Thursday | 23 Jul 2020

On This Day: 1981

FIA president Jean Todt will, no doubt, be a busy man today. But it’s debatable whether he’ll be quite as tired as he was on this day 39 years ago.

On 23 July 1981 Todt and his driver, Guy Frequelin, stepped out of a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus after four days of the Rally Codasur. After 16 stages (the shortest, a 14km dash through La Pampa to open proceedings was cancelled) and 14hr 22min of flat-out competition, the Frenchmen were victorious.

They arrived in Argentina for the nation’s second ever round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a seven-point lead at the top of the table and would depart with a handsome lead of 23 points over Datsun driver Shekhar Mehta.

It was Mehta’s team-mate, Timo Salonen, who proved the Talbot pair’s sternest rival through some of the season’s longest stages, including the Guachipas - El Tala test, which took more than an hour and a half to complete.

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Salonen and Frequelin swapped the lead until the final morning when the scavenge pump starved the Violet’s engine of oil and left the Finn on the sidelines.

Frequelin and Todt had, of course, kept a wary eye on Ari Vatanen and David Richards in their David Sutton-run Ford Escort RS1800. The Rothmans-backed pair were considered their strongest opponents for the 1981 world championship.

Early brake problems aboard the Escort were finally fixed, only for the crank pulley to fail on the car on the second day. The mechanics ran into the stage to fix it and get the car moving again, only for Vatanen to crash towards the end of day two.

Frequelin and Todt’s event wasn’t without incident, with plenty of punctures on the rough – and unusually dusty for a South American winter – roads. A heavy landing aggravated an old neck injury for Frequelin, but none of that was enough to stop them reaching the finish 38min minutes ahead of second-placed Mehta.

Video: Pirelli tyre test

Second in Brazil 10 days later meant the Frenchmen flew back to Europe with a 26-point advantage with four rounds remaining.

Unfortunately for Todt and Frequelin, that was close as they got to the 1981 title. Retirement from the season-closing RAC Rally (they went off the road in Gartheiniog in Wales) meant Vatanen and Richards took the titles in November.

Photograph by DPPI