Ari Vatanen, legendary rally driver in two companies

ER Classics Desktop 2022

The 1987 Dakar rally was only a few kilometers away. Ari Vatanen had returned to the competition circuit after an absence of more than a year. An accident in the Rally of Argentina had kept the Finn aside for a long time, but now he was back. The comeback was spectacular, because after a few kilometers, Vatanen's Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 lost its front end. Vatanen went to great lengths, took risks during his catch-up race, and took the victory in Dakar 1987. That was the starting point for the Finn's second series of successes in rallying. Because he had already impressed in the WRC circuit before.

The alliance between Vatanen and Peugeot Talbot Sport was actually started in 1984. With the four-wheel-drive Peugeot with a transversely positioned center motor, Vatanen performed well in the WRC rally circuit, finishing twice in fourth place in the final ranking. Vatanen always had a reputation to uphold, because the Finn won the world championship in 1981 with a Ford Escort RS 1800 from the private team Rothmans, the only private team that ever achieved that performance.

On to the title

Ari Vatanen debuted in 1970 in the Finnish 1000 Lakes rally with a hand-prepared Opel Ascona. And in 1974 he drove his first WRC rally with Opel. The real breakthrough came in 1976 when he won the British Rally Championship. He won his first WRC rally in Greece in 1980. And a year later he won the title with an Escort. Vatanen's tools came from Ford anyway in the run-up to the world title. He also rode the FIA ​​Cup for Drivers with it, in the years 1977 and 1978 he performed well in it.

Highlight with the Ascona 400

Vatanen told us in October - at the Palácio in Estoril - that his most beautiful victory was the victory in the 1983 East African Safari Rally. Vatanen had made the switch from Ford to Opel in 1982 at the instigation of the Rothmans Opel Rally Team. While Audi was increasingly knocking at the gate with the four-wheel drive quattros, the Finn won with the Ascona 400 in Africa. “That rally was long and very tough, you never knew what to expect. The emergence of new rally techniques also made the victory with the Ascona almost irresistible. Although the victory in Monte Carlo - with Peugeot in 1985 - was also valuable. We had to make up for an eight-minute time penalty due to the wrong timing, and we succeeded. ”

The Peugeot and Dakar era

For 1984, Jean Todt took Vatanen to Peugeot Talbot Sport, which competed in Group B with the 205 T 16. In the first season Vatanen came fourth, and the 1985 season also ended with that place. Still, the season ended in a depressing mood for Vatanen, as a heavy crash in the Rally of Argentina meant that Vatanen was sidelined for a longer period of time. In 1987 Jean Todt reiterated his confidence in Vatanen. And the Finn unequivocally paid that back. Peugeot Talbot had left the WRC rally circuit due to the disappearance of Group B. However, it made its mark in other branches of rallying, also thanks to Ari Vatanen. In 1987 he took the victory in Dakar with the 205 T16 Grand Raid. In 1989 and 1990 he also triumphed for Peugeot in the monster rally, with the 405 T 16. Vatanen also won the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in 1988 in a very impressive way.

Disqualified in view of the port

In 1991, Peugeot-Talbot Sport was turned into Citroën, and then Vatanen took another Dakar victory. In 1988 Vatanen also seemed on his way to the final victory. But his car was stolen within sight of the harbor. Because he was found too late, Vatanen was no longer allowed to start, and he was disqualified. “Otherwise, I would have won Paris-Dakar in 1988 too,” said Vatanen.

Modest return to WRC

Ari Vatanen returned to the competition circuit in 1987, and he also competed in the WRC circuit again. Not with Peugeot, but with the Ford Sierra and Escort RS Cosworth, with Subaru and with BMW. From 1987, Vatanen would play a relatively modest role in the discipline in which he became world champion in 1981. He stopped in 1998, but returned to the Rally of Finland one more time in 2003 - with the Peugeot 206 WRC - to finish in eleventh place there.

Impressive honors list

After his active career Ari Vatanen remained active in various (historical) rallies and became a Euro parliamentarian. Today, the Finn works for BMW and runs a vineyard in France, where he lives. Vatanen achieved 10 WRC rally victories, one world title, 27 podium places, four Dakar victories and no fewer than 49 Dakar stage victories. Vatanen achieved half of the 10 WRC stage victories in 1984 and 1985, with the Peugeot 205 T 16. “That was a brilliant construction, but in the end I keep the best memories of the Opel and Fords I drove until 1984. They were like wax in my hands. ” It is a statement that typifies the legendary Vatans. And at the same time less surprising than it seems. Because Vatanen was a great driver. And you never fully get a grip on that.

The extensive interview with Ari Vatanen is on Auto Motor Klassiek 1-2020.





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