1973-1980 : Apprenticeship – AUDI QUATTRO RALLY CAR MANUAL

The start of Audi’s modern motor sport programme came in 1973, when a prize fund was inaugurated for private entrants who competed in races and rallies in Audi cars. To help manage this programme and create a link between the teams and those back at the factory servicing their needs, Audi hired former Solex carburettor engineer and man-about-paddock Jurgen Stockmar as a combined competitors’ liaison-cum-salesman. By 1978, Audi was ready to enter the World Rally Championship as a toe-in-the-water exercise with its immaculate front-wheel-drive 80s being run with support from the workshops of Schmidt Motorsport.
Stockmar presided over the team, supported by former Volkswagen Motorsport marketing man Reinhard Rode. Bavarian-Swedish nobleman Freddy Kottulinsky was lead driver, joined by talented youngster Harald Demuth in the second car. Although retirements were regular, the Audis began to log a number of top-five finishes when they held together long enough.
There was still one rather large hurdle for Audi to cross before the Quattro could begin its competitive career. One of which, it must be assumed, the Audi board was not aware when it signed off Piech’s proposed Quattro road car and World RallyjDhampionship assault in May 1978: four-wheel-drive cars were not permitted in the series.
In the late summer of 1979, Volkswagen announced that it would enter the 1980 Paris-Dakar marathon with its litis four-wheel drive. The man tasked with making the cars ready for Dakar was none other than Roland Gumpert, who later remembered: ‘We tried to get orders from different armies, so we decided to participate in the 1980 Paris-Dakar to convince them how good the litis was!’
Convincing generals that the litis was a sound purchase was certainly one objective behind planning the Dakar mission, but almost as certainly, another aim was to draw attention away from the as-yet unseen Quattro.
In September 1979, Stockmar represented Audi in the meeting of manufacturers held at the FIA headquarters on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. He played little part in the most volatile conversations that ebbed and flowed throughout the day as the foundations were laid for the future specification of rallying: Group A production cars and the more technically liberal category of Group B.
When the horse trading over production numbers and specifications was over, Stockmar spoke up to ask if the other manufacturers would support lifting the ban on four-wheel-drive cars in rallying. With all the talk about the litis and Dakar that was emanating from Germany at the time, it was assumed by the rest of the gathering that Volkswagen hoped to enter its Jeep in similar rough-and-tumble events like the Safari Rally.
With no hint of the coming storm, Stockmar’s motion was given unanimous support from the manufacturers. Not until the road-going Quattro was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, some six months later, did a sense of unease afflict the Audi’s rivals.
Stockmar was meanwhile preoccupied with recruiting a driver of sufficient calibre to make best use of the Quattro. Luck was with Audi in that Ford announced its withdrawal from the world championship as a full manufacturer at the end of 1979, putting the services of men like Bjorn Waldegard (who would win the inaugural drivers’ title that year), Finnish veteran Hannu Mikkola and his spectacular young compatriot Ari Vatanen on the market.
From this list of candidates, Audi zeroed in on Hannu Mikkola as their first choice. ‘I said I wasn’t so sure, but they had a list of the drivers who they thought could drive the car and they said I was the only one,’ Mikkola later said. ‘They’d been following my career at Ford and discovered that I drove less sideways, and said it had to be me.’
Mikkola flew to Ingolstadt where he was met by Stockmar, shown around the factory and given a road-going Quattro prototype to drive. Mikkola was unsure about making such a leap into the unknown, so he called Arne Hertz for his opinion and then slept on the idea. The following morning, an agreement was made:
‘I said: “Okay, if we can do it so that I can drive 1980 with which car I want (not an Audi), but I do 60 days testing and you have somebody who is doing the long-distance testing”,’ Mikkola recalled. He eventually signed a contract on the understanding that if by October 1980 the car was not competitive, he could walk away without penalty.
Almost as soon as Mikkola’s signature had been won, however, Stockmar was fired after a disagreement with Ferdinand Piech. He was immediately replaced by Walter Treser, while Gumpert and the Audi-prepared litis team set off on the Paris-Dakar event.
Four cars were entered for the Dakar, although Freddy Kottulinsky had no real wish to compete and so put in an extraordinarily high price for his services in the hope of being turned down. Eventually Volkswagen agreed to his terms and then Kottulinsky went on to win the event, with his teammates Patrick Zaniroli finishing second and Jean Ragnotti fourth. Even Gumpert managed to finish ninth overall in the ‘chase car’ litis that was used to keep a stock of spare parts and skilled labour close at hand!
Back in Ingolstadt, Walter Treser’s school of leadership was soon making waves. For one thing, he informed Schmidt Motorsport that its services would no longer be required: the Quattro could be managed perfectly well by men drawn from the production line. For another, Treser spurned experienced suppliers for many of the rally team’s needs: French tyre brand Kleber, Boge shock absorbers and Pierburg fuel injection, for example.
Treser’s unshakeable faith in the Quattro also played a part in the negotiations with Walter Rohrl. The German superstar visited Ingolstadt twice – and each time he left with no contract signed. Immediately after his second visit, Rohrl went to Stuttgart and agreed terms for a five-year contract with Mercedes-Benz. Treser did not take the snub well, publicly declaring Rohrl a ‘Bavarian twit’ and lighting an incandescent rage in the driver that would haunt Audi for years to come.
Without Rohrl another bankable star was needed to drive the team’s second car and Audi’s marketing team felt that a French driver would help them in a key market for sales.
In the end they recruited another driver who was competing with Fiat in 1980 – and this one happened to be a woman. ‘English was hard for me then, so I went to Ingolstadt with a translator,’ Michele Mouton recalled. ‘I was driving for Fiat, but they let me go to a test in Finland. After the test I signed a contract. The Fiat 131 was like a truck in comparison.’
By the autumn of 1980, Audi was ready to show the world the results of its long and secretive labours. Hannu Mikkola and his co-driver Arne Hertz would attend the Algarve Rally in Portugal, part of the FIA European Rally Championship calendar, where the Quattro would act as course car.
‘The first stage was uphill, I think 24km [15 miles] or something, and we knew our times from the last year,’ Mikkola later said. ‘Arne was with me and we went up the stage and we were one minute faster than in the Escort. We knew then that it was a good car, and it was quite easy to drive, so I could see that maybe this was the way to go.’
In the end, the course car covered the 30 timed stages half an hour faster than the Porsche 911 that won the event, setting 24 fastest stage times along the way. A veritable scrum of international media was in attendance at a fairly low-key event. What they wrote was largely awestruck about the speed that the Quattros possessed – if not the spectacle. Mikkola’s Quattro had simply driven around each corner under complete control and then shot off with a big burst of acceleration. The technical brilliance of the car was clear, but to many onlookers the big question mark that Mikkola’s performance posed was whether the Quattro could be loved. They would soon have an answer.

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