The story of Airikkala’s sole WRC triumph

After years of trying, the Finn's moment finally arrived on the 1989 RAC Rally

Girardo Overlay [White]-5

This was supposed to be a picture of a Mitsubishi Starion on the 1988 Cartel International Rally. Or an Opel Manta 400, same woods a year earlier. Either way, it was a shot of Pentti Airikkala winning the British opener.

Then I found this and couldn’t resist switching the focus to the Finn’s sole World Rally Championship win. This is 1989. After a year of racing – and beating – Colin McRae for the British Group N title, he was rewarded with a drive aboard a factory Ralliart Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.

The field for the final round of the series was thinner than expected, with Miki Biasion and Lancia having long since taken the titles. There was, however, still plenty of quality on offer with Juha Kankkunen, Carlos Sainz and Kenneth Eriksson all running works Toyotas, a brace of Mazda 323s for Hannu Mikkola and Timo Salonen and then, of course, there was Airikkala’s team-mate Ari Vatanen. If there was going to be a Finnish-flagged Galant winning, the sensible bets were likely on the 1981 world champion rather than his countryman who had tried and failed to win a WRC round for the previous 15 years.

Airikkala survived Sunday’s Mickey Mouse stages around the stately homes of the British Midlands. He moved from fifth to fourth on a day in Wales and was then up to second a minute and a half down on Sainz after Kielder. Two days to go. Surely the Spaniard could bring this one home?


Airikkala had never finished on the podium in 14 attempts prior to his 1989 RAC Rally (Rally GB) victory

Scotland and Airikkala found some speed, winning all but one of the stages he took a minute out of the leader. The RAC remained a blind rally that year, but Pentti’s time in the British championship had clearly served him well.

On a return leg through Yorkshire, Airikkala continued to push, but with 25 seconds in hand and just three stages to run, Sainz looked in control. With eight miles of Dalby remaining, the propshaft on his Celica GT4 snapped. He dropped close to two minutes and Airikkala’s dream was real.

A couple of hours later and he and Ronan McNamee rolled into Nottingham as world championship rally winners with a great story to tell.