The Golden Era of Rallying.
There was no time like the early- and mid-1980s as a racing fan thanks to Group B. This lightly-regulated class allowed manufacturers the ability to create some of the most insane vehicles without the high-volume and expensive homologation requirements of other regulations. It launched drivers into stardom, bred new technology, and quickly became too fast and dangerous for teams and spectators.
Group B regulations allowed manufacturers the ability to use cutting-edge materials, keep weight low, increase turbocharger boost pressure, and kept homologations numbers to just 200. This meant that racing programs cost considerably less than before, allowed for technological innovation, and all the press that manufacturers could want.
Audi, Lancia, and Peugeot dominated the days of Group B with their Sport Quattro S1, 037, and 205 T16 racers. Drivers such as Timo Salonen, Stig Blomqvist, Walter Röhrl, Michele Mouton, and others quickly gained fame for their abilities, and all eyes were on Group B.
The Group B era of rallying saw some of the most incredible racing skill, technology, and in-person entertainment in the modern age. Spectators were able to crowd the course as state-of-the-art, high-horsepower racers and their driving teams sped past, missing collisions by mere feet. The competition was high and the performance was nothing ever seen before, but the cars were quickly becoming too fast and too dangerous.
In 1986, new manufacturers, cars, and drivers were all set to make it one of the most exciting and competitive seasons yet, when tragedy struck. At the Portuguese Rally, Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200 and crashed into spectators that lined the stage. A total of 31 people were injured and three were killed.
Later, in May at the Tour de Corse, pace-setter Henri Toivonen and his co-driver, Sergio Cresto were speeding through the 18th stage with their Lancia S4 when Toivonen lost control. The car plunged into a deep, wooded embankment and ruptured the fuel tank. The fuel was ignited by the hot turbocharger and fire quickly spread to the car and the dry, wooded undergrowth. Rescue crews were unable to reach the car for almost 30 minutes according to some witness reports, causing the death of both Toivonen and Cresto.
This heartbreaking incident coupled with other deaths led to the FIA immediately banning Group B for 1987.
It was an era that will likely never be seen again. It was beautiful and also tragic – but laid the foundation for racing and the automotive innovation for years to come.
Source: Antti Kalhola