With his recent visit, Ari Vatanen has sent us this touching story about the Peugeot 205 T16, one of the best Group B cars. We had been conversing about the golden age of rallying and whether the current day sport is as memorable.
Ari takes up the story:
Every now and then I still see a Peugeot 205 passing me with a faded red, blue and yellow logo on it. No, it is not the flag of some insignificant far away island, they are the colours of Peugeot Talbot Sport. My memories from that period have not faded. It was the best time in my rallying career – or should I say in my life? Not because I won some rallies but thanks to the fact that during my 205-time I saw all the colours of life from the darkest till the brightest.
Many more colours than there are in a rainbow. We shook hands with the royals in front of a palaces and met the poorest of poor behind the dynes. I had an incredible win in 1985 Monte Carlo Rally and few months later I nearly lost my life in Argentina. We went up the Champs Elysée in a winning parade and our heads went down by the unjust death of our friend Christian Tarin in the rally of Pharaoh.
The depth of life is not measured by number of rally wins and as my wife Rita says – “too much success does to us what the sun does to Sahara”.
The Peugeot 205 T 16 is much more than a rally car to me. There is a profound human story behind it. In early eighties, Peugeot had very little money left in the coffers but despite that, MD Mr Boillot took alone a very courageous decision to take up rallying. He passed recently away and I remember him with respect and emotion. Mr Boillot gave free hands to Jean Todt who rolled up his sleeves – and the rest is history!
Not many realise the vital role 205 T 16 rally program played in the rescue plan of Peugeot, we were not only fighting for a rally win but at the same time factory workers livelihood got a new lease of life. In the beginning the sceptics were trying to dampen our spirits: the untried technical concept with french personel and attitude: that will not work! Deep inside I knew better – Jean, the determined eyes of our mechanics and the discreet wisdom of Jean Claude Vaucard had convinced me.
I could not imagine beforehand the dimensions this human adventure! The mechanics were working on Bois de Boulogne throughout the night and Jean brought them croissants in the morning. Not many team principals would do this. Our team was welded together by the hope of things to come. I fell in love with the car immediately.
No other car has rendered me as confident as the 205 T16. With faith we can move mountains! The car felt like a glove in my hand, I clicked my fingers and 205 did the trick. I had a smile on my face whether I was at Pikes Peak or in Paris Dakar. The 205 captured the attention of the French nation in an unprecedented way. It left nobody indifferent – our victories and setbacks were shared by the Elysèe and a refugee cleaning lady at Sochaux. Daily troubles were forgotten for a moment.
Is this not what the real mission in life is all about? Raise ourselves above boundaries and see in a fellow human being what we have in common? Even nowadays people come often up to me and refer to the 205 “belle epoque”: “Merci pour nous avoir fer revé!” Je suis honoré.
‘Thank you for making us to dream. I’m honoured’.
We may very well never see the likes of Ari Vatanen again – our sport has changed and evolved. One would hope our modern day rally drivers are revered in the future like our past heros. It’s up to our modern day drivers to create these memories today, drive like there is no tomorrow and be remembered for their efforts – Its one of the ways of preserving our sport for future generations – our sport must remain vibrant and exciting and it all starts from the drivers seat. Ari proved that without any doubt.