Monday | 30 Aug 2021

On This Day: 1981

Rally Finland might not be coming for another 31 days, but 40 years ago on this very day Ari Vatanen was the last man to win the world-famous event in a two-wheel drive car.

From 1982 onwards, it’s been four-wheel drive or nothing for the FIA World Rally Championship’s fastest round. But wind the clock back four decades and Audi’s total traction revolution was forced to wait another season before the quattro could claim its maiden success in Jyväskylä.

The 1981 event was a special one for Vatanen and David Richards. Not only was it Vatanen’s maiden win on his home round of the WRC, but it was also a win which set them and their David Sutton-run Ford Escort RS1800 on course for the world title, which they sealed in Britain at the final round (pictured above).

“The competition was with Hannu [Mikkola] and Markku [Alén] as usual in this event,” said Vatanen. “And like usual, Markku was really fast from the start.”

But it was Mikkola’s Audi which led initially. The quattro, however, dropped time with an engine problem early on and finished a distant third. That left the two rear-wheel drive Finns to go at it for the rest of the rally.

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“We had won the previous rally in Brazil,” said Vatanen, “and this one was a little bit complicated. Our main rival for the championship was Guy Fréquelin, but he wasn’t starting in 1000 Lakes.

“David [Richards] was feeling we should maybe settle for second place. This wasn’t the message I wanted at that time. I wanted to push. I had been second in Finland for the previous two years and I knew I had the chance.”

Alén rolled in the Laitikkala stage, but only dropped 15sec in his Fiat 131 Abarth. The fight went on and was finally decided in Vatanen’s favour.

A year on and the four-wheel drive writing was very much on the wall. Audi men Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist were one-two with Pentti Airikkala’s Mitsubishi Lancer the nearest challenger at more than four minutes behind.

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