IN what was akin to Acropolis weather conditiorts, Ari Vatancn and co-driver Dave Richards took their immaculate Rothmans Escort to its first victory in this year's Sedan Open rally championship on the Atcost 80 International Rally, better known as "The Welsh."
Their performance over thc almost non-stop 29-hour event was as spotless as their mount, except for a spell of last-minute drama whcn the Escort's engine gave trouble on the last four stages doss dropped valve. So at last "slow Finn" had beaten "fast Finn" Hannu Mikkola, in a straight fight over 33 rounds in As forests of the Principality.
In the early days of the Welsh International, tho event earned itself a reputation as being a gruelling rally, telling on both competitor and car alike, but then in the early seventies change took place. A softening of the pace was introduced with an overnight halt and soil remained until this year. when South Wales AC decided to revert to its earlier succ.sful format of an almost non-stop event.
And so it was on Friday May 9th at one in the afternoon that 124 crews assembled outside the Cardiff City Hall for the third round of the British Open championship. The crews were lcd away, as befits a twice past winner, by Hannu Milkkola's Eaton Yale Escort, but it was Vatanen who was to lead over the opening stages in the forests of Mid-Wales. The Welsh had, as usual, attracted its share of foreign talent, but one such star, South Africa's Stool van der Mcnve, had made the long trek in vain. He entered the first Brecon stage and them he stay.1 with a stricken motor car.
Vatanen posted his intentions by setting the first three fastest times, but the determined Mikkola replied by talking the lead over the following 11 stages and well into the early hours of Saturday morning. Whilst the two Finns were battling over At premier spot, an even more determined Malcolm Wilson was turning in a scintillating performance in third place. He was holding at bay challenges from both Henri Toivonen's Talbot and Stig Blomqvist's purring Saab Turbo until disaster struck in the early hours of Saturday on the Clocarnog stages. A battery lead loosened and thc ensuing "bush" repairs, part way through the stage, saw the Total Escort drop to a lowly 29th position. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, past Welsh wizard. Russell Brookss brought the Andrews car up into the top five positions. After slogging through the night in choking dust, a brilliant sun dawned on the leading crews as they tackled the Hafren stages for the second time and with it came the news that Vatanen was piling on the pressure, but where was the Chevette HSR of Jimmy McRae? He was lying in seventh place for most of the night stages, but as the rally looped south to take in stag. around Devil's Bridge the Vauxhall's engine pve out with lack of compression, a similar fate having already spelt retirement for the Datsun Violet of Andy Dawson.
As the rally procession wound its way back down through mid-Wales towards Brecon and the Epynt ranges, Vatancn's relentless worrying of Mikkola paid off, for as the young Finn set off across tho army ground he was safe in the knowledge that fellow countryman Mikkola was well and truly in second place.
Thc ranges were visited three times in the final part of the route interspersed with forest stages and it was to be the visit to the forests which saw the rally lose Stig Blomqvist with a driveshaft breakage in his Saab. Brook.' tarmac style saw him lengthen the gap between him and teammate Toivonen, then drama struck. As Vatanen fired up the Escort at the service area at Dixies two things happened. A valve dropped and the timing belt tensioning pulley seized. Frantic activity in the David Sutton Cars rnmp broke out resulting in Vatanen continuing, but lacking low-down power, and much finger crossing took place for the remaining stages.
On the very last stage of the rally and after 220 plus milos of competitive motoring, the Sparkrite TR7 V8 of Roger Clark spluttered to r.t ; the fuel pump had cried enough and this four timos winner of the Welsh retired. Back at the Cardiff finish Hannu Mikkola waited. He knew of Vatanen's problem's problem, but would he make it the 40 miles from the ranges to the Posthouso parc fermi? After a lapse of 20 minutes talk was rife of a possible Mikkola win and Vatanen's retirement, but then tho blue and yellow striped Escort poked its nose around the corner.
So British rallying continuts with its dominance by Scandinavian drivers, but let's hope it will not be too long before we sec the lik. of Brookes, McRae and Wilson nudging the pedestal and dislodging the Finns. — S.F.
. Ar‘ Vatenen,Deve Rochards lEstod 217m. 47s. 2nd Hennu Mikkole Arne Hertz (Escort RS,
3rd : Russell BrookeePeter Brvent (Talbot Sunbeam) 22'27rn3;9: 4th : Henri Tonlonen,Peul VVhde (Talbot Sunbeam. 5th : &me Phil Shod IEscort RS) 222r, !St Sth : Anders Kullang Bruno Bedund (Aston. 4001 g1,1, Patrick pogo, Jones (escort RS) Eng: len Grindrod Croyota Cehte, trt: yertyn Jenkins ,Escon AS) di Roper Evens (Escort RS,