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GP Week : Issue 27
Ari Vatanen on the 8th South Pacific Rally New Zealand 1977 It was his peak time for selling lawnmowers! I had come all the way from the other side of the world, I was itching to get going and I found the rally clashed with peak lawnmower sales time. I was waiting in my motel for Jim to sell his stock. “With just one week left to go we started the recce. We drove from four o’clock in the morning till 10 in the evening, every day. It wasn’t just driving the stages – we still had to drive the long road sections in between. As it was we had to make our notes for 300-400km a day. We hardly slept and, of course, there was no way we had a chance to check the notes. In those days I did not have much pace-note experience. Jim, from a country where the other rallies were 38 secret, even less. As for me – being a young fast impatient driver was a potential recipe for disaster! “It wasn’t long before the dramas started. I will never forget a long right hand downhill corner on tarmac. It was when the first late pace- note arrived. We were on gravel tyres because a lot of the stages were on mixed surfaces. We went off the road, straight through some trees, a long way down the hill. The only way back was to use a winch that thankfully we had in the car, but to get back we had to stretch the wire across the actual road of the stage, so for every passing car we had to slacken the line. We lost something like 25 minutes in the process. We started off again and did some great times. For these stages we had Dunlop A2 tyres, which were splendid on mixed surfaces – when they did not puncture – and we had a fantastic engine. “The dramas continued. More ‘offs’were to come, small and bigger ones, sometimes (like when a big boulder had fallen down a hill after rain), unlucky ones. The car was getting progressively more battered as the rally went on, although the wheels were still pointing in the right direction and the engine never missed a beat. But what a hard time the car had. I remember one time the car was sliding down a tarmac stretch of road on its side so that the guttering above the door was completely flattened. The car was not actually on its roof, however! “I drove off after that incident and discovered the handling was odd. The right hand front McPherson strut had popped outside the wing. It took me some while to realise what the strange object was that I saw through the windscreen. I can still remember the look on the face of our chief mechanic, Robin Vokins, when he saw that. “The highlight of the rally for me was a 102km long stage on the east coast of the North Island near Gisborne. What a stage! At this time I was running fourth car on the road and the notes had not been checked, the stage was very fast indeed, and it was in the middle of the night. The first three cars on the