The popular Lehto was the strongest of the three drivers who crewed the 1995 Le Mans winning McLaren F1 GTR and the popular Finn was very much a protege of the 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg who drove for McLaren in F1 during 1986. Rosberg suggested that new boy Jyrki Jarvilehto styled himself ‘J.J Lehto’ in much that same way as his mentor replaced his proper name ‘Keijo’ with ‘Keke’ early in his competition career.
J.J. began his competition career on karts at the age of six, switching to motocross in his teens only to damage a knee badly enough to require the fitting of an artificial joint. His subsequent intention was to follow the great Finnish tradition and turn his hand to rallying, but after the withdrawal of a prospective sponsor he turned his hand to Formula Ford. By 1986 he had won the European, Scandinavian and Swedish titles and clearly a great future was unfolding ahead of him.
In 1987 Lehto took Formula Ford 2000 by storm, taking the British and European titles, and then won a close-fought British F3 championship in 1988. His subsequent graduation to Formula 3000 was fraught with difficulty, but the Finn’s talent had by this time come to the attention of Ferrari and he enjoyed a worthwhile spell as test driver for the Scuderia in 1989.
Later that same season he replaced the excessively outspoken Bertrand Gachot in the second Moneytron Onyx F1 car, staying with the team into 1990 when it passed into the control of Swiss privateer Peter Monteverdi, only to founder with major debts mid-way through the season.
Fortunately, Lehto had built up a respected reputation by this stage and joined the Dallara squad in 1991 where he stayed for two seasons before joining the emergent Sauber F1 squad in 1993. In 1994 he switched to Benetton alongside Michael Schumacher, but sustained serious neck injuries which counted him out of the F1 equation for the balance of the year and his single seater career never recovered.