Ari's first paid drive ended in totalling a works Escort in the 1975 RAC Rally. Despite this, he was offered a Ford contract for 1976. In fact, this was rather better than just an opportunity to drive a works car: Ari was carefully groomed in all aspects necessary to become a professional rally driver.
In Britain the choice of another young Finn as Ford's new blue-eyed boy was - perhaps unsurprisingly - not altogether popular. Ari was going to be under the spotlight and all his actions would be critically observed.
From the start he was blindingly quick. He got the results, too, and soon led the RAC National Rally Championship. But there had been lurid moments along the way. Ari's Escort often reached the finish with bent panels and when he crashed out of the 1000 Lakes WRC event and the Ulster Rally the critics sharpened their claws.
Then came the Manx Rally, a fast all-tarmac classic with decisive sections fought overnight. The opposition was formidable: Ford sent three works cars, Triumph two TR7s, the Irish Porsche specialists were always a force here even the popular Chequered Flag Lancia Stratos was entered.
Through it all came Vatanen to win by over three minutes: exciting to watch as ever - occasionally getting the Escort on two wheels - but never putting a scratch on the by now famous APG paintwork. With negligible tarmac experience he'd beaten the specialists. This was a convincing display; nobody would deny that.
Ari: "I noticed that tarmac suited me quite well, even though my lines probably weren't among the prettiest!"
In 1976 life was not overtly glamorous for the emerging superstar. Receiving a £5.000 retainer from Ford for the year, Ari shared a flat with Ford engineer John Griffith and usually spent the nights eating tin food heated up by John and watching television.
|Comments: [ 0 ]||Previous1Next||Page: 1 / 1|