Ari Vatanen: a favourite with the fans
Thanks to his spectacular style, Ari Vatanen lost no time becoming a favourite with motorsport followers.
Despite having claimed the Drivers’ world rally title in 1981, he was probably at the peak of his WRC career in 1986 when he came close to losing his life in a terrifying accident during Rally Argentina.
After a lengthy recovery, he decided to make his competitive comeback on the 1987 Dakar. Both the event and cross-country rallying were fresh experiences for him but he quickly came to terms with the challenge and his maiden participation – in a Peugeot 205 T16 – produced a thrilling victory after a gritty fightback that saw him claw back 290 places in the overall standings.
The Finn went on to dominate the event again in 1989 (Peugeot 405 T16), 1990 (Peugeot 405 T16) and 1991 (Citroën ZX Rallye-Raid), while another victory seemed practically certain in 1988 until his car mysteriously disappeared from parc ferme before the 14th stage...
Ari Vatanen contested the Dakar in Citroën’s colours from 1991 until 1996, then returned to the event in 2003 with newly-formed Nissan Motorsport whose pick-ups were equipped with BFGoodrich® tyres. The following year, again on the American brand’s rubber, he established a new record by claiming his 50th Dakar stage win.
In 2007, 30 years after his first Dakar success, Ari Vatanen was recruited by Volkswagen Motorsport to drive one of the team’s BFGoodrich®-equipped Race Touaregs. Unfortunately, the adventure was curtailed by a mechanical problem en route from Zouerat to Atar.
Ari Vatanen’s arrival in cross-country rallying in the 1980s incontestably transformed the discipline and took the level of competition on the Dakar to new heights.