Obituary: WRC winning team boss David Sutton (1940-2021)

The architect behind Ari Vatanen's 1981 World Rally Championship has passed away

820531GR Sutton 01 gdw

DirtFish is saddened to hear of the passing of David Sutton, who has died at the age of 81.

Sutton (pictured above, center) was most famous for preparing the Ford Escort RS1800 Ari Vatanen and David Richards shared on the way to the 1981 World Rally Championship title.

Sutton’s own story in rallying began behind the wheel, driving Lotus Ford Cortinas and Escorts. But it was running Finns in Fords where Sutton really found his forte.

Based out of a garage in Acton, that Anglo-Finnish alliance first hit the headlines with Timo Mäkinen on the 1968 RAC. Sutton ran an Escort MkI twin-cam loaned from Ford’s official Boreham team and the original flying Finn led the event before the car’s head gasket let go in the Scottish Borders.

Ford Escort MK I TwinCam

Sutton was always close to Boreham and his help in getting Ford’s motorsport department through a difficult period when the Blue Oval workers went on strike in 1978 wasn’t forgotten by then director of motorsport Peter Ashcroft.

With Boreham unable to get workers in to build RS1800s or the RAC, there was genuine concern that the Escort’s six-year domination of Britain’s world championship round could come to an end.

Parts and people were smuggled out of Boreham’s back door and across to David Sutton Cars, where he built six Escort MkIIs for that year’s event and ran eventual winner Hannu Mikkola’s famous blue Eaton Yale-liveried car.

When, a year later, Ford announced it wouldn’t be continuing in rallying, Ashcroft handed over cars and contracted drivers to Sutton to run a semi-works team through 1980 and 1981.

With Rothmans’ funding brokered by Richards, the team enjoyed its finest hours. A year on from the British title, Vatanen won the 1981 drivers’ title after victories on the Acropolis and in Brazil and at home in Finland.

04_810601GR Vatanen 3 gdwT

It was at the end of that year that Sutton faced a real dilemma. He was offered the opportunity to run Quattros for an Audi UK program involving his great friend Mikkola. But that would mean turning his back on Ford and any further serious WRC aspirations. In the end, he looked forward to the future and enjoyed more British successes with Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist.

Business-wise, Audi’s departure hit Sutton hard in 1986, when he had just moved into bigger premises in Daventry. He opened a Volkswagen Audi dealership and got through those tough times.

There was, however, time for one final act on the world stage. He started running Group N cars for various drivers including Stig Blomqvist, but a second world title came courtesy of Martin Rowe’s PWRC success in 2003.

Sutton’s story was always an engaging tale of David and Goliath and true to that tale, he came out on top.

DirtFish extends its sincere condolences to David’s family and his many friends around the world.

Photography by:McKlein Image Database

Words by:David Evans