The Group B boom

by Tim Whittington |

Rallycross entered a boom period 25 years ago. Group B cars arrived en masse and, for the next six years, would dominate the sport. These monsters, exiled from rallying after a spate of accidents became faster, lighter and more powerful as, in rallycross, they found their ultimate form. It’s true that every cloud has a silver lining, for Rallycross the cloud over rallying didn’t just present an opportunity but opened a golden era, perhaps the best years the sport has ever known. To mark that anniversary RallycrossWorld will look back at the 1987 season in parallel with the 2012 European Rallycross Championship.

Austria in May was a familiar starting point for the European championship at the time. Alternating between Melk and Horn-Fuglau, in 1987 it was the turn of the scenic track at Melk to host the event. The first great show of Group B cars had been at the British Rallycross Grand Prix the previous December and over the winter more cars had been liberated from the their rallying creators. The paddock at Melk contained Peugeot, Lancia, Austin Rover and Ford – no fewer than seven RS200s – Group B cars. The Audi Quattro had become familiar in the ERC since Franz Wurz returned in 1982 with his version, but now 1986 champion Olle Arnesson had replaced his Quattro with one of the bewinged Sport Quattro S1 models. Of the true Group B cars, only Citroën’s unloved and unsuccessful BX 4TC was missing – and that wasn’t much of a loss.

For all the new cars, the first heat was topped by young Finn Jukka Pelttari in a Porsche 911 BiTurbo 4×4, but his run was relatively short lived and while the strong start gave him a leg up into the A final, it had come at least partly because others struggled. Chief among those was former Porsche driver Matti Alamäki whose first heat with the charismatic Lancia Delta S4 ended abruptly when he smashed into the first corner fence and tore a rear wheel off the Italian car.

That first corner also bit Martin Schanche, the Norwegian hitting the barrier there in the first heat and again in the third, this time breaking the steering of his RS200. Schanche had raced his RS200 at Brands Hatch in the GP, then retreating to Norway with the rally car and re-emerging in the spring with a car that was significantly re-engineered. The heavy front suspension arrangement that featured two spring/damper units per corner was gone in favour of a lighter setup that used one inboard-mounted coil over for each wheel. Schanche’s was the most enveloped of the RS200s, but that did not do him much good here – or for some time – this the first of four non-scoring events with the car that he loved to hate.

The qualifying heats were run in dry conditions but thunderstorms arrived for the finals, partly flooding part of the track. Those who had them opted for gravel rally tyres to deal with the conditions. Chastised by his first heat failing, Seppo Niittymäki had been fastest in the the second heat and then third in the third heat, Arnesson and RS200 runner Thor Holm pushing the pre-season favourite down the order. The performance was enough, however, for Niittymäki to gain pole for the A final, and with the 205 T16 E2 then fitted with a set of gravel tyres, he made light work of the main event, dashing away to record a clear victory while Arnesson was best of the rest, leading home Alamäki and Holm. Kjetil Bolneset continued into 1987 with his Quattro and manhandled the thing into fifth place ahead of Pelttari. Bolneset had gone to the main event via victory in the B during which Terje Schie rolled his Xtrac heavily, debris from the car injuring a spectator.

Niittymäki had hit the ground running. The Finn had been out early in the year gaining race experience with his Peugeot 205 T16 E2 and while victory in the first round of the championship had not been without its trials, it was not unexpected. More importantly, the win gave Niittymäki a huge confidence boost.



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