Leo Kinnunen

Date of birth : 1943-08-05
Deceased : 2017-07-26

Biography Leo Kinnunen

Leo Kinnunen started his career in motocross but soon became a household name in Finnish rally and racetrack circuits. After having won the Nordic Challenge Cup of 1969 driving a Porsche 908, Kinnunen was asked to join the legendary Gulf-sponsored Porsche team headed by John Wyer to participate in the 1970 International Championship of Makes (ICM). He won his debut race, the Daytona 24 Hours, together with Pedro Rodriguez and Brian Redman. For the rest of the season he teamed up with Rodriguez winning the Championship in a Porsche 917K (although the team used Porsche 908/3 for two events). Altogether they won four races that year; Daytona, Brands Hatch, Monza and Watkins Glen. In addition to that, he drove a new lap record of 33’36” at the demanding 71.9 kilometer Targa Florio road race in Sicily.

Leo Kinnunen drives the fastest lap in the 1969 Targa Florio in a Porsche 908/3 (Copyright unknown)

Leo kept himself busy by competing in another sports car championship of 1970 too – the Interserie Championship. In Keimola, the local track close to Helsinki (which ceased to exist in late 1970s) Kinnunen raced one round in a Bill Bradley McLaren M12/6GT Chevrolet coming 8th. Still not getting enough of racing he also took part in the European Sportscar Championship for 2-litre machines driving a works Abarth 2000SP. A hard-working man! Kinnunen achieved 2nd and 3rd places at Mugello and the Nurburgring and with twelve points in the pocket he was 11th in the Championship.

Leo Kinnunen with AAW 917 (917/10-04) racing in Interserie in 1972 #9171004 (Copyright unknown)

In the 1971 Interserie Championships he drove a blue and white AAW Racing Team’s Porsche 917 Spyder. As the team was Finnish run, the colors of the car were influenced by the country’s flag. Then happened the ill-fated accident of his former team-mate Pedro Rodriguez at Norisring driving a Ferrari 512M. Leo withdrew from the race together with the second Ferrari pilot Herbert Müller. Still Leo won the Championship for Porsche scoring a massive 81.000 points.

That same year he entered a private Porsche 911S with Björn Waldegaard in an ICM round at Nürburgring coming 16th. Furthermore, he teamed up with Rolf Stommelen in an Autodelta Alfa Romeo T33/3 again at the Targa Florio, only for the German to crash out on the first lap!

The next year he drove exclusively for the AAW Racing Team in the Interserie Championship. He dominated the season totally in his Porsche 917/10 walking away with the Championship after winning six of the nine rounds scoring an even crazier amount of points – 135.500!. The wins came from Silverstone, Hockenheim (twice), Norisring, Keimola and the Nurburgring. Willi Kauhsen was the runner-up with “just” 109,200 points. Actually, in 1972 the winner was the one who had earned most money because the points were transferred straight into cash. Leo earned 135.000 Swiss francs (now about 300.000 euros/US dollars) that year which is not a lot of money compared to what race drivers earn nowadays.

The most iconic Interserie photo ever; start of 1973 Hockenheim race. Blue/white AAW 917s of Leo Kinnunen (917/10-04) and Lasse Sirviö (917-01-21) (Copyright unknown)

The AAW Racing entered two Porsche 917/10 for the 1973 season both driven by Finnish drivers – Leo Kinnunen and Hannu Sirviö. Leo won four of the seven rounds outright winning the Interserie Championship for the third time in a row, although getting a tough challenge from Willi Kauhsen. This year the points system was more sensible, too. Kinnunen collected 127.5 points against Kauhsen’s 117. That same year he entered a Martini Racing Porsche Carrera 911 with Claude Haldi in Targa Florio coming 3rd ( a round of the World Championship of Makes).

In 1974 came the big dive into Formula One but unfortunately it didn’t work out well for the sports car star. The car entered by AAW Racing had a Surtees TS16 chassis with a Cosworth DFV V8 3.0 litre engine but was underpowered and didn’t handle well. Besides the team was not allowed to get the top quality tires that the top teams bought from the manufacturers so it was unfair from the start. In fact, Leo hated the car and without any success, he returned back to the familiar Interserie after Monza. AAW Racing retired from F1 for good after a catastrophic season. When he did return to drive the sports cars, he won immediately in a Martini Racing Team Porsche 917/30 at Hockenheim. Then Leo probably realized he should have never left the Sports Car Championship series. The Porsche in which he won had a twelve cylinder 5374cc turbo engine, 1100 bhp weighing just 800kg! Must have felt a real big difference after the underpowered Surtees… back to business.

Mugello 1975 . Martini Racing Team, Porsche 908-3 (Copyright unknown)

The following year he drove for Martini Racing in a Porsche 908 turbo with Herbert Müller. They retired in Monza and Spa but were 7th at Enna, 3rd at the Nürburgring and 9th at the Österreichring.

For 1976, Kinnunen drove a Porsche 934 Turbo with Evon Egertz participating in the World Championship of Makes series. He came 4th at Dijon, 3rd at Mugello and Silverstone, and 2nd at Watkins Glen. However, there was another sports car championship that year called the World Sportscar Championship in which he drove a Porsche 908 with Evon Egertz as well. Unfortunately, they had to retire from the two races they took part in (Monza and Dijon) because of mechanical problems. In 1977 he competed in one race at the Nürburgring round of the WCM. He failed to finish the race retiring with engine problems in a Josef Brambring Porsche 935 shared with Jürgen Neuhaus and Albrecht Krebs.

Leo Kinnunen left the international motor racing scene after 1977 and started his own business in Finland. During the 80’s he took part on several rally races with his Porsche 911. A small curiosity is the fact that he was asked personally by Steve McQueen, whom he had befriended when McQueen raced for Porsche in America, to drive in his movie “Le Mans” but Leo’s contract with Porsche did not allow him to do that. Instead David Piper joined the film crew in France with unfortunate consequences. (by Jouko Keranen/VPracing.com)

Leo Kinnunen Race Results in Porsche


Leo Kinnunen and Pedro Rodriguez after winning Daytona 24 Hours in 1970 (Copyright unknown)

Leo Kinnunen

Year Race Team Car Pos. Co-driver
1970 24 Hours of Daytona John Wyer 917K 1 Kinnunen/Brian Redman”
1970 12 Hours of Sebring John Wyer 917K 4 Leo Kinnunen/Jo Siffert
1970 1000km of Brands Hatch John Wyer 917K 1 Leo Kinnunen
1970 1000 km Monza John Wyer 917K 1 Leo Kinnunen
1970 Targa Florio John Wyer 908-3 2 Leo Kinnunen
1970 1000 km Spa John Wyer 917K Ret. Leo Kinnunen
1970 1000 km Nürburgring John Wyer 908-3 Ret. Leo Kinnunen
1970 24 Hours of Le Mans John Wyer 917K Ret. Leo Kinnunen
1970 6 Hours of Watkins Glen John Wyer 917K 1 Leo Kinnunen
1970 1000 km Zeltweg John Wyer 917K Ret. Leo Kinnunen
1971 1000 km of Buenos Aires John Wyer 917K Ret. Jackie Oliver
1971 24 Hours of Daytona John Wyer 917K 1 Jackie Oliver
1971 12 Hours of Sebring John Wyer 917K 4 Jackie Oliver
1971 1000 km Brands Hatch John Wyer 917K Ret. Jackie Oliver
1971 1000 km Monza John Wyer 917K 1 Jackie Oliver
1971 1000 km Spa John Wyer 917K 1 Jackie Oliver
1971 Targa Florio John Wyer 908-3 Ret. Herbert Müller
1971 1000 km Nürburgring< John Wyer 908-3 2 Jackie Oliver/Jo Siffert
1971 24 Hours of Le Mans >John Wyer 917LH 18 Jackie Oliver
1971 1000 km Zeltweg John Wyer <917K 1 Richard Attwood