WRC pre­view: 1986 Monte

Peu­geot was given a shock on the 1986 sea­son opener. By David Evans T

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his was it. The one we’d been wait­ing for. Three years in the mak­ing, Group B was com­ing to the boil.

Rarely had a sea­son been so ea­gerly awaited as 1986. Chap­ter one, the Monte, was billed as a straight fight be­tween Peu­geot and Wal­ter Rohrl. Why wouldn’t it be? In the hands of Ari Vata­nen, the 205 T16 had slaugh­tered ev­ery­thing in its way in the Alps 12 months be­fore. Ad­mit­tedly, AV was miss­ing – still re­cov­er­ing from his hor­rific Rally Ar­gentina shunt the pre­vi­ous sea­son. But Peu­geot had world cham­pion Timo Salo­nen, as­phalt ace Bruno Saby and new boy Finn Juha Kankkunen.

Audi had Rohrl. And Rohrl had won this event on four of the last six oc­ca­sions. Granted, the Ger­man might have been shown the way home by Vata­nen in 1985. But that was in the evil-han­dling quat­tro Sport. He now had an even more pow­er­ful – 500bhp-plus – quat­tro E2, com­plete with in­sane aero, at his dis­posal.

Three Lan­cia Delta S4s lined up and were given lip ser­vice, but not an aw­ful lot more. Any­body ar­gu­ing in favour of the ma­chine that had won on its de­but in Bri­tain the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber was pointed quickly in the di­rec­tion of Markku Alen’s car, which suf­fered a mis­fire on the con­cen­tra­tion run from Sestriere. That en­gine-map­ping prob­lem would con­tinue into the event, rul­ing Alen out at the mid­point.

Con­verg­ing on Aix-les-bains from six con­cen­tra­tion runs, the Au­to­mo­bile Club de Monaco pro­vided a clas­sic route with six stages on Sun­day (Jan­uary 19) af­ter­noon and evening. An overnight halt re­turned the crews to the com­pe­ti­tion for six more stages on Mon­day af­ter­noon be­fore a de­cent night’s sleep. Tues­day morn­ing started the run south through the Ardeche and through Tues­day night, ar­riv­ing in Monaco on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. The fi­nal loop headed out of the prin­ci­pal­ity late morn­ing Thurs­day, con­clud­ing with a dawn ar­rival for a har­bour­side fin­ish on Fri­day.

A proper Monte.

Lan­cia strikes early

And six stages in, a proper Monte up­set for the French: Lan­cia was 1-2-3. Henri Toivo­nen was on a mis­sion. And there was more to this mis­sion than met the eye. Twenty years be­fore, Henri’s father Pauli had ‘won’ the Monte in a Group 1 Citroen DS 21.

Or at least he’d ar­rived at the fin­ish fifth, only to move up the or­der when three BMC Mi­nis and Roger Clark’s Lotus Cortina were ex­cluded for trumped-up ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties with their headlights.

Toivo­nen wasn’t happy. And hadn’t been for the du­ra­tion of the 1966 event – right from when his recce car broke down on top of the Col de Turini. Toivo­nen tele­phoned team man­ager Rene Cot­ton, who sug­gested the best bet would be for Pauli to pop back to Paris and pick up an­other. That con­ver­sa­tion had ended shortly af­ter­wards.

And Toivo­nen’s Citroen con­tract also went south when he elected not to go and pick up the win­ner’s sil­ver­ware at the fin­ish.

This event meant plenty to the Toivo­nen fam­ily.

Hence the ex­cite­ment when Henri ended the first night two decades on with a time half a minute faster than any­body through the Char­treuse stage. By the fol­low­ing evening and the 11-hour rest halt in Grospier­res, he was 1m41s ahead, with Rohrl his clos­est pur­suer.

Neil Wil­son, the man who co-drove Tovoinen to RAC vic­tory at the end of 1985, was work­ing with Henri’s brother Harri as one of the ice note crews.

Wil­son re­calls: “When we were on top of the Lan­cia, cel­e­brat­ing at the fin­ish of the RAC, I told Henri it would be eas­ier from now on.”

Wait­ing to go into Burzet at 10 o’clock on Tues­day morn­ing, Toivo­nen re­mem­bered that con­ver­sa­tion. He told Wil­son: “You were right, it’s so easy now…”

Forced to give best to Saby’s Peu­geot in Burzet, that stage did spell the end of Rohrl’s chal­lenge. Stop­ping to change a punc­ture, he dis­cov­ered the Audi me­chan­ics had for­got­ten to switch the spare from the pre­vi­ous evening. Six min­utes were dropped as Rohrl hob­bled out of the test on three slicks and one stud­ded Miche­lin.

Ad­mit­tedly, Salo­nen was still just about within strik­ing dis­tance, but things were look­ing in­creas­ingly com­fort­able for the leader as he headed out of SS12.

Rogue Pug in­ter­venes

Then ev­ery­thing went wrong. A spec­ta­tor hur­tled around a blind bend on the wrong side and slammed into the front of the #7 Delta. The fan was, iron­i­cally, driv­ing a Peu­geot.

The near-side front wheel was ripped from Toivo­nen’s car, with ex­ten­sive dam­age to the ra­di­a­tor, sus­pen­sion and steer­ing. The team worked fran­ti­cally to re­build the S4, chop­ping out parts of the dam­aged space­frame chas­sis and weld­ing in new steel tubes. In­cred­i­bly, the car was kept on the road and the re­pair would be re­fined as the event pro­gressed – but there was noth­ing to be done about the fact that the left-hand side was now two cen­time­tres shorter than the right, pro­vid­ing wicked un­der­steer on right-han­ders.

Toivo­nen didn’t es­cape un­scathed ei­ther, hurt­ing his hip in the shunt. He would spend the rest of the rally on painkillers.

The best pain re­lief came with the news that he was still ahead. Salo­nen had been kept at bay. For now.

There was noth­ing Toivo­nen could do when a stud punc­tured one of his Pirellis on the Col de Garcinets stage, just south of Gap on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. He dropped a minute and a half. The rally had a new leader. France could breath again. There was more mis­ery for Toivo­nen and Lan­cia on the fol­low­ing Sis­teron stage. As usual, the start was mostly dry, with snow and ice wait­ing over the top and down the north-fac­ing side. Just below the in­fa­mous and al­ways ice-filled hair­pins on the fi­nal push up to the Col de Font­belle, Lan­cia waited for its men. A mid­stage tyre change was planned. Slicks were re­placed by studs, but the Pirelli racer had been too hard and Toivo­nen wasn’t able to get enough heat into them to lean on them fully. More time went Salo­nen’s way.

The fight­back

The be­spec­ta­cled Finn drove into Monaco with a 33-se­cond lead over Toivo­nen. He headed straight


for the Beach Plaza ho­tel and a well-earned rest.

Toivo­nen? He headed in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, to­wards the he­li­port on the other side of town. It might have been get­ting late in the af­ter­noon, but he took off and headed north, bound for a Delta S4 prac­tice car and to­mor­row’s first two stages.

He and co-driver Ser­gio Cresto com­pleted a fi­nal recce of Col de la Madone and Turini. The ben­e­fits were two-fold: fur­ther im­prov­ing their knowl­edge of the roads while si­mul­ta­ne­ously deal­ing Salo­nen a psy­cho­log­i­cal blow as he en­joyed the Mediter­ranean sun­set from his room.

The ben­e­fits were de­bat­able when Salo­nen ex­tended his lead on the open­ing stage of the fi­nal loop the fol­low­ing lunchtime, ex­ploit­ing the ad­van­tage his Miche­lin-shod T16 had in dry con­di­tions.

As the route moved north and west through the Alpes Mar­itimes, the weather went south. Cloud, rain, sleet and snow moved in. By the third stage of the loop, Toivo­nen was back in charge. And back out front.

At the time, ques­tions were raised about the de­fence Salo­nen put up in the face of a string of fastest times from his coun­try­man. But the reign­ing world cham­pion was a shrewd op­er­a­tor and one un­will­ing to risk all in the pur­suit of a vic­tory in con­di­tions where he felt far from com­fort­able.

Af­ter a fi­nal early evening ser­vice in Monaco, the crews drove into the night for the last time. An­other lap of the moun­tains awaited them be­fore an 0700hrs fin­ish.

Toivo­nen was, by now, in com­plete con­trol and would fin­ish the event more than four min­utes ahead of Salo­nen. Typ­i­cally, Pirelli had come up with the goods in cold, change­able con­di­tions and, with all the other man­u­fac­tur­ers look­ing to the French for their rubber, only Lan­cia and chiefly Toivo­nen ben­e­fited. Had it not been for that er­rant Peu­geot af­ter Burzet and slow punc­ture a few stages later, the mar­gin could have been con­sid­er­ably big­ger.

Hannu Mikkola made it three dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers on the podium with his quat­tro third, one place ahead of the sis­ter ma­chine of Rohrl. Kankkunen played him­self into his new job with fifth, al­beit al­most half an hour down af­ter more than 10 hours of com­pe­ti­tion.

Saby over­came trans­mis­sion trou­ble to en­sure all three works 205s fin­ished in the top six. But ul­ti­mately, the French went home empty-handed. There was no Vata­nen-in­spired mir­a­cle fin­ish this time around. And Rohrl, well he’d al­ready won the event for the fi­nal time.

For Henri, it was two from two af­ter cel­e­brat­ing an RAC win in Not­ting­ham.

“The rally was good for me,” he said at the fin­ish. “There were not so many mis­takes and this rally went as we had hoped it would from the first stage, apart from the road ac­ci­dent af­ter which we loaned Timo the lead for a while when we were com­ing south!”

The fi­nal chap­ter

Aged 29, Toivo­nen had the ral­ly­ing world at his feet. He’d scored three world cham­pi­onship wins, but his Monte per­for­mance helped es­tab­lish him as a ti­tle chal­lenger in 1986.

A dropped valve on the next round in Swe­den didn’t help, but it was a fur­ther poin­ter to the po­tency of the S4-toivo­nen part­ner­ship – he led on his first ever at­tempt at the Karl­stad-based event.

The tragic spec­ta­tor deaths brought Lan­cia’s Rally of Por­tu­gal to a pre­ma­ture halt. Which brings us to Cor­sica.

Not needed for the Ital­ian firm’s slimmed down 037 Sa­fari en­tries (for Alen and Miki Bi­a­sion), Toivo­nen fo­cused his at­ten­tions on mak­ing the Delta S4 as fast as pos­si­ble for Cor­sica. He knew it needed to be quick to beat a T16 on the French is­land.

And he found some­thing. Lots of things. Wider Pirellis, new springs, dampers and roll­bars low­ered the car by 2.5cm.

“I’m now only be­gin­ning to un­der­stand this car,” he said af­ter the test. “Lower than [it was in] Monte Carlo and 1.6 sec­onds per kilo­me­tre [faster], which puts us at least equal with the Peu­geot on dry Tar­mac.”

We know what hap­pened next. Toivo­nen and the Delta de­liv­ered on pace and were lead­ing when tragedy struck.

That’s an­other story for an­other day. For now, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing what a stun­ning job he did on the Monte 30 years ago this week, his fi­nal World Rally Cham­pi­onship win.

He did his fam­ily proud. ■

Toivo­nen (in­set) took great win for Lan­cia Mikkola, Toivo­nen, Salo­nen An un­happy Pauli Toivo­nen ‘won’ in ’66 Monte mas­ter Rohrl could not keep up Im­pres­sive line-up of mar­ques started fi­nal sea­son of Group B BX 4TC was not a suc­cess

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