Wednesday | 07 Apr 2021

Obituary: David Sutton

David Sutton, the man who masterminded Ari Vatanen’s 1981 FIA World Rally Championship title, has died. He was 81.

A driver in his early days, Sutton will be best remembered for running a private team that took on and beat the best in the world.

The 1981 season will be remembered by many for the arrival of Audi’s quattro, but it was Sutton’s London-based team that topped the table with Vatanen and co-driver David Richards.

David Sutton Cars took on Ford’s WRC hopes when the Blue Oval withdrew from the series at the end of 1979.

With Rothmans backing and Escort RS1800s tuned and developed at Ford’s Boreham motorsport hub, Sutton pulled everything together to become the first privateer team to win the world title.

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It was a record that stood all the way until 2006 when Sébastien Loeb won his fourth consecutive crown with Kronos Racing.

Predictably, the 1981 season is well remembered by both Vatanen and Richards.

“That 1981 season was just like my whole career in one year,” said Vatanen. “We would go from these incredible high moments to some very low points. I was winning and then crashing into a lorry on Ivory Coast.

“But all of the time, David was wearing this big smile. Always the big smile. And when I made the mistakes, he would come and put his arm around me – we had the relationship a little bit like the father and son. He was fantastic and he leaves a very big hole for the sport.”

Richards added: “Ari and I both have a great deal to be thankful to David for. He lived right at the heart of the team. It was his name above the door and he had his arms around every aspect of the operation. The 1981 season was a true David and Goliath story.”

Sutton switched his allegiance to Audi at the end of 1981, running Audi UK cars for Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist and Michèle Mouton in the British Championship and around the world.”

While the Sutton name might have faded from the very sharp end of the sport, a second world title came in 2003, when Martin Rowe drove a Group N Subaru Impreza to the Production Car world title.

WRC.com sends its sincere condolences to his family and friends.