Four classic Minis, one rally champion, a big frozen lake, plenty of nature surrounding us, and a whole day to spend in this wonderful location. Better yet, Rauno Aaltonen, the “rally professor”, was going to be our coach for the day, teaching us all the basic tips and tricks like left-foot braking and how to properly flick like a Scandinavian.
The man, who is 82 years old today, lives up to his statement that “You can do anything you want, if you believe in yourself.” It’s a bit of a cliché, but if you’ve lived his life then how could it ring with any more truth? He is filled with passion, love, and possesses a level of dedication to his driving that hasn’t seemed to ebb as he’s aged. Rauno has many stories to tell, and somewhere in between them you’ll always find that you’re getting a few tips on how to drive and how to live your life in general. Conversations quickly dart from vehicle dynamics to philosophy.
1. Use the benefits of the front-engined vehicle on ice.
While a rear-wheel drive car can be persuaded to slide using just the throttle, a front-wheel drive, with its natural tendency to understeer, requires a different approach that relies more heavily on weight transfer and momentum (both in terms of the car’s speed and the motor’s).
2. Minis do not need to be mini.
And what are the resulting advantages of this concept? Rauno adds: “The advantage is that while all others need a long time to steer, the Mini acts immediately. Therefore it has a strong advantage over the higher-performance vehicles, as the Mini can bring the power quicker to the gravel and drive off before the others are gaining grip again.”
3. Driver’s position.
Apart from needing to sit as straight and pressing your shoulders as tight as possible to the backrest, it is important to have a 45° angle bend of your arms when positioned on the left & right (9 / 3) of the steering wheel. If you stretch out your forearm it should be able to sit on top of the steering wheel. Finally, when pushing the pedal, your legs should not be fully extended. Rest your left foot on the footrest whenever you can to gain additional stability.
Snow tires are made of softer rubber than all-weather tires, which gives them a better grip on the road. Snow tires also have specially designed tread patterns to provide better traction on ice and snow. The tyres are special ice racing studded tyres with long spikes. This gives the participants the experience of feeling a stronger centrifugal force and encountering the problems and recovery of high-speed slides and drifts. This will help later in unforeseen tight situations on normal roads in everyday traffic or in rallies.
5. Handling the perfect drift in a Mini.
As soon as the car starts drifting you just continue accelerating and the Mini just magically returns to the centre, giving you more grip and confidence than you’d expect from such a small car.
Rauno explains his love for the Mini, as well as why he’s become convinced that it’s the perfect rally car: “You can see from the outside whether a car is sporty and capable of being quick for rallying. A short overhang in front and a mild to non-existent overhang at the rear, with the wheels standing as far outside as they can, is a good place to start. Moreover, the vehicle must be very light and small. A Mini was at that time the only production vehicle with a transversely-mounted engine that allowed the construction of a car with very short overhangs in the front.“
A warm and energetic personality, a deep passion for rallying, and immense talent combine to make both Rauno a very inspiring coach.