Thirty-two years later, the story of the Group B rally cars remains the most evocative chapter in world championship rally sport. It was an era that Martin Holmes saw through from start to finish, and which will forever remain in his mind. And, it all started quite unintentionally - the Supercar rally cars were never meant to happen. * * * * * New major “Appendix J” (competition vehicle) rules were introduced at the start of the ‘80s, devised as a way to make car preparation for international motorsport fairer and clearer. In this sphere they worked extremely well. The whole basic policy of rule interpretation was changed. No longer were modifications allowed unless they were specifically banned, now only such modifications which were specifically permitted could be used. This was the time when Groups N, A and B were set up to start replacing the old Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4 in 1982. The change was sweeping and timely, and the only unexpected consequences arose under one set of provisions. These were intended to cater for regular detailed alterations in the design “facelifts” of the standard production cars on which the competition models were based. This was the regulatory facility known by the FIA authorities as “evolution”. This loophole was to become highly significant in the way these new cars were developed. The Group B category was intended to cater for sports cars, cars with two rather than the usual four seats. It was only necessary to build 200 basic examples. The “evolution” rule was granted annually if an extra 10 percent of the basic production required (20 cars) had been constructed. The problem was that the FIA had listed a lot of possible modifications that this process could permit, thinking the list would allow every type of “facelift” the manufacturer might wish to incorporate on production cars. They never thought that this would lead to abuse, never realising that collectively the list of modifications could turn a harmless production car into a monster competition machine. While some manufacturers dutifully adopted Evolution rules as originally intended, six manufacturers were interested in taking the rules to their limits - Audi, Austin Rover, Citroen, Ford, Lancia and Peugeot. All six drew up completely different designs. Audi, Citroen, Ford and Peugeot all had turbocharged engines. Lancia, revolutionarily, had hybrid supercharged and turbo engines, and Austin Rover used an optional rule allowing bigger displacement engines in normally-aspirated form. All six used four-wheel drive designs, which were also still in their infancy for rally work, and in which there was then no clear way forward as to the way this should work best. Audi and Citroen had engines in the front, the other four had engines placed behind the crew. Audi had five cylinder engines, Austin Rover six cylinders, but the others were fours. The engine sizes varied. Under FIA rules the super-aspirated engined cars carried a capacity coefficient of 1.4, and there was a breakpoint at the corrected size of 2.5 litres. Below that the cars were allowed to be lighter, but the wheels had to be narrower. The constantly increasing power outputs meant, however, that the 2.5 to 3-litre category was preferable. Power outputs had originally come out around 450bhp, but as development continued this spiralled onwards and upwards. Only the Ford RS200 design gave any hint of looking like the sports car that Group B was originally intended to represent. The other supercars resembled ordinary saloon cars, looking like sheep in the clothing of wolves, a master promotional opportunity. Of the six designs, only Audi’s Group B cars represented an extension of their existing cars, demanding special transitional arrangements being made to adapt their old Group 4 Quattro cars into the new Group B rules, but their work was reaching forward, firstly into shortened wheelbase chassis, the Sport Quattros, and secretly into a design with the engine behind the crews. The Tour de Corse in 1984 was a very memorable rally, the first time purpose-designed total traction Group B Supercars, as opposed to adapted Group 4 cars, appeared in WRC competition, with the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, in the hands of Ari Vatanen and Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Vatanen led for nearly half the event before going off the road in a spectacular accident. The first supercar victory went to the Peugeot of Vatanen in Finland on the team’s third outing. Audi took their first Sport Quattro victory two months later on the Ivory Coast Rally. From the start of 1985 it was clear that old generation cars were no longer competitive in the high performance European style rallies. Supercars won all the major European gravel events, leaving Renault’s mid-engined rear-drive R5 Turbo to win the asphalt Corsica Rally. By now the evolution ticket was being played to the full. Audi had completely reworked their Sport Quattro model and appeared with the first of the “Second Evolution” designs in Argentina. Not only was the weight balance substantially re-managed, but aerodynamically Audi went to new (and hideous) lengths. One rally later, Peugeot appeared with their E2 car in Finland, a massive re-design that featured the whole of the rear of the car in space frame chassis. At the end of 1985 Austin Rover and Lancia entered the world championship scene. Lancia’s Delta S4 won on its first WRC event, the Lombard RAC Rally, in the hands of Henri Toivonen. Lancia had very high hopes for the S4 design, but it was not a happy story. There had been long delays from suppliers, so when Lancia won in Britain in 1985 with the S4 it was a very welcome result. Austin Rover, however, never won a world championship event with their Metro 6R4. For 1986 Citroen entered the fray with a curious car, the BX4TC, produced with deliberately detuned specifications. The team noted the degree of engineering sophistication of the other cars and decided that a simpler design would be more reliable. It featured hydro-pneumatic suspension systems, a single cam two-valve cylinder head, oversize five-door bodywork and a basic transmission system. They bravely entered three rounds at the start of the 1986 WRC season before the project was abandoned. One rally later Ford appeared with their RS200 model, on the Swedish Rally, after being systematically developed for some 18 months or so before being released for WRC competition. The RS200 was certainly the engineering jewel in the supercar crown, but also became one of the formula’s thorns, the safety factor. The rally organisers had little idea how the performance of these new generation cars meant their long entrenched security systems had become outdated. Audi were concerned about this and withdrew from regular support for the sport altogether. Then came the tragedy for Lancia in Corsica, after which FIA President Balestre immediately announced that big engined Group B cars would not be eligible in the WRC after end of the season, and that no more evolution homologations would be handled by the FIA at all. The tensions, sporting and political, progressively increased to fever point, fuelled by rivalry between Peugeot and Lancia, exploding at Sanremo with just two more rounds to go. Italian scrutineers pondered the way that the Peugeots had grown protective side pieces which they said looked like giving an illegal ground effect. The Peugeots were excluded mid-rally. Short term the exclusion gave Lancia a welcome home win, medium term it led to a decision by the FIA not to award any championship points from the event, and cost Markku Alen his provisional world title after only 11 days, in favour of the Peugeot driver, Juha Kankkunen. And the sudden change of formula led long term to unsuccessful litigation by Peugeot against the FIA. Peugeot did not return to the WRC until 1999. Ford, Audi and Lancia went on to compete with cars under the replacement Group A rules. Citroen went home to rethink their strategy, which eventually led to the most successful range of cars in rallying. Old Group B cars are forever appearing these days in retro events when new drivers discover the emotions they instill, but there was only one driver who competed in as many as three different Group B cars in the active period. This was Stig Blomqvist, who competed in the Audi Sport Quattro, the Ford RS200 and the Peugeot 205T16. “The original Audi Quattro had such superior traction it did not need development,” Blomqvist said. “Only with the Sport Quattro, when other four-wheel-drive cars arrived, did Audi develop downforce and their power. “The Ford was not so powerful, but was the best looking car in the business, while the Peugeot had the best suspension. “I don’t think these Group B cars went round corners much quicker than the old ones, but everything happened so quickly. I once had an accident in a Peugeot. I never knew whether we had actually been upside down or not! “My original memories of these new generation cars was at Monte Carlo in 1981. We heard that Hannu Mikkola was making times one minute quicker on every stage. The Group B era went on from there!”  
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