Monday | 01 Sep 2014

Björn Waldegård remembered

Leading figures from the World Rally Championship have paid tribute to former champion Björn Waldegård who died at the age of 70 on Friday.

The Swede was the first winner of the WRC drivers’ title in 1979 and scored 16 WRC wins with manufacturers including, Lancia, Ford and Toyota.

FIA president Jean Todt competed against Waldegård when he was a co-driver. He wrote on the FIA website: ‘Björn was a really admired and strong competitor, loyal and straight-forward. He was a rally legend who has left us so quickly and our sport has lost a big hero.’

M-Sport founder Malcolm Wilson worked with Waldegård at Ford in the late Seventies, when they both drove Escort RS cars. He told “I first met Björn when I did ice notes for him on the 1979 Monte Carlo and we became good friends from there on. Later I worked with him at the Safari and Ivory Coast rallies where I drove his chase car. He was one of the best guys in the Escort, and I learned a lot from him.

“Björn was a gentle giant, totally unflappable, and even in those days he was known as the iceman. He was he perfect gentleman, and when you saw him you never thought he had the aggression or the determination to get the success he had.

“But once he got behind the wheel it didn’t matter what the car was, or how it was handling. He had this incredible ability to adapt to any type of car. He was one of the all time greats who could cope with anything that was thrown at him.”

The 1983 World Rally Champion and long-time rival, Hannu Mikkola, tweeted: ‘Just heard terrible news about my old good friend Björn. So sad news’.

Two-time world champion, Carlos Sainz, also took to Twitter. He said: ‘Today a nice guy, great driver and world champion left us. Björn Waldegård rest in peace’.

Waldegård’s skills and achievements also helped inspire future generations of drivers – including Norway’s Mads Ostberg. “I was only three when Björn won his last WRC rally in 1990, so most of his successes came before I was born, but I’ve grown up watching old clips of him because he achieved so many impressive things," Ostberg explained.

“His position as first world champion is very special and really put Scandinavia on the rally map. That means a lot to a lot of people.”

VW’s Jari-Matti Latvala said: “I remember Björn most for his great career in the Escorts and then later with Toyota in the Eighties. I have been watching old videos and he was a great driver. My impression is that he was very dependable, not so many accidents, good concentration and consistency.

“I remember the way he was driving the Escorts was quite amazing – the same way as Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen. What I find inspiring is that he was 46 when he won the 1990 Safari – which just shows that even if you are old if you are fit and with good experience you are still capable of winning rallies.”

Waldegård was best known for his successes in Africa, where he took three wins on the Safari Rally, and three on the Ivory Coast Rally.

His most recent success in Africa came in 2011, when he won the East African Safari Classic in a Porsche 911 – a car he campaigned in Kenya throughout the Seventies.

Porsche specialist Richard Tuthill was his team manager in 2011. He said: “His hard-earned victory in one of our cars remains one of my career and personal highlights, and would not have occurred without the best European Safari Rally driver of all time at the wheel.

“He was a large, proud and extremely genuine man – an absolute Gentleman. He was quiet and reserved, as are many Swedes, a great public speaker and, as his record makes painfully obvious, one of the most gifted men ever to get behind the wheel of a rally car.”

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