Automobile

Slowing Down Has Never Looked So Hard

The greatest piece of onboard driving footage is, without a shred of doubt in my mind, the legendary Ari Vatanen going flat-out down a narrow rally stage, clipping a cattle guard, and nearly careening off the road while his codriver calmly intones “dear God.” Here is a bit more context to that moment.

First, the Dear God clip, with Vatanen at the wheel and Terry Harryman reading the rather basic pacenotes of the day, this being the 1983 Manx Rally in the Isle of Man. Pacenotes were pretty bare at the best of times in the UK rallying scene around then, with the World Rally Championship round running with no actual pacenotes all the way through 1986.

In any case, here’s Vatanen and Harryman, not at the Manx rally but at the actual WRC round, then called the RAC Rally. The car is the same rear-wheel-drive Opel Manta 400. It is a relatively basic machine, kind of like the European equivalent of the Chevy Camaro.

The main takeaway for me is just how much the car moves under braking. Vatanen is straight up sawing at the wheel under the brakes. He’s using a third of a full turn going in a straight line. I’ve seen less dramatic driving in Hollywood stunt scenes.

Vatanen was at the height of his powers in this era, coming off of a 1981 season that saw him become the first and only privateer to win the WRC outright, capturing the title in a MKII Ford Escort not too different from this Opel. It’s not a question of him being out of his depth. It’s a question of how challenging these kinds of rear-drive rally cars were to drive, or at least how much they enjoyed taking up the entirety of the road at all times.

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