Ari Vatanen mainostoimisto Avalon

Master Rally

  • Year: 1996
  • Country: France/Mongolia
  • Type: off-road
  • Car: Citroen ZX RR
  • Co-driver: Gilles Picard
  • Placing: 1.
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Master Rally

The Master Rally was another attempt to take modern international motor sport to regions it hadn't visited before. The idea initially drew inspiration from the legendary Paris-Beijing race of 1907. However, an air bridge was used to take the cars out east after the start.

Ari won this marathon event twice. In 1996 the route headed from western Europe all the way to Ulan Bator in Mongolia, but in 1997 it diverted off to Moscow.

"That part of the competitive route was much the same both times. The old Soviet areas were very flat, like an endless version of Finland's Bothnia region. The stages there were quite fast and flowing. They went across these vast fields and there was soft sand on the road surface. I have to say those stages were surprisingly enjoyable to drive.

Carrying on towards Mongolia the landscape got altogether more rugged and mountanious, of course. Endless lands and nobody there! One can only imagine what it's like in the winter with freezing temperatures and the snow.

Even with the long distances involved in the Master Rally, we had to keep on attacking, because we had quite a tough battle going with our team-mate Pierre Lartigue. He'd managed to take a short-cut in the Val d'Isere Prologue to beat us by something like a minute and a half, and after that it took a full week for me to catch him again!"

In the end Ari had a bit of a scare with turbo failure on the last stage, but he still won comfortably. Along the way there had even been time to visit the Baikonur Soviet rocket site and the house where Yuri Gagarin had spent time prior to his pioneering space flight.

So, at the age of 44 Ari still got to widen his horizons in rally driving. Now, after so many years with French teams, it was strange to think back to the Finn, who won the 1985 Monte Carlo Rally without really knowing how to pronounce the names of the special stages. Not only had he learned the language, but was to become an MEP for France.

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