With a father who was himself a keen amateur rally driver, Stig Blomqvist was able to indulge his passion for cars from a very young age – indeed, he co-drove for his father as early as the age of 12. By the time that he was old enough to hold a licence, Blomqvist was competing in rallies – and getting in the thick of the action with some seasoned campaigners.
Often working in cahoots with another aspiring star from Orebro, Per Eklund, the two young guns supplemented their incomes as driving instructors for the Kvinnersta Folkhogskola until both men were taken on by Saab as members of its works team.
Blomqvist got to master his craft as part of the tight-knit team from Trollhattan with its unique front-wheel-drive cars. He won the Swedish Rally for the first time in 1971 – the same year in which he also won his first RAC Rally. He would compete almost exclusively for Saab until 1981, when Saab gave up the unequal struggle to make its turbocharged car competitive and withdrew from the sport.
Eventually Blomqvist did a deal with Des O’Dell, the much-loved manager at Talbot, whose little Sunbeam Lotus was one of the most potent pre-Quattro rally cars. Adapting quickly to rear-wheel drive, Blomqvist’s third place on the RAC Rally secured Talbot the manufacturers’ world championship. Almost immediately, Peugeot took control of the rally programme, with former co-driver Jean Todt being given the reins. He wanted a star to develop and drive his new Group B car, the Peugeot 205 T16, but before he knew it Blomqvist was gone – to Audi.
‘Ah it was fantastic really,’ Blomqvist recalled. ‘I remember the first time I went down to Ingolstadt and got to drive in the car and I couldn’t believe the difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive because that’s like day and night.’
Also like day and night was the way in which Blomqvist drove the Audi Quattro. Team leader Hannu Mikkola’s driving style was smooth and fluid, and he had never needed to adapt the left-foot braking technique that front-wheel-drive cars demand. Blomqvist immediately felt at home in the understeering Audi and used his left foot to provoke incredible behaviour in the corners, throwing the car’s tail to corner in a perfect arc.
‘It was a big step from everything else, so that was an evolution for the rally I think and everybody had to gear up a bit and get something sorted,’ Blomqvist remembered. ‘Yeah, okay, they are nice looking and the sound is nice, the speed between the corners is quite good and they’re quite exciting I think.’
Blomqvist was engaged by Audi’s Swedish importer to contest the national rally championship in 1982 – and he won every round. Audi Sport also called upon his services in Sweden’s round of the World Rally Championship and, again, Blomqvist won. In the autumn, Audi Sport needed a reliable pair of hands to score points to prise Opel’s grasp from he manufacturers’ title and to support Michele Mouton’s bid for the drivers’ title. In the end he scored 35 points on the 1,000 Lakes and Sanremo rallies, compared with Mouton’s 10.
The idea of being a team player in the sense of handing over a hard-won position was something of an anathema to the Swede. So too was talking about the job to the media. In the car is simply where he has always been happiest, and out of it he has the ability to make modern-day Formula 1 ‘Iceman’ Kimi Raikkonen look as needy and attention-seeking as a reality TV starlet.
The European press of the day loved to give drivers nicknames – although Blomqvist clearly perplexed them. Where Hannu Mikkola was ‘the flying Finn’ and Michele Mouton was ‘the devil with the face of an angel’ then Blomqvist was ‘the lonely man of the forests’.
The Swede played second fiddle to Mikkola’s charge for the drivers’ championship in 1983 and also took over the Finn’s seat in Audi UK’s car in the British championship – which he won. But the payback for these labours came in 1984, when Blomqvist became de facto team leader and the rest of the Audi team was there to support him.
‘The team was really strong and they knew what to do so it was a very, very good time and we were very hard to beat – and winning the championship was a nice feeling,’ he chuckled. ‘When I was winning the championship I think we stayed about 290 days at hotels. We were never at home, actually.’
In 1985, Audi plummeted in terms of competitiveness, and Blomqvist intensely disliked the short wheelbase cars. His ideal Audi would have married the Quattro A2 with the 550 bhp engine from the Sport quattro S1 – but having committed so much resource to the short cars, a hybrid was never going to happen. In the end, Blomqvist left Audi at the end of 1985 and did a deal with Ford.
He remained with Ford until the 1990s, when the rise of front-wheel-drive classes in national series and the F2 World Championship saw Blomqvist’s skills high in demand – most notably with Skoda, where this author had the bittersweet job of doing his public relations work.
The downside to the job was presenting him for interviews – occasions that he generally loathed. The upsides included his staggering third place overall on the snowy 1996 RAC Rally in a tiny 1,600cc Skoda – beaten only by two works WRC cars and in front of much four-wheel-drive turbo technology – and catching a ride on a media event to witness him in full flight. In the midst of the ditch-hopping pandemonium there was a look of absolute serenity to Stig, just the lightest fingertip control on the wheel as his feet danced away below decks to summon up the speed, the direction and the attitude at which he wished to be travelling. It was a five-minute masterclass. The lonely man of the forests? Not at all. On the morning after the 1996 RAC, most of the team crawled out of bed with thick heads and checked out of the hotel, only to find Stig sat regally in the bar, surrounded by adoring rally men. His front-line career lasted until 2006, since when he has been a regular front runner in historic competition and attended many an Audi reunion, while also proudly watching his son Tom’s career in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) touring cars.