“It's not climate change that's the problem”: rallying legend on cars, the future
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“Wherever I can slide sideways”. That is Ari Vatanen’s answer when asked what his favourite rally is. “Driving on rails is very monotonous, you have to go sideways”.
The Finnish rally driver did, after all, spend a majority of his professional career sideways in either a Ford Escort RS1800 and Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. After winning the 1981 Championship, he went on to take home several victories during the Group B years. Few drivers can claim to have mastered the golden days of rallying as Vatanen did with his nimble Peugeot.
“People are so nostalgic about Group B,” he says. Even after all these years he says he is still recognised on the street in France every day.
Photo / Carlos Rodrigues
The turbo-charged, four-wheel-drive era took rallying to its absolute limit, producing some of the fastest and most powerful cars in the motorsport. Vatanen looks back on those years with fondness.
“People talk about Group B, then you realise Man needs some unreasonable things in life, something which makes us forget the ordinary, grey, everyday life. Man needs circus. We need circus in life, we cannot just do work. Man needs dreams and Group B did that.”
The Finn was so passionate with his words that I wondered whether he had driven to the interview in his T16.
The dangerous thrill that made Group B so popular would also be its demise. In 1986 a tragic crash claimed the lives of driver Henri Toivonen and his co-driver, adding to the already too-long list of fatalities in Group B, thus signalling the end of an era which would never be replicated.
For Ari Vatanen, the many changes that happened in motorsport and motoring technology since the 1980s go hand-in-hand with political and societal shifts. Issues such as climate change are, in his opinion, having a disproportionate impact on progress – motoring and otherwise.
“Those people who are preaching at us that the sky is falling, Like Greta Thunberg, say don’t build, don’t buy, don’t fly. Come on – that’s the end of humanity.
“Cars in five years time will be much better than cars today. They will be much more efficient. We need progress. We need to go forward all the time. We cannot stop doing things. We just have to do things better. Progress needs to go on”.
“We are like a flock of sheep – we are. We must think independently.”
Photo / Getty Images
Gone are the days where rally technology would trickle down into road vehicles in the shape of meaningful features. When it was revealed in 1980, the Audi Quattro introduced four-wheel-drive to the rally stages and it would go on to make the technology more readily available for you and I. There used to be a stronger link between what these incredible rally drivers won competitions with and what you could drive every day. Now, that connection has faded.
As legislation and market trends prioritise making cars quieter, greener and easier to operate, motoring as a noisy, petrol-burning passion becomes ever more niche. And to some extent, so does motorsport. Car makers are now more focused on selling cars to a wider audience which doesn’t appreciate motoring as much as they appreciate general transportation. As a result, the current technological advancement could be misguided.
“Come on,” he says frustrated at the idea of limiting motoring development, “we need to go forward and we need progress always and we cannot stop to go backwards.”
“What we thought was a big problem today, in ten years time we will realise we were wrong. That’s happened so many times.
“It’s not the climate that’s the problem today, it’s extreme poverty.”
“I’ve been in Africa enough to know how it is. Not only in Africa but also many Arab nations. Poverty and misery is the problem of mankind. And if these countries stop going forward that means the poor countries will stay in the darkness.”
“If those people in Timbuktu don’t have any hope in life, what will happen? Everybody deserves to have hope in life.”
Photo / Getty Images
Travelling the world for WRC stages and a fair few Paris Dakar (four of which he won) motivated Ari Vatanen to tackle poverty in some of the countries he built his success on. This inspiration carried over into his successful 10-year political career as an MEP. And for him, the threat of climate change should not be a reason to stop pushing the boundaries in motoring and motorsport.
“I’m very optimistic. We have every reason to be optimistic and of course this development will continue. Man has always underestimated the speed of progress. Always. Go and ride my Opel Manta and you will see. How the cars have developed in [the last] 40 years, it’s unbelievable.”
“Wise people keep the world right side up but the village lunatic makes it go forward.”
- Telegraph UK