“The ignition pack went just as we left the motorway in Nottinghamshire,” says White. “It wasn’t in the forests, as reported; I don’t think we had any problems in the forest. The car just cut out. We carried a spare and one of David Sutton’s chase cars stopped and helped Henri change it.”
Fastest times through SS28 Castle O’er, SS31 Redesdale 1 – where fourth became third when Eklund’s TR lunched its V8 – SS32 Redesdale 2, SS35 Chirdonhead and SS37 Wark 2 saw Toivonen arrive at the Windermere halt 1min 34sec behind Kulläng, who in turn was 13sec in front of Waldegård.
The event would turn on its head in the Lake District first thing the following morning.
“We thought, ‘Bloody hell, there’s Kullang!’” says White. “He was sat on his bonnet. There didn’t seem that much activity. He waved as we went past.
“Then, approaching the end of the stage we noticed clouds of blue smoke and, sure enough, there was Björn parked up just beyond the stage finish.
“‘Bloody hell, we’re in the lead!’”
Kulläng had suffered a puncture at the end of the first Grizedale stage and thus entered the second without a spare. Two more flats, rears both, cost him 17min.
Waldegard’s filter bowl had become unscrewed, dumping the oil and wrecking the engine.
“I think the next service was at Coniston,” says White. “We had a cup of tea, settled down and got on with the job.”
There were 31 stages remaining – and the hunter had become the prey.
White: “Henri had a lot of respect for Hannu, so I kept asking him ‘What would Hannu do in a situation like this?’ This got him thinking. But he was well into the swing of things by then and driving like a man possessed.
“No, possessed is the wrong word. It didn’t seem like he was driving flat out, everything was so perfect. His sheer ability was out of this world. It was the most striking talent I had seen.
“He was magical.”
Toivonen and White celebrating their victory
Don Morley/Getty Images
Mikkola had been testing Audi’s Quattro prior to the RAC and admitted to being tired and overworked, and was perhaps a little rusty in Escort terms.
And maybe his Dunlops weren’t as good as Toivonen’s Michelins in the conditions.
But he was quick to point out that “Henri was too fast.”
“I can’t really say if [the Michelins] were better,” says White. “I can remember that we had just two types of forest tyre: a soft one and a puncture-resistant one with stiffened sidewalls. We just wanted to keep it simple and had decided which we wanted for which stage before the rally. How times have changed.”
Though Mikkola chased hard down the length of Wales, and through a night of rain and fog, Toivonen generally increased his lead, a sequence of six fastest stage times widening the gap beyond four minutes.
He spun at an icy junction – but so, too, did Mikkola moments later.
“We did have one big moment,” says White. “I think it was in [SS65 of 70] Glasfynydd. Henri said, ‘I don’t think we’ll do that any more.’ He was very businesslike. A terrific character, once in the car and the door was shut, it was down to business. He matured a lot during the rally.
“You just had to admire Des O’Dell, too; he showed tremendous foresight. It was such a brilliant car: so simple, strong and reliable. And the team was very small. Amazing really.
“Driving up Great Pulteney Street [in Bath] – this was my home patch – with all the fanfare and standing on the bonnet with Henri at the finish are things I will never forget.”