Group B was the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of a rally car in the 1980s

Motor Sport News - - Monsters: Group B -


hat a dif­fer­ence a decade makes. Ten years ear­lier, un­be­known to the wider world, ral­ly­ing stood on the brink of its very own arms race: Group B was com­ing.

Jan­uary, 1987. It’s been and gone. The new dawn has brought Group A. Wal­ter Rohrl’s co-driver Chris­tian Geist­dor­fer re­mem­bers it well.

“It was like go­ing from a rocket to a bi­cy­cle,” he says.

Pretty much over night, power out­puts were halved. And, let’s be hon­est, that was re­flected in the spec­ta­cle. The 1986 sea­son was world ral­ly­ing’s water­shed, when mad turned bad, but at the same time, what a phe­nom­e­nal demon­stra­tion of speed and power be­tween the trees.

Cer­tainly, 1987 de­liv­ered noth­ing like the tragedies we’d seen in the pre­ced­ing 12 months, but few re­mem­ber Lan­cia’s Delta HF 4WD or the Mazda 323 4WD with any­thing like the fond­ness or fear they re­call the S4 or Audi’s fear­some quat­tro E2.

In­gol­stadt’s fi­nal Group B ma­chine was the one that ul­ti­mately con­vinced Rohrl things had gone too far. Like its ri­vals, Audi suf­fered from hor­ren­dous turbo lag, but in 1985 that prob­lem was partly over­come by the use of a dou­ble­clutch trans­mis­sion. This al­lowed flat-shift­ing up the gear­box, elim­i­nat­ing the in­evitable de­lay as the en­gine dropped off boost while the clutch was de­ployed.

Rohrl was test­ing the sys­tem in Greece and vividly re­calls the speed be­tween be­tween two hair­pins. In­stead of just over 100mph, the quat­tro was sud­denly do­ing 130mph.

Rohrl re­calls: “I said to my­self: ‘Now, this is too fast for me. Now I am afraid for my life.’”

But even at that time, Audi was work­ing on the next step. How to make quick, quicker; how to rub out and re­ar­range what was seen as the edge of the en­ve­lope.

The nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of Group B took it over the edge. There was a need for change and that change was Group S. As a re­place­ment for the wildest cat­e­gory in ral­ly­ing’s his­tory, the ex­pec­ta­tion was that it would be even more crazy. It was quite the op­po­site.

What was crazy was the plan­ning for rule change to Ap­pen­dix J, which reg­u­lated the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of rally cars. The move­ment from Group 4 to Group B to Group S and ul­ti­mately Group A was elon­gated, bu­reau­cratic, bad-tem­pered, at times ill-con­ceived; stan­dard-fare it would seem for FISA pres­i­dent Jean-marie Balestre’s ad­min­is­tra­tion at the time.

Balestre bat­tled long and hard with BPICA (man­u­fac­turer rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the sport via the Bureau Per­ma­nent In­ter­na­tionale des Con­struc­teurs d’au­to­mo­bile) over the World Rally Cham­pi­onship’s fu­ture. Volatil­ity within the gov­ern­ing body wasn’t helped by Balestre’s on­go­ing war with FOCA [For­mula One Con­struc­tors’ As­so­ci­a­tion]; the French­man used any­thing and ev­ery­thing for am­mu­ni­tion and the WRC reg­u­larly found it­self in the fir­ing line.

A loose agree­ment for Group B was forged in Jan­uary 1980. Nine months later, the FISA Ex­ec­u­tive voted by three to one against it. Group B was banned be­fore it had be­gun.

It turned out some coun­tries were wor­ried about the ex­tra speed and per­for­mance from the new cars. See­ing them as a po­ten­tial threat to the sport, they po­litely de­clined the rev­o­lu­tion.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers like Ford and Lan­cia had, how­ever, al­ready started work on new cars. The Blue Oval’s RS1700T be­ing one ex­am­ple of an early ex­ploita­tion of the ex­pected new rules.

A year later, in Jan­uary 1981, the first Con­corde Agree­ment was signed, bring­ing peace be­tween FISA-FOCA. A cou­ple of months later, Group B was back on track. Ford’s sup­ply of DFV en­gines to much of the F1 pad­dock no doubt helped shape and in­flu­ence de­ci­sion-mak­ing at the time…

But still, there wasn’t clar­ity. When would Group B start? There had been talk of 1982, but that was stalled. Then it was on again. But by then, teams sim­ply hadn’t the time to build the re­quired 200 cars to con­form to the new rules. The com­pro­mise was run­ning Group B along­side the ex­ist­ing groups 2 and 4, which were given a stay of ex­e­cu­tion to run and score points in the cham­pi­onship for one more year.

The fol­low­ing year would be for Group B only. For sure. Sure? Al­most sure… In the end the older cat­e­gory cars were al­lowed to run into 1983, but could only used by non-pri­or­ity driv­ers who would not be al­lowed to score points.

So, the new era started, sort of, with the 1982 Monte Carlo Rally. On round two, Balestre turned up in Swe­den, called a press con­fer­ence and told the watch­ing world he thought ban­ning evo­lu­tions of Group B was prob­a­bly a good idea.

His tech­ni­cal de­part­ment – headed from 1982 by Gabriele Cadringher – was aghast. Clearly, the pres­i­dent hadn’t both­ered to share his con­sid­er­a­tions ahead of his Karl­stad an­nounce­ments.

Ul­ti­mately, the evo­lu­tions went ahead – and it was in those evo­lu­tions that the ex­ploita­tion of the reg­u­la­tions lay.

Away from the in­di­vid­ual man­u­fac­turer de­vel­op­ment, Group B was pro­gress­ing apace as car firms watched then bet­tered the com­pe­ti­tion.

Peu­geot’s 205 T16 is the ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple: the French mim­icked Audi’s use of turbo power and four-wheel drive, but iden­ti­fied the ben­e­fits of lift­ing the en­gine out and putting it be­hind the driver and co-driver. When Lan­cia came along a few years later, the Delta S4 partly erad­i­cated Group B’s Achilles heel, turbo lag, with the use of a su­per­charger.

From that first Audi to the S4’s RAC de­but in 1985, the speed in­crease was sim­ply shock­ing.

It was the same story within Audi it­self. The orig­i­nal Group 4 quat­tro was a trac­tor by com­par­i­son with the E2 winged mon­ster, which grew via the A1, A2 and S1.

In­gol­stadt had un­doubt­edly in­sti­gated the rev­o­lu­tion, but it was fur­thered by Peu­geot. And never was the chang­ing of the guard more ob­vi­ous than in Cor­sica, 1984. Audi’s Sport quat­tro made its muchan­tic­i­pated de­but along­side the 205 T16. Peu­geot was an overnight suc­cess while Audi headed back in the di­rec­tion of the draw­ing board.

Ari Vata­nen led on the 205’s asphalt de­but in Cor­sica and on its first time out on the loose in Greece, be­fore even­tu­ally dom­i­nat­ing the 1000 Lakes a cou­ple of months down the line.

That’s not to say the Peu­geot hadn’t been born with­out is­sues. Mat­ing tur­bocharg­ing with four-wheel drive and try­ing to find a mid-en­gined car with some sort of bal­ance was not the work of a mo­ment. But Jean Todt

Peu­geot’s 205 T16 was per­haps the ul­ti­mate evo­lu­tion of Group B mon­ster Audi was a pioneer of the Group B era

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