Group B: The Era of Rally That Was Too Dangerous to Exist

Overview

The Group B class was introduced for the 1982 World Rally Championship. This class allowed teams to build cars however they wanted, with very few restrictions on technology or design.

Very few restrictions were put in place. The car had to have a minimum of two seats. There were no restrictions on boost. Materials such as fibreglass for bodywork were permitted. The minimum weight was calculated by engine displacement. That’s pretty much it.

1982

1982 was the first year of the Group B class, and while a few cars freshly built for the new class were entered, not one of them scored a podium in any rally that year. Walter Rohrl won the Drivers’ Championship and Audi won the Manufacturers’ Championship with their Group 4 Quattro.

1983

1983 was the year Group B really kicked off. From the start, it was clear that Audi and Lancia were the championship favorites. They won 10 of the 12 rallies that year, with Toyota and Opel winning the other two.

The two cars really couldn’t have been more different. The Lancia 037 was RWD and mid engined. It was powerful and could dominate on asphalt. The Audi Quattro on the other hand, was AWD and front engined. It was also very powerful, and the AWD drivetrain gave it an advantage on loose surfaces. However, it suffered from a lot of understeer.

In the end, Audi Sport’s Hannu Mikkola took the Drivers’ Title, while Lancia picked up the Manufacturers’ Title by a mere two points over Audi.

1984

For the 1984 season, Audi put together quite possibly the greatest lineup of Rally drivers in the world. Defending champion Hannu Mikkola returned to the team, with Stig Blomqvist, Michele Mouton, and Walter Rohrl alongside him.

Audi dominated most of the season, with Stig Blomqvist winning the Drivers’ Title ahead of Hannu Mikkola. Lancia’s Markku Alen was only able to scrape third, winning one rally in his 037.

Peugeot debuted their 205 T16 that year, with Ari Vatanen behind the wheel. It featured a transversely-mounted I4 engine, placed in the middle of the car. This gave the car a roughly 60-40 rear weight bias, which meant it did not suffer from understeer to the degree the Audi Quattro did.

Vatanen won three of the final four races in the season, proving that Peugeot had made something capable of competing with the reigning champions. Ari Vatanen finished fourth in the standings.

1985

In the 1985 season, Peugeot had done it. They had successfully dethroned the Audi Quattro that had won two titles in a row. The 205 T16 and its Evolutions dominated the season, grabbing 7 victories and giving Timo Salonen the Drivers’ Championship over Rohrl and Blomqvist.

Many people began to wonder about the safety of Group B cars, after Lancia 037 driver Attilio Bettega crashed into a tree at the Tour de Corse and died instantly. His co-driver was unharmed.

Audi only managed to get 2nd and 3rd in the standings, far behind Peugeot’s Salonen. Walter Rohrl’s win in San Remo would be Audi’s last in the Group B era.

Lancia struggled even more, with the rear-drive 037 winning nothing. They eagerly awaited their new Delta S4’s arrival, an AWD car. It arrived in time for the final rally of the season, and the Italian team took victory, giving them hope for the next season.

1986

The final year of Group B, where many incidents added up and proved Group B was too dangerous to exist.

The season once again kicked off in Monte Carlo, and Henri Toivonen took victory in his Lancia Delta S4. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire from the next rally in Sweden due to an engine failure.

Then, in Portugal, disaster struck again, as Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200, sending him into a group of spectators. 31 people were injured, and 3 were killed. All factory drivers immediately pulled out of the rally.

The final straw came at the Tour de Corse. On the French island of Corsica, championship favorite Henri Toivonen drove off the unguarded edge, rupturing the fuel tanks and killing him and his co-driver Sergio Cresto.

Group B cars were immediately banned from competing in the 1987 season. Peugeot boss Jean Todt was furious and sought legal action against the FIA.

Every team except Toyota skipped the Ivory Coast Rally, handing Bjorn Waldergard the victory. Controversy followed at the San Remo Rally, where organizers deemed Peugeot’s side skirts illegal and disqualified them, despite later being proven legal. The Italian organizers were accused of favoring Lancia.

Juha Kankunnen ended up winning the title by 14 points over Lancia’s Markku Alen, bringing the Group B era to a close.

It was an amazing time in rallying, which introduced many game changing technologies and designs. Unfortunately, the death toll of competitors and spectators proved it too dangerous to exist.




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Group B pushed the drivers to their physical limits. The cars were too fast, it was too dangerous, even Walter Rohrl complained about how difficult the cars were. Imagine placing your car on an apex made of spectators! Crazy stuff.

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F1 has kerbs on the side of the track. Group B has a sea of spectators on the side of the track.

Bjorn Waldegard said this about the era:

“The cars were so quick your brain couldn’t react in time. It was too much.”

Absolutely insane

The scary thing to me is where Group S was going. It’s crazy to imagine an alternative timeline where the inevitable was delayed and the madness somehow was allowed to carry on for a little longer.

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In the end, rallying would’ve probably ended up being AWD Le Mans prototypes on closed roads if Group B had continued. So in a way, it’s end might have been a good thing, as cool as the cars were.

Despite the opinion of fans, driver safety matters. The balance between spectator and sportsman is a tough one. Especially in dangerous sports where the danger attracts the fans. A positive is it probably took more discipline to drive those cars than it takes today.

Rally is still a dangerous motorsport. :cry:

Rest in peace, Craig Breen.

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On this day 38 years ago, we lost Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto at the Tour de Corse.

May they rest in peace.

henri-toivonen-sergio-cresto

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