On this page, you will find a selection of articles on Henri Toivonen, ranging from interviews, short features and tragically, obituaries. I will also, if possible, include as much as I can find on Sergio Cresto. Although it tends to be Henri who is most familiar to us, it would be wrong to ignore his colleague. Included here are an interview Henri did for Autosport prior to the 1980 RAC Rally, a feature from the book "Rally" by Reinhard Klein and an obituary penned by the prolific rally author, Martin Holmes, that appeared in Motor magazine the week after Henri's death.

| 1980 Autosport Interview | Obituary by Martin Holmes | Autosport 40th Anniversary Supplement |

| Feature in "Rally" |

  henri Toivonen Interview [Autosport 13th November 1980, Vol 81 No 7, RAC Rally Supplement]

While the two Finnish drivers Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen are undoubtedly the bookies favourite for victory on this year’s Lombard RAC Rally, one of the best ‘outsiders’ must be another Finn, Henri Toivonen. Now aged 24, Henri is contracted to the Talbot team and drives a Sunbeam Lotus. Just two years ago, he brought his own, private Sunbeam to the RAC Rally and hit the headlines with ninth place overall. During the course of that event he climbed as high as sixth place at one point.

This year, Toivonen has had a mixed season. He has combined events in the World Rally Championship with events in our own Sedan Open Championship and has always shown speed, if not reliability. The car has only failed once, a broken axle in Portugal, but its young driver has ended several events off the road.

In the last few months, a more mature Toivonen has emerged. A sensational performance on the San Remo rally resulted in several fastest times and an acceptance of team orders. The young driver is learning all the time, and promises great things in the 1981 season.

At home in Finland, Henri drives in national championship events, keeps fit and runs his own workshop. A week before the RAC Rally start, we asked him to assess his chances of a win.

*          *          * 

Can you tell us about your car for the Lombard RAC Rally? Is there anything special about it?
Well, I hope so. We are working to get a new engine with bigger valves ready in time for the start of the event. That should give us about 15 or 20 more horsepower. Also, it should be a completely new car for the rally though we shall be using the same suspension settings as we did for the gravel stages in the San Remo, so that won’t be new. The suspension worked fantastically well on the San Remo and the balance of the car is just right. We have been working a lot with the anti-roll bars and we now have got them right.

Will you get a chance to test the car before the rally starts?
Yes, I should arrive in England about four days before the start and spend at least one day testing the car. If everything is alright then we will spend the rest of the time planning for next year.

Have you done much development with the car since the beginning of the year?
Well, really the car has been quite good from the very beginning of the year so we haven’t had to do that much. Most of the work has been for tarmac stages and there we have made a lot of improvements. We have worked on the springs, the shock absorber rates, the anti-roll bars and also we have put negative camber on the front wheels. This has helped a lot with the handling, which is now very good. The gravel settings worked quite well from the beginning, so we have just changed springs and the anti-roll bars. We’ve also gone over to bigger brakes for the last two rallies. The new engine power could be the most important thing. We are trying to get more power at the low revs, which should make a lot of difference to the gearing. If I can stay in one gear for a bit longer, I won’t need to change gear so often and that should be worth a few seconds a kilometre.

What tactics will you be using for the rally? Will you go flat out from the start, or wait for a few stages?
I’m not used to going fast on the ‘Mickey Mouse’ stages which make up the first day though the car is quite good for them. I think I will be careful on the first day and then wait for the real rally to begin in the forest. The most difficult bit will be in Kielder but I think that, for the first seven or eight stages, I will be looking and waiting.

Do all the spectators on the first day worry you?
I always worry about the spectators. I used to spectate myself when I was younger and so I know how dangerous it can be. It’s especially dangerous when the spectators get so close to the road that they can’t get out of the way in time. At least they should be far enough back so they have time to run if something does go wrong. I remember, on the Welsh Rally this year, I took a wide line at a hairpin and there was a man lying by the side of the road taking pictures. I mean, we came very close to him and all he did was put up an umbrella in front of his face. That may have been fine for the small stones, but it wouldn’t stop the big stones or a car. On those first stages, I may slow down for the spectators because it won’t mater so much if I lose two or three seconds.

Who will be the main opposition on the rally?
The first thing to remember is that the English forests are always best for the first six drivers through the stage. The surface of the stage gets steadily worse for the drivers behind and that will be a disadvantage for me. The tyres are so good they just break the track up. The obvious drivers are Hannu (Mikkola), Ari (Vatanen), Pentti (Airikkala) - though I’m not sure if he is starting - and Russell. Those guys will be up there among the top three. Also, of course, Timo Salonen who always goes well. Then there are drivers like Malcolm (Wilson) who is very dangerous now – and, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised to see old Grandfather, Timo Makinen, in the results. If he gets to the finish he will get a good result because he has such a fantastic memory for the roads.

Do you enjoy driving in the British Forests?
Yes, I enjoy it, but I don’t do enough rallies in Britain to go 100 percent on the RAC; not enough to go very fast anyway. I don’t think that I have done enough events to win the rally just by driving skill, for instance. If I win, it will be because I have a little bit of luck and some of the others have trouble. I mean, Hannu Mikkola knows the forests like the back of his hand so there is no use trying to drive to beat him. You have to wait for him to have trouble. Then you are in with a chance.

Are you happy with the way the season has gone?
I can’t say that I am very happy because I have made too many mistakes personally; particularly at the beginning of the year. Then, at the end of the year, I have had trouble with my co-driver and that hasn’t gone so well. Next year I will be more sensible, get a better co-driver and then I will be ready to win. The car is good enough. I am looking forward to the RAC Rally and then to Monte Carlo and 1981.

  Henri Toivonen Obituary [Rebel With a Cause, Motor, 7th May 1986, author: Martin Holmes]

Three months before he would have been thirty, Henri Toivonen crashed to his death, taking with him his American co-driver Sergio Cresto. Rally sport's rebel driver had achieved more by his mid-twenties than most professional drivers in their full careers, but most of all he proved that young drivers now belong in a business where it is the older men who have traditionally succeeded.

Toivonen began his career in the shadow of a famous father, the dominating figure of Pauli Toivonen whose greatest success (winning the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally for Citroen after the Minis had been excluded) was also his saddest. When Henri won the Monte Carlo Rally this year, Pauli's first words were "Now the name of Toivonen has been cleared".

However much Henri had been a rebel, his blood still held the lust for fast driving, but predictably his immense skill behind the wheel was marred by extraordinary lapses. Even his Monte Carlo win this year only came after a major accident en route...

Henri was a man of hidden depths of honesty, craziness and confusion. His unpredictability strained the trust of his colleagues, but one man believed in him even more than his family - that was Lancia's team chief Cesare Fiorio. Fiorio saw in Henri's eyes a genius waiting to be moulded and forgave the Finn some most inexcusable and expensive mistakes. In Henri there was plenty that was special. He was the youngest driver ever to win a World Championship rally, he had inspired a remarkable loyalty for many years, particularly in the Talbot World Championship rally team for whom he won the RAC in 1980.

The craziness had been there since childhood and went almost hand-in-hand with his confusion. As his talents became more obvious he became prey to outside influences which were less gratuitous than they appeared. He was courted by Rothmans who saw in him every quality they wanted from a contracted rally driver. To begin with, Toivonen found their demands annoying but accepted them for the sake of his career. Later they affected his driving and ultimately he could not wait to get out of their grasp, whatever the contractual complications. When things got worse, his marriage and his health began to fail. His only hope was the knowledge that one man in particular, Fiorio, believed in his future and was waiting for him to sort himself out.

It was Lancia's assurance of four-wheel drive that finally persuaded Henri to cut free his other ties and move south of the Alps. For a while he had to drive the Lancia 037, a model which did not suit his style. He suffered some predictable accidents - and one in particular that even he did not understand, in Costa Smeralda. That accident seemed so needless and inexplicable that is had an unnerving similarity with his final crash in Corsica. A back injury put him out of action for some time, and by the time of his recovery the four-wheel drive Delta S4 was almost ready to compete. Henri's honesty was always disarming, "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".

Rallying's little boy lost has gone. He never found answers to life's questions but there were signs he was on the way to recovery both physically and mentally. His accident may have been apparently needless, and it was tragic that it cost not only his life but that of Sergio Cresto as well, but it focused attention on the problems of the sport today, which many did not want to know about in the excitement of current rally-car designs. He died at the top of the sport, at a time which will probably be recalled as the golden age of rallying.

  aUTOSPORT 40th anniversary supplement [On the death of Henri Toivonen]

Mystery surrounded the death of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto on the 1986 Tour de Corse: no one saw the Lancia plunge from the hillside into the trees, and such was the intensity of the subsequent fire, there were no clues from the charred remains of the car's spaceframe. 

The date, May 4 (I believe this is a mis-print in the article), was already etched in the memory of rally fans, for one year earlier Attilio Bettega had been killed during the Corsican road race. The consequences of Toivonen's accident were sudden and far-reaching. Within hours FISA President Balestre cancelled the Group B supercar era. 

Henri broke onto the World scene in 1980, winning the RAC Rally in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. The raw talent was there, but a curious blend of impatience and a youthful, agressive will-to-win had denied him a frontline ride until he signed for Lancia. The character remained, but there was now maturity. 

A debut win for the Delta S4 on the RAC was followed by victory on the Monte. And in Corsica, car no 4 was utterly dominant, more than 2 minutes clear during the second day and still attacking, this despite Henri being stricken by severe flu prior to the rally start. At rest halts, the 29-year-old appeared almost in a daze. How he produced such speed, was almost beyond belief. It was a mystery which could have only been solved after the rally finish when the Finn would typically have relaxed and produced his background stories which journalists loved. 

Instead, the mystery was compounded. There was never such a dark day as that May morning. The news of the accident was received in almost stunned silence by the Lancia mechanics waiting at the end of the stage. Garbled messages crossed the air waves and, as the truth dawned, Henri's friends openly wept. A dear friend had been lost to us all. The following day, FISA killed his reason for being there at all. Things would never be the same again...

After the accident, a memorial stone was set up at the corner where Henri and Sergio lost their lives. Inevitably, there are always fresh flowers there, which prove that Henri will never be forgotten. Only recently did they put a guardrail there, but the stage is still used for the Tour de Corse. 

  Henri Toivonen feature [Rally, authors: Reinhard Klein / David Williams / Michel Lizin / Helmut Deinel]

When you're the son of Pauli Toivonen, a former winner of the Monte Carlo Rally and a European Rally Champion, how could you become anything but a rally driver yourself? Henri, the son of Pauli, never asked the question. He learnt to drive when he was five, began doing stunts for his friends on frozen lakes when he was 12, started competing - privately - when he was fifteen, but had to wait until he was eighteen and able to hold a driving licence before revealing his talent on a rally.

However, Henri was no "son of". He was supremely gifted in his own right, a man who adored sliding a car and created his own, unique driving style. Very few since have been able to imitate it. When he emerged as a shining star at World Championship level driving a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, Toivonen forced photographers to reconsider all their old habits: the Talbot driven by the Finnish acrobat was set up more forcefully and earlier than any other car but, above all, by the exit of the bend it was back in shape and hard on the power well before anything else.

The winner of the RAC Rally in 1980 at the age of twenty four, Toivonen did not immediately fulfil expectations. The whims of a spoilt child and a poor choice of team (he turned down Peugeot's offer to be the first driver of the 205T16) delayed the definitive flowering of his talent. In 1985/86 he almost literally struck like a thunderbolt, as one of the few drivers able to master the 450 bhp Lancia Delta S4. He won the RAC, then the Monte and had taken full command of the Tour of Corsica until he shot off the road and died, like his co-driver Sergio Cresto, when their car exploded.

  © 2005 Post 14 and listed sources