by Rob Wilkins
Legendary rally ace, Ari Vatanen was at the 2006 Rallyday on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his success in the 1981 World Rally Championship with the David Sutton-run Rothmans Ford Escort. Here, in the second of our interviews with him, he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about the WRC today and what makes Sebastien Loeb so dominant....
Ari, what do you make of the WRC today?
I have somewhat mixed feelings. On the one hand we can not just look backwards, we have to look forward and realise it is a sport that has become expensive because technology is at a state of the art level. Manufacturers' have to find a return on their investment though and if rallying marketing wise, is not a good tool to sell cars then they will do something else. We have to accept there are no long runs in Monte Carlo and RAC, instead of going all the way around the UK, now it is just in one part of it. To a certain extent you have to accept it, yet at the same time, something is obviously not quite right in rallying, because there are a maximum of three drivers' who can win the world championship at the moment – probably just one, Sebastien Loeb. So I think we have to say the prize-result ratio of rallying is not good enough for manufacturers' at the moment.
What would you like to see changed to actually improve the situation?
Well rallying as a whole must not lose the essential essence, which is that it is easily accessible. So entry to rallying has to be easy, professionally, so that some form of rallying is available to those that want to start rallying.
Also the public must always have access to the drivers' in the service parks and when a father of the family comes with four kids, he doesn't have to pay an arm and a leg to come to the service park. We must have accessibility, the accessibility of rallying must remain because that is what makes it unique as a sport.
At the moment however the manufacturers' don't seem to be getting an enough of a return on their investment. So maybe we have to retire the technology of the cars. Supposing, just for a moment, if every car had to use a four-speed gearbox and no rear-wheel drive, for example, but every car had it, so even if it is not the latest technology, the car would be on an equal footing and much cheaper and the competition would be very, very even and spectacular. So we have to be quite radical and apply lateral thinking when we talk about rallying because it is not great at the moment.
One of the changes recently concerns the SupeRally, they have tweaked that format again. What do you make of that, because obviously in your day, if you went out, you went out, do you think it confuses matters?
Well I think it is understandable - and as long as there are these penalties and the bonus' are proportionate, it is good because it is so expensive. Supposing something happens to you on the very first day of the rally, then you can still come back, if you can fix it and then all of your investment hasn't gone down the drain. So that sort of concept I am not against at all.
Can your countryman, Marcus Gronholm beat Sebastien Loeb?
I doubt it this year, Sebastien Loeb is so good.
Why has Sebastien been so dominant of late in the WRC, why do you think he is so good?
Well there are in any given era drivers' - whether he is called Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna or Sebastien Loeb - who are just simply, very fast. I don't think one can, sort of really break it down, why he is so good. It is just the overall package, himself and his car. He has an unbeatable package and he makes very few mistakes. He came to the top very fast, so he is very, very gifted. And of course, the fact at the moment, the world championship is not having its field day, it helps, but I still think even if there were ten drivers' capable of winning the world championship, Loeb would still win lots of rallies.