Flying Finn Pentti Airikkala dies
Former World Rally Championship driver Pentti Airikkala died yesterday after a long illness.
The Finn, 64, was a frequent top-line competitor in the 1970s and 1980s, and tackled a total of 36 WRC events, mostly driving rear-wheel drive Vauxhall/Opel cars like the Chevette HS and Magnum Coupe.
A former Finnish and Scandinavian rally champion, longtime UK resident Airikkala also won the British title in 1979.
His greatest success, however, came late in his career when he won the British RAC rally in 1989 at the wheel of a Group A Mitsubishi Galant - becoming the third oldest driver to win a WRC event.
Since retiring from full-time competition, Airikkala established a driving school to teach the art of left-foot braking to race and rally drivers. His list of ex pupils includes WRC star names like Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and Jari-Matti Latvala.
On the eve of Rally de Espana, Ford rally team manager Malcolm Wilson paid tribute to his former team-mate and rival.
"My first memories of Pentti were of battling against him in 1979 and 1980 when he was driving for Vauxhall and I was in the Escorts. We later joined forces in 1981, along with Ari Vatanen, at the Rothmans team when we drove the Mk2 Escorts. He joined Ford again in 1990 for three rallies in the Sierra Cosworths. He was one of these guys with an incredible talent, and although he never got to challenge for the world title, his win on the RAC really stood out - it was a fantastic drive."