Remembering F1 Driver Leo Kinnunen

Tampere, Finland — Leo Kinnunen, the first Finnish Formula 1 driver, died July 26 in Finland at age 73.

One of the Fast Finns, Leo Kinnunen. Photo: Paul Kooyman

He participated twice in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and won the 1970 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Nicknamed Leksa, Kinnunen competed in the Grand Prix of Sweden at the Anderstorp circuit in 1974 with a Surtees TS16 lent by constructor John Surtees. Despite four additional attempts, Kinnunen was unable to qualify at another race.

After a brief stint in moto racing, Kinnunen competed in rally before dedicating himself to endurance. His title in the Nordic Challenge Cup mini-championship with a Porsche 908 in 1969 allowed him to join the John Wyer Automotive Engineering team that entered two Porsche 917Ks for the German constructor in the World Marques Championship.

The Finnish driver’s first run with the Wyer team was a triumph when he, Pedro Rodriguez and Brian Redman (who reached the second step on the podium with the sister car, but did a stint for the duo) won at the 1970 Rolex 24 at Daytona. He repeated the feat with Rodriguez at Brands Hatch, Monza and Watkins Glen.

Kinnunen set the lap record at the Targa Florio during the European Interserie championship — which he dominated with three consecutive titles between 1971 and 1973. It was also in 1973 that the Finn claimed third at the Rally of Finland, known then as the Rally of 1,000 Lakes, behind two legends of the discipline, Timo Makinen and Markku Alen. He retired from competition in 1977 but remained involved in racing.