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Former World champ Ari Vatanen backs Northern Ireland Air Ambulance fund

By Sammy Hamill

Published 05/04/2016

Vital service: Ari Vatanen was airlifted after a crash in 1985
Vital service: Ari Vatanen was airlifted after a crash in 1985

Former World champion Ari Vatanen will head an all-star cast for a pre-Circuit of Ireland forum at the King's Hall tomorrow night, the proceeds of which will go to help set up Northern Ireland's first Air Ambulance service.

The Finn, who was World champion in 1981 and a four-time winner of the Paris-Dakar Rally, is primarily here to see his son Max contest his first Circuit of Ireland but readily agreed to take part in the forum when he heard it was aimed at raising funds for such a good cause.

Vatanen, of course, was severely injured and had to be airlifted to hospital following a heavy accident in Argentina in 1985 when the Peugeot 206 T16 he was sharing with Ulster co-driver Terry Harryman was destroyed in a spectacular crash.

He has always had strong connections with Irish rallying and although he never won the Circuit of Ireland, he is a past Donegal International winner. He later became a member of the European parliament and lost out in the final vote to become president of the FIA to Jean Todt, who was once his Peugeot team boss.

Vatanen will be joined on stage at the King's Hall's Octagon by a number of the leading competitors from this year's rally including Elfyn Evans, Keith Cronin and European championship leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz. It will be hosted by the World Rally Championship's radio presenter Becs Williams.

Doors open at 7.15pm and the organisers are asking for a minimum donation of £8 which will go to the Air Ambulance fund.

Meanwhile, Max Vatanen had his first experience of Irish tarmac rally roads yesterday when he took part in a test session with Evans and the DMACK Tyres Ford team south of the border.

They were among a number of drivers who, over the past two days, have availed of the test stage in Monaghan to allow them to fine tune settings.

Craig Breen was among those in action on Sunday, last year's winner having his first run in the Lakeland Tyres-backed R5 Citroen DS3 he will drive this time. Kajetanowicz, David Bogie, Euan Thorburn, Jonny Greer and Stephen Wright also took part.

Desi Henry and Marty McCormack elected to go to the Circuit of Kerry with their Skodas, finishing fourth and sixth respectively. Things did not go so well for Robert Woodside and Rob Duggan who were both forced out with mechanical gremlins.

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