Henri Toivonen - Legacy


Toivonen was known as a competitive driver both on gravel and tarmac surfaces, and he found it difficult to choose between circuit racing and rallying. After becoming a rally driver, he still competed in some circuit racing events, successfully in two World Sportscar Championship events and also in a few races for Eddie Jordan's British Formula Three Championship team. Jordan called Toivonen's performances "incredible" and compared him to Ayrton Senna. After Toivonen's death, Jordan weighed in on his chances in Formula One:

"I don't know if he would have become a champion in Formula One. It always takes a lot of luck, and now one can doubt if he would have been granted that. But he would have won Grands Prix – of that I'm absolutely sure."

During his World Rally Championship career, Toivonen competed in 40 world rallies, gathering three wins, nine podium places, 185 stage wins and retiring 22 times. With only wins and retirements in the last five of his rallies, he was at the peak of his career in the Lancia Delta S4, after finally finding a car that was both competitive and suitable for his driving style. However, Toivonen admitted having problems with the car: "I may have won the RAC Rally with Lancia, but I just did not know how to drive it. It seemed to have a mind of its own." Lancia team boss Cesare Fiorio later claimed that Toivonen was the only driver who could really control the Delta S4.

In a Henri Toivonen obituary, titled Rebel With a Cause, published in Motor five days after Toivonen's fatal accident, rally author Martin Holmes named him a "rebel driver", and proof that young drivers can be successful in rallying, a sport which had previously been dominated by older, more experienced drivers. However, Toivonen could not achieve the necessary level of consistency to avoid a number of high speed accidents. Prior to the introduction of the Delta S4, he was known for his ability to make up large amounts of time in single stages. This led to a number of stage wins but also to several bad accidents resulting from driving mistakes. Toivonen's career almost ended in early 1985, when he was nearly paralysed in the Rally Costa Smeralda accident – 1985 would have been his first full WRC season, excluding the endurance events Safari Rally and Rallye Côte d'Ivoire for which he was never entered in his career. The World Rally Archive's Hall of Fame now names him an "icon for the one of the most controversial periods of rallying."

Toivonen was buried in Espoo, where his family moved from Jyväskylä when Toivonen was still very young. In Corsica, a marble slab dedicated to him and Sergio Cresto was placed at the curve where Toivonen drove out. The memorial place always has an unopened bottle of Martini, which is a reference to Toivonen's Martini-sponsored Lancia factory team. A local resident puts new flowers by the slab every day. In July, the Rally Marca Trevigiana in Italy was titled "Memorial Henri Toivonen" in honour of Toivonen. The rally was stopped after a fatal accident on the fourth stage. In 1988, former rally driver and arguably the most successful female race car driver in history, Michèle Mouton, organised the first Race of Champions to commemorate Toivonen's death. The Race of Champions was originally restricted to rally drivers, but became even more popular with the introduction of Formula One and NASCAR stars. The Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy is still awarded to the winner of the individual event every year.

Another trophy bearing Toivonen's name was the Henri Toivonen Grand Attack Trophy, which was awarded by Peugeot's Rally Challenge, organised by Des O'Dell, "to the driver who most embodied the spirit shown by the young Finn." In 2006, Toivonen was honoured at the Neste Oil Rally Finland. An exhibition in memory of him was opened on 17 August in the Rally HQ Jyväskylä Paviljonki. The interviewing event was attended by his former team mate Markku Alén, former co-driver Juha Piironen, current Ford factory team boss Malcolm Wilson and his brother Harri Toivonen. Harri Toivonen quit his racing career in 2002, ending the 40-year racing history of the Toivonen family.

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