SHOWS: BEIJING, CHINA (FILE - OCTOBER 25, 1996) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 1.
ARI VATANEN (RIGHT) STANDING ON CAR CELEBRATING WITH CHAMPAGNE AFTER WINNING THE HONG KONG-BEIJING RALLY 2.
VATANEN WHISTLING ALONG TO NATIONAL ANTHEM 3.
VATANEN BEGINNING START OF STAGE 4.
VATANEN DURING STAGE ON DIRT ROAD SOUTHERN FRANCE (APRIL 22, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 5.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUR-TIME DAKAR RALLY CHAMPION AND 1981 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPION, ARI VATANEN, DESCRIBING THE MOMENT HE FELL IN LOVE WITH RACING WHEN 12 YEARS OLD, SAYING: "So, I was there sitting literally four hours before the first car came (during a racing stage in his hometown in Finland).
The first car came two o'clock in the morning and in that, I still (remember), time stopped there in my life and the first car was a white Volvo 544 and it came with the drum brakes were, you know, red hot and it was kicking up the dust and that beautiful summer night, I was orphan boy sitting there on a bank.
I mean, I mean that just absolutely took my breath away and I literally, my body stayed on that bank on that luminous Finnish summer night, but my mind went with the car and then Alan (Reuters journalist Alan Baldwin) the rest of the story (of my career) you know." BEIJING, CHINA (FILE - OCTOBER 25, 1996) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 6.
VARIOUS OF VATANEN DURING FINAL STAGE OF HONG KONG-BEIJING RALLY ON ASPHALT ROAD NEAR BEIJING, CHINA (FILE - OCTOBER 24, 1996) (HANDOUT - ACCESS ALL) 7.
VATANEN DURING PENULTIMATE HONG KONG-BEIJING RALLY STAGE SOUTHERN FRANCE (APRIL 22, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 8.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUR-TIME DAKAR RALLY CHAMPION AND 1981 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPION, ARI VATANEN, DESCRIBING THE THRILL OF DRIVING, SAYING: "For me, I think it's just, the coming to a corner, braking late, maybe even it's slightly too late, and you go for it.
And during the few seconds when you go round a corner, when you enter a corner you are maybe not quite one hundred per cent sure if you will survive and there you cannot have anything else in your mind.
You are just there and you are trying to handle that beast and that speed and the beast, your car and pure pleasure in that." ERFOUD, MOROCCO (FILE - SEPTEMBER 2006) (WIGE - ACCESS ALL) 9.
ON BOARD WITH VATANEN DURING TESTING OF THE VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG 2 AHEAD OF THE 2007 DAKAR RALLY 10.
VATANEN DRIVING PAST IN VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG 2 SOUTHERN FRANCE (APRIL 22, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 11.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUR-TIME DAKAR RALLY CHAMPION AND 1981 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPION, ARI VATANEN, DESCRIBING HIS DRIVING STYLE, SAYING: "Your driving style is like your handwriting.
It tells a lot about your personality obviously and there are not two human beings alike.
So, we are all different.
Of course, my driving style in terms of results, although I had some, it was definitely not the best.
But I just couldn't wait because nearly every corner I took it (with) that pure overwhelming pleasure was there in that corner." ERFOUD, MOROCCO (FILE - SEPTEMBER 2006) (WIGE - ACCESS ALL) 12.
VATANEN HOLDING HANDS WITH FORMER VOLKSWAGEN MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR KRIS NISSEN 13.
VATANEN SEATED NEXT TO THEN CO-DRIVER FABRIZIA PONS LOOKING AT MAP 14.
VATANEN IN CAR WITH PONS 15.
VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG 2 BEING DRIVEN BY VATANEN SOUTHERN FRANCE (APRIL 22, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 16.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUR-TIME DAKAR RALLY CHAMPION AND 1981 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPION, ARI VATANEN, ON HIS CAREER IN POLITICS AFTER RACING, SAYING: "Politics, it's a very noble cause.
It's absolutely a noble cause.
There you are at the service of the people and when I say people, I mean everybody.
It's my entire life was based on teamwork and for me maybe I'm a bit naive, but the real world is all about teamwork." BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FILE - MAY 10, 2006) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 17.
VATANEN, THEN A EUROPEAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT (MEP), SHAKING HANDS WITH FORMER RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER MIKHAIL KASYANOV AFTER A EUROPEAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE DEBATE ON THE GEOPOLITICS OF ENERGY SECURITY, WHICH VATANEN CHAIRED 18.
VATANEN SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE (FILE - DECEMBER 6, 2013) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL) 19.
VATANEN, CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE ESTONIAN AUTOSPORT UNION, POSING FOR PHOTOS ALONGSIDE HIS WIFE ON THE RED CARPET AHEAD OF A FIA PRIZE-GIVING GALA STORY: The 1981 world rally champion Ari Vatanen, who celebrates his 68th birthday on Monday (April 27), told Reuters that the desire to become a rally driver came four years after he survived a car crash which killed his father.
The Finn, now aged 12, watched a stage came to his village near the Russian border, waiting into the early hours in the soft summer light to catch a glimpse of the action.
"The first car came at two o'clock in the morning and time stopped there in my life," said Vatanen, speaking from his farmhouse in the south of France.
"The first car was a white Volvo 544 and it came with the drum brakes red hot and it was kicking up the dust...that stuff absolutely took my breath away and my body stayed on that bank in that luminous summer night but my mind went with the car." For Vatanen, a religious man, driving is an art form and the gravel roads, forest tracks and sand dunes provided the canvas for his talent.
Sometimes he tested the boundaries with a little too much enthusiasm.
"When you enter a corner you are maybe not quite 100% sure if you will survive and you cannot have anything else in your mind," he explained.
"(It's like) a violin player if he or she has a Stradivarius violin once, I'm sure he or she will play with the eyes closed.
That's how I felt, literally driving with the eyes closed because you are all with the car, in that corner.
"The car is sideways and you are fighting it and that's it." His autobiography was titled 'Every Second Counts' but it might equally have been 'I could have braked a little sooner'.
But then he would have been a different person.
"You can't change your nature, your character.
Your driving style is like your handwriting.
It tells a lot about your personality," said Vatanen, whose wild and exuberant approach thrilled an army of fans.
He once said there were not many ditches in Finland he had not ended up in.
"That was my driving style.
In terms of results it was definitely not the best but I just couldn't wait." The Finn, who won his 1981 title in a Ford Escort with David Richards as co-driver, nearly died in a 1985 accident in Argentina when his Peugeot hit a hollow at speed and he was flung from his broken seat.
Vatanen suffered eight broken ribs, crushed rib cage, fractured vertebrae, punctured lung and a broken ankle and knee.
He needed three litres of blood on the way to hospital in Cordoba.
In 1988 he was leading the Dakar comfortably when his car was stolen overnight in the Malian capital Bamako.
The Peugeot was recovered but Vatanen missed his start slot and was disqualified.
He later joined the European parliament and stood for president of motor racing's FIA governing body but lost to his former Peugeot boss Jean Todt.
"For me, politics is a very noble cause.
Absolutely a noble cause where you are at the service of the people," said the Finn.
"And by people I mean everybody.
"Maybe I am a bit naive but the real world is all about teamwork." (Production: Stefan Haskins)