While the hordes of team staff and main flotilla of vehicles would arrive a week or two before the start, it was highly likely that the core of the team would have been on site for a lot longer. The pre-event recce for a works team was usually a four-week process, with the crews driving the entire route three times to make their detailed pace notes, work out any emergency routes to get to service halts and identify any locations that might be suitable for changing tyres or any other minor but potentially rally-winning repairs and adjustments on the fly.
The recces would be performed in road cars, usually Audi Quattros, which had a degree or two of modification to allow them to pass over the terrain, such as sump guards and raised suspension. There would also regularly be a competition car on hand for pre-event testing – a duty that became all the more onerous with the arrival of Walter Rohrl in the team.
One Quattro driver who later became a competitor to the Audi Sport team was Britain’s young hope, Malcolm Wilson. In 1985 he was signed to join the Austin Rover squad to bring its Metro 6R4 to the world’s elite competition and to him the luxury of Rohrl’s extended pre-event routine was something from another world.
‘That’s why we’ve got restrictions on all the days of testing, etc. in the World Rally Championship today,’ he chuckled.
‘In those days Walter was very, very clever in the fact that he would maybe pick six, seven rallies in a year and that’s all that he would do. But you could guarantee that if he picked that rally and he would do it then there was a very good chance that he was going to win because, yes, he could go and practice for three weeks or six weeks if he wanted.’
For the research and development of the Quattro, however, it was often preferable to do testing far beyond the prying eyes of rival teams. Thus the appearance of a creamy-white Volkswagen LT van or three and a burbling five-cylinder rally car could be spotted at many extraordinary locations around the world, including the narrow, winding roads of Czechoslovakia, the searing heat of North Africa and the mountains around Johannesburg.
It was this need to seek solitude that ended up with Allan Durham leaving the north of England for somewhere very different indeed and a whole new life, thanks to Audi.
‘A friend of mine from the local motor club in Bury emigrated to South Africa in 1980,’ said Durham. ‘We kept in touch and he phoned me one day and said: “You’ll never guess what I’ve • been doing…” and he told me he had been working for this big rally team, Audi Sport, that had gone to Johannesburg to do high-altitude testing on its new car.
‘And he said that these lads have come from Germany and they want to run cars here in South Africa for development and they’re looking for mechanics. He said, “You should apply”, and he sold me completely on the lifestyle down there, so I got in touch with the factory.
‘In those days in South Africa everything was done on the quiet. Nobody really wanted to know what was going on there because of Apartheid and it was still a place that was not talked about. But they had a very good rally series. All the big teams and drivers came out on the quiet and eventually I got this job with Audi Sport. They arranged travel and visas and accommodation and everything, I packed up everything here and with the wife and two children we just went: that was that.’
In the vanguard of Audi’s South African team was Sarel ‘Supervan’ van der Merwe, a second-generation competition driver whose father had run a DKW dealership in the week and campaigned the company’s cars in competition at the weekend. Having proven himself to be a rare talent on the track and rally stages against visiting stars from around the world, van der Merwe was to lead Audi’s competitive outings in South Africa while also testing new parts for the Ingolstadt team.
‘We did quite a few things like that and they were so good,’ said van der Merwe. ‘They would say test this thing and compare, or test that thing and compare, and not everything worked. Sometimes it made things worse, but we gave them the feedback and eventually we would end up seeing the proper homologated version of these parts come back for us to put on our cars. And they really were the be-all and end-all, so it was nice to be involved in that side of it.’
Furnishing the teams with helicopters and aeroplanes, juggling diplomatic requirements for travelling team staff and sending freshly made components to outposts around the world was all meat and drink to the daily operation of Audi Sport. At its peak, the team operated on a budget of £3.5-4 million in its push to win the 1983-84 world championship titles (£12-14 million today) in seasons of 12 events. That’s more than double the budget of a manufacturer running three cars on 14 events in 2019.
Part of the funding came from the income from Audi’s national rally programmes buying cars and needing to service them, while part came from supplier deals with the likes of Castrol, Recaro and Boge. In 1984 the Audi Sport team finally bit the bullet and took a title sponsorship from HB Cigarettes, a brand of British American Tobacco, which helped to offset the development of the Sport quattro and its S1 evolution. From the perspective of a team owner today, however, the level of extravagance seen by the big teams of the 1980s has something of a dream-like quality to it.
‘That’s part of history now,’ said Malcolm Wilson, whose М-Sport team has been the focal point of Ford’s global rally programme since the late 1990s, winning the 2006 manufacturers’ championship with the Ford Focus and then back-to-back drivers’ titles in 2017-18 with Sebastien Ogier in the Fiesta WRC.
‘If it was still like that the costs would be…
I remember in that era the manufacturers and the people who were competing, they weren’t restricted by budgets like we are nowadays. I mean, it was just a case of if a manufacturer decided “Well, we’re going in the World Rally Championship” then my impression, I don’t know all the ins and outs, but the impression that you got as a driver then was that, well, if Audi or Ford or whoever is going in to rallying they’re going to spend whatever it takes to do the job. Whereas nowadays, you know, that just couldn’t be the case because you can imagine, the way that technology is, it just could run completely wild. That couldn’t work in this current day and age, the budget then required to do things like that would just be astronomical.’

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