DAVID EVANS

“Maki­nen con­trolled the mo­ment”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

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.

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