OUTSIDE THE CLOSE KNIT WORLD of international rallying the name of Rauno Aaltonen may mean little, but Aaltonen, born 7 January 1938, at Turku, Finland, was once regarded as an institution in fast driving. One of the first of the famous 'Flying Finns', he started rallying as far back as 1956
, and even after retirement he was rated as one of the leading exponents of his particuiar art.
Aaltonen was one of those legendary drivers who helped to create the reputation of Scandinavian driving superiority in a sport where tactics, stamina and plain common sense played almost as big a part as pure driving skill.
Aaltonen started rallying at a time when the sport was undergoing a big change and the traditional hard surface speed section and driving manoeuvrability tests were being replaced by the special stage as the part of the rally where the winner was decided. No longer was it sufficient to give competitors a route and ask them to follow it, through all weathers, in a specific time. That was too easy.
The stage timed section became the decider and more and more stages were added to the big rallies - most of them using routes on snow, ice and forest track. Needless to say the motoring upbringing of the Scandinavians - who drove half the year on ice and the other half on loose surfaces - proved to be an ideal nursery.
Erik Carlsson was the first Scandinavian to make a big impression on the world of motor sport. A Swede, he won Britain's RAC Rally two years in succession in an underpowered Saab
. For the first time he showed the world the technique of using snow banks to bounce the car around corners and how to brake with the left foot to allow the car to be flung sideways under full throttle. Fellow Swede Tom Trana followed Carlsson and also won the RAC Rally two years running in a Volvo.
Then came the Flying Finns - Timo Makinen, Simo Lampinen and Rauno Aaltonen. They were a new generation of rally drivers, faster than anyone dreamed possible and, quite obviously, fearless. From the early 1960s the Scandinavians, brought up to drive on snow and
forest track, dominated international rallying. At one time the manufacturers' teams of all countries were vying for the services of the men from the northern European lands. BMC, Ford, Lancia, BMW and Datsun all found it essential to have at least one of these drivers on their strength. In fact the Unqiue Cars and Parts research shows that Aaltonen had, at one time or another, driven for all five of these manufacturers.
With the original Flying Finns came a new, high standard in driving which others strove to emulate. Amoung them were Britain's Roger Clark
, Italian ace Sandro Munari, and also second generation Scandinavians such as Stig Blornqvist, World Cup Rally winner Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen and Markku Alen.
Born Into Speed
Aaltonen was almost born into speed. At the age of 12 he raced speedboats and was seven times Finnish national champion and once champion of Scandinavia. While still racing on water he turned to two wheels and at 16 was a member of the Finnish Speedway Team, also winning his class in the Swedish Motor Cycle Grand Prix. He started rallying at 18 and for a number of years used Mercedes and Saab cars to chalk up an impressive list of victories in his home land.
he was Finnish rally champion and in the same year co-driver with the famous Mercedes driver Eugen Bohringer on the Polish Rally which they won. Bohringer, a European rally champion, was very impressed by the then 23-year-old and spoke of his skills to the BMC team manager, Stuart Turner. Aaltonen was given a works MG for the Tulip Rally and very soon was a regular member of the BMC team. From 1962
Aaltonen drove for the British manufacturer in a variety of cars but achieved most of his success in the Cooper and Cooper S variants of the Mini saloon
. In fact, Aaltonen is arguably the greatest Mini driver of all-time, with 41 factory outings resulting in 8 overall victories and 14 class victories (and as a result of this success he was very involved with the development of the Mini
he followed his sponsor Bohringer and became European rally champion after outright wins in no less than five of that year's qualifying events, including the RAC Rally. The following year he was second finisher on the Monte Carlo Rally, only to be disqualified (along with those that came in 1st and 3rd places) for a supposed infringement of lighting regulations. He went back in 1967
with a vengeance and won the 1968
Monte Carlo Rally, and came fifth in an Austin 1800 Rally
on the 12,000 Mile London - Sydney Marathon
BMC Competitions closed its doors late that year and Aaltonen then drove Lancia, Datsun and BMW cars with success (including a class win on the East African Safari) before signing with Ford for the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. He finished this 'rally to end all rallies' in third place. For the next two seasons Aaltonen returned to the Datsun camp, with occasional BMW drives, becoming the Number One driver for the extremely professional and ambitious Japanese team. In 1972 he finished third in perhaps his best year.
Further Reading: Austin 1800 Rally
| London - Sydney Marathon
| 1966 Gallaher 500
| 1991 Bathurst 1000