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Ari Vatanen's victory on the Thousand Lakes Rally during his 1981 World Championship winning season had one of the most amazing back-stories that you're ever likely to hear. In fact, if the great Finnish driver hadn't told the story himself, you'd never believe it. * * * * * Ari Vatanen's rise to rallying royalty happened early in the 1970s when he took it to the great Hannu Mikkola on events in their homeland, Finland. It wasn't long before Vatanen was being scouted by the Ford factory team, contesting the British Rally Championship, and eventually the WRC in factory Escort RS1800s. The problem was that because of his constant travelling around the world, the likeable blonde Finn had never had the time to complete his compulsory national service for the Finnish Army. It came to a head in mid-1981 as Vatanen and co-driver, David Richards, were in a dog fight to win the World Rally Championship. National service, however, was getting to the 'non-negotiable' point.

The pressure was on Ari Vatanen in 1981. Photo: Maurice Selden

Vatanen explains: "A big problem was looming over my quest for the World Championship: I had run out of leave and the Thousand Lakes Rally was coming up.
"I would need at least two weeks off for the practice and the rally itself. Would I have to cross it off because the Army was short of one man?
"No, it was alright," he adds. "Once again the Army displayed exemplary flexibility: as they couldn't grant me any more leave, they would give me a mission order to compete in the Thousand Lakes Rally! "And that is what they did." Now the pressure was really on the unpredictable Finn. Always fast, but often ending his rally off the road, Vatanen had increased pressure to perform. Not only was his World Championship campaign on the line as he battled against Fiat's Markku Alen, but he'd also have his Army superiors looking over his shoulder as well. Finally, after three days and 46 special stages coverage 453km of competitive driving, Vatanen took a tremendous victory, finishing 59 seconds ahead of Alen. "What satisfaction," Vatanen recalled.
"It was with a certain feeling of having done my duty that I returned to barracks: I had not betrayed the confidence that my superiors had put in me.
"I drove the winner car back from Jyvaskyla and was able to give the officers a taste of rally driving. "For once it was the enlisted man leading the officer!" Vatanen went on to win the 1981 World Rally Championship and remains one of the most popular rally drivers of all time. With stories like this, it's not hard to see why.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssou4k-ZG_o https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8d-Dka9IHE
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