My only WRC win -- Pentti Airikkala

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1989 RAC Rally

How did you come to be entered ?

All year I drove a Group N Mitsubishi in the British championship and we won the category, but I had no prospect for the RAC. Then Mikael Ericsson, who had won the 1000 Lakes for Mitsubishi, agreed to drive a Lancia for the RAC. So just before entries closed they offered me the drive. Mikael never drove the RAC because Lancia pulled out a week before to get ready for the Monte Carlo.

Did you get a chance to try the car before the rally ?

Sure, we went to Wales. But I was very much reminded that I was number two in the team: Ari Vatanen did most of the driving and I only got a chance towards the end when we were driving round in the dark. But I knew from the Group N car that the Galant needed more front grip so I persuaded them to take the front anti-roll bar off my car. They didn’t like that. They wanted to leave it on in case I changed my mind during the event. I told them that one thing I’d learned in 20 years of rallying was to be open-minded, so they let me keep it off.

Were there any surprises ?

Unusually for the RAC, the weather was pretty dry. We had two possible tyres, the Michelin F and the M: the latter was for wet mud, so the choice would have been for the F. But there didn’t seem to be enough of them so I ran nearly all the rally on the M pattern.

How did things go from the start?

Pretty good. We had a low start number, 17 cars behind Ari, but the times were good and we kept the four Toyotas in sight. But then in Wales we got some low-octane petrol in the tank and on the long stage in Dovey the pinking was terrible. You could hear it over the intercom ! After that the car burnt quite a bit of oil. Towards the end in Yorkshire we had to carry a can of oil in the car and top it up before the start of each stage. On the long Dalby Forest stage we had the oil light come on five miles from the end. I decided to risk it and keep going. When they stripped the engine after the finish at scrutineering there were turbo blades missing and the piston rings were completely knackered.

When did you think there might be a chance to win ?

When we got to Nottingham at the end of the first day we were re-seeded, so I was now fourth on the road behind the three Toyotas of Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Kenneth Eriksson. That was much better. At Carlisle we decided to lower the rear suspension by half a centimetre. This worked well, and after Juha and Kenneth had problems. I was second, only half a minute behind Carlos. I was sure that we could go for it.

But something happened…

Yes, we had a service leaving Newcastle and a long run south on main roads. The car felt okay but as soon as we hit the forests I knew something was wrong; the car was just awful. Somehow we got through to service and when we checked the toe-in on the front wheels, it was way out. With that fixed everything was all right, but I could not catch Carlos. Then he broke a propshaft with just three stages to go and his one-minute lead became a two-minute deficit. Everyone said he was unlucky, but our list of problems was much longer — and still we won 22 of the 55 stages, twice as many as anyone else ! –JD

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