Having watched him hurtling through the Welsh Forests many a time during the The RAC Rally I thought I would write about rally Driver Henri Toivonen who was tragically killed 2 May 1986 whilst competing in the Tour de Corse Rally on Corsica
He was born in Jyväskylä, the home of Rally Finland. His father, Pauli Toivonen, was the 1968 European Rally Champion for Porsche and his brother, Harri Toivonen, became a professional circuit racer. Toivonen’s first World Rally Championship victory came with a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus at the 1980 Lombard RAC Rally in Great Britain, just after his 24th birthday. He had the record of being the youngest driver ever to win a world rally until his countryman Jari-Matti Latvala won the 2008 Swedish Rally at the age of 22. After driving for Opel and Porsche, Toivonen was signed by Lancia. Despite nearly ending up paralysed at the Rally Costa Smeralda early in 1985, he returned to rallying later that year. He won the last event of the season, the RAC Rally, as well as the 1986 season opener, the Monte Carlo Rally, which his father had won exactly 20 years earlier. Toivonen, driving a Lancia Delta S4, died in an accident on 2 May 1986 while leading the Tour de Corse rally in Corsica. His American co-driver, Sergio Cresto, also died when the Lancia plunged down a ravine and exploded. The fatal accident had no close witnesses and the only remains of the car were the blackened spaceframe, making it impossible to determine the cause of the accident. Within hours of the accident, Jean-Marie Balestre, then President of the FISA, had banned the powerful Group B rally cars from competing the following season, ending rallying’s popular supercar era.
Toivonen started his career in circuit racing and was also very competitive on tarmac. He raced successfully in two World Sportscar Championship events and achieved praise from Eddie Jordan, in whose Formula Three team Toivonen made a few guest appearances. In his Formula One test for March Grand Prix, Toivonen managed to lap over a second quicker than the team’s regular driver. It is often reported that during the 1986 Rally Portugal, he drove his Delta S4 at the Estoril track, and recorded a lap time which would have qualified him in sixth position at that year’s Formula One Portuguese Grand Prix. The annual Race of Champions, originally organised in Toivonen’s memory, awards the winning individual driver the Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy.