Eija and her navigator, Kari Jokinen, with the Sierra Cosworth in 1995
Eija Jurvanen was born in Finland in 1958. She seems to be rather a private lady, and not much biographical information is available about her. It is not even completely clear when she began her motorsport career.
By 1988, she was rallying in Finland, driving a Ford Escort. Results for this year are proving very hard to track down, but pictures exist of her on the Riihimaki Rally, rolling the Escort. The car is listed in some places as belonging to Eija and Ari Jurvanen, so it looks like she was from a rallying family. At various points in her career, she was sponsored by Teboil, a Finnish petroleum company with a long history of supporting rally drivers.
She started competing more seriously in 1989, when her name appears in the entry list for the Arctic Rally. She was 35th, driving an Audi 80 Quattro, co-driven by Marjo Berglund, who would be one of her most frequent navigators during her career. However, for the rest of the season, Maarit Laine sat beside her. They did the Rajd Polski in Poland together, and Eija’s first 1000 Lakes Rally. They did not finish either. She did do some other rallies in the Finnish championship, including the Nurmijarvi Rally and the NSM-Talvi Rally.
In 1990, she started competing in a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, which is the car most associated with her. With Marjo Berglund, she secured her first 1000 Lakes finish, a 38th place, tenth in class.
She used the same car in 1991, and started the year with 28th in the Arctic Rally. A trip to Germany for the Rally Deutschland ended in retirement, but not long after, she bettered her 1000 Lakes result to 29th, 17th in Group A8. She must have taken part in some more Finnish rallies, whose results are not forthcoming; she is recorded as that year’s Finnish Ladies’ champion. There were a few strong female contenders during the early 1990s, such as Minna Sillankorva and Anne Vuorio, so this was a bit of an achievement.
In 1992, she made her move onto the World Rally Championship stages. With some impressive sponsorship in place, she entered seven WRC rounds, with the express aim of capturing the FIA Ladies’ title. For her first rally, Sweden, she drove a Mitsubishi Galant, and was 17th overall, running in Group N. After a gap, she drove the Group A-spec Sierra in the 1000 Lakes, and was 16th, her best finish there yet. She retired from the Rally of Australia, in the Sierra, and was beaten to the Ladies’ award by Jacquiline Dines, but as Jacquiline rarely competed outside Oceania, this did not affect her Ladies’ chances too much. She only had to start one non-European rally to qualify. A drive in the Bandama-Cote d’Ivoire Rally in a Mitusbishi Starion also ended in retirement, as it did for many of the crews, that year and other years. Back in the Sierra, she was 15th in Catalunya, one place ahead of Christine Driano, another rival. Another retirement from the RAC Rally, in the Sierra, was not enough for her to lose her official FIA Ladies’ championship. She only had to start seven events to retain her eligibility, and she retired very early on. This had also been the case in the Sanremo Rally.
After her WRC year, she went back to competing in Finland and northern Europe, still in the Sierra. In the snowy Hankiralli, she was ninth, her best result so far. She followed this up with 15th in the 1000 Lakes, eleventh in class. Much later in the year, in November, she travelled to nearby Estonia for the Saaremaa Rally. The trip paid off, as she won the event outright, and made history as the first female driver to do so. Although the Estonian championship was still finding its feet after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, this was still a win, and will have gone some way towards restoring credibility lost through her somewhat mercenary behaviour in 1992. She won by over a minute to her nearest rival, another Finn, Mikko Kallionaa, in a Mitsubishi Galant.
In 1994, she stuck to Finnish rallies, using the Sierra Cosworth. Even on the more competitive Finnish stage, her results continued to improve, with a twelfth in the Arctic Rally a decent start to the season. In the summer, she was 16th in the 1000 Lakes Rally, tenth in class. She also seems to have driven in other Finnish rallies, although the results are hard to find. As well as rallying, she did some driver training for the Teboil team, instructing other female drivers.
Things continued in the same vein in 1995, although she split her season between Finland and Estonia again. She was 17th in the Arctic Rally at Rovaniemi, then went over to Estonia for the Tallinn-Neste Rally, and was eighth. In September, she was fifth in the Lõuna-Eesti Rally. She did make a return to the Saaremaa Rally, but did not finish this time due to a broken clutch. In Finland, she also retired from the 1000 Lakes Rally. Away from international events, she took part in some more Finnish rallies, including the Talviralli in Jyväskylä.
1995 was her last year of competition, and after that, she fades from the motorsport scene, having achieved her ambition to take the FIA Ladies’ title. Her erstwhile rival, Minna Sillankorva, had re-taken her crown as Finland’s foremost female driver.
(Image from http://suomenmuseotonline.fi/)