Group B: Intro to the Glory Years

Posted on 24. Jan, 2010 by in Features, Group B History

Special to FOC, by Alan Ockwell, lead photo by Andrew Harvey The beginning of Group B Rally cars before the Group B era were, for the most part, rear-wheel-drive with about 250 horsepower, because any more power merely resulted in wheelspin.  Some of the more famous rally cars from this period were the Lancia Stratos, the Fiat 131 Abarth, and the Porsche 911. In 1979, FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile, the sanctioning body for rallying) legalized all-wheel-drive for rallying. The manufacturers involved in rallying at the time considered four-wheel-drive too heavy and complex to be successful. They were all proven wrong when Audi launched its new Quattro in 1980, and announced its intention to use the 1980 and 1981 seasons as development years.

Audi quattro Group B (Photo: Audi)

Audi continued its development during the 1981 season, winning several rounds of the WRC, including the San Remo rally, which was an historic event because it was the first ever international rally won by a woman, Michèle Mouton. 1982 firmly established Audi as the team to beat. The 1983 season saw the creation of Groups A and B, and the first real Group B car arrived on the scene - the Lancia 037 Monte Carlo. Audi's first major rival had arrived. The evolution of Group B The 037 was different from the Quattro in several key respects - it was supercharged instead of turbocharged, and it still had rear-wheel-drive, due to Lancia's uncertainty about the potential of four-wheel-drive. It was, however, a Group B rally car (the Quattro was still built to the Group 4 specifications), and the new Group B class only required 200 copies of a car for homologation. The Group B rally teams could also produce "evolution" versions of their cars - and only twenty copies would be required! Group B also had minimal weight restrictions, plus the use of high-tech materials was permitted in the construction of the cars. These elements, plus manufacturers with unlimited resources, allowed Group B to evolve extremely quickly.

Lancia 037 (Photo: rallybuzz.com)

The new 037 was instantly at a disadvantage due to its lack of four-wheel-drive. Four-wheel-drive allowed Audi to run with a lot more power, due to the increased traction. However, the Quattro had a number of flaws which allowed the 037 to win the Manufacturer's title in 1983: the Quattro was unreliable, it was clumsy and unwieldy to drive, and its front-engine, monocoque chassis was soon rendered obsolete by the mid-engine, space frame design of the Peugeot 205 T16. Peugeot had built a strong team, with Ari Vatanen as the driver and Jean Todt running the rally program. Vatanen crashed out of the Corsican rally, but went on to give the 205 its first win at the 1000 Lakes rally in Finland later that year. By this time, Audi had introduced its Sport Quattro, while the 037 was already showing its age. The 1985 RAC rally saw a whole pack of new challengers hungry to challenge Peugeot's dominance. Lancia debuted its new Delta S4, which was supercharged and turbocharged, Ford unveiled the RS200, Austin-Metro launched its new Metro 6R4, Audi entered its radical S1 Quattro, and Peugeot countered the newcomers with the 205 T16 Evolution 2.

Peugeot 205 T16

The end of Group B The inevitable finally happened: during the 1986 Port Wine rally in Portugal, a Ford RS200 left the road on a spectator stage, killing three and injuring dozens; after the crash, all the works teams withdrew from the rally. But the final blow for Group B came on May 4, 1986. Lancia's lead driver, Henri Toivonen, was dominating the 1986 championship and the Tour de Corse rally when his S4 left the road during a twisty tarmac stage. The car went off the edge of the road, hitting trees and rocks while sliding down a hillside. Toivonen and his navigator, Sergio Cresto, were killed. Group B and Group S were instantly cancelled for the 1987 season; Ford and Audi withdrew from Group B immediately. The other works teams decided to see the season out. Was it right to ban the Group B cars? Personally, I think so. If FISA had done a better job of regulating the cars, then maybe the Group B cars could have stayed. But since FISA focused the majority of their attention on F1, they didn't realize how fast the Group B cars had become; it took an accident like Toivonen's to get FISA's attention. The Group B cars had reached the point where they belonged on a racetrack, not on a rally stage.

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