The Rally Guide for Group B. The mid-1980s era of Group B Rally is genuinely unique in the history of professional motorsports racing. Group B Rally is characterized by brutally fast automobiles, blistering speeds, life and death risk, and interactive crowds, and it truly has to be seen to be believed. It barely lasted from 1982 to 1986 before becoming too risky to continue, with both drivers and spectators dying during the 1986 season, highlighting its tremendous danger.
Yet, for five brilliant seasons, Group B Rally provided some of the most thrilling and dramatic action in motorsports history. Drivers such as Walter Röhrl, Henri Toivonen, and Stig Blmqvist cemented their reputations as some of the best in history. Group B Rally speeds rose throughout time, beginning fairly crazy and ending absolutely ridiculous. Several cars were speculated to have more than 600 horsepower by the 1986 World Rally Championship (WRC) season. They could go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds on gravel.
Now, rally and racing lovers lament the loss of Group B Rally, clinging to old footage as relics of an amazing past. So, in honor of the greatest era in rally history, let’s look at the history of Group B Rally.
History of the Group B Rally
Rallying as a sport first gained traction in the 1960s and early 1970s, owing mostly to local events staged in small towns around the rural European countryside. Vehicles such as the Mini Cooper, Porsche 911, Lancia Fulvia, and Alpine A110 became legends during the rally’s early years. The World Rally Championship (WRC) initially held rallies under their banner in 1973, with the 42nd Monte Carlo Rally serving as the inaugural race. Renault’s Alpine A110 dominated the competition, taking the top three slots and five of the top six overall.
WRC operated under a set of rules known as Groups 1-4 from 1973 to 1981. Each class had its own set of rules, with Group 4 serving as the foundation for the WRC Manufacturer and Driver’s Championships. The Ford RS1800, Lancia Stratos HF, and Fiat 124/131 Abarths were among the most prominent Group 4 WRC cars. Beginning in 1980, the WRC announced the transition from Group 4 to new Group B regulations for 1982. The Group B Rally regulations were in effect until 1986.
WRC’s Introduction of Group B
The extremely permissive rules on what you could do to modify your car were what made Group B so popular. Engine size, configuration, boost pressure, aerodynamics, or even horsepower and torque output were not restricted. The sole requirements were a minimum automobile weight-to-engine displacement ratio, two front seats, a closed roof, a maximum tire width, and the necessary safety specs. This meant huge power production from small and light cars, and the possibilities appeared limitless.
The only other prerequisite was homologation. This meant that any manufacturer that wished to submit a car into Group B had to also produce 200 production copies for sale to the general public. This may appear to be a significant investment for a manufacturer to make only to enter WRC, but it was actually significantly less than before. Formerly, Group B’s predecessor, Group 4, required up to 500 for homologation.
Introducing 4WD to the World Rally Championship
The WRC permitted the use of 4WD drive trains in Group 4 in 1979. They did so because they believed it would not result in substantial changes since they would be too weighty and impracticable. Audi, which had recently entered the World Rally Championship for the first time that year, had persuaded the FIA to make the change. They had just begun construction on their famed Quattro, which had a 4WD drive train, and hoped to compete. They competed in the 1979 World Rally Championship with their A80 sedan because the Quattro was not yet ready.
Nonetheless, the Quattro was ready in 1981, and it made a strong debut at the first rally at Monte Carlo. The Quattro made its mark on the ice-covered circuit, passing the Lancia Stratos just 10 kilometers into the first stage. The Quattro won the Swedish Rally two and a half weeks later, and it also won the Rallye Sanremo in Italy and the RAC Rally in Wales.
Rallye Sanremo was notable for Michele Mouton’s triumph, which marked the first time a female had won a WRC event. Despite suffering brake pad problems on the last day, she held off Henri Toivonen and Ari Vantanen to win.
Audi finished fifth in the Manufacturer’s Championship in 1981, which was still a bit of a letdown. Talbot had won the championship, with Datsun close behind in second place. Talbot used a Sunbeam Lotus for its rallies, but Datsun used a Celica 2000GT. Rothman’s Rally Team finished third, driving a Ford Escort RS 1800 throughout the season. All three of these were RWD vehicles, demonstrating that Audi’s 4WD Quattro still had room for improvement.
Audi Takes Control of Group B and Creates History
The Audi Quattro dominated the market beginning in 1982. This was also the first season when the Group B Rally limitations were implemented. Initially, most Group B vehicles were leftover Group 4 vehicles with RWD and low power figures. The Quattro was the only 4WD car in the WRC, and its enhanced technology from the previous year gave it a significant edge over the competition.
Audi won the Manufacturer’s Championship in 1982 and 1984, with seven rally victories, and finished second in 1983 and 1985. The Quattro also propelled Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist to Driver’s Championship victories in 1983 and 1984.
Yet, RWD drive trains worked admirably, particularly on tarmac stages where the Quattro’s 4WD system proved inconvenient. With the exception of Audi, every other manufacturer continued to offer RWD vehicles until the 1983 season. The RWD drive train, while plainly less capable on slick conditions and gravel, was substantially faster on dry tarmac. This was owing in part to the complexity of 4WD systems, which had severely impeded Audi in 1981.
During 1981, their relentless effort repairing and maintaining the drive train scared off several manufacturers. But, when Audi demonstrated its dependability beginning in 1982-1983, other manufacturers began to pay notice.
While Audi was still improving their system, numerous RWD vehicles were more than capable of keeping up. Throughout the 1982 season, Opel’s Ascona 400, piloted by Walter Röhrl, caused the Quattro fits. In 1983, Opel released the Manta 400, which helped them finish third that year. Nonetheless, the Lancia Rally 037 remained the Quattro’s main rival. Lancia won the Manufacturer’s Championship in 1983 with the Rally 037, one of the most renowned rally cars in history.
The Group B Rally Leaves an Indelible Imprint on History
It wasn’t until 1984 that Group B Rally truly came into its own for the World Rally Championship. Even though Group B regulations went into force in 1982, most manufacturers continued to use slightly revised Group 4 vehicles. They were allowed as a transition during 1982, but starting in 1983, all cars had to be Group B. Despite this, most manufacturers struggled to come up with totally new cars for 1983, and the majority were simply refurbished Group 4 models. But, by 1984, the playing field had become considerably more even, and the Quattro’s dominance was quickly over.
That year, Audi released a new version of the Quattro, the Quattro Sport, with 450 horsepower. They dominated the season, finishing in the top three of the first two rallies in Monte Carlo and Sweden. Audi won seven rallies that season, with Stig Blomqvist winning five of them on his way to the Driver’s Championship.
However, Peugeot introduced the 205 Turbo 16 midway through the season. It was lightweight, had 400 horsepower, and a 4WD system that could compete with the Quattro. It quickly proved to be superior to the Quattro, winning three races in its maiden season in 1984.
The 1985 World Rally Championship Season
Audi attempted to compete with the 205 T16 E2 in 1985 by introducing significant suspension and wheel base changes. The season was essentially a Peugeot vs. Audi battle, with no one else coming within 50 points of them in the standings. The 205 T16 E2 outclassed the Quattro Sport, winning seven rallies and the Manufacturer’s Championship. Despite the fact that Audi pushed 493 horsepower out of the Sport Quattro S1 E2 that season.
Lancia’s Martini Racing debuted its twin-charged Delta S4 to replace the Rally 037 Evo at the previous rally in Wales, Great Britain. The Delta S4 had 4WD to compete with the T16 and Quattro, as well as an estimated 500 horsepower. For 1985, British manufacturer MG also released a new Group B rally car, the Metro 6R4. The Metro was one of the few non-turbocharged cars in Group B, with a 3.0 L V6 producing 410 horsepower and 4WD.
The End of the Road for Group B Rally
Regrettably, 1985 marked the start of the end for Group B rallying. The introduction of 4WD technology spurred ever-increasing increases in power, and it soon became simply too unsafe. The 4WD systems were still very crude, prone to overheating, breaking, and malfunctioning. When they were pushed to their limits, as they were continuously in WRC, the potential for negative outcomes arose swiftly.
On the fourth stage of the Tour de Corse rally in Corsica, France, tragedy struck when Italian driver Atilio Bettega died after crashing his Lancia 037 into a tree. Thankfully, his co-driver, Maurizio Perissinot, escaped the incident unscathed.
The tragedy prompted serious concerns about the safety of Group B Rally and its rigorous rules. Manufacturers like as Audi were considering leaving the WRC unless new safety requirements were implemented. Later that season, Ari Vatanen of Peugeot was involved in a catastrophic crash in Argentina while driving a 205 T16 E2. He had to be airlifted to the hospital, but he was later able to compete again.
1986 World Rally Championship Season
Henri Toivonen won the Monte Carlo Rally in his Delta S4 to kick off the 1986 WRC season on a high note. But things quickly went dark. Joaquim Santos, a Ford driver, was killed during a rally in Portugal. Spectators had developed a perilous custom of running into the middle of the track to cheer on drivers, which frequently resulted in close misses. On March 3, 1986, Santos was attempting to dodge oncoming traffic when he lost control of his RS200. The vehicle slammed into a crowd, wounding 30 individuals and killing several children.
The event organizers intended to continue nonetheless, but the drivers from the various teams objected and all withdrew from the remaining stages of the rally. This sparked outrage among the manufacturers, who allegedly attempted to force the drivers to participate. Lancia, in particular, was keen on its drivers finishing the rally, but eventually gave in after they collectively refused.
The Ultimate Tragedy
Tragic events struck again just two months and one year after Bettega’s death. Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto were competing in the Tour de Corse rally in Corsica with Bettega when their Delta S4 – the same car Bettega was driving – flew off the road. Cresto and Toivonen were killed when their fuel tank exploded since there was no safety railing in place to stop them.
The rest of the season ended in confusion and controversy, as it was quickly declared that Group B would be phased out following the 1986 season. All future upgrades to the automobiles were to be suspended, and some aerodynamic elements, such as side skirts, were to be outlawed immediately for safety reasons.
However, this heightened tensions when Peugeot was dismissed for having side skirts by Italian judges but not by British judges, resulting in even greater controversy. However, Peugeot won the manufacturers’ championship for the 1986 season. Juha Kankkunen, driving the 205 T16 E2, won the driver’s championship.
Audi’s Quattro S1 E2, which had been dominant until 1985, did not win a single rally in 1986. Their finest performances were during the first Monte Carlo rally, where Hannu Mikola finished third, and the final Olympus rally, where John Buffum finished third as well. Despite increasing output from 493 to 592 horsepower in the inline-five engine. Group B Rallying was completed by the end of the season.
Rally Vehicles from the Group B Era
Despite the fact that Group B WRC was only active from 1982 to 1986, it produced some of the most famous rally cars in history. Let’s take a look at some of the era’s fan favorites, like as the Quattro, 205 T16, and RS2000.
Audi Quattro A1/2 as well as Sport S1/S1 E2
Audi developed four WRC-compliant cars between 1982 and 1986. Audi officially used the Quattro A1/A2 from 1982 until midway through the 1984 season. This was the same Quattro they had used under Group 4 rules in 1981, and they were permitted to use it during the transition to Group B Rally. The Quattro A1/A2 had four-wheel drive, a 2.1-liter inline-five engine, large wheel arches, and a small wing. The inline-five produced 350 horsepower and was mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
Audi released the Sport Quattro S1 in mid-season 1984. The Sport Quattro S1 produced 444 horsepower thanks to Jetronic fuel injection and a bigger turbocharger. The body shell was built of carbon-Kevlar to save weight, and it featured a more slanted windscreen and the enormous and distinctive wing. The windshield tilt was adjusted to decrease glare, which was a common complaint on the A1/A2.
Audi introduced the Sport Quattro S1 E2 in the end of 1985. Its new aluminum inline-five engine produced 493 horsepower despite having somewhat less displacement due to a shorter stroke. Audi increased the red limit to 8,000 RPM and added an even more aggressive body package. The Sport Quattro S1 E2 produced an astounding 592 horsepower towards the end of 1986 in Group B Rally. Yet, it was beginning to be outperformed by lighter cars with somewhat less power but superior 4WD systems.
When Group B Rally ceased, plans for the Audi Sport Quattro RS 002 fell through, but purported specs were outrageous. A 1,000 kg curb weight, 690 hp, a top speed of 186 mph, and a mid-engine layout were all envisioned, and that was just the beginning.
The BMW M1 Rally
The BMW M1 was a Group B competitor from 1982 to 1984, despite its brief existence. The BMW M1 was a fine driver in Group 4 in the late 1980s, but it was outmatched in Group B because it was too huge, drove poorly, weighed too much, and had several engine problems. Due to several issues, BMW France only made two entries with the M1 in 1982 and 1983.
In 1984, the BMW fared little better, retiring in 11 races and barely competing. The M1 was out of Group B for the rest of its life after 1984. Still, the BMW M1 Rallye was a one-of-a-kind vehicle that couldn’t compete with Group B.
The Ford RS200
Ford was a latecomer to Group B Rally, finally entering the race for the final season in 1986. The Ford RS1800 did compete in the inaugural Group B Rally season in 1982, however it was entered by a private team. It struggled in 1982, and from 1983 through 1985, no Ford entered WRC competition (manufacturer or private squad). Ford was working on a new supercar for Group B Rally at the time.
Following winning the Manufacturer’s Championship in 1979, Ford decommissioned the RS1800 and began developing a new vehicle. The Escort RS1700T was planned to be the new automobile, but the project was quickly scrapped. Ford intended it to be a turbocharged, four-wheel-drive version of the RS1800. Nevertheless, issues with development and production forced Ford to shelve the proposal, and they instead created the RS200.
The RS stood for Rally Sport, and the 200 stood for the Group B 200 homologation rule, and it included a new 4WD system to compete with Audi and Peugeot, as well as a turbocharged 1.8 L Cosworth engine. The engine produced 450 horsepower, but it was infamous for large quantities of turbo lag, which made it sluggish.
The RS200 Performed
The RS200 performed poorly in competition. It lacked the highly aerodynamic body kit seen on other manufacturers’ cars, and instead looked very close to the homologated road going version. This prompted widespread criticism of Ford engineers’ underdevelopment, as most other automobiles in Group B bore little resemblance to their production versions. Manufacturers went to great lengths to reduce weight, increase power, and add non-production aerodynamic body kits — it was all permissible under Group B guidelines.
The RS200 was driven by Joaquim Santos in the Rally de Portugal incident that killed three people and injured 30 more. It never won a Group B event and only finished in the top three once.
Delta S4 and Lancia Rally 037 Evo
Lancia was a tough competitor in Group B Rally, producing two of history’s most renowned automobiles. Lancia brought out the Rally 037 from 1982 to 1985. It debuted as a RWD rival to the Quattro, and it more than held its own. The Lancia 037 won the Manufacturer’s title in 1983. However, after Audi produced the upgraded Quattro Sport S1 in 1984, its lack of 4WD began to impede it.
The Lancia Rally 037 had a 2.0 L straight-four engine with a supercharger that produced 280 horsepower. The Rally 037 Evolution 2 was the ultimate iteration of the 037, with 325 horsepower. Lancia employed a supercharger rather than a turbocharger to reduce lag and built the car mid-engine.
Lancia began construction on a new model, the Delta S4, after realizing that the 037 Evolution 2 was still inferior to the 4WD Quattro Sport S1 and 205 T16. The Delta S4, with its twin-charged 1.8 L engine, was one of the most distinctive Group B WRC vehicles of all time. The installation of a supercharger and a turbocharger removed latency and generated an outstanding power band capable of producing 500 horsepower. With the inclusion of 4WD, it was also able to compete with the 205 T16 and Quattro Sport.
The WRC Delta S4 was a silhouette race vehicle, which meant that the WRC version looked nothing like the homologated road car. This was permitted by Group B rules, resulting in a huge power gain over the manufacturing version (247 hp).
The Mazda RX-7
Mazda’s Group B Rally contributions are rarely discussed, however they did submit entries for the 1984-1986 seasons. At the tail end of the 1981 season, they debuted the rally RX-7, finishing 11th at the RAC Rally in Wales. However Mazda kept it out of competition for the next two seasons before bringing it back in 1984.
he RX-7 was one of the few Group B Rally vehicles to have a significant manufacturing version. The road-going RX-7 was a huge success as a production car, selling far more than the required 200 units for homologation. The rally version of the RX-7 had an aggressive body modification and a turbocharged version of the 1.3 Wankel Rotary engine that produced 300 horsepower. However, it was not particularly successful in Group B, finishing third in the 1985 Acropolis Rally in Greece.
400 Opel Ascona/Manta
Opel was a regular Group B challenger, initially with the Ascona 400 and then with the Manta B 400. The Ascona 400 was designed for Group 4 rallying and was permitted to compete during the 1982 transition to Group B regulations. It had a bored and stroked 2.4 L engine that could produce up to 340 horsepower in rally versions. Opel worked on the engine with Cosworth, who created the cylinder head. Irmscher designed the aerodynamic body package, which included bigger wings, a lighter hood, and other improvements that allowed it to cut through the air more efficiently than the production model.
Walter Röhrl won the Driver’s Championship in 1982 with the Ascona 400, the last RWD victory in WRC history. Beginning in mid-season 1983, Opel began employing the Manta 400 B, an enhanced variant of the Ascona 400. The Manta B 400 had the same naturally aspirated engine as the Ascona 400, producing 340 horsepower.
However, because to its RWD drivetrain, the Manta 400 had little chance of competing until real Group B cars became the standard in 1984. The Peugeot 205 T16 and Audi Quattro Sport S1 rendered the Manta 400 almost obsolete in the World Rally Championship. From 1983 through 1986, it only finished in the top three twice, but it was still competitive in local non-WRC rallies.
16-cylinder Peugeot 205 Turbo
While Peugeot’s early efforts in Group B Rally were unremarkable, it was their final creation that drew attention. Peugeot used the 504 V6, 505, and 104 models in the 1982-1983 WRC seasons. They were all rear-wheel drive and couldn’t compete with the majority of the other cars transferring from Group 4.
Peugeot, on the other hand, struck gold when they partnered together with British manufacturer Talbot. They collaborated to form Peugeot Talbot Sport, which debuted the 205 T16 for the 1984 season. With its lightweight chassis, 4WD transmission, and ruthlessly efficient 1.8 L turbocharged engine, the 205 was an instant hit. The initial iteration, the 205 T16 E1, produced 350 hp thanks to its twin-scroll turbo and Bosch Jetronic fuel injection. By the end of the 205 T16 E2’s run in 1986, Peugeot had increased power to 550 horsepower.
The Peugeot presented an immediate challenge to the Audi Quattro Sport and immediately proved superior. Its 4WD system was more dependable and less complicated, and it behaved much better on tarmac. The 205 T16 dominated the 1985-1986 seasons, quickly replacing the Quattro Sport as the fan favorite. Once Group B concluded, plans for a 205 T16 E3 variant were shelved.
Group B Rally’s Legacies
Group B Rally is remembered today as one of the strangest eras in motorsports history. It featured some of the most powerful cars ever built in the 1980s, if not all of motorsports history, blasting through rallies in extremely primitive 4WD systems. Manufacturers such as Audi, Peugeot, Lancia, and Opel developed some extremely monstrous cars, but they were all short-lived.
The Group B Rally proved to be far too risky to continue. Injuries and deaths began to escalate throughout the 1986 season, scaring drivers and manufacturers away. By the conclusion of the year, Group B had been phased out as the WRC recognized the need for increased safety. The Quattro Sport, 205 T16, Delta S4, and Manta 400, all well engineered and tuned beasts, were suddenly sport-less. Though they were reimagined for different applications by manufacturers, their original Group B purposes were never accomplished.
There are still historical rally classes that allow Group B Rally cars to compete, though not at the same level. Regrettably, Group B Rally is now a permanent fixture of the mid-’80s zeitgeist.