Rauno Aaltonen

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Pushing a Mini uphill to win the Euro Rally title and waking up inches from falling down a mountain. But restaurant owners beware: laminate your menus to stop suspension redesigns

As an engineer, did you enjoy using up every menu and then the tablecloth at a dinner with Alec lssigonis redesigning the Mini’s front suspension?
Spike Barrett, Slough

Yes, it was after a Monte Carlo Rally and we were having lunch in the Hotel de Paris. I made some comment about the Mini suspension and Alec took out his gold pen and started drawing on the linen tablecloth. He was a super draughtsman — in just a few lines he could convey exactly what we were talking about. Then I took my pen and started putting my ideas. I don’t think we set the world right but it was a privilege to be listening to a genius, a man who could drive a car well, was an engineer and also a philosopher. I would have taken the tablecloth with me but somehow I thought it would spoil my style to do so.

Was your class win on the 1962 Tulip Rally in an MGA your first drive for BMC?
Katie Campbell, Twickenham

No, my first drive with BMC came on the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally. I had rung Stuart Turner to ask for a drive and he put me with Geoff Mabbs, who had made an entry in his own name with a works-assisted Mini. Thus I was the co-driver who drove the stages. Our rally finished with that nasty crash on Peira Cava, where Geoff rescued me from being turned into toast. The Tulip was one of Stuart’s ideas to spoil the fun of the Triumph team. He put me in an MGA in the same class as the TR4s. I took Gunnar Palm who I knew from my Saab days. We did no recce and borrowed pace notes from Pat Moss, which worked well until the Chamrousse where, when Gunnar called a hairpin left as a flat left, we realised that Pat had given us the notes for the test when it is done anti-clockwise. Anyway, we were sixth overall on scratch and won our class.

Why did you go rallying instead of racing?
Markku Similainen, Helsinki

At the start of my career I was doing as much racing as rallying. I drove Formula Junior and other single-seaters. But as I did more of both, I found rallying more interesting. Racing is much more difficult to master but it doesn’t require such a broad spectrum of skills. I found myself enjoying the broader challenge of rallying. But I didn’t give up racing: I was second at the Spa 24 Hours with Hubert Hahne in a BMW 1800 Ti in 1964 and won at Bathurst in 1966 with a Mini Cooper.

How do you remember your 1965 RAC win in the Mini?
Bob Smith, Sydney.

The whole rally was a Finnish fight between Timo Mäkinen’s Healey and I. But the critical moment came in the forests of North Wales. There was a long uphill bend on ice and halfway round I could see there was a car stopped. It was the Healey, which I didn’t fancy pushing so, without hesitation, I aimed our car at the bank, shot up it and down the other side through a small amount of snow and back onto the road. But we had lost all momentum and we too came to a stop on the ice.

Tony Ambrose got out to push while I opened my door, put one foot outside and one foot on the accelerator. I heaved against the door pillar while also getting the wheels to turn. Like that, we got to the top of the hill, out of the stage, and won the rally and the European Championship. My shoulder still hurts at the memory!

Were there any team orders from Lancia when you finished second to Harry Källstrom on the 1969 San Remo Rally?
Archie Walsh, London.

Yes there were. This was an important rally for Lancia to win as the company was in a difficult financial situation and it was not clear that their rally programme would continue. Harry was leading me by some small amount when Cesare Fiorio said that he would like us to stop fighting and thus ensure that Lancia won. He was very nervous and made me an offer that he would pay me the same prize money for finishing second as for winning. How could I refuse?

What was the story about your Liège crash in 1963?
Rob Winkley, Hampton

It was the end of the third day and we were tackling the cols in the Dolomites. Going up the Vivione, a narrow gravel track with just a single iron rail on one side and a rock face on the other, the drop arm from the Healey’s steering box sheared. We first hit the rock face, then the rail and then the rock, and finally the Healey swerved left and went under the rail and was hanging there. I could not get out because my door was damaged so Tony got out first. He had immediately to put his weight on the rear of the car to balance it while I got out. Then we had to lift the rear of our car like a road barrier every time another rally car came and all the time it was only this single rail that was stopping it from going over. By now it was dark and when the cars had all gone by, we crawled onto a ledge under the car and slept. At dawn, I woke up and was immediately aware of the nice view down over about 500 metres to the valley below.

You lost your chance of a Gold Cup on the Alpine Rally in 1965 through a policeman and a diversion. How did that happen?
John Christie, York

All the sections on the Alpine Rally were tight in the sense that you could not make a mistake even on the easy ones. We came to a place where a friendly gendarme was directing us away from the official route to avoid roadworks. Sadly, there were no more of his colleagues at the next junction and Tony could not find the local map. So he guessed and told me to turn left. It was then very quiet in the car. The road, instead of heading for the mountains and getting smaller, got bigger. Eventually he said to turn round. I went like a madman with the Mini Cooper at 8400rpm in top gear but we missed our minute at the control by 4sec, lost our chance to be unpenalised on the road sections, our Alpine Cup and, of course, our Gold Cup for three consecutive Alpines.

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