Pentti Airikkala, the bespectacled, mischievous Finnish rally driver who lived in England, finally lost his battle with cancer in September. Like so many of his contemporaries, Pentti started his career in Finland in a Volvo PV544, finishing 12th on his first 1000 Lakes Rally in 1965. For the next eight years he was solely occupied with home events in cars like the Isuzu Bellet, Renault R8 Gordini and R12 Gordini.
In 1973 he drove for GM, first in an Opel Kadett and then a Vauxhall Magnum, with which he finished 16th on the ’74 1000 Lakes. He got a Ford Escort for that year’s RAC Rally but retired. However, Vauxhall signed him up for ’75 and he was soon collecting results, with third in the 1000 Lakes and Swedish rallies. In 1979, in a Chevette 2300 HS, he won the British Open Championship.
He continued to post results, with third in Sweden ’81 (Ford Escort), third on the ’82 1000 Lakes (Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo) and fifth on the same event in ’83 (Lancia 037). During the Group B era, Pentti’s allegiance was to GM and Group A Astras, but post-Group B he shone in a Mitsubishi Starion in the 1988 British Championship, which he nearly won. In 1989 he was Mitsubishi’s second driver on the RAC where, in a Galant VR-4, he gave the team its first WRC victory. But in 1990 he effectively retired and set up a rally school, where he taught a generation of rally – and racing – drivers to left-foot brake.
Always ready with a story, Pentti was a good guy to be around – unless you were an engineer. His knowledge of rally cars was gleaned from his own engineering education and a wide experience of inadequate machinery. Thus he was often at odds with team engineers and seen as a negative presence. The sad thing is Pentti was nearly always right and that, perhaps, should be his epitaph.
I did three events with him – the 1975 RAC, and the ’76 Tour of Dean and Snowman rallies. The RAC started badly when our Magnum drowned out in Sutton Park’s ford, but Pentti pressed on as if we could still win. A long service at Ae Forest meant the Kielder complex – on ice – was a road race just to stay in the event. This was a masterclass in car control, and we emerged to finish 12th and help Vauxhall to the manufacturers’ prize.
The Snowman lived up to its name, and Pentti showed me in an Escort that he was good at driving a snow plough and at devising a strategy to suit the conditions. We won by a mile and I was left convinced that Pentti’s cerebral approach wedded to his evident driving ability would secure him a bright future.
British hillclimbing lost its father figure with the death of Roy Lane on October 14. The Warwickshire driver remains one of the most successful figures in the sport’s history.
He won the British Hillclimb title four times, taking the title in 1975-76, ’92 and ’96. In the ’90s he had a successful partnership with Pilbeam. He also competed in a McRae GM1 F5000 and the unraced March 2-4-0 F1 six-wheeler.
Lane started competing in the ’60s and was still active until recently, driving a Porsche 911.His record of 90 British Hillclimb event wins was matched only by Martin Groves this year.
Jean Sage, who has died aged 70, was an unlikely F1 team manager. Well-educated and from a privileged background, he oversaw Renault’s campaigns from its 1977 entry into GP racing until its withdrawal in the ’80s.
Sage was made sporting director of the Renault Sport F1 team by long-time associate Gerard Larrousse. Their relationship dated to the mid-60s when Sage co-drove for Larrousse in major European rallies. They then set up the Ecurie Switzerland team, starting in 2-litre sports cars before graduating to single-seaters, winning the 1976 European F2 Championship with Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Larrousse says Sage was his first choice as sporting director at Renault F1 in the wake of his appointment as the French manufacturer’s competitions boss in 1976: “Jean was a very good team manager. He was a strong character, although not always easy to work with. He was hard but fair, but that meant he had the respect of the team. He was a big part of our success.”
Sage left Renault in 1985 and subsequently ran French Ferrari importer Charles Pozzi’s short-lived campaign with the F40LM in IMSA’s GTO class in the US. He stayed active on the historic scene as a competitor and organiser and was a font of knowledge on the Prancing Horse.
Sage’s own competition career took him from the rally stages into F3 and on to Le Mans, where he made four starts between ’69 and ’72.