911 hero: Henri Toivonen

His relationship with the 911 was a short one, but this talented Finn added yet more victories to Porsche’s motorsport legend, this time on the rally stage Written by Chris Randall Photography courtesy Porsche Archive.

For aficionados of rallying, the name Henri Toivonen needs little introduction. Once the youngest winner of a World Championship event at the age of just 24, his life was cut cruelly short following a crash on the 1986 Tour de Corse at the wheel of the fearsome Lancia Delta S4. It was to spell the end of the Group B era, but we’re here to take a closer look at his links with the Porsche 911, and for that we have to head back 35 years.

Henri Toivonen

Henri Toivonen

With delays to the 959 that Porsche was developing for an allout assault on Group B, an interim project was needed, and it would involve David Richards and his company, Prodrive. Already keen to take Porsche rallying, he was handed five of the 20 911 SC RS cars that had been homologated and set about signing drivers. One of them would be Toivonen, and with Rothmans sponsorship the team embarked on the 1984 European Rally Championship with high hopes. Familiar with Richards from their time at Opel, the talented Finn made a steady start to the season, later bagging a 3rd and two 2nd places. With both car and driver hitting top form, Toivonen would take victory on the Costa Smeralda along with co-driver Juha Piironen. Seasoned campaigner Ian Grindrod was in the co-driver’s seat for the victory at Ypres, and then it was Piironen again for the win on the Madeira round before a back injury brought about an enforced lay-off. The missed events saw the Championship slip from his grasp, and he would finish the season in second place behind the eventual winner, Carlo Capone. In truth he was some way behind, but that aside he had reinforced his position as one of the world’s finest rally drivers, and proven the abilities of Prodrive and the mettle of the SC RS when it came to top-level motorsport. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to take the title the following year, as Toivonen swapped to Lancia.

Born in August 1956 in the Finnish town of Jyväskylä, motorsport was in Toivonen’s blood. His father Pauli had won the 1968 European Rally Championship in a Porsche 911T, but it was circuit racing that initially attracted the young Henri. He was as talented on the race track as he was to become on loose surfaces, taking part in a few Formula 3 races in a car run by Eddie Jordan, as well as testing a March F1 car. And just to prove the point, the SC RS wasn’t his only outing behind the wheel of a Porsche. For the Mugello round of the 1983 European Endurance Championship he partnered Derek Bell and Jonathan Palmer in a 956, where they finished 3rd. While that day in Corsica brought a tragic end to his short life, Henri Toivonen’s link with Porsche and the 911 is one that’s still fondly remembered decades later.

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