Vatanen the star at Rally Day
- 31st July 2006, 8:28am
Team manager David Sutton and many members of the only private team ever to win the championship were part of the celebrations, along with members from RothmansEscorts.com.
After driving the Castle Combe circuit in VLE756X, the immaculately-preserved Rothmans Escort kindly loaned by Beaulieu's National Motor Museum, Vatanen remarked: "I must have been a really good driver 25 years ago - this car is a real handful!"
Making his first visit to Rallyday, Vatanen proved a huge hit with the spectators from around the world and was surrounded by enthusiastic rally fans wherever he went.
"The UK was the country where my professional career took off, so this is like a big family reunion. It's fantastic to meet all these people," he said.
David Richards, another first-time visitor, who flew in especially, said: "This is an incredible show. I've only read about it before, but it's a great opportunity for everyone to get together in a relaxed atmosphere."
World Rally Championship teams were also there in force, with full-specification World Rally Cars from the BP Ford World Rally Team, Mitsubishi Motor Sports Team and the Eddie Stobart Motorsport Team. They were driven by Mikko Hirvonen, Mark Higgins and Matthew Wilson respectively and all three drivers gave the crowds spectacular driving displays.
Hirvonen, who thrilled the thousands of rally fans throughout the day in the current Castrol Ford Focus WRC06 on numerous track sessions, commented: "This is my first time here, but it's great to see all these famous rally cars".
The event also celebrated the 25th anniversary of Talbot winning the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, with over 40 examples of the Sunbeam Lotus plus a number of immaculately prepared ex-works cars. Lancia's centenary celebrations also took place, in the shape of a major display of the evocative Italian machinery - including 50 Delta Integrales - highlighting the company's rallying pedigree with a collection of some of the world's most iconic rally cars.
The star-studded event also included Jimmy McRae, Pentti Airikkala, Russell Brookes and Phil Collins, plus a huge collection of historic rally cars from the Group 4 and Group B eras.
Brookes, back behind the wheel of an Andrews Heat For Hire Opel Manta 400, said: "I used to race here in my early career, but today's crowd is much bigger! It's a great day."
The on-track action was complimented by a new Bowler Wildcat rally ride experience from the world of Rally Raid, stunning driving displays from Russ Swift and live commentary by TV personalities Jon Desborough, Tony Mason and Nicky Grist. Proceedings halted for an emotional one-minute silence at Noon, in honour of the late Richard Burns and Michael Park, both of whom were at Rallyday 2005.
Immediately afterwards, Richard's father, Alex, drove Richard's Subaru Impreza RB5 as the lead car in a parade of 50 RB5s.
Packed with more action, celebrities, original works rally cars and larger crowds than ever before, Rallyday 2006 confirmed its status as the UK's premier rally car show.
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