WRC legend Ari Vatanen has been greeted by hundreds of Australian fans – including 28 children named Ari in his honour – 34 years after he drove in an epic contest that remains one of the sport’s most remembered events Down Under.
The 1981 World Rally Champion visited the national capital Canberra as guest of honour at the annual Australian Rally Hall of Fame induction ceremony and opening round of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) last weekend.
He also took the wheel of an Audi Quattro S1 Group B car – for the first time – on the shakedown stage on Friday morning.
Hall of Fame organiser and four-time Australian champion co-driver Coral Taylor said Vatanen, now 61, was “just unbelieveable” as he signed autographs and posed for photographs with fans young and old.
“And we counted 28 kids with the name Ari who were brought to meet him. He had so much time for everyone,” she added
Vatanen contested Rally Australia with Subaru in Perth in 1992 and 1993, but is best remembered for his drive in a Ford Escort RS1800, with Prodrive Chairman David Richards as co-driver, in the Castrol International Rally in Canberra in 1980.
In one of his first overseas rallies, he waged a furious battle with local heroes Greg Carr and Colin Bond in similar works Escorts in front of 60,000 spectators.
The contest continued until the final stages, when Vatanen rolled the Escort. Carr’s winning margin provided the name for a television documentary, “40 Split Seconds”.
At the Hall of Fame dinner on Thursday night, Vatanen welcomed new inductees from the ranks of Australian drivers, co-drivers, officials and administrators, including his 1980 rival Colin Bond.
Picture credit: Dallas Dogger