By today’s standards of big-time World
Rally Championship domination, three wins
from 40 starts barely moves the needle.
But within that statistical blip is the tale
of 39 epic adventures. And one tragedy.
Collectively, they’re Henri’s story.
Henri is Toivonen, and Toivonen is
Finland’s rallying dynasty. Father Pauli
was a Monte Carlo Rally-winning
European Champion; brother Harri a
stage star in his own right. But Henri’s
light shone the brightest; Pauli’s eldest
son was the one touched by true genius.
Thirty years ago, that light was
extinguished in an inexplicable crash on
one of Corsica’s few nothing corners.
Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto
were taken – along with their Lancia Delta
S4 – in a terrifying inferno.
The accident also claimed Group B.
Rallying’s most spectacular category
would be canned at the end of 1986.
The furore following that ultra-reactive
decision somewhat overshadowed the
loss of a man at the height of his powers.
That Henri Toivonen would have been a
World Rally Champion is beyond question.
The opinion of Toivonen’s peers remains
unchanged three decades down the line.
Ask Markku Alén, Hannu Mikkola, Timo
Salonen, any member of Finnish rallying
royalty, who was the man back in the day?
The answer’s the same: Henri. Always Henri.
Virtually his entire career, Toivonen was
the underdog; pitting a Group 2 Talbot
Sunbeam Lotus against the grunting might
of full-bore Group 4 Ford Escorts, or teasing
traction out of an Opel Manta 400 or
Lancia Rally 037 in the face of a game-changing, all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro.
From the moment Audi introduced the
Henri Toivonen was fast. But until he joined Lancia’s World
Rally Championship roster, he’d lacked winning machinery.
Tragically, his brief chance to shine ended in Corsica in 1986.
WORDS David Evans ILLUSTRATION Paul Laguette
Born in Jyvaskyla,
Finland, in 1956,
Toivonen was just
29 years old when
he and co-driver
Sergio Cresto died
on the ’ 86 Corsica
Rally. In 40 WRC
starts, he achieved
three wins and six
other podiums, and
was considered a
future World Rally
Champion by his