Mikkola and Vehkonen: Carrying a Nation

Amazingly, while Scandinavian neighbour Sweden dominated the sport of motocross for a number of years in the 1950s and 1960s, the country of Finland didn’t have a large number of World Champions and GP winners.

Obviously, the greatest Finnish rider of all time was Heikki Mikkola, who burst onto the scene in 1972 when he finished third in the World 500cc Championship behind two legends, Roger De Coster and Paul Friedrichs. Mikkola would be the first rider from his country to make the top three in a GP season and his confidence grew with such an achievement.

A year later Mikkola moved down to the 250cc class and again finished third in the world, this time behind Sweden’s Hakan Andersson and German rider Adolf Weil. Learning from those two seasons, Mikkola would once again change classes and headed back to the 500cc class, where he would win his first of four Motocross World Championship titles and in doing so stopped the run of three 500cc world championships in a row for De Coster. De Coster would finish second with Weil third.

The battle of the 1975 500cc championship saw De Coster get the better of Mikkola, with the Finnish rider coming home second, but in 1976 Mikkola stayed true to his class-changing ways and dropped to the 250cc class, to win the title ahead of Russian sensation Guennady Moisseev and another Russian rider Vladimir Kavinov.

Mikkola was coming into his prime in 1977 and 1978 and wrapped up consecutive 500cc championships and his battles with De Coster continued, but surprisingly, he would not add to his four world titles after the 1978 season.

Mikkola can be considered the most successful Finnish motorcycle racer to date. During his 10-year career, he won numerous national championships, 32 Grand Prix races and four world titles.

Outside of the success by Mikkola, the only other Finnish rider to win a Motocross World Championship was Pekka Vehkonen, who won the 1985 125cc title ahead of David Strijbos and Corrado Maddii. Vehkonen would also finish second four times in the 250cc World Championship behind Eric Geboers in 1987, John Van Den Berk in 1988, Jean Michel Bayle in 1989 and Alex Puzar in 1990.

Two decades later, in 2007 and 2009, two Finnish riders, Jussi-Pekka Vehvilainen and Antti Pyrhonen finished third in the MX3 World championship. Since that podium finishes, it has been a really tough run for the riders from Finland.

Photo Copyright: MXlarge image

Author: 
Geoff Meyer

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