RS200 boom opens rallycross Group B era

by Tim Whittington |

The British Rallycross Grand Prix of 1986 was the event at which Group B cars arrived en masse. Rallying may be mourning the 30th anniversary of the cull that ended the Group B days, but for rallycross fans this was the beginning of a golden era. Run over the weekend of December 6-7 at Brands Hatch, the fifth annual British Rallycross Grand Prix was graced by five Ford RS200s and the first MG Metro 6R4 in rallycross.
Mark Rennison drove the DSRM-backed RS200 that he had used in the British Championship that year, developed from a road car over the course of the season, Rennison had already taken in the British round of the European championship where his RS200 was the only Group B car, but now faced a field swollen by four cast-offs from Boreham’s Ford works rally team.
Two Norwegians and two Swede’s came to Brands Hatch armed with RS200s, their number led by Martin Schanche who, uniquely, also had access to the Brian Hart-developed 2.1-litre BDT’E’ engine. Schanche’s car had been used by Ford on the Acropolis rally and, for all that it still sported headlamps, was arguably more of a rallycross car than the other three Nordic entries – not that Schanche was much enamoured with the car which he referred to as “an old dog”.
Little known Norwegian Thor Holm, previously a VW Beetle driver, arrived with a car desribed as “ex-Brundle” and would have a great weekend that opened several years of participation in Europe.
Having forsaken his beloved Porsche for a spell in the Group A class with an Escort RS Turbo, Swede Rolf Nilsson returned to a top class car at Brands Hatch, his car the ex-Kalle Grundel machine that proudly bore number plates, headlamps and even its tax disc throughout the event.
The fourth of the new RS200s was for another relatively unknown driver, Nilsson’s near neighbour Bengt Wiklund driving the ex-Stig Andervang machine.
Alongside the quintet of RS200s, Will Gollop ran his MG Metro 6R4. At that stage still unique in rallycross, the car had been given its debut in a Winterseries event at Lydden and went to the Grand Prix still in its base white paint, albeit with the addition of some backing from Mobil 1.
The Grand Prix weekend typified everything that is great about early winter weather in Great Britain, glorious sunshine on Saturday giving way to cold, wet and darkness on Sunday. It also had all the kinds of magic that made the Grand Prix such a compelling event, including a giant-killing run from English star Trevor Reeves who qualified his Fiesta BDG fourth on the grid for the GP itslef, the only two-wheel drive car to make the main event.
Sunday racing was wet and dirty as the weather took a turn for the worse. Above, Schanche and Wiklund duel in the mud and murk.
The wiper struggles to clear the screen on Rennison’s RS200 and Nilsson and the Beetle of Mikael Nordstrom chase.
Pictured during Saturday’s better conditions and in his last event as a Porsche driver, Matti Alamaki had a great run through the qualifiers and would start the Grand Prix from pole in his marvellous four-wheel drive 911.
Andy Bentza also performed well during qualifying, the Austrian going to the GP in second place between Alamaki and Holm who was best of those with ‘pure’ Group B cars.
Seppo Niittymaki (above leading Welch and Pekka Rantanen’s Porsche), enjoyed his last outing in an Xtrac Escort before sensationally liberating a Peugeot 205 T16 E2 for the 1987 season, battled through the dirt to share row two with Reeves. The similar Xtracs of John Welch and John Smith were next up, Schanche completing the third row with Nilsson the last direct qualifier and to be joined on the back of the grid by Gollop.
Rennison led the B final but Gollop was the man on the move and worked his way up to second place from where he managed to pass Rennison – whose RS200 suffered a puncture –, to progress to the GP.
Niittymaki who got the best start in the GP which, in comparison to the carmageddon of the 1985 event – in which Welch had battled with the best to take a famous win – the 86 final was a relatively mild and straight forward race, Nittymaki leading until Bentza surged ahead in the second lap.
With M&S tyres on his Quattro, Bentza then never looked back and sailed away to take a clear win over Niittymaki. It’s both a little ironic and at the same time fitting that the first event with a significant entry of Group B cars should have provided a last hurrah for the original ‘Group B’ car – the 1986 GP the last major win for the ‘long’ Quattro.
Welch defied engine problems, his Xtrac trailed a cloud of steam and smoke in the late stages of the race, to put a pass on Schanche and snatch a podium place. Gollop recovered from a first lap off to take fifth with Holm sixth.  But at the end of the day, it was Bentza who stood on the top step of the podium and got his hands on the prestigious Grand Prix trophy.
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