Deeply sad news that Pentti Airikkala has passed away at such an untimely age. I never met him, but paid to watch him drive many times in the 1980s when he was at his pomp.
Airikkala was one of those brilliantly-skilled, yet underdog and mildly-maverick Finns that I’m not sure front-line rally sport has a place for any more.
Rallying was still close to its amateur roots back then and gifted drivers who could cobble together some cash and persuade a rally team manager that he might bring in a good result, and even better a front cover in Autosport, could wangle a drive in a top car.
He also concentrated on what he knew best — flying between the trees, sometimes into them — and avoided tarmac events like the Monte and Corsica. When I was dabbling in road rallying as a student, Airikkala’s name on the entry list for the RAC rally or, better still, my local event the Welsh Rally, was always an invitation to break out the OS Maps and venture into deepest Wales to watch the maestro at work.
Airikkala also became a household name as a regular competitor in the BBC’s annual Rallysprint (anyone out there remember it?), which pitted 1980s rally drivers against race drivers in a thinly-disguised demolition derby, suitably sponsored by Austin-Rover. Pentti was invariably the most committed and most sideways on both gravel and tarmac.Do I remember him torturing an MG Maestro at Donnington with a virtuoso display of left-foot braking that left racers like Nigel Mansell chasing his tyre smoke?