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JJ Lehto

Full Name:
Jyrki Juhani Jarvilehto
31st January 1966 (Age 54)
Espoo, Uusimaa
Most recent race (in database):

Jyrki Järvilehto’s arrival in British racing was accompanied by the hype of a future Grand Prix superstar. A champion in the junior formulae he never quite translated that promise on the Formula 1 stage before forging a long and very successful career in endurance racing.

Successful early racing career

Originally intending to compete in rallying, he switched to circuit racing after a prospective sponsor withdrew. His debut in England was as the reigning Scandinavian Formula Ford Champion. He changed his racing name at the time to J.J.Lehto on the advice of his mentor Keke Rosberg.

Victory in the 1987 British and European FF2000 titles with a Pacific Racing Reynard 87SF led to graduation to British Formula 3 a year later for both team and driver. With Marlboro’s backing and a Reynard 883-Toyota, Lehto won eight times, was never off the podium if he finished and emerged as a dominant champion.

But a move to the 1989 FIA Formula 3000 Championship (again with Keith Wiggins’ Pacific outfit) proved to be a huge disappointment. His Reynard 89D-Mugen was fourth at Pau in what was one of only three points scores as he finished 13th in the championship. Was he as good as touted? Was he distracted by a Ferrari test deal? Suddenly there were questions about Lehto when previously there had been none.

Formula 1 with Onyx and Dallara

He ended 1989 by replacing Bertrand Gachot in the Onyx ORE1-Ford for the final four GPs – starting twice. He remained with the team for the following season but failed to qualify as often as he raced before the Peter Monteverdi-owned team went out of business after the 1990 Hungarian GP.

Two seasons in BMS Scuderia Italia’s Dallara followed and included his best result in F1. His Dallara BMS191-Judd only just made it through pre-qualifying for the 1991 San Marino GP and he lined up 16th on the grid. By the end of the race Lehto was on the podium alongside Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger – third after accidents and mechanical failures had depleted the field.

Further F1 opportunities with Sauber and Benetton

The 1992 season with Ferrari engines proved disappointing and Lehto joined Sauber for its first F1 season in 1993. The partnership began promisingly in South Africa for Lehto was sixth on the grid and fifth at the finish. Also fourth at Imola after his engine expired in the closing stages, he moved to Benetton for 1994 as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate.

Unfortunately, Lehto injured his back during pre-season testing and he returned for the tragic San Marino GP. He qualified well (fifth) but stalled at the start and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus. Although both were largely unscathed, debris resulted in minor injuries to eight spectators and was scattered over the pit straight. The safety car was deployed and when released, Senna crashed with debris offered as an early theory behind his fatal accident. A career-best fourth on the grid in Spain, Lehto was replaced by the end of the year and he completed his final two GPs with Sauber at the end of 1994.

Sports car success

Two seasons with Opel’s DTM team followed before Lehto found his niche in sports car racing. He won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours with a semi-works McLaren F1-GTR-BMW, Yannick Dalmas and Masanori Sekiya – his greatest success to that point. A winner in the FIA GT Championship, he finished second in the 1997 championship with BMW Motorsport’s McLaren and co-driver Steve Soper.

The 1998 Champ Car season with Hogan Racing’s Reynard 98I-Mercedes-Benz was his final open-wheel campaign for Lehto was not retained. His Schnitzer BMW V12 LMR won the inaugural American Le Mans Series race a year later – the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours – and that success was rewarded with a contract for the next three years.

Runner-up in the 2001 ALMS GT standings, Lehto drove a Cadillac Northstar LMP02 in 2002 and Champion Racing’s Audi R8 the following season. Victory at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans was the culmination of a successful 2003 when sharing with Johnny Herbert. Marco Werner was his co-driver for 2004 and they won six times – including another Petit Le Mans success – to clinch the outright ALMS title.

Third in the 2003 and 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours, he began 2005 by winning three of the first four ALMS rounds and a second Le Mans victory – sharing Champion’s Audi R8 with Werner and Tom Kristensen – was the highlight of his final full season in the sport.

He later worked in the media but was injured in a boating accident in June 2010 in which a friend died. Originally found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years and four months in prison, Lehto successfully appealed the verdict and was cleared of all charges.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
2005 American Le Mans Series
Champion Racing
3 2 3 3 0
2004 American Le Mans Series
Champion Racing
6 1 6 6 1st 0
2003 American Le Mans Series
Champion Racing
4 1 4 4 0
2002 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
2000 American Le Mans Series
BMW Motorsport
2 1 2 2 0
1999 American Le Mans Series
BMW Motorsport
4 2 4 4 0
1998 FedEx Championship Series
Hogan Racing
19 0 0 0
0% win rate
20th 25
1997 FIA GT Championship
4 2 4 4 2nd 59
1996 Global Endurance GT Championship
GTC Competition
1 1 1 1 0
1996 International Touring Car Series
Team Rosberg
26 0 5 0
0% win rate
5th 148
1995 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
Joest Racing
14 0 0 0
0% win rate
13th 36
1995 International Touring Car Series
Joest Racing
10 0 1 0
0% win rate
11th 26
1994 F1 World Championship
Sauber Mercedes
Mild Seven Benetton Ford
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
24th 1
1993 F1 World Championship
16 0 0 0
0% win rate
13th 5
1992 F1 World Championship
Scuderia Italia
15 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1991 F1 World Championship
Scuderia Italia
16 0 1 0
0% win rate
12th 4
1991 World Sportscar Championship
Porsche Kremer Racing
1 0 0 0 0
1990 F1 World Championship
Monteverdi Onyx Formula One
Moneytron Onyx Formula One
Monteverdi Formula One
5 (5) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1989 F1 World Championship
Moneytron Onyx Formula One
2 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
1989 FIA International F3000 Championship
Pacific Racing
9 0 0 0
0% win rate
13th 6
1988 Lucas British F3 Championship
Pacific Racing
8 4 8 8 1st 113
1987 European FF2000 Championship 1st -