Second place on the Lombard RAC Rally, as the event was then known, was enough for Ari Vatanen and David Richards to be crowned world champions in their Rothmans Rally Team Ford Escort RS1800.
But while Loeb and Elena faced a route consisting of 23 special stages over a competitive distance of 354.97 kilometres, Vatanen and Richards had to tackle 65 stages over 722 kilometres.
“We won the title on the Clocaenog stage,” says Richards. “This year’s first forest stage was the last stage that year and afterwards we drove back to Chester for the finish. It was a special rally.”
Apart from the Clocaenog stage, the route of the rally 30 years ago bore little resemblance to the format of this year’s World Rally Championship finale.
“I remember the weather was a lot colder, there was snow on the road so it was quite slippery,” says Richards. “The route was different too of course, it started in Chester and went right up through the Lake District and into Southern Scotland and then the final day was through Wales - and the final day swept right past my hometown [Ruthin].”
While Richards spent this year’s Rally GB overseeing another hugely promising showing by the MINI WRC Team, Vatanen said his visit to Wales was a more relaxed affair to the extent he was heading to the airport for a flight to his home in France not long after news of Loeb’s retirement on a road section began to surface.
“Looking back they are now more life memories than rally memories that I have but for sure it was a very privileged time,” says Vatanen. “Life since then has been very intensive with many ups and downs but what has not changed is that I still have the burden on my shoulders of being the last Ford driver to win the title! Now I like to look forward and hope this will not be the same forever.”
Although Vatanen rallied on following his title success in 1981, Richards called it quits to focus on establishing his expanding business interests, which culminated in the creation of Prodrive, the company behind Subaru’s trio of manufacturers’ crowns and now in charge of the rise of the MINI WRC Team.
Richards wasn’t the only co-driver to call it quits that day in Chester on 25 November. A certain Jean Todt, now the president of the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, contested his final world championship rally as a navigator. He and driver Guy Frequelin had started the event with a shot at the title but fell short when they crashed into retirement.