In Memory of Henri Toivonen, Attilio Bettega, and Sergio Cresto.

In memory of Henri Toivonen, Attilio Bettega, and Sergio Cresto

Henri Toivonen

Henri Toivonen Lancia Martini Team
Henri Toivonen Lancia Martini Team

Henri Pauli Toivonen was born on 25th August 1956. He was born in Jyvaskyla, a town famous for being the hometown of Rally Finland since 1951.

His father, Pauli Toivonen, was a successful rally driver with wins like Monte Carlo, 1000 lakes, and Acropolis rallies. He won the 1968 European Rally Champion for Porsche. He also drove cars for Citroen, and Lancia teams as well.

Due to these strong ties to rallying at an early age, Henri Toivonen learned to drive at an early age of only five years. He started the competition in circuit racing, and began with karts, and eventually won the Finnish Cup in touring cars.

Pauli and Henri Toivonen
Pauli and Henri Toivonen
Pauli Toivonen with his family 1963
Pauli Toivonen with his family 1963

He then switched to Formula Vee racing. Formula Vee or Formula Volkswagen is a famous open-wheel, single-seater junior motor racing platform. It was most famous for being cost-effective in comparison to Formula BMW or Formula Ford.

Following the family tradition, Henri and his brother Harri became professional race car drivers.

He won his first victory, one round of the Scandinavian Championship in his first year.

Henri then graduated to Formula Super Vee the following year and won a round of the European Championship and became the 1977 Finnish Champion in the Formula Vee class.

Henri Toivonen with his Formula Vee
Henri Toivonen with his Formula Vee

Due to safety concerns regarding circuit racing and the success his father had as a rally driver, eventually, lead Henri Toivonen embrace rally racing full time.

Henri Toivonene’s kart was purchased by the parents of Mika Hakkinen, who was only six years old at the time. Mika Hakkinen is now known as the Flying Finn and mostly for winning the 1998 and 1999 Formula One Driver’s Championship.

Toivonen wasn’t legally able to compete in rallying until he was 19 years of age, according to the Finnish legislation.

1975 Rally season

1000 Lakes Rally in 1975 marked the debut international rally championship debut for Henri Toivonen. His co-driver was Antero Lindqvist.

He drove a privately entered Simca Rallye 2 car and was forced to retire from the rally during the 36th special stage due to a broken sump.

Though he decided to become a full-time rally driver, he still focused on circuit racing as well.

1977 Rally season

1977 Rally Season Henri Toivonen driving a Chrysler Avenger
1977 Rally Season Henri Toivonen driving a Chrysler Avenger

He again competed in his second world rally tournament two years later and finished the rally with fifth place in the 1977 1000 Lakes Rally. He drove a Chrysler Avenger for this season.   

1978 Rally season

Henri Toivonen started his 1978 season at the Arctic Rally, which was the second round of the World Rally Drivers Championship and European Rally Championship.

He finished the Arctic Rally in second place, only 3 minutes and 41 seconds behind the winner, Markku Alen. Markku Alen won the Drivers’ Championship that year.

Henri Toivonen competed in two world rally events for Citroen but didn’t finish either of those events. Due to his exuberant driving style, a private rally team with Porsches offered him a Porsche car for the 1000 Lakes Rally. An engine failure led him to retire from the event.

Chrysler offered him a car with factory support for the Lombard RAC Rally. He finished ninth at the Lombard RAC rally.  

He won his first rally win at the Nordic Rally, an event in the Finnish Rally Championship.

1979 Rally season

1979 Ford Escort RS1800
1979 Ford Escort RS1800
ford escort mkii driven by henri toivonen
ford escort mkii driven by henri toivonen
Ford 1980 Escort MK2 Ex Henri Toivonen
Ford 1980 Escort MK2 Ex Henri Toivonen

Henri Toivonen went on to compete in fifteen rallies in the British, Finnish, and European Rally championships.

He drove a Fiat 131 Abarth in the 1000 Lakes Rally event and a Ford Escort RS in the Lombard RAC event. These two events were not successful by any means as he was forced to retire due to various technical and mechanical issues.

1979 RAC Rally
1979 RAC Rally

At the 1000 lakes event, he matched the pace of the top performers before retirement.

These performances eventually got the attention of the official Talbot competition team. He was given a temporary position in the team for the 1980 season.

1980 – 1981 Talbot

1980 Lombard RAC Rally Henri Toivonen and Paul White
1980 Lombard RAC Rally Henri Toivonen and Paul White

 Henri’s first season driving for the Talbot competition team was largely a trial and he started the 1980 season by winning the Arctic Rally in January.

He drove his Talbot Sunbeam Lotus in four selected World Rally Championship events.

1980 rally season
1980 rally season
Henry Toivonen in Olympus
Henry Toivonen in Olympus

His exuberant driving style in the rally stages often led to crashes and this resulted in losing the ground for competitors though he was pacing fast.

Talbot’s competition team decided to team him up with three different co-drivers during the 1980 season. Antero Lindqvist, the guy who acted as his co-driver in his debuted international rally event was one of them. Paul White and Neil Wilson were the others.

At the 1000 Lakes Rally, Henri Toivonen had a crash at the 11th special stage and this forced him to retire from the event.

At the next rally in San Remo, he was teamed up with his mate Antero Lindqvist and finished fifth in the whole event.

1980 Lombard RAC Rally
1980 Lombard RAC Rally

The turning point of his career was the Lombard RAC Rally. He was partnered with British Rally driver Paul White as his co-driver.

He won the Lombard RAC Rally with a lead of more than four minutes ahead of the runner-up Hannu Mikkola.

1980 RAC Rally
1980 RAC Rally
Henri Toivonen, 1980 RAC Rally
Henri Toivonen, 1980 RAC Rally

This unexpected victory surprised the spectators and the experts alike. Neither Talbot nor Henri Toivonen expected to win the event as well.

He became the youngest driver to win a WRC event at the age of 24 years and 86 days.

Paul White and Henri Toivonen (1)
Paul White and Henri Toivonen (1)
Talbot Sunbeam Henri Toivonen (2)
Talbot Sunbeam Henri Toivonen (2)

In his interview with the Autosport magazine, he mentioned

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

He held the record of the youngest driver to win a WRC event until 2008 when his countryman Jari Matti Latvala won the Swedish Rally at the age of 22.

Talbot Sunbeam Lotus driven by Henri Toivonen
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus driven by Henri Toivonen
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus driven by Henri Toivonen (2)
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus driven by Henri Toivonen (2)

It is mentioned in the RAC Rally Action book by Tony Gardiner, in an interview with Paul White, he mentioned that still receiving questions about Henri Toivonen and the 1980 RAC Rally even after such a long time, in comparison, the book was published in 2005.

He also commented on the way things ran in the Talbot Team. Talbot Team was run by Des O’Dell and 15 full-time personnel. It was small in comparison with the other works (manufacturer) competitive teams. They had to rely on mercenary mechanics to fix mechanical issues most of the time.

Talbot is a small team with limited resources that considered this RAC Rally victory as a God-given gift. They enlisted Henri Toivonen for another year.

In 1981, he was signed up for a larger WRC program and a new codriver, Fred Gallagher. Fred Gallagher was later partnered with Juha Kankkunen and Bjorn Waldegard in a Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo, according to the World Rally Archive.

Toivonen was driving a rear-wheel-drive Group 2 Sunbeam Lotus against Group4 cars and the all-wheel-drive rally demon, Audi Quattro.

Several mechanical failures and minor crashes resulted in four retirements, but he went on to win second place at the Rally Portugal and San Remo.

He also won fifth place at the Monte Carlo Rally.

These wins resulted in seventh place overall in the Driver’s World Championship.

He was teamed up with a consistent teammate Guy Frequelin, a French rally driver. This combination resulted in winning the Manufacturer’s title for Talbot.

He also competed in the last round of the British Open Rally Championship, the Audi Sports International Rally, and ended up winning it.

1982 -1983 Opel

Henri Toivonen-Fred Gallagher, Opel Ascona 400
Henri Toivonen-Fred Gallagher, Opel Ascona 400

Henri Toivonen switched to Rothmans sponsored Opel team, managed by David Richards.

He was teamed with Ari Vatanen, who had won the previous year’s championship with David Richards as his co-driver.

Another notable teammate was Walter Rohrl, the 1980 and 1982 world champion, along with Jimmy McRae, the previous year’s British Rally Champion.

Henri Toivonen-Fred Gallagher, Opel Ascona 400
Henri Toivonen-Fred Gallagher, Opel Ascona 400

He drove an Opel Ascona 400 in Portugal rally stages and ended up performing in a spectacular manner, but retired five stages from the finish. The cause for the retirement was a broken clutch.

He competed in four major WRC events and finished on the podium twice at the RAC Rally and Acropolis Rally.

In the European Rally Championship, he participated in four rallies, with three podium finishes and one retirement.

He also made a guest appearance in one round of the British Formula Three circuit racing championship, where he finished tenth driving a Ralt RT3.

For March Grand Prix, he participated in a Formula One time attack test at the Silverstone circuit and was 1.4 seconds faster than Raul Boesel, the regular driver of the team.

OPEL MANTA B 400 GROUP-B HENRI TOIVONEN
OPEL MANTA B 400 GROUP-B HENRI TOIVONEN

For the 1983 season, an Opel Manta 400 was chosen instead of the older Opel Ascona 400 of the previous year.

The Manta 400 was a Group B car and it was underpowered against the likes of Audi Quattro A2, and Lancia 037. Still, he won a round of the British Open Rally Championship and the European Rally Championship, in the Isle of Man, at his first attempt. 

Henri Toivonen -Opel Manta 400
Henri Toivonen -Opel Manta 400

He also finished first at the Mille Pistes rally in France but was disqualified when the organizers decided to ban Group B cars halfway through the event. Due to this, Henri Toivonen and his co-driver, Ian Grindrod, received only a consolation trophy.

In the World Rally Championship, he retired from three rallies but finished sixth at the Monte Carlo Rally and fourth place at the Rallye San Remo.

Opel Manta 400 - Toivonen
Opel Manta 400 – Toivonen
Staarvey stage of the 1983 Manx rally
Staarvey stage of the 1983 Manx rally
Lombard RAC Rally 1983
Lombard RAC Rally 1983
1983 Opel Manta 400
1983 Opel Manta 400

 

He also drove a Ferrari 308 GTB at the San Marino Rally with Juha Piironen as his co-driver. They retired from the event, but Juha Piironen became his main codriver for the next two seasons.

In late October, he competed in circuit racing. He drove a Porsche 956 for Richard Lloyd Racing in the European Endurance Championship.  Practiced but didn’t compete at Imola and won third place at the Mugello race.

Henri Toivonen scored ten starts, two podiums, and three other top finishes amid five retirements with the Opel team.

 1984 Porsche

Henri left the Opel team for the 1984 season. He was contacted by the Peugeot Talbot Sport team for World Rally Championship events, but he decided to sign up with the Porsche factory team which was supported by Rothmans.

The Porsche 911 SC RS was the rally competitor for the 1984 season. The team was managed by Prodrive, a motorsport group set up by David Richards, former team manager of the Opel team.

1984 rally season
1984 rally season

He started the season with two retirements, a third and a second place, and went on to compete in five rallies nonstop and scored more points than the Lancia driver Carlo Capone, having the best possibility of winning the driver’s world championship, but the campaign ended with Henri getting a back injury and an enforced rest period of approximately two months. During this medical rest period, he lost many key events but still had enough points to become the runner-up of the World Driver’s championship behind Capone.  

1984 1000pistes
1984 1000pistes
1984 porsche 911 henri toivonen (1)
1984 porsche 911 henri toivonen (1)
1984 porsche 911 henri toivonen (2)
1984 porsche 911 henri toivonen (2)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (1)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (2)
1984 Porsche Henri Toivonen (2)
Henri Toivonen, circuit of ireland 1984
Henri Toivonen, circuit of ireland 1984
porsche 1984
porsche 1984
Henri Toivonen Porsche 1984
Henri Toivonen Porsche 1984

Cesare Fiorio, Lancia team boss, impressed with Henri Toivonen’s performance at the 1984 season rally events, decided to negotiate a deal with him to use his skills as a rally car driver.

When enlisting Henri Toivonen, Lancia already had two world rally champions in their arsenal, Markku Alen and Jean Claude Andruet. Cesare Fiorio wanted another driver to compete against Audi with four world-class drivers in their team.

Henri Toivonen signed a WRC contract with Lancia Martini to perform as one of their drivers in five events. He made his debut race for Lancia behind the wheels of a Lancia 037 in Portugal without much practicing due to schedule conflicts as well as weather.

1984 Rally Portugal
1984 Rally Portugal

However, similarly to his Opel Ascona 400 debut two years ago, Toivonen immediately took the lead and set several fastest rally stage times before retiring due to a miscalculation which resulted in a massive crash.

Lancia 037 in the hands of Henri Toivonen
Lancia 037 in the hands of Henri Toivonen

Another retirement happened in Greece, but he finished third in 1000 Lakes Rally,

Lancia 037 driven by Henri Toivonen
Lancia 037 driven by Henri Toivonen

His back injury forced him to retire from the San Remo and RAC rallies completely.

Before the San Remo event, Markku Alen resigned with Lancia and Fiorio wanted to sign a similar two-year contract with Toivonen depending on the condition of his back and his contractual situation with the Rothman Porsche team, who were claiming that Henri had already resigned with them.

However, Henri Toivonen decided to become a full-time Lancia driver for the 1985 season.

1985 – 1986 Lancia

Lancia 037 crash Henri Toivonen Juha Piironen Lancia Rally (2)
Lancia 037 crash Henri Toivonen Juha Piironen Lancia Rally (2)
Lancia 037 crash Henri Toivonen Juha Piironen Lancia Rally (1)
Lancia 037 crash Henri Toivonen Juha Piironen Lancia Rally (1)

The 1985 season wasn’t good for Toivonen or Lancia team. Toivonen crashed his Lancia 037 into a brick wall at the Rally Costa Smeralda, in the European Championship. This caused his serious spinal injury and breaking three vertebrae in his neck.

At the beginning of May, Lancia driver Attilio Bettega crashed fatally during the fourth special stage at the Tour de Corse. 

Lancia 037 of Attilio Bettega at 1984 Rally Portugal
Lancia 037 of Attilio Bettega at 1984 Rally Portugal

In Corsica, when he lost control of his Lancia 037 and crashed into a tree which simply ruptured into the driver’s seat, killing him instantly. This accident happened on the 2nd of May 1985.

Attilio_Bettega
Attilio_Bettega
Attilio_Bettega Lancia 037 crash
Attilio Bettega Lancia 037 crash

His co-driver Maurizio Perissinot survived the crash without any injury.

This crash resulting in a re-evaluation of the safety aspects of Group B cars.

Attilio Bettega was known for being dedicated and he was favored by the Lancia team boss for his dedication and down-to-earth nature. Though he wasn’t as successful as Toivonen was, he was still good enough and respected by the spectators to earn a place in the hearts of the rally enthusiasts.

His son Alessandro still competes in rally stages from time to time. Alessandro Bettega won the Ford Focus World Rally Car prize which was held in Corsica. He drove past the place his father died after stopping to place flowers at his memorial during the race. That rally marked his best career results as a rally driver. 

Toivonen made a comeback from his injuries at the 1000 Lakes Rally in August and finished fourth.

Henri Toivonen driving Lancia 037 at the 1000 lakes rallye
Henri Toivonen driving Lancia 037 at the 1000 lakes rallye
1985 Henri Toivonen in the Lancia at 1000 Lakes Rally
1985 Henri Toivonen in the Lancia at 1000 Lakes Rally

The next rally was the San Remo Rally. He won third place in that event. It was the last race he competed behind the steering wheel of the Lancia 037.

henri toivonen lancia 037
henri toivonen lancia 037

The Lancia 037 was a rear-wheel-drive car and it couldn’t compete with all-wheel-drive cars such as the Peugeot or Audi. It had only 325 horsepower at its disposal in comparison to Audi Quattro’s 500 horsepower and Peugeot’s 440 horsepower.

LANCIA 1982-1985 037 GROUP-B HENRI TOIVONEN & SERGIO CRESTO
LANCIA 1982-1985 037 GROUP-B HENRI TOIVONEN & SERGIO CRESTO

It didn’t suit Toivonen’s exuberant driving style as well.

The replacement for the Lancia Rally 037 was unveiled for the final event of the 1985 season, the RAC Rally.

Lancia Delta S4 of Henri Toivonen (FI) and Sergio Cresto
Lancia Delta S4 of Henri Toivonen (FI) and Sergio Cresto

The Delta S4 was superior to the Lancia Rally 037 in many ways. It had all-wheel drive and was supercharged, turbocharged, and twin-intercooled to deliver 600 horsepower. 

The twin charge, both supercharged and turbocharged setup resulted in an increase in performance at lower rpm levels and higher rpm levels without experiencing any lag of performance.

Lancia Delta S4 of Henri Toivonen at 1985 RAC Rally
Lancia Delta S4 of Henri Toivonen at 1985 RAC Rally
Lombard RAC Rally 1985
Lombard RAC Rally 1985
Lombard RAC Rally 1985 1
Lombard RAC Rally 1985 1
RAC RALLY 1985
RAC RALLY 1985
RAC 1985 Henri Toivonen Delta S4
RAC 1985 Henri Toivonen Delta S4

The car could reach 0-60mpph in 2.3 seconds on a gravel road.

The car debuted for the last event of the season, the RAC Rally in the hands of Henri Toivonen. The Delta Stradale S4 proved to be successful and lead Toivonen to victory with a lead of 56 seconds. It also drove Markku Alen to second place.

Henri Toivonen and his co-pilot Sergio Cresto drove a Lancia Delta S4. This car had the same number as Bettega’s car, number 4.

Although he competed in only four world rallies in 1985, his results placed him in sixth overall in the World Rally Championship. These was his career-best results as well.

1986 Monte Carlo Rally
1986 Monte Carlo Rally
1986 Monte Carlo Rally (2)
1986 Monte Carlo Rally (2)

 

Lancia Delta S4 1986 monte carlo rally
Lancia Delta S4 1986 monte carlo rally
Lancia Delta S4 1986 monte carlo rally
Lancia Delta S4 1986 monte carlo rally
Rally Montecarlo 1986
Rally Montecarlo 1986
Lancia Team 1986
Lancia Team 1986
Henri Toivonen driving Lancia Delta S4
Henri Toivonen driving Lancia Delta S4

1986 season started with the Monte Carlo Rally win for Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto behind the wheel of Lancia Delta Stradale S4.

Timo Salonen and Hannu Mikkola finished in second and third place.

This even was personally important to the Toivonen family as Pauli Toivonen, Henri’s father had won the event twenty years earlier after ten cars, including the first four to cross the finishing line, were disqualified for not having non-standard headlights. This incident caused a massive uproar and Prince Rainier of Monaco refused to attend the price-giving ceremony over this. Pauli Toivonen commented that “now the name of Toivonen has been cleared” after Henri’s victory.

The Monte Carlo win made him the most possible to win the 1986 Drivers Championship, but at the next rally, the Swedish Rally he was forced to retire from the lead due to an engine failure of his car.

The next rally was in Portugal, and everything went wrong in that rally.

Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200 on a special stage and plunged into the spectators. This accident killed three spectators on the spot and injured more than 30. Many of the injured received life-threatening injuries. 

Joquaim Santos Ford RS 2000 accident that killed 30 people
Joaquim Santos Ford RS 2000 accident that killed 30 people

After the incident, Henri Toivonen and other factory drivers decided to withdraw from the race, but Lancia disapproved of the retirement but eventually decided to withdraw from the tragic event.

During the Portugal rally, Toivonen often tested his Lancia Delta S4 at the Estoril circuit and was able to set the fastest lap time that would have qualified him in the sixth position at the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix. This claim was later confirmed by Ninni Russo who stated that Henri Toivonen set a lap time that was within the first ten of the F1 cars from their test at the Estoril circuit. Read more about that here.

Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto
Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto
Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto
Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto

Death

1986 Tour de Corse
1986 Tour de Corse
1986 Henri Toivonen and Sergi Cresto
1986 Henri Toivonen and Sergi Cresto

The 1986 Tour de Corse, a world rally held on narrow and twisty mountain roads around the island of Corsica, began on the 1st of May.

Henri Toivonen was suffering from flu but insisted that he could drive because he wanted to regain the championship lead that he lost during the last three rallies, at first retiring the car in Swedish Rally, withdrawing from the Portugal event following the deaths of spectators, Toivonen not competing in the Kenyan Safari Rally.

The S4 Stradale competed in every major rally event that year except the Safari Rally in Kenya. The reason for not using the car in Safari Rally was due to the Lancia ruling that it was not developed enough to endure the extremely demanding and grueling rally stages of the Safari Rally in Kenya.

This resulted in reusing the retired Rally 037 cars for Markku Alen, Massion Biasion, and three local drivers who were participating in this event regularly.

Henri Toivonen eventually convinced his team manager Cesare Fiorio that he could race despite the ill health.

Despite all the health-related disadvantages, he was winning stage after stage and lead the 1017km rally by a large margin.

After the first day of the Tour de Corse rally, Toivonen complained about the car being too overpowered, too fast, and hard to balance on the road. The 600 horsepower Lancia Delta S4 was hard to balance on the road and the 0-60mph achieved in 2.3 seconds was too much acceleration for rallying stages. Many of the Group B rally car drivers also shared these concerns.

Even though he was suffering from flu, Toivonen was leading the rally with an advantage of 2 minutes and 45 seconds over the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 driven by Bruno Saby and Jean Francois Fauchille.

Before getting to his car to compete in the 18th stage, the Corte-Taverna of the 1986 Tour de Corse, Henri gave a short interview and in it, he said that it was hard to keep up with the speed after driving for four hours straight and covering more than the whole distance of the 1000 Lakes Rally in one day because it was physically and mentally exhausting.  Read more here.

During the second day of the event on Friday, 2nd of May, at the seventh kilometer of the 18th stage, Corte Taverna, Henri Toivonen’s Lancia went off the side of the road at a tight hairpin corner with no guardrail.

The accident happened approximately at 14 hours and 58 minutes on Friday, 2nd of May 1986.

Henri Toivonen lost control of his Lancia Delta S4 after hitting a small wall in a fast left bend.

The car suddenly went off the road on the right side, plunged down a ravine, and landed on its roof.

The tree branches ruptured the aluminum fuel tank underneath the driver’s seat and the car exploded. 

After the incident it came to light that the fuel tank wasn’t protected by a skid plate, an item used mainly on gravel rallies, justifying Lancia’s decision not to include it on all asphalt Tour de Corse.

Unfortunately, there were no marshals or spectators nearby to lend assistance.

Both Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto died in their seats.

The fuel tank exploded within seconds of the crash, Henri Toivonen, and his co-driver Sergio Cresto would not have had time to get out of the car if they were alive.

Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (1)
Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (1)
Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (2)
Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (2)
Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (3)
Lancia Delta S4 crash Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto (3)

First racers to arrive in the place of the accident, Bruno Saby and Miki Biasion, the drivers of the Peugeot 205 GT 16 who were leading the race behind the Toivonen and Cresto.

Bruno Saby and his co-driver Miki Biasion found the wreckage and the bodies of both driver and codriver still trapped in their seats and burned to death.

The fire caused by the explosion was so intense that the Lancia Delta S4 which was built out of a strong and heat-resistant Kevlar-reinforced carbon fiber body quickly caught fire and burnt down to the shell, which was hard to recognize as a car afterward.

Toivonen left behind his wife Erja, whom he married back in 1982, and their two young children, son Markus and daughter Arla. Sergio Cresto was single with no children when the accident happened.

Sergio Cresto
Sergio Cresto

Sergio Cresto was an American by birth and was a native of New York. However, he has lived at Ospedaletti near San Remo, Italy since he was four years old. He was born to an Italian American father and a German mother. His father had divorced from his mother and remarried four times after he was born.

Being Italian, he wasn’t interested in getting married and was only interested in racing.

He started his career in Rally racing in 1976, acting as the co-driver to Amedeo Gerbimo in an Opel Kadett GT/E Group 1 car. In the 1978 season, he raced alongside Livio Lorenzelli. Later in the season, he won the 3rd overall position in Giro Automobilistico D’Italia, co-driving to Leo Pittoni and Renzo Magnani in a Lancia Stratos.

He became the co-driver to Antonio Tognana in 1979 in an Opel Kadett GT/E Group 1 car. They went on to win the Opel Italia Championship. Then they drove a Fiat Abarth 131R for the 1980 and 1981 season.

In the 1982 season, he teamed up with Franco Cunico in a Fiat Abarth Ritmo 75 Group 2 car. In the 1983 season, he teamed up with Michee Cinotto and Andrea Zanussi in a Lancia rally 037 for the Tre Gazelle racing team.

Squadra Corse HF Lancia team hired him to act as the co-driver to Carlo Capone in a Lancia Rally 037. Carlo Capone and Sergio Cresto went on to win five outright rally victories in the season, the Boucle de Spa Rally in Belgium, Rally Race Costa Blanca in Spain, Rally Albena Zlatni Piassatzi Silven in Bulgaria, Halkidiki Rally in Greece, and Rallye d’Antibes in France.

He acted as the co-driver to Attilio Bettega in the World Rally Championship, achieving 4th place in the Rally Acropolis and 7th place in Tour de Corse.

In 1985 he was teamed up with Andrea Zanussi, winning the Rally d’Antibes and second place in Rallye de Catalunya.

These wins resulted in getting the attention of Cesare Fiorio. Cesare Fiorio invited him to team up with Henri Toivonen for the 1986 season.

Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto spent a long time in Finland during winter training for the upcoming events.

Henri Toivonen Sergio Cresto
Henri Toivonen Sergio Cresto
henri tovionen
henri tovionen
henri toivonen and sergio cresto
henri toivonen and sergio cresto
Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto
Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto

They went on to win the 1986 Rallye de Monte Carlo. The following Swedish Rally wasn’t successful as they were forced to retire due to an engine failure. They won the Costa Smeralda Rally.

It was found later that Sergio Cresto had made a will, writing on a piece of paper as he sat at the “Chez Walter” bar in Casamozza, near Bastia, while sitting with Henri Toivonen and other Lancia team members, only ten days before his death.

According to his will, his ashes were scattered in the sea off San Remo. 

The mystery behind the incident

Henri Toivonen’s crash led to a proper investigation to determine the cause of the accident.

There were no witnesses of the crash and the remains of the car were merely blackened space frame.

 It was caught on tape by a spectator further down the stage, but it proved to be impossible to determine the cause of the crash from the footage.

However, according to this armature filmmaker, it could have been caused by the rupture of the gas tank which resulted in the explosion of the car which was largely made out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, and a considerable amount of magnesium alloy. Magnesium alloy is famous for quickly catching fire and for being hard to extinguish.

Toivonen’s crew didn’t know about the crash and only started to fear that something might have happened after he failed to arrive from the stage on schedule.

The next rally crew who was behind both Peugeot 205 and Lancia team came through the stage and mentioned that they had seen some black smoke and it could be a competitor in trouble.

This resulted in organizers sending search and rescue crews to the crash scene, and when they arrived, they could only put down the flames, which had been fanned by breezes.

When Lancia technicians and engineers investigated the crash scene, they could not determine the cause for the crash because the remains of the car were burned to crisps.

According to the Henri Toivonen Biography book written by Witolda Maruszewska, At least one person who attended the aftermath of the crash went on to report that there were no skid marks on the tarmac. This resulted in some speculating that Toivonen could have suddenly lost consciousness at the wheel.

Walter Rohl later confirmed that Toivonen was taking medicine for his flu.

Malcolm Wilson, a fellow driver claimed that since the neck injuries and back injuries sustained in his Costa Smeralda crash, Toivonen had suffered from random blackouts and didn’t tell his team because he did not want to lose his place at Lancia. This was mentioned in an interview he did with Motorsport News.

The Aftermath

Within a couple of hours of Henri Toivonen’s and Sergio Cresto’s death, Jean Marie Balestre, president of the FISA decided to ban Group B cars from competing in any sports event in the 1987 season.

The Group S rallying which was in the planning stage was also canceled and this led to manufacturers being stuck with cars that they could not race.

Audi and Ford decided to withdraw from Group B racing immediately, but other teams went on to compete until the end of the season.

Tour de Corse continued the next day and Bruno Saby won the event with his Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2 car.

Prior to the accidents like Joaquim Santos, an American rally driver crashing his Ford RS2000 to a group of spectators killing three and wounding more than thirty with life-threatening injuries, and Henri Toivonen’s crash which resulted in his and his co driver’s death, many drivers and commentators had warned of accidents caused by drivers not being able to handle the cars due to extreme acceleration and too much power and torque.

FISA was criticized by the drivers and commentators for not doing something until it was too late.

To address these accusations, FISA led an official investigation of these claims. They later provided that the driver’s reactions were too slow to keep up with the speed of the Group B cars, and the driver’s eyes cannot adjust to focus fast enough in between the fast corners, resulting in the tunnel vision.

FISA was accused of overreacting to Toivonen’s and Sergio Cresto’s deaths because high-speed racing was far more attractive to the spectators and was more popular among spectators than ever.   

Some former race car drivers consider that banning the Group B racing wasn’t necessary, as much tighter crowd control and necessary precautions taken to ensure driver’s life would have eventually solved the problem. But, many drivers of the day were consistently complaining that their cars were too fast to drive and too powerful to handle in tight hairpin corners and gravel roads.

From1987 onwards, World Rally Championship was reserved only for Group A and Group N cars.

Legacy

Circuit Racing

sergio cresto and henri toivonen memorial
sergio cresto and henri toivonen memorial

Toivonen was known mainly for his exuberant driving style and was known for being competitive on loose and tarmac surfaces. On loose surfaces such as dirt, sand, snow, and ice can be tricky to maintain a constant speed while staying on course.

Henri Toivonen though decided to become a full-time rally driver due to his family concerns regarding the safety aspects of circuit racing, went on to compete in some circuit racing events. He was successful in the European Endurance Championship event and also in few races for Eddie Jordan’s British Formula Three Championship team.

Eddie Jordan often compared Toivonen to Ayrton Senna. After the accident, he went on to claim that if they had Henri in their arsenal, their team would have won Gran Prix without any doubt.

World Rally Championship career

Toivonen competed in forty world rally events. He scored 185 stage wins and retiring 22 times due to mechanical issues and crashes.

He was at the peak of his career when he was behind the wheel of Lancia Delta S4 Stradale. This was mainly due to being in possession of a car that really offered both performance and competitive suitability for his driving style.

Toivonen admitted to his friends and teammates about the problems with the car.

Once he told that “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.”

Cesare Fiorio later went on to claim that Henri Toivonen was the only driver who could really control the Delta S4.

Toivonen complained about the car several times during TC interviews, and often commented on how difficult it was to drive particularly on the tarmac where more power could be delivered, making the car too faster in such conditions.

Motor Magazine, a British weekly car magazine, published an obituary with the title “Rebel with a Cause”. This article was published five days after the crash.

That article focused on his victories and crashes.

Toivonen was buried in Espoo, where his family used to live when he was very young.

In Corsica, a marble slab dedicated to him and Sergio Cresto was placed at the curve where he drove out. This memorial is famous for always having an unopened bottle of Martini, a reference to the Martini-sponsored Lancia factory team.

The 1986 Rally Marca Trevigiana was titled” Memorial Henri Toivonen” in honor of him two months after his death. Henri Toivonen’s father, brother, and recently widowed wife Erja was among the spectators. They also acted as the starters of the rally.

At about two kilometers after crossing the starting line of the stage, located in the village of Combai, near Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso, the Renault R5 GT Turbo Group N car driven by Bruno Baldan and his co-driver Roberto Sabbio was acting as the navigator, suddenly went out of control. It crashed on the right side into one of the trees that lined the road.

This accident occurred during the third special stage Monte Cesen, on 12th of July 1986 afternoon.

Roberto Sabbion, the co-driver, suffered a broken neck and died upon impact. Bruno Baldan received minor injuries and was treated at the hospital and released.

After the accident, the special fourth stage was immediately stopped, and all the rally stages that were supposed to held that day were canceled.

Mario Pasetti and Roberto Stradiotto in a Lancia Rally 037 were declared as winners due to being in the lead at the end of the third stage.

Five years later driver Bruno Balden passed the final judgment and was guilty of manslaughter. 

Bruno Balden decided to quit rallying knowing that it was his error that caused the accident. Ten years later he came back to rallying from time to time. He passed away in November 2016.

Michele Mouton of Peugeot gave an interview after the tragedy and according to her, she and her co-driver Farbrizia Pons in their Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 had marked the bend with double exclamation marks in her pace notes.

In 1988, Michele Mouton organized the first Race of Champions to commemorate her former rival. Michele Mouton is one of the most celebrated women in rally racing with several stage wins and also the only woman to win a World Rally Championship. She used to be a permanent driver for the Audi team and Peugeot team.

The Race of Champions was initially restricted to rally drivers but became famous with the inclusion of Formula One and NASCAR racing drivers.

Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy is still awarded to the winner of the individual event every year.

Peugeot’s Rally Challenge also offers a trophy called Henri Toivonen’s grand Attack Trophy.

His brother, Hari Toivonen quit his racing career in 2002, ending the 40 years racing history of the Toivonen family.

Coincidence or something else was in the play?

Attilio_Bettega Rallye Sanremo 1979
Attilio_Bettega Rallye Sanremo 1979
Attilio Bettega monument
Attilio Bettega monument

The death of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto happened exactly a year later after the accident that claimed the life of Attilio Bettega, during the 1985 Tour de Corse rally.

He crashed into a tree after losing control of his Lancia 037. The tree ruptured into the driver’s side killing him instantly, and his co-driver Maurizio Perissinot escape uninjured. Their car carried competition number 4.

Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto raced a Lancia Delta S4 Stradale sporting the same competition number and their accident also happened in Corsica exactly one year after the crash that killed their former teammate. 2nd of May, 1986 at 14 56 local times.

Before teaming up with Henri Toivonen, Cresto used to be Attilio Bettega’s co-driver and the pair competed in World Rally Championship for the 1984 season.

Ten days before the accident, Sergio Castro had written his will on a piece of paper as he sat at the “Chez Walter” bar in Casamozza near Bastia. He was with Toivonen and other Lancia team members and mechanics at the time.  According to his will, his ashes were scattered in the sea off San Remo.

It’s like he knew what was waiting for him down the road.

About one and half a month later, on the 21st of June 1986, Giacomo Maggi, a test driver of the Lancia sports development program, died in a crash involving an experimental Lancia LC2 prototype while testing it at a Fiat owned test track of La Mandria near Turin.

This eventually resulted in the demise of Lancia’s involvement in sports car racing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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