On this day, 22 years ago, world rallying lost its top driver of the time, and I lost my childhood hero. Henri Toivonen crashed on the Tour de Corse, his Lancia Delta S4 caught fire, and he and his co-driver Sergio Cresto were both killed. He was just 29 years of age; I was 12.
Toivonen, the son of Monte Carlo Rally winner Pauli, was a flawed genius. His spectacular driving style meant that he was often able to score victories in two-wheel-drive machinery, even in an era of Audi Quattros, but it also meant that he was prone to scrapes and incidents.
His character encouraged the latter, too. I remember him injuring himself during the Circuit of Ireland one year, not in the rally car but on a kart track he’d visited mid-event.
The S4 was the car that was supposed to bring him the titles he’d looked likely to claim after winning the RAC Rally in 1980. Henri, finally freed from the shackles of a Rothmans contract that had hampered him throughout much of the early 1980s, won the RAC again on the Delta’s debut in 1985, then started the fateful 1986 season with Monte Carlo Rally glory. He was leading the Tour de Corse – a tarmac event, not the natural surface for a Finn - by over two minutes when he crashed.
Just as F1 reinvented itself after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in 1994, so rallying went through a revamp following Toivonen’s accident. Group B cars like the Delta were banned from the end of 1986, prompting technical changes that eventually brought us to the World Rally Cars the sport uses today.
The speeds are higher now than they were in 1986, but the cars are safer; co-driver Michael Park’s death on the 2006 Rally GB was the first at WRC level since that fateful day in 1986.
But if the sport has moved on, why am I marking this day? Purely because this was the moment, 22 years ago, when I realised that heroes are not immortal.