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GP Week : Issue 66
GPWEEK OPINION >> Airikkala's experiences of individual world championship events was limited. He concentrated on Finland, Sweden and Britain but he also competed twice in New Zealand. For all his spectacular driving techniques Airikkala was in fact a safe driver but he had two accidents which marked his career. In 1980 he had a painful accident on the Motogard Rally of New Zealand in circumstances which at that time raised many questions. These were the days of debate about the wisdom of running secret route special stages and on this occasion the inevitable happened. There was a dangerously sudden bend after a flying finish line and the crash put him out of action for several weeks. The accident happened near the end of the event, which finished far down the country's South Island. It was interesting that his career ended with a major crash on the RAC Rally 10 years later, which caused him a permanent injury to his shoulder -- that was also the year after the final time the world championship used secret stages. Pentti had a lot of opportunities in his life and he seized them all when they came along. He drove for the official teams at Toyota, Vauxhall, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Opel, and it was thanks to a last minute opportunity to drive for Mitsubishi that he won his single world championship victory, on the 1989 Lombard RAC Rally. A lot of people have very good reason for being fond of Pentti. One person who owes a lot of his career to Pentti is Jari-Matti Latvala: "He was a nice guy, with different ideas to other people and he had a remarkable self-belief. It is nice when somebody does what they believe in, and I think I learned from him in that way. I learned many other basic things about rallying from him about car handling and he taught me my pace-note system. "There are many things I will remember, especially how he was always telling jokes. I have no idea where he got those jokes from! Good jokes and awful ones. But on a practical level he helped me a lot. He really kick-started my career." The Australian hasn't quite hit the heights in MotoGP, but you might think he's done well enough, on the downbeat Suzuki, to have earned a place in the series. Sadly, he couldn't find a factory- team offer in MotoGP. When Kawasaki were able to offer him just that in Superbikes, he jumped at it: "I don't see it as a backward step," he insisted. But then he would say that, wouldn't he. It's a loss to MotoGP, if only in the loss of another Australian gone, leaving just Stoner to represent that great racing nation in MotoGP. Much of the above is also true for Briton James Toseland, also returning to SBK next year. As Vermeulen pointed out, the entry list for next year shows that out of 18 MotoGP riders, ten will be Spanish or Italian. MotoGP is becoming exactly the wrong sort of closed shop. The third event was the long- delayed confirmation that Ben Spies is turning his back on the second year that Yamaha wanted him to spend in Superbikes to come straight to MotoGP. This clearly underlines which series he sees as more important. Him and every other rider, and surely also most of (although not all) the fans. Spies may also want to avoid the trap that somehow spoils Superbike riders for GP bikes. A modern 800 is more like a 250 to ride, Rossi has confirmed, than a big four-stroke. Spies's predecessors have all had problems unlearning the style that made them successful in SBK. Whichever is better, the talent is still drawn to MotoGP. And Superbikes will as a result always be the poor relation. no robbery Australian MotoGP rider Chris Vermeulen -- headed back to Superbikes. in 2010. 21