Mohd Azad Jasmi

By: Azad Jasmi

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Saturday, 12-Apr-2008 04:23 Email | Share | Bookmark
Group B Era

The beginning of Group B

Rallying today is growing in leaps and bounds; More manufacturers than ever are taking part in the world rally championship, and even more are participating in various national championships. Last year, 16.5 million people spectated at the 14 rounds of the WRC, the highest live attendance figure of any form of motorsport. The drivers are among the best in the world, and the cars are extremely quick and very entertaining to watch.

But there was a time when rallying was very different. The early 1980s saw a category created specifically for manufacturers who wanted to show off their engineering capabilities; Group B was born. The Group B rally supercars quickly evolved into 500+ horsepower, four-wheel-drive chest-thumping beasts with space frames, kevlar bodywork, and many other high-tech pieces. The cars reached a point where many wondered if the cars had reached a point where the drivers could not fully control them. For instance, the Lancia Delta S4 could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.3 seconds on a gravel road. Henri Toivonen drove an S4 around Estoril, the Portuguese Grand Prix circuit, so quickly that he would have qualified sixth for the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix. Nigel Mansell sampled a Peugeot 205 T16 and said it could out-accelerate his F1 car. And, perhaps most impressive (frightening?), the driver's reaction times were cut in half compared with previous rally cars. The Group B rally cars and their pilots were the stuff of which legends are made.

The early 1980s saw a category created specifically for manufacturers who wanted to show off their engineering capabilities; Group B was born. The Group B rally supercars quickly evolved into 500+ horsepower, four-wheel-drive chest-thumping beasts with space frames, kevlar bodywork, and many other high-tech pieces. Extrapolated from a minimum series of 200 in basicly simmilar roadgoing cars. The group B cars reached a point where many wondered if the cars had reached a point where the drivers could not fully control them. For instance, the Lancia Delta S4 could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.3 seconds on a gravel road. Henri Toivonen drove an S4 around Estoril, the Portuguese Grand Prix circuit, so quickly that he would have qualified sixth for the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix. Nigel Mansell sampled a Peugeot 205 T16 and said it could out-accelerate his F1 car. And, perhaps most impressive (frightening?), the driver's reaction times were cut in half compared with previous rally cars. The Group B rally cars and their pilots were the stuff of which legends are made.

The 205 T16's pace in Corsica shocked the rally community. Peugeot had built a strong team, with Ari Vatanen as the driver and Jean Todt (now the manager of the Ferrari F1 team) 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 it's Sport Quattro, while the Lancia 037 was already showing it's age. Peugeot looked set to walk away with the 1985 titles after an impressive year of preparation during 1984.

Peugeot did dominate most of the 1985 season, but things didn't go according to plan. Peugeot lost Ari Vatanen in a near-fatal crash in Argentina, but his teammate Timo Salonen took up the challenge and brought both titles to Peugeot. However, 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, Audi entered it's radical S1 Quattro, and Peugeot countered the newcomers with the 205 T16 Evolution 2. Lancia's new S4 came away with first and second places; by this point, wings had to be added to the cars to keep them on the road.

The end of Group B
The pace of technology in Group B was astounding, but FISA was planning Group S. Group S was to be a class which would allow manufacturers to produce highly futuristic cars, and only ten copies would be required for homologation. However, 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. There were no witnesses to the crash, and the subsequent fire completely destroyed the car, leaving the remains unrecognizable as a vehicle. The heat from the fire was so intense that all that remained of the car was a blackened space frame. 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.

Rallying after Group B

Rallying after Group B looks a bit different. The replacement cars, the Group A and WRC classes, are getting close to the speeds of the Group B cars, but they aren't quite there yet. One only has to look at the fastest times up Pike's Peak for a comparison between the speed differences of the Group A & B cars. But the modern rally cars are very spectacular and exciting to watch. Modern rally drivers are among the best drivers in the world. Plus, rallying today has more factory teams already participating or planning entries in the WRC. Rallying today is growing in leaps and bounds; More manufacturers than ever are taking part in the world rally championship, and even more are participating in various national championships. Last year, 16.5 million people spectated at the 14 rounds of the WRC, the highest live attendance figure of any form of motorsport. The drivers are among the best in the world, and the cars are extremely quick and very entertaining to watch.
Was it right for FISA to ban the Group B cars? 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. The cars were so fast that a driver's eyes didn't have time to adjust their focus properly between corners. Group B lived a short, but very interesting.





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