A team performance of epic proportions brought Great Britain one of its most notable successes in rallycross on the last weekend of November in 1987, victory over Finland and Sweden in the Inter-Nations Cup at Croft.
The FIA Inter-Nations Cup ran for 11 years from 1984 to 1996 and pitched country against country in a team event. When run at Croft in 1987, it was the fourth INC and followed on from the inaugural event at Tomelilla in Sweden after which had come Massmechelen (Belgium) and Teisko (Finland).
The Swedes had won at home in 1984, but Finland then topped the order in Belgium and on home turf. With European Champion Seppo Niittymaki and his Peugeot 205 T16 E2 leading the Finnish squad to Croft, it was not difficult to find those predicting a hat-trick for Finland.
The home team was strong, and confident, British Champ Mark Rennison and his younger neighbour Michael Shield were playing in their own backyard. Will Gollop’s first season with the Metro 6R4 had placed him firmly in the vanguard. John Welch brought his new Vauxhall/Opel Astra and the team was completed by four-time British champion Trevor Hopkins (RS200) and the ‘short’ Quattro of Dimi Mavropoulos.
Finland and Sweden also wheeled out big guns, but the beauty of the INC was that the minnows did not shy away from the competition. Ireland described itself as a ‘third-world’ rallycross nation, and mustered just two four-wheel drive cars; Alister Galloway’s Quattro and Kenny McKinstry in a naturally aspirated Escort. The pair were joined by Bertie Law (Vauxhall Chevette), Gerard Creegan (Escort), Ed Colton (Talbot Sunbeam) and Dermot Carnegie – the latter in a 1600cc Fiesta and yet to make his mark in rallycross.
Denmark and Germany also featured two-wheel drive cars in their squads and even the Belgian team, which featured Francois Monten at the wheel of John Smith’s Xtrac Escort, included a two-wheel drive Renault Alpine for Eddy Guffens. So, mixed racing was the order of the weekend.
Norway may have been among the pre-event favourites, but its hopes were dashed when late withdrawals left them a man down, and that was after they had called up Bjorn Kopperud as a late reserve in his Group A Volvo 240 Turbo. Dagfinn Larsen, Thor Holm and Arild Martinsen drove well, but could make no serious challenge.
With eight teams of up to seven drivers the format was one driver per country and five points-scoring races in each qualifier; team managers having to nominate starters ahead of each round.
The British team was dealt a blow after Rennison’s RS200 suffered engine failure in practice and missed the first race, but with Finland and Sweden also having their moments and some great drives from the remaining five team members, it was GB that led from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and Denmark at the end of the first day.
Saturday had been a cold, bright day but Sunday was bitter, temperatures around freezing and the track shrouded in winter mist for most of the day.
Rennison was back in action and took a win in the second set of races even though his RS200 had now been fitted with the ‘small’ 1800 engine in place of the 2100cc ‘E’ motor. Britain continued to lead after two qualifying rounds, but the gap to Finland was down from six points to just one.
Finland was able to assert itself in the third qualifying races after which it held a four-point lead over Britain with Sweden a further four points down. A crash for Hopkins had dented home hopes, but Rennison had been the only British winner as Sven Lestander continued his impressive run for Sweden while Niittymaki, Pekka Rantanen and Timo Virtanen all won for Finland.
In a kind of reverse of usual practice, the finals were for five cars in line-abreast start, Ireland, Belgium and Denmark taking part in a consolation final that was dominated by McKinstry.
The first of the finals presented an easy win for Sweden and Olle Arnesson’s Quattro Sport S1. Andreas Naerby bagging second place for Norway ahead of Michael Shield, the two Metro 6R4 drivers each making their way past Rantanen. Matti Alamaki took the second final ahead of Welch who had tussled with the Lancia driver in the first lap, Mikael Nordstrom third for Sweden.
Mavropoulos had not set a wheel wrong all weekend, and produced a magnificent drive in the third of the five finals – beating Larsen, Rolf Nilsson and Jukka Pelttari. A British win and fourth place for Finland began to turn the tide.
Gollop then ran off to post a clear victory in the fourth final, Virtanen unable to do more than follow at a distance. And suddenly Britain was sitting on a 16-point lead with one race to run…
The maths were not complicated, Rennison needed only to be fourth or better in the last five-car race of the event, and with Kopperud and German Peter Bohm in two-wheel drive cars, it was a case of playing it safe. Niittymaki, however, wanted to maintain his unbeaten run in the event and romped away up front while Rennison risked nothing and held off Lestander for second place to seal the team victory.
The British win was popular with the large crowd that withstood bitter weather conditions to witness it. Finland and Sweden completed the podium ahead of Norway and Germany which also took part in the five-car finals. Belgium, Ireland and Denmark rounded out the final classification of the event.
British winter may have meant it was dark early on race day, but the sun was almost up again before the last revellers left the prize-giving party…
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