OCT 31st 2014

'Hit it, Hannu!' GRR's Bob Murray grabs big air with Hannu Mikkola in Audi TT

Challenging hillclimb, check. Latest Audi quattro, check. Pouring rain, check (we’re in Scotland). All GRR needs now is the right driver. Where is Hannu Mikkola when you need him?

Thankfully right beside us (despite BA losing his luggage on his Scottish stopover). Hannu is exactly the right man to have in the hot seat: he helped develop the rally Audi Quattro, he won the first WRC rally with it (the first-ever win for an all-wheel drive car), and won the 1983 WRC driver’s championship.

Now here he is driving another sort of quattro up a hill – the new Audi TT, at the Rest & Be Thankful hillclimb in Glen Croe – where Jackie Stewart first competed. Audi had commandeered it so we could have a play with the new car in private. Until it was re-commandeered by the police after a landslide closed the A82.

Hannu last competed at the historic ‘climb (first event: 1906) three decades ago when the ever-so-scenic route was used as a stage in the Burmah Rally. Quattros then aren’t much like quattros today, and Hannu clearly prefers shoving a lever to flicking gearchange paddles (as our video shows). ‘I forget which is up and which is down,’ he confesses. Still, as a colleague said, ‘If I can drive half as well as that when I am 72 I will be well chuffed!’

New Audi TT

He’s enjoying his retirement, having sold his helicopter business when he gave up flying two years ago. He still overflows with Finnish bonhomie that has entranced FoS fans for so long: as well as designing the Forest Rally Stage for Goodwood, Hannu has been one of the friendliest of faces at FoS for over a decade, this year driving his rally Quattro up the hill.

And the new car? As much a classy style statement as ever but much more engaging to drive. ‘I think they have the handling much better this time,’ says Hannu. He should know.

If the sight of the great Mikkola behind the wheel of a quattro has whetted your appetite, check out this period footage of his last-to-first drive in the 1982 Scottish Rally (incidentally not helped when his broken car is set upon by spectators who proceed to bring a whole new meaning to tyre kicking – helpful lot, rally fans). It’s worth the watch.

Hannu helped develop the original Quattro for rallying in 1979. Never mind that the revolutionary 4wd machine ‘understeered and the power came in like a switch’, he still won with it in 1981 and ‘82, going on to take the World Rally Championship in 1983. Of Mikkola’s 18 WRC wins, 10 were for Audi.

Before he continued his winter flight from Finland (luggage now found) to his winter home in Florida, GRR sat down with him for a chat – which you can read here.

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