The Legend of Ari Vatanen
Ari Vatanen is considered as one of the best World Rally Championship drivers ever existed and his exhubarant driving style made him one of the most memorable.
Early Life and Career
1974 1000 Lakes Rally
Ari Pieti Uolevi Vatanen was born and raised in Tuupovaara, Eastern Finland.
In 1970, Ari Vatanen and his cousin bought an Opel Ascona and race prepared it. In the same year he made his debut in rallying.
In 1974, he made his debut World Rally Championship appearance at his home rally event, the 1000 Lakes rally in Finland. The same year, he won the Nortti Rally in the wheels of his Opel Ascona, defeating well known competitors such as Hannu Mikkola. This victory gave him wide publicity in Finland.
1975 Ari Vatanen Datsun 120Y
The 1975 Rothmans 747 Rally in Jamaica was his debut international rally event and he and his co-driver Gerry Philips drove a Datsun 120Y to the twelfth place. His performance didn't go unnoticed and a short while later he was offered his first professional driving gig, in a Ford Escort RS1800.
He competed at the 1975 British Rally Championship in the wheels of Ford Escort RS1800 and kept outperforming most of his competitors, but retired after crashing on the second day. Ford team manager Stuart Turner was impressed with his capabilities, and offered him a place in the Ford Factory team for the British Rally Championship.
1976 - 1979 Ford
1976 Manx Rally
In the 1976 Scottish Rally, a part of the British Rally Championship, the Ford factory team had to replace a broken differential in Ari Vatanen's Ford Escort RS 1800 MK2 car, a spare that factory team didn't have with them. Co-driver Peter Bryant flagged down a passing by 3.0-litre Ford Capri and pleaded the owner Ken Brown and his family to let them take out his rear differential to be put in Ari Vatanen's car. Peter Ashcroft, Ford Team manager gave his business card to Ken Brown and told him to take his Capri to the nearest Ford dealer to get a new differential or a back axle and send the bill to him. Ari Vatanen didn't finish the Scottish rally.
Ari Vatanen won the British Rally Title, at the age of 24, becoming one of the youngest drivers to do so.
1976 Welsh Rally
From 1977 to 1979, he competed on several selected World Championship events for the Ford team and following its withdrawal from the sport at the end of the 1979 racing season, he joined the Rothmans Rally team. He became the runner up of the 1977 New Zealand Rally, fifth overall at the 1978 Swedish Rally, tenth overall at the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, second overall at the 1979 Rally Finland, third overall at the 1979 Canadian Rally, fourth overall at the 1979 Rally GB, and third overall at the 1979 New Zealand Rally.
1978 Rally Finland
In June 1979, he got married to Rita, just before the Rally New Zealand and the pair spend their honeymoon in several countries.
1980 - 1983 Rothmans Rally Team
Ari Vatanen with ROthmans Rally team
Ari Vatanen won his debut WRC rally, the 1980 Acropolis Rally. He became the second overall at Rally Finland and Rallye Sanremo. In the same year, he won the British Rally Championship again, this time co-driven by David Richards, defeating Hannu Mikkola.
Ari Vatanen Rothmans
For 1981, Ari Vatanen had planned to join the newly formed Mercedes Rally team, but they prematurely withdrew from the sport before competing. He returned to the Rothmans Rally Team with his privately owned Ford Escort RS 1800.
1981 Lombard RAC Rally
In 1981 racing season, he won the Acropolis Rally again. He also won Rally of Brazil, and Finnish Rally. He won the second overall at the Swedish Rally and Rally GB. He achieved seventh overall position at the Rallye Sanremo, and ninth overall Rallye Côte d'Ivoire. These wins secured him his debut World Rally Championship, becoming the first and last privateer to have achieved this victory.
1981 Acropolis Rally
David Richards, co-driver for Ari Vatanen, left to follow his own path. Ari Vatanen was signed by Ford to test their new Ford Escort RS 1700T, but Ford cancelled the project realizing that the car is outdated to be competitive against the new cars. This set back meant that Ari Vatanen did not defend his World Rally Championship title, and competed in only three WRC events. He competed in British Rally Championship in a Ford Escort. He achieved second overall position at the Swedish Rally. For the 1982 season he was co-driven by Terry Harryman.
1983 Rothmans Opel Team
Rothmans Opel Team
In 1983, Ari Vatanen moved to the Rothmans Opel Team and kept driving an Opel Ascona and an Opel Manta. These cars were not competitive enough to keep up with the likes of Audi Quattro, and Lancia 037 Rally. He achieved fifth-overall at the Monte Carlo Rally, and sixth-overall at the Swedish Rally. He won the Safari Rally triumphing over others despite his car being outdated. At the end of the year, Rothman team withdrew their support for Opel forcing them to abandon their WRC program.
He finished the 1983 Manx Rally with a second overall, one minute and sixteen seconds behind Henry Toivonen.
Onboard footage of Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman at the 1983 Manx Rally.
1984 - 1988 Peugeot Talbot Sport Team
Ari Vatanen with Peugeot
In the beginning of 1984, Ari Vatanen signed up with Peugeot Talbot Sport team, which was led by Jean Todt, to drive a Peugeot 205 T16.
At the debut event for Peugeot Talbot Team, Ari Vatanen led the Tour de Course but had to retire after an accident.
He won the 1984 Rally Finland, 1984 Rally Sanremo, and 1984 Rally GB. With three consecutive World Rally Championship victories, expectations were higher for the 1985 racing season.
Ari Vatanen led the Monte Carlo Rally from the start, but on the eve of the final day, his co-driver Terry Harryman made a timing error, to which they were given a time penalty. This put them eight minutes behind their arch-rival Walter Röhrl. However, Ari Vatanen kept attacking one and each stage flat out and won the 1985 Rally Monte Carlo with a four minute lead ahead of Walter Röhrl. He won the 1985 Swedish Rally as well. These victories meant that he won five world rallies consecutively.
1985 Peugeot team
Ari Vatanen had a clear chance of winning the World Rally Championship again but the mid season was filled with retirements due to accidents, and mechanical problems. He finished the New Zealand rally with second-overall, behind his team mate Timo Salonen.
1985 Rallye Portugal
He then had a life threatening accident on the second stage of the 1985 Rally Argentina, when his car somersaulted at a speed over 120mph after hitting the curb when cutting in a ditch. His seat mounts broke, and he was thrown around the cabin while it rolled multiple times, seriously damaging his legs and upper torso region. He was evacuated with life threatening injuries and severe internal bleeding. His co-driver emerged from the crash with minor injuries.
He then had to endure the next one and a half year recovering from his injuries and severe depression. In 1986 he returned to drive a Peugeot 205 T16 course car on the Rallye Sanremo.
In 1987, Ari Vatanen returned to motorsport events full-time after making a complete recovery and went on to win Paris Dakar Rally for the first time.
Pikes Peak Record Run
Following the demise of FIA Group B WRC events, Peugeot team withdrew from the World Rally Championship in 1986. Using the drivetrain of the already proven Peugeot 205 T16 they developed the Peugeot 405 T16. A variant of the Peugeot 405 T16 was developed to competed at the Piles Peak International Hill climb. This car packed 600bhp, large rear wing, front spoiler, and a ground effects kit to improve downforce as much as possible. It was also a four-wheel-drive car and came with four-wheel-steering. Ari Vatanen broke the record time, earning wide reached publicity and fame. He wrote an autobiography called "Every Second Counts", detailing his own personal life and career as a professional driver up to that point. Every Second Counts was first published in 1988 and became an international hit.
Ari Vatanen continued competing in the World Rally Championship events. He also drove a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth to achieve second-overall at the Rally Finland.
1988 - 1990 Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe
He joined the Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe team and competed at the 1988 Rally GB in the wheels of a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, but retired without much success. In 1989, he achieved fifth-overall at the Rally GB, his best results of the season. In 1990, he achieved second-overall at the Rally Finland.
Ari Vatanen with Mitsubishi
1991 Milk Team and Subaru Rally Team
For the 1991 racing season, he joined the Milk Team to drive a Ford Sierra Cosworth RS 4WD. His most successful event was the Rally Finland in which he achieved seventh-overall position. He also drove a Subaru Legacy RS for Subaru Rally Team Europe and achieved fifth overall at the 1991 Rally GB.
1992 Swedish Rally
In 1992, he achieved second-overall at the Rally GB, and fourth-overall at Rally Finland.
1993 Subaru World Rally Team
Ari Vatanen with Subaru
In 1993, he joined Subaru World Rally Team and became second-overall at the Rally Australia, second-overall at the Finnish Rally, and fifth-overall at the Rally GB. He was dropped in favour of Carlos Sainz.
1993 1000 Lakes Rally
1993 1000 Lakes Rally
1993 Beijing Rally
1994 - 1997 Ford Factory Team, and 1997 Motorsport Consultancy
Ari Vatanen with Ford Escort
In 1994, he drove a Ford Escort RS Cosworth for the Ford Factory team and finished Rally Argentina with a third-overall. He stayed with Ford Factory team until the end of 1997 racing season with little to no success.
In 1997, he drove a Ford Escort WRC for Motorsport Consultancy and achieved eighth-overall at the Rally GB. He drove a Ford Escort WRC for Ford Factory Team and achieved a third-overall at the Safari Rally, and fifth-overall at the Rally Portugal.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth driven by Ari Vatanen
In 1997, he won the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in the wheels of a Citroen ZX Rallye raid. He was co-driven by Fred Gallagher this time.
1998 Subaru Rally Team and post retirement
He returned to Subaru World Rally Team for 1998 racing season to drive a Subaru Impreza WRC 98 in the Rally GB, but retired without much success. This was his 100th World Rally Championship event.
Ari Vatanen became less active in rallying, as it was evidant that his time as a top of the line rally driver was now over. In 2003, he made a brief appearance at the 2003 Rally Finland in the wheels of a Bozian Racing backed Peugeot 206 WRC and finished the event with eleventh-overall.
2008 Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally
In September 2008, he took part in the Collin McRae Forest Stages Rally, a part of the Scottish Rally Championship with David Richard as his co-driver. They competed in the same Rothmans Ford Escort RS 1800 that they drove in 1981. He was among the former world rally champions to take part in the event in memory of Collin McRae, who died in 2007.
Paris Dakar Rally
Ari Vatanen driving a Peugeot 205 T16
Ari Vatanen won the Paris Dakar Rally in 1987, 1989 and 1990 with Peugeot and again in 1991 with Citroen. He was already in the lead of the rally in 1988 when his car was stolen. It was already too late when his car was found as he was automatically disqualified.
In 1992, he finished with fifth-overall with Citroen, and eight-overall in 1993 also with Citroen. He did not compete at the 1994 event, and did not finish in the following year's event. In 1997, he finished with fourth-overall.
In 2003, he joined Nissan to compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally after a five year long silence, and finished with seventh-overall. In 2004, he retired without completing the event. He finished the 2005 event with thirty-ninth overall position. He did not compete in 2006 and did not finish in 2007 now driving for Volkswagen. With this he retired from the Paris Dakar Rally series.
In July 2009, he became a candidate against Max Mosley in the FIA presidential elections in October, but lost his bid to his former Peugeot team boss, and Scuderia Ferrari manager Jean Todt.