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Top 10: Group B rally cars
The 2006 World Rally Championship kicks off in Monte Carlo at the end of this week with Sebastien Loeb hoping to start his title defence with a fourth consecutive victory on this legendary event.
Today’s WRC cars offer up around 300 horsepower from their turbocharged two-litre engines, testing the reactions of the best drivers. MSN Cars takes a look back 20 years when the awesome Group B rally monsters ruled the forests. In existence for a mere three years, the relaxed regulations of Group B bred a class of mid-engined, space-frame constructed flyers which produced over 500bhp and out accelerated their Formula 1 contemporaries.
By far the most successful manufacturer in rallying history, Lancia was ready with the first car built specifically to take advantage of the looser regulations of Group B, the 037 which appeared in 1983. Only 200 examples of each car needed to be built, weight restrictions were low and the use of hi-tech materials was allowed for the first time. The car was loosely based on the Beta Montecarlo, using its centre section with new front and rear subframes. The mid-mounted two-litre four-cylinder engine from the Lancia Trevi used a 16 valve head and a supercharger to ultimately produce 325bhp. This meant that the 037, despite being rear-wheel drive was able to take the fight to the previous year’s champion, the Audi Quattro and win Lancia the manufacturer’s championship in 1983.
Audi Sport quattro
Audi Sport quattro
Despite having won Audi the constructor’s championship in 1982, the original quattro’s design had some drawbacks that the use of four-wheel drive couldn’t overcome. The car was unreliable and heavy and its front-engined, monocoque design gave it clumsy handling characteristics. In response, Audi created the Sport quattro by chopping 320mm from the standard car’s wheelbase, swapping steel panels for the composite materials allowable under Group B regulations and extracting 450bhp from the five-cylinder, turbocharged engine. Now a much wieldier machine, Stig Blomqvist piloted it to the driver’s and constructor’s championships in 1984. Development didn’t stop there however, the Sport quattro S1, boasted over 600bhp by 1986, the year Group B was banned. Ingolstadt engineers later revealed that they had constructed a 1,000bhp prototype but that it was nigh on impossible to drive.
Peugeot 205 Turbo 16
Peugeot 205 Turbo 16
The T16 appeared at the 1984 Tour de Corse rally and instantly made the rest of the field look obsolete with its mid-engined layout and spaceframe chassis. Blisteringly quick, driver Ari Vatanen led the first two days of the rally before crashing out. The Peugeot won the 1984 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland and looked set to dominate in 1985. This it did easily despite a near fatal crash for Vatanen in Argentina when the car rolled and his seat mountings gave way. Vatanen was out for the remainder of the year but team mate Timo Salonen went on to win the constructor’s and driver’s championship for Peugeot. The tiny Pug also went on to win both titles the following year and in modified form won the Paris Dakar rally.
Built specifically to take advantage of Group B regulations - the original prototype was named Gruppe B – Porsche had rally victory firmly in its sights. Developed from the 911, the 959 was a technological tour de force of its day with four-wheel drive, ABS, six speed transmission, tyre pressure sensors and on board computers that automatically lowered the car at high speeds. However the Stuttgart firm decided it would take too long to build the required 200 examples allowing rivals to steal a march on the car. Porsche works driver Jackie Ickx persuaded his employers that the Paris Dakar would make a better showcase for the 959’s talents. Three 911s converted to 959 specifications won the event in 1984 and Porsche returned with three proper 959s the following year. Unfortunately two of the cars crashed out of the event while the third was sidelined with a broken oil pipe. The plan came together in 1986 with a Porsche 1-2 in the event. The car proved its versatility by also going on to win its class at the 24 Heures du Mans.
Austin Rover Metro 6R4
Austin Rover Metro 6R4
In typical Rover fashion, the firm decided that it wanted to demonstrate that a normally aspirated car could compete successfully against the turbocharged opposition. Nominally based on the Metro supermini, the 6R4 used a three-litre, 24-valve V6 developed by the Williams Grand Prix team and which put out 400bhp. The engine was mounted amidships, driving all four wheels and the car pioneered the use of spoilers in the class. Never hugely competitive due to underfunding, the Metro’s best result was on its debut when it took third place in the 1985 RAC Rally. The engine went on to be developed further by Tom Walkinshaw Racing for the Jaguar XJ220 supercar who bored it out to 3.5-litres and added twin turbochargers to take output to 540bhp.
Ford’s first crack at Group B, the Escort RS1700T was an abject failure and the company retreated to develop an all new contender from the ground up. The car would also be sold to the public as a road going range topper. Design house Ghia was commissioned to style the car whilst Reliant worked on the chassis. The car used a space-frame chassis, four-wheel drive, Kevlar bodywork and a mid-mounted, 1.8 litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Developed by race tuner Bryan Hart, it was said to put out over 500bhp in full rally spec despite the modest displacement. 24 cars were converted to ‘Evo’ spec, bored out to 2.1 litres; they produced a massive 650bhp, enough for them to hit 60mph in a mere 2.1 seconds in the hands of Stig Blomqvist. With sophisticated suspension, a front-mounted gearbox for better weight distribution and a variable torque split, the RS200 looked like being the car to beat. Its best result was third in the Swedish Rally of 1986. Tragedy struck the Ford team shortly afterwards when driver Joaquim Santos lost control of his RS200 on the Portuguese Rally, plunging into the crowd, injuring 31 spectators and killing four and putting Group B’s future in jeopardy.
Rarely remembered now, the Citroen was a late comer to Group B having witnessed the success of domestic rival Peugeot with the T16, and was already outclassed when it appeared in 1986. Based on the road going BX, it featured a front-engined, monocoque structure like the Audi Quattro and was instantly off the pace when compared to the space-frame, mid-engined group leaders. The car actually featured the hydropneumatic suspension of the BX and competed in just three WRC rounds before the class was banned. Its best result was a sixth place in the 1986 Swedish Rally
Renault R5 Turbo
Renault R5 Turbo
Initially developed for the old Group 4 regulations, the Renault R5 Turbo took the popular front-engined, front wheel drive Renault 5 shopping car and turned it around, mounting the engine amidships driving the rear wheels. The 1.4 litre engine was borrowed from Renault’s Formula 1 programme and the car proved successful in Group 4, winning the 1981 Monte Carlo rally, a dream come true for a French team. In 1984 the ‘Maxi’ version appeared to take advantage of Group B rules. Now boasting over 350bhp from a 1.5 litre turbocharged engine but disadvantaged by being rear wheel driven the car nevertheless won the Tour de Corse in 1985 in the hands of Jean Ragnotti.
Toyota used a development of their Celica twin-cam turbo to enter the Group B WRC and was handicapped by the car’s front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout in comparison to the purpose built machines. However the car was extremely rugged and simple to work on helping it achieve a sixth place at the 1983 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland in the hands of Juha Kankkunen and winning the Ivory Coast Rally with Bjorn Waldegard. However by the RAC Rally of the same year the Celica was seriously outclassed. However its toughness was to prove valuable in Africa where it won three consecutive Safari Rallies, the harshest of the lot, from 1984 to 1986, where the conditions defeated the more exotic machinery. The company was working on a 600bhp Group B version of its mid-engined MR2 when Group B was canned.
Lancia Delta S4
Lancia Delta S4
The ultimate expression of the Group B regulations, the Delta S4 was also the machine that killed the class. Bearing little resemblance to the Delta hatchback that lent it its name, the S4 was a four-wheel drive spaceframe design with a mid-mounted 1.8 litre four cylinder engine. This modest powerplant was fitted with both a supercharger and a turbocharger to produce well in excess of 550bhp. The supercharger boosted power at low RPM, reducing lag until the turbo was up to speed at higher engine revs. The car was instantly successful on its first outing, giving Lancia a 1-2 in the 1985 RAC Rally with Henri Toivonen and Markku Alen respectively. This briefly gave Alen the driver’s championship until he was stripped of his points from the San Remo rally, handing victory to Kankkunen and Peugeot. The S4 was capable of hitting 60 from rest in just 2.3 seconds on a gravel road and in the hands of Toivonen lapped the Estoril Formula One circuit so quickly he would have qualified sixth on the grid for the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix.
Sadly the S4 was Toivonen's, and Group B's, undoing when he left the road and plunged down a rocky hillside on the Tour de Corse in May 1986. The car’s lowslung fuel tanks ruptured and the car burst into flames, trapping Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto inside. By the time emergency services reached the scene, little that was recognisable was left. FIA immediately announced the scrapping of the Group B class for the 1987 season. Ford and Audi withdrew immediately leaving Peugeot to claim a hollow victory in both titles.
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