Audi’s interim Group B car was called the Quattro A1, its name used to denote the lighter aluminium engine block that nestled in a body that was outwardly similar to its Group 4 and road cars. In contrast, Lancia had built its pert little 037 Rallye to shave the limits of every regulation from the ground up; team principal Cesare Fiorio and his merry men had taken on the same determination as a team of commandos behind enemy lines.
They had an all-star driver pairing of Markku Alen in one car and Walter Rohrl in the other, but to tackle Audi would mean being open to every available tactic to achieve their objectives.
The extent to which Lancia was prepared to wage war upon the world championship was revealed in Monte Carlo when, in conditions of ice and snow, the Lancias set off wearing slick tyres. They were barely under control for the first few kilometres but then, miraculously, the roads cleared and virgin asphalt appeared beneath their wheels, as though somehow the roads from Corsica had been lifted and laid down beneath the Lancias. In some ways they had.
‘Fiorio sent a few trucks with 40 tonnes of salt a week before,’ Rohrl chuckled, years later. ‘They have sprinkled vigorously so that the snow is gone!’
Nothing in the rules precluded teams from completely changing the road surface to suit their cars – it was simply that very few other teams would have come up with the notion. For Cesare Fiorio, however, it was all in a day’s work. Not only did he have a small Italian army throwing salt down, but he also convinced the event organisers to do the same, making an elaborate case that not doing so would leave them culpable in the event of injuries to spectators, resulting from them slipping on too much ice and snow on the stages.
Throughout the event, Lancia kept a very close eye on the road conditions and had tyre barges waiting on the actual stages – ready to switch from slick to studded rubber if needed. ‘If you want to compete in motor sport, you must know the rules you have to face,’ Fiorio later said. ‘The grey zones of the rules… and it’s always a big fight but you must try to be a bit clever.’
Rohrl romped to victory in front of Alen while Blomqvist finished third for Audi in front of Mikkola. Michele Mouton had crashed out on the 11th special stage, but at least had the consolation of not putting Fabrizia Pons in the hands of the medics this year.
Back in Ingolstadt, the limits to which Lancia was prepared to reach for victory gave pause for thought. Development of the thoroughbred Group B Quattro became all-consuming, while Audi realised that winning the drivers’ championship was, in many ways, more important than the manufacturers’ title.
In 1982 nobody outside the respective boardrooms had paid much attention to the contest between Audi and Opel because they were wide-eyed at the battle between Rohrl and Mouton, with all its attendant press headlines. In 1983, therefore, Audi would go out of its way to ensure that one driver would beat Walter Rohrl and that driver would be Hannu Mikkola.
Partly to help him along in this respect, and partly to promote the new road-going model, Stig Blomqvist would compete in the Swedish Rally at the wheel of a Group A production class Audi 80 quattro, down 100 bhp for the absence of a turbo. With Lancia electing to miss Sweden, Mikkola duly took victory at the head of a 1 -2-3-4 result for Audi – and the fact that Blomqvist was second overall in the 80 quattro was a jolt for everyone.
Portugal came next and with it the Lancias returned to battle. The Quattros were on their mettle and finished with Mikkola winning from Mouton. Next came the Safari Rally and Lancia again chose to skip an event for which its little coupes were ill-suited but Audi made its debut on the event. An extraordinary game of long-distance snakes and ladders ensued in which all of the lead contenders shone, struck problems and fell back before recovering once again. When the last stage was over, Ari Vatanen won for Opel with Mikkola and Mouton right behind him.
Gumpert’s team travelled to Corsica for its bogey event with two of the heavily revised Audi Quattro A2 cars for Mikkola and Mouton. The second aluminium engine had a smaller swept volume than other Quattros, with 2,110cc. This dropped the Quattro down into the ‘below 3-litre class’ when multiplied by 1.4 to compensate for the turbo. But nobody specified the size of the turbo (or intercooler), which had grown significantly, with Audi confirming that 400 bhp had been seen from the ‘baby’ engine.
This much power was allied to a more advanced and lightweight construction (see Chapter 4), evidenced from the roadside by a second air intake in front of the rear wheels -this one for cooling the rear differential. Despite the obvious enhancements to its design, teething problems prevented either of the Quattro A2s from reaching the finish, handing Lancia a 1-2-3-4 result with Alen beating Rohrl.
Next came the Acropolis, and Audi could at least hope that the Lancias would struggle to survive the brutal nature of the Greek stages. When it came to it, Mikkola’s car went out after the boot lid flew off on a night stage and pulled the oil reservoir out with it, while Mouton rolled her A2 into a ball. Stig Blomqvist was on hand with a third example and set a blistering string of stage wins, but could finish no higher than third behind the Lancias of Rohrl and Alen.
The championship was at boiling point in New Zealand, and Audi Sport decided to enter Blomqvist in a third car once again. The entry was late but accepted by the organisers – but not so by Lancia, who protested and had the Swede pulled out of the rally while he was running in second place. Rohrl took the win and both Mouton and Mikkola suffered engine failures – Mikkola’s resulting in a fire which, eagle-eyed observers noted, was the tenth conflagration of the Quattro’s World Rally Championship career.
Argentina followed, returning to the calendar with a rugged route around the Andes. Finally, the Audi Quattro A2s held together and performed as planned, with Mikkola taking victory from Blomqvist, dutifully guarding the team leader’s tail, with Mouton third and guest driver Shekhar Mehta ending up fourth.
In Finland for the 1,000 Lakes, Hannu Mikkola was in trouble early on. He lost the front differential on his first major jump and then he lost his turbo after the engine mounts broke over another. ‘I always remember it was an 85km [53 mile] road section and I knew it takes 40 minutes and I knew there would be a lot of police,’ Mikkola recalled later.
‘So I said to Arne “Give me the map” and I looked at another road on the side and I went flat out. I got there on time and they changed the engine mount.’
The fired-up Finn was delayed again by a loose turbo but by the final morning was back in second place with 24 seconds being the deficit to Blomqvist – and 20 miles [32km] of competitive rally remaining to him. As the field mustered at the stage start, Roland Gumpert reminded Blomqvist in no uncertain terms what was expected of him, and Mikkola duly won that last stage by 45 seconds.
Audi would have to beat Lancia heavily in Sanremo to stand a chance of winning the manufacturers’ title, while a Lancia win would give it to the Italians on home soil. Small wonder that it was a ‘maximum effort’ from Cesare Fiorio’s men, who tried to repeat their trick of creating optimum road conditions by driving vans over the gravel stages with brooms underneath that swept loose gravel away.
That ploy failed, but in the end they didn’t need it. Audi Sport entered four Quattros for Mikkola/Hertz, Mouton/Pons, Blomqvist/ Cederberg and French asphalt rally hero Bernard Darniche with co-driver Alain Mahe. Mouton was the highest-placed finisher in seventh, Darniche was ninth, Blomqvist crashed heavily and Mikkola’s car burned down to the ground. The 1983 manufacturers’ title belonged to Lancia, which ended with Alen winning from Rohrl-and third driver Attilio Bettega, but although Rohrl still had a mathematical chance of beating Mikkola to the drivers’ title he had no intention of competing in the Ivory Coast or RAC Rallies.
While Lancia celebrated, Rohrl wandered over to the Audi service area and sought out his rival. ‘I said “Hannu, enjoy it! You are world champion, I am happy, it is beautiful!’”
On the Ivory Coast, Audi sent one car for Mikkola with promising young Finnish driver Lasse Lampi acting as his teammate and support vehicle. Some locals were rather upset about the rally interrupting their peace and quiet so they laid a tree in the road, which Mikkola hit, bending the shell and handing the initiative to his old teammate Bjorn Waldegard in a Toyota. Second place was sufficient to mean that even if Rohrl did appear in Britain, he could only tie on points at best.
In the end, Rohrl did not appear. A week before the RAC Rally, the Bavarian had gone out and quietly driven in a domestic German rally at the start of his new job – as an Audi Sport driver. He discovered that the Quattro was a very different beast in comparison with the Lancia and understeered into some trees. He had much to learn if finally getting his hands on a four-wheel-drive car was going to live up to expectations.
Meanwhile in Britain, Mikkola and Mouton appeared for the works team with Lasse Lampi in his Finnish championship car from David Sutton, along with fellow Finnish Quattro drivers Antero Laine and Jouko Saarinen in their own cars. American champion John Buffum returned, British ace Darryl Weidner appeared with an ex-Sutton car and Stig Blomqvist was in the Audi Sport UK Quattro A2, with which he had won the 1983 British championship.
With the drivers’ title settled, no team orders were enforced and Blomqvist led from the start. Mikkola lost a wheel in his pursuit but fought back from 20th to second place at the finish, happy to share the podium and accept the cheers of British fans who, after so many years, claimed both crews as their own.