Memories of Ari Vatanen (1980)
1980 and crowds gathered in the southern suburbs of Fadden and Macarthur in Canberra to watch the first division of the Castrol rally on bitumen. Australian rally fans had been warmed up by International drivers over proceeding years with Waldegaard, Cowan, Shinozuka, Clark and others in events such as the Southern Cross Rally, but we had not seen Ari Vatanen, the man with the reputation of the worlds most spectacular driver.I was only 21 at the time, a regular competitor in an Escort. My profession was photography and the lure of the worlds best too good to ignore.
A few mates gathered and we were off to Canberra to see the action. We arrived with thousands of others at the intersection of Appel Cl and Bugden Av Fadden, new streets in a new suburb, ready-made for new houses and rally action!
Car 0 came and went with the anticipation building. Then in the hot heavy air, we could hear a BDA Escort accompanied by tyre squeal. Over the crest Vatanen with co driver Dave Richards arrived in 5th gear on the rev limiter, a perfect Scandinavian flick to the left, then right then left as he slid on the lock stops to the turn left at T junction, then an immediate turn right down the hill, never straight, an unbelievable display of driving not seen by anyone before.The crowd went mad. The police on duty were gobsmacked; they had never seen anything like it and demanded everyone stand a further 50 metres back!
Greg Carr and Colin Bond in similar RS 1800’s repeated the mastery of the slide, not quite to Ari’s flamboyance, but never the less no less impressive, Bond lead by a small margin later.
And there you have it, rally imagery burned into memories never to be erased, with some of the feeling and action on the day captured by the ABC documentary “40 split seconds”, now downloaded thousands of times from the Internet.
In the preceding 34 years, “40 Split Seconds” has been watched by countless car club members often on 16mm at hundreds of car club meetings, the only one of its type added to the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra.Fast forward yourselves to this week. Ari Vatanen accompanied by Rita, his wife were invited to hand out awards at Australia’s Rallying “Hall of Fame” dinner in Canberra, a black tie dazzling night recognising the ‘who’s who“ of rallying in Australia.
The dinner coincided with the first round of the domestic Championship, the ECB Bullbars Australian Rally Championship.
Ari and Rita’s trip was sponsored by Dave Thompson with assistance from Jeff David, a classic Porsche competitor.
Dave has a collection of over 30 race and rally cars including a 6R4 Metro and offered his Audi S1 Quattro replica for Ari to drive, 10 lucky people paying to go for a ride with the rally legend.
The Quattro is an ex NZ car with Subaru running gear but with a genuine body and engine. It’s the business!
Regularly driven by Thompson and car preparer Stewart Reid, the car was used for demos at Rally Australia last year, thrilling many.Back to the Dinner: Ari spoke about his 1980 Castrol rally, noting he had no idea who Greg Carr was; commenting, “wow he was fast” it was a landmark rally for the young Vatanen as it was one of his first events outside Europe. He lost the rally in the closing stages to Carr by 40 seconds after a roll close to the finish.
He spoke about the Peugeot at Pikes Peak, his accident in Argentina and he enthralled the 400 dinner guests with his humility and his views on life in general. He donated a unique book of images he and his photographer friend had taken over 25 years and it was raffled for a significant sum.
In a world where drivers are often aloof and unapproachable, Ari was the opposite, signing countless autographs and memorabilia. His tolerance for this astounded me. No one left the dinner without his autograph! In 40 years of rallying, I have not seen someone loved by so many.
Back to the Forest where Thompson and his crew prepared the S1 Quattro for Ari to drive. Dealing with TV interviews first, it was time for the 10 who had paid to go for a ride.
Ari has not lost any of his speed. He made some adjustments to brakes and boost, announcing to us that the Quattro was “Brutal’!
He powered around the stage used, over the road from where he had come so close to winning the 1980 Castrol, houses now taking over the forest with the bulldozers tearing up our forest 500 metres away. We all felt like Pygmies from the Amazon.
The looks on the faces of the anointed ones as they exited from their ride told the story of why our sport must remember its roots. We were seeing a true legend in action, 34 years later in the same spot where he burned those original images into our heads, reburning new memories.
Up the road the ARC was fighting for coverage and interest. Somehow it was not there. Our G2 class in our National series for the ARC, not capturing the attention of rally fans, nor the media.
I am not sure that in 34 years we will remember who was fastest in the ARC power stage that day, but we will remember the day Ari returned and drove a Group B fire spitting S1 Quattro.
Those images from the past and last week are rallying’s DNA.
WRC take note, it’s your job to preserve it. Please make new memories for our kids, otherwise we will go the way of the Amazon Pygmies.Ari and Bjorn, Walter, Hannu and Stig will eventually pass, but their antics won’t.
We need a new bunch of drivers with just half of Vatanen’s humility and talent to keep the mystery of our sport alive.
By Dallas Dogger