“Makinen controlled the moment”
Tommi Makinen is a master of intonation. Always has been. Whether he knows it or not, he has the ability to grab the attention and hold it with just one or two words. That’s what he did last week.
With the World Rally Championship arriving just half an hour from the Finn’s Puuppola factory – the base for Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC bid – he took time out in Jyvaskyla to outline the team’s progress and answer some questions. And there were lots of questions. Naturally, the four-time champion eschewed the negative and accentuated the positive throughout the hour or so we were in his company. At the end of the roundtable chat, a certain amount of meat had been put on the bones. But there remained a feeling that still we were missing some key ingredients for what would be coming next year.
One thing is quite apparent, however: Makinen is showing himself to be a strong leader. When he was driving, Tommi was always a willing and amenable interviewee. Providing there was time, he was happy to share his thoughts, but his message often lay as much in what he didn’t say as what he did.
Having finished talking about the departure of suspension engineer Michael Zotos – a fairly hot topic and one for which Tommi provided a valid explanation – Makinen was keen to direct conversation elsewhere. He did it with two words: our, target. The first word came out loud, long and heavy with his accent. Target was dispatched quickly, quietly and with a softness which drew us all in, metaphorically and physically – to a man we all leaned forward.
“Our target,” he said, pausing to ensure he had everybody’s eye, “is to build ever better cars together.” Pause. Mass anticipation, there must be more to come. Breath from Makinen… there is, here it comes. Our real target,” pause, “is to build this together with all team working together.”
Pause. Zen-like. We were all rooted and transfixed. Nobody spoke. Was there more?
Makinen controlled the moment, holding everybody’s stare until he as clearly starting to think it was a bit odd. “That’s it,” he said.
There was some slightly nervous, awkward laughter around the table. This wasn’t some scripted, slick presentation – this was off-the-wall and coming from the left side of the field.
Why didn’t we get to look around the factory? Why didn’t we get a ride in the car? What about the bore, the stroke? Why, at times, did it feel like we were a roomful of rabbits caught in one very big headlight?
The assumption was of a team in trouble, but who’s to say that. This time last year, the team didn’t exist. Now it’s running three World Rally Cars around the world while designing and building another one.
We wanted more information, but Makinen’s not duty-bound to tell us anything.
With or without his expert intonation.