A name hard to spell, a man very easy to like. So Pentti Airikkala has gone. Because he lived in England for a large percentage of his life and was always easy to get hold and such great fun when you did the British motoring press, and certainly my generation, unofficially adopted him as our ‘tame’ Finnish rally maestro.
If a story was in the works that had anything to do with car control then Pentti would get a call. Of course he took part in our sideways challenge several times. Always good fun and guaranteed to be dramatic.
His speciality of course was left-foot braking (I think I mentioned having to 'do a Pentti' in this week’s mag). Airikkala may not have invented the art himself, but like the Dali Lama and buddhism, Pentti is the figurehead of the skill. A religious simile is not actually out of place because the Pentti had an unwavering belief use of the left foot could get you out of any fix in any car; including fixes like being off the pace.
Perhaps because Sutcliffe, Harris, Frankel and I couldn’t come close to Pentti’s skill with the left foot we found some of his claims for the technique hard to grasp. Eventually we had a joke that Pentti could fix the Middle East difficulties through left-foot braking. He was that sure of it.
Airikkala won the 1989 RAC rally when he was 44 years-old. A remarkable result. It was around that time I first met him. He was driving something called a GMC Cyclone pick-up truck. Clarkson was in the front and I was in the bed out back. Pentti was impressive in the forests, but he wasn’t half bad on the King's Road, either.