Vatanen - Every Second Counts

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by Ari Vatanen and Vesa Vaisanen. 287pp. 85/8 x 57/8. (SAF Publishing, PO Box 150. Harrow, Middlesex HA3 ODH. £7.95).

Biographers, like rally navigators, have a thankless job. Have you ever felt, after reading the biography of someone you know pretty well, that the writer didn’t really get to know his subject at all?

One who has succeeded in penetrating the intimate depths of his subject and turning his discoveries into a very readable work is the Finnish writer Vesa Vaisinen, whose fascinating story on the life of Ari Vatarten, written in conjunction with the man himself, has been updated, translated into English and re-published as a high-quality paperback.

Vaisanen and Vatanen were good friends long before the 1981 World Champion was known anywhere outside his native Tuupovaara, so Vaisanen has been able to write with the benefit of an intimacy which few biographers are privileged to experience. Books on drivers’ lives all too often remain within the blinkered view through the windscreen. What seems to matter most to authors are how they started, how they progressed, what they won or lost and how they finished. Close personal details, save for occasional family portraits, rarely figure. This book is not in that category.

We have partnered Vatanen in the throes of competition, both in his native Finland and in the tropics, and can vouch for the book’s authenticity, but its real peerlessness lies in its uncommon frankness. How many drivers, for instance, would want it published that for a long time they lived in fear of having contracted AIDS (from transfusions in this case, not for any other reason)? Or that depression caused their metabolism to sink so low that they were in danger of dying simply because fear had eroded their will to live? After his horrific accident in Argentina in 1985, when he broke his spine and eight ribs, and punctured a lung, Vatanen’s recovery bordered the miraculous, and all this is related lucidly in the book.

Vatanen also has much of interest to say about Jean Todt, the one team manager who had the guts to challenge FISA and put his money where his mouth was, and who stuck to his belief that if a driver cannot turn to his team in time of immense personal stress, then the team isn’t worth the paper its contacts are written on.

Vatanen is a sensitive, godly man at whom some people poke fun when he spurns champagne on winners’ rostrums in favour of milk or lemonade, but to us he is a man of conviction whose attitude to life never varies according to the publicity climate. Vesa Vaisanen and translator Kusniera have produced a remarkably enlightening, almost confidential, volume which we have no hesitation in recommending, whether you are a rally enthusiast or a deep-sea diver. GP