The brief was simple. An email to all the journalists on Autocar: pick your favourite racing driver of all time.
What we didn’t expect was quite the repertoire of answers that came back. Covering most eras and a vast spectrum of the sport – from Formula 1 to club racing – it just goes to show how varied motorsport and its followers are. For once, there are no wrong answers: it has led to many discussions and a fair amount of incredulity but, in the end, it’s all about personal choice.
Do you agree with us? Would you go for someone different? Let us know in the comments below.
You know how the post race/stage interview goes by now, don’t you? ‘Oh, it was tough out there’, or ‘we got the win but it was hard work’ – all of it delivered with the sort of dour and downbeat delivery that suggested they’d just spent the last few hours cleaning the toilets in a nightclub after a particularly busy Friday evening rather than flinging some of the most exciting motorsport machines around the the fastest circuits or down rutted forestry tracks.
Not so Welsh rallying wizard David Llewellin, who’s smiling, garrulous and slightly wide-eyed interview style always gave the impression that he couldn’t quite believe his luck; that here he was, a farmer from West Wales, being paid to drive rally cars as fast as they would go. This infectious enthusiasm made an instant impression on my younger self, my increasing fascination with the sport coinciding with Llewellin’s rise through the ranks of rallying.
With his trademark moustache, Dai (as he was always known) shot to prominence in the Metro 6R4, taking the car’s first international win in the 1986 Circuit of Ireland. That victory proved that behind the smiles and the quips delivered in those lilting Welsh tones (‘Hannua Mikkola, eh? I reckon he could drive a wheelbarrow quickly’), Llewellin was properly fast, beating both the aforementioned 1983 world champ Mikkola and established domestic aces Jimmy McRae and Russell Brooks.
That year also brought some big crashes, including launching the Metro off a 60ft drop and barrel-rolling it to destruction as he hounded Mikkola in pursuit of a debut home win on the Welsh Rally. Yet even as he stood stageside in the driving rain, wrecked 6R4 lying in the valley below him there was that trademark mischievousness in his interview with the BBC’s Steve Rider. “The boys have just rolled it back on its wheels and dragged it out for me to take home (pause for a beat, smile). In a box.”
The following couple of years of Group A machinery saw him thrillingly and valiantly wrestle with the underpowered, naturally aspirated Audi Coupe Quattro. No it wasn’t a fire-spitting Group S1, but it sounded great to my 10-year old ears, wailing away as Llewellin squeezed out every last drop of performance from its five cylinders. He couldn’t stop McRae racking up the final two of his five British titles, but he came close, his fast and committed approach allowed him to beat the Scot’s far more muscular Ford Sierra RS Cosworth on more than one rally.
Then in 1989 Dai finally got his hands on a car worthy of his talents – the Toyota Celica GT-4. Against an admittedly weakened field (Malcom Wilson and Colin McRae were in attendance, but their powerful Sierras were two wheels short of total traction) he swept to two consecutive British crowns. Although mechanical maladies meant that success on his home round of the WRC eluded him in his title-winning years, his efforts ensured he gained a well-deserved, full-time shot on the world stage in 1991.