responsible for breaking co-driver Mannisenmäki’s back and in doing so, virtually ended his top-line career. The Finn was forced to fare with substitute co-drivers for the remaining events in Australia (with Timo Hantunen) and Great Britain, the latter of which he retired from, helping Burns to claim the championship.
A move to the Prodrive-run Subaru World Rally Team for 2002 as replacement for Burns (who had chosen to drive a works Peugeot 206 WRC alongside Gronholm for his title defence) yielded one more, final career victory, on the 2002 Monte Carlo Rally where a technical infringement committed by on-the-road winner, and emerging talent, Sébastien Loeb, allowed Mäkinen to upstage the Frenchman. But his form then took a dive and he was not to add again to his tally of world titles.
He retired from the sport at the end of the 2003 season with third place on that year’s Rally Great Britain.
In 2004 he established his own company named Tommi Mäkinen Racing Oy Ltd with the aim to prepare rally cars and provide support to drivers.
In 2016, Mäkinen became the team principal of the Toyota GAZOO Racing, which is the factory team of Toyota and competes in the World Rally Championship (WRC).