Classic Moments in Rally: Tommi Mäkinen gets an important phone call

One of the best Finnish motorsport clips doesn’t show any driving. I’m talking about the clip showing a taciturn Tommi Mäkinen receiving a surprise phone call at a British hotel lobby in late November, 1998.

The 1998 Network Q Rally of Great Britain was the ’98 WRC season-ender, and Mäkinen was still battling for crucial championship points when his Evo IV lost a rear wheel on stage 6 after hitting an oil slick and veering into a concrete block. Mäkinen’s retirement effectively handed the ’98 championship to Carlos Sainz, who only needed to finish better than fifth and proceeded to drive casually, sometimes with just “20% effort”, giving confident soundbites to interviewers.

With no realistic hope for the title, Mäkinen was soon in plain clothes at the hotel, talking to the Finnish national TV about how Sainz was clearly the 1998 champion. The mood isn’t great, as the interviewer asks Mäkinen how he’s feeling and Mäkinen responds all hope was lost on the first day.

Then, the mobile phone in Mäkinen’s pocket starts ringing. Mäkinen tells the interviewer he has to take the call, and perhaps they should re-do the interview bit a little later. But as we watch Mäkinen on the phone, the camera still rolling, it’s clear something is afoot. Incredulous, he goes “What? What?” and then repeats the unbelievable news he has just been told.

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya have suffered a heart-wrenching breakdown less than half a kilometer before the finish on the last stage of the rally. The stricken Corolla has puttered to a halt and cannot be started. Even pushing the car to the finish is impossible. There will be no championship points for Sainz – he’s worse off than Mäkinen. Spanish end-of-year Toyota sales fall off a cliff.

You can see the huge relief on Mäkinen’s face turn into victorious laughter as the call goes on. “The game is clear”, he says, and tells the interviewer in a brilliantly understating fashion, “Well, it looks like we’re not going anywhere just yet.” And with textbook Rally English, Mäkinen announces in the lobby, “Carlos, his car get to fire. They can not run it anymore.” Mäkinen, who was ready to pack up and leave just minutes earlier, is now the 1998 world champion.

In the end, it’s Richard Burns who drives to first place, securing a victory for Mitsubishi after all. Juha Kankkunen takes second and Bruno Thiry third place. But Mäkinen’s initially impossible-looking championship win was the stuff of legend, still worth a chuckle over 20 years later.

6 Comments

  1. I remember that one, one of the historic cars had an oil filter torn off that dumped the oil. Sainz putting his helmet back in the car without opening the hatch was a classic. Depending on your opinion on the turbo restrictor bypass cheat, a bit of extra karma payback for Toyota too.

      1. Well yes, but I didn’t want to say that! Do you remember if he lost the engine, I have a feeling he did.

          1. Did a quick search, seems an oil pipe that came off at Silverstone and they lost some oil, then the next stage the engine blew. The crew were not allowed to do anything and had to sit on the side of the road, so saw the chaos unfold. Most cars navigated the corner safely but there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that the WRC was affected by another car having an issue – should have had the WRC cars at the head of the field perhaps?

            Ironically the navigator of the Imp was running on an observed section trial a few weeks later (in a Reliant Scimitar) and also hit a rock and lost a wheel.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ffdc88bb52b1f7f158703980bfb46dae07f738918f718a384f9a327a93597ee6.jpg

  2. Wow. I didn’t get into WRC until the early 2000s, when I started following Loeb’s career. This was interesting. I had to Youtube it to see more of the story.

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