Juha Kankkunen was unusual for a rally driver, as he was never in a particular hurry. He's one of the most successful drivers of all time, but also one of the calmest characters in the history of motorsport. Almost like a zen Buddhist, absolutely nothing would bother him. Puffing on a cigarillo, he just surrendered himself to fate.
Experienced navigator Nicky Grist remembers the first time that he co-drove for Kankkunen, on the 1993 Rally Argentina: an event they went on to win. “He used to say to me all the time: ‘calm down boy, don't stress. There's no rush'. It was amazing how relaxed he was about everything.”
This untroubled ability to take things as they come is probably why Kankkunen was the first driver to have won the World Rally Championship with three different manufacturers (Peugeot, Lancia and Toyota). It's a record that was equalled only by Sebastien Ogier last year.
Kankkunen holds some other impressive records too. Until Colin McRae came along, he was the youngest-ever World Rally Champion – having claimed the 1986 title when he was only 27 – and he then became the first driver to defend his title successfully. He's also the only person to have won the World Rally Championship with a moustache.
It's astonishing just how sparse the pace notes are. Corners are graded as easy, medium and flat: that's just about it.
He's a purely instinctive driver, which is what took him to 23 world rally victories and four world titles, which were records at the time as well. In 1988, he decided to try the Dakar for the first time: winning on his debut. And Juha set another record too (with Pirelli): for the fastest speed on ice driven by a production car. This was an astonishing 330kph on a frozen lake, with a Bentley Continental in 2011.
As the cars arrive at any WRC service halt these days, drivers will launch into a detailed debrief with their engineers. That was never Juha's style. At the end of the 1999 Rally Finland – the last rally he won – he was asked which tyres he had used on the final day. He simply shrugged and said “black, round, Pirelli.”
He made a one-off return to celebrate his 50th birthday at the 2010 Rally Finland, driving a Ford Focus WRC. He'd not driven a World Rally Car for eight years, and the technology had moved on considerably. So when it came to preparing the Focus, he just asked his engineer to do the base set-up. He wasn't interested in the details. With no knowledge of the car and with eight years out of the sport, Juha still finished eighth overall on the fastest, bravest and hardest rally of them all: beating professional factory drivers less than half his age.