Tommi Mäkinen: The Finnish hero of concentration


He transferred his tractor skills – he learned to his father's farm in Puuppola – to the world of struggle, quickly becoming a force to be taken into account. His racing career attributed four consecutive world championship titles between 1996 and 1999 and 24 races won in the WRC World Rally Championship, including five in Finland and four in Monte Carlo.

Until his retirement in 2003, Mäkinen had sealed his legendary status in the sport. But that was not enough. In 2016, he returned to the sport as the head of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing (TGR) race team.

According to Mäkinen, the new job requires many of the same skills as driving. "A driver needs to be strong enough mentally," says CNN Sport. "You have to have a good technical understanding (of the car) … and, of course, you have to understand the soul of the car."

Mäkinen has transferred driving skills to management. His experience on both sides helps him to lead the team. As Tric's co-driver Miikka Anttila says, "Tommi knows and understands what's going on in the sport, what's important to us, and what's important for the crew to perform well."

He also has his competitive drive.

"He loves the sport and wants to win," says Tom Fowler, TGR's original engineer. "He wants us to keep going forward to make sure we're in front of the game."

Road car against rally car

Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila fly to TOYOTA Yaris during the Finnish Rally of 2018.

Building a rally car is not simple. The shell may look like a regular car – the TGR's Yaris WRC looks like an explosive version of the everyday model – but there are no seats with tires, automatic windows or air conditioning in it. It has been removed to a minimum. Every element has been improved to improve the aerodynamics of the car, reduce its weight and ultimately increase its speed.

In Mäkinen's eyes, there is nothing like the perfect rally car – the model is constantly changing. Unlike a regular car that can be served every 20,000 kilometers, a rally car will be served every 50 or 100 kilometers, he says. Each car has two dedicated engineers and five engineers – one person for each corner and one paying the engine.

"We learn all the time, from each rally, every stage, every kilometer," he says.

And that, he explains, is part of the emotion.

"My active career was very, very exciting," says Mäkinen. "But I'm always this kind of man who wants to find new challenges … (From) we started our racing business, every day it was different."

Mäkinen (left) inspected his car after a crash during the Corsica Rally in 2001.

The Finnish Flyers

TOYOTA returned to sport in 2017 after 17 years of absence and has already made its mark.

Just the second season back in the sport, TGR has scored three wins so far and is second in the manufacturers' championship.

In addition to Mäkinen, the team has two Finnish drivers, Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi.

In all forms of motor sport, there has long been a saying: "If you want to win, hire a Finnish."

The first of the flying Finns, Timo Mäkinen, leads an Austin Morris Mini during a fight in the 1960s.
The Scandinavian country has a breeding history of some of the best drivers in the world. The first "flying Finns" was Timo Mäkinen – no relationship with Tommi – who dominated the sport in the 1960s and 1970s. Finnish drivers have won a total of 13 championships since the WRC began in 1979 – second only in France at 15, who has made progress thanks to Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier.

The varied Finnish conditions, wooded paths, fast gravel roads and stunning jumps make the perfect test ground, winning the title of "grand prix of rallying."

Mäkinen is delighted to work at home with TGR in Finland.

Visit CNN.com/Rally for more news, features and videos

"Our testing environment is absolutely brilliant here," he says. "Then it's a matter of professionals … (We have) experienced designers, experienced engineers and experienced drivers."