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Ari Vatanen reckons rallying could be more sideways

TG chats to the World Rally hero about how the sport can improve

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Ari Vatanen and World Rallying are inseparable. He has over 500 stage wins, ten overall victories and one world championship to his name.

So who better to suggest how rallying can return to its glory days, when it was one of the most talked about forms of motorsport going?

“The first thing the World Rally Championship needs is what the rallying promoters proposed,” he tells Top Gear. “That when the drivers come to the last power stage, all the times are split by ten. Basically if Sebastien Ogier is leading by 20 seconds, he would then be leading by two seconds only.

“If you are fourth with one car a minute ahead and one a minute behind, you are cruising. You are not giving your best, and not normally having any dramas. This proposal would oblige everybody to go flat out from the word go. So that in itself will create much more dramas, and make a much more eventful race.”

He’s insistent it wouldn’t rob drivers of deserved victories. “Look over the statistics from the last 15 years and it would not have changed the winner very often. The point is the situation would remain open. You don’t want to know the murderer in Agatha Christie’s book in the middle, you want it on the last page. That is what sport is all about.”

He has another suggestion, and it’s about making rallying cheaper and easier to be a part of at its lower echelons.

“At grass roots level, the sport has to be accessible financially. What about if, for the sake of argument, it went back to rear-wheel drive only? Americans are very good because they don’t run necessarily the latest technology, they run a kind of technology available to many people, and so they get more sponsors. In NASCAR the last lap leader might change many times, and that’s what you have to aim at.

“If everyone has to have rear-wheel drive, then where is the problem? It would be very sideways, and it would be a lot cheaper”

Ari matured in rallying with a rear-drive Ford Escort, winning the 1981 world title behind the wheel of an RS1800, and acknowledges that four-wheel drive is less challenging. It’s something he sampled in the Group B Peugeot 205 T16, and which is now standard in WRC.

“A four-wheel-drive car is well balanced. You balance with a left-foot brake, you get it into the turn, and you just floor it and [mimes tiny steering inputs] you are smiling. People think you are a magician, if only they knew how easy it is!”

Do you agree with Ari? Or should rallying major on technology like Formula 1?

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