Quality not quantity marked the start of the 1985 season. Lancia was busy working on a four-wheel-drive replacement for the 037 Rai lye so it sent just one car to open its account in Monte Carlo, to be driven by Henri Toivonen. A second car was entered for works driver Miki Biasion by the second-string Jolly Club. Audi sent two Sport quattros upon which to pin its hopes of victory, entered for Blomqvist/ Cederberg and Rohrl/Geistdorfer.
The pre-event favourites were three works Peugeot 205 T16s for Vatanen/Harryman, Timo Salonen/Seppo Harjanne and Bruno Saby/ Jean-Franpois Fauchille, but Rohrl was not to be intimidated on his most cherished event. His weeks of testing delivered good speed in the opening stages while Vatanen went off, hitting three spectators and causing one broken leg. All parties recovered but then the usually unflappable Harryman made an error and clocked them in to a time control four minutes early, their penalty handing the lead to Rohrl by almost five minutes with just under 400km (250 miles) of timed stages to run.
The decider would be the Col de St Raphael stage, which started uphill for 12km (7.5 miles) of thick snow and ice before a 30km (19 mile) run on bone-dry asphalt. Rohrl stayed on intermediate tyres while Vatanen switched to studs and pulled out a lead of more than six minutes, passing Rohrl in the ascent, and then holding on bravely to the finish. For the first time in the 1980s, Rohrl was beaten in Monte Carlo.
Vatanen won again in Sweden, this time with the Sport quattro of Blomqvist trailing him home. Timo Salonen beat the Sport quattros in Portugal and on the Safari both Mikkola and Blomqvist went out with engine problems. It was Audi’s worst start to any season and the next event would be Corsica. To complicate life further, Ferdinand Piech would be in attendance.
Roland Gumpert had proposed a radically different version of the Sport quattro, an upgraded car with better aerodynamics and weight distribution, together with more power. Audi did not like it because it looked too different to its showroom products but, with no victories on the horizon, it was reluctantly built. The new car was not ready for Corsica, however, so Rohrl set to work with a regular Sport quattro.
In Corsica, a catastrophic accident befell the Lancia 037 of Attilio Bettega, and the popular Italian was killed. For once the Peugeots were not on form, Salonen’s electrics giving up and Vatanen crashing, but Rohrl’s brakes could not take the strain and he also retired, leaving Jean Ragnotti as the unlikely winner in his Renault – and leaving Gumpert facing a deeply uncomfortable conversation with Piech.
Salonen won again on the Acropolis and in New Zealand, with Rohrl, Blomqvist and Mikkola left to scrap over the crumbs. There was a break in the World Rally Championship calendar during July but Audi was working furiously as it sent the new car, the Audi Sport quattro S1, to tackle the Olympus Rally in Washington State as its first competitive outing. Hannu Mikkola won, with John Buffum’s Quattro A1 a distant second.
The same car then travelled back across he Atlantic to Northern Ireland and the Ulster Rally, where Michele Mouton prepared to make its asphalt debut. Still on the soft gravel setup used in America, she managed to set the fastest time on Stage 1 but then a leak in the turbo caused her to pull out rather than break the 510 horsepower, 20-valve screamer.
In the same week, final preparations were underway for the Audi Sport quattro S1 to make its world championship debut in Argentina. Stig Blomqvist and Bjorn Cederberg crewed the lone works entry, although Austrian privateer Wilfried Wiedner took his ex-works Quattro A2 along. Blomqvist’s engine failed but Wiedner finished second to Salonen’s Peugeot, in a rally remembered for the life-threatening injuries suffered by Ari Vatanen when his Peugeot hit a dip in the road and rolled end-over-end.
Three weeks later, in Finland, Blomqvist and Mikkola drove a pair of S1 s on the 1,000 Lakes. Mikkola’s engine failed after recovering from earlier mechanical problems. Blomqvist’s car was in better health but he had to settle for second place behind Salonen’s Peugeot.
Back in Ingolstadt, Walter Rohrl had been putting his weight behind the S1 development programme and then spent three weeks in the car testing around Sanremo. It was a quite incomprehensible effort but Audi Sport had to show something in return for the vast outlay that had been spent on developing the new car. Only Rohrl was present for the team in Italy -but in the end that’s all they needed.
Initially the Lancias again led on the asphalt stages but the Bavarian was right with them. When they hit the gravel he pounced, setting 28 fastest stage times to build a lead that could not be challenged, even by Salonen. It was a lavish and unsustainable way to go rallying, but at least the Audi Sport quattro S1 had this one world championship victory to its name.
A pair of the earlier Sport quattros was sent over to Africa for the Ivory Coast Rally – Michele Mouton driving the lead car with Arne Hertz alongside her, while Franz Braun and Arwed Fischer drove a sister car as the flying service truck. When Mouton’s car dropped out of the lead battle with serious engine problems the chase car found her and repairs were made out in the bush.
After the repair stop, Mouton took off at full
speed but there were rumours circulating that she was in fact driving the chase car, which had been hurriedly fitted with the doors and bonnet from her own car. Photographs taken certainly show that the fit and finish was a little different to how she had left the start ramp, but the car was inspected by scrutineers and no concerns were raised.
In a rather tense atmosphere, Mouton’s charge was again blunted by mechanical trouble and in the end her car was withdrawn. To this day, arguments rage over what happened, but the only comment given to this author by a member of the team was that ‘Gumpert got thrown under a bus’.
The season ended traditionally in Britain with the RAC Rally. A pair of Audi Sport quattro S1s departed Ingolstadt – a standard car for Hannu Mikkola/Arne Hertz and a very special machine destined for Walter Rohrl. One of the many projects that had preoccupied Rohrl in his protracted absences from competition in 1985 was fitting Porsche’s PDK transmission to the Audi.
The seamless gearchanges of the PDK were astonishing, as were the speeds it allowed Rohrl to reach, but he had no desire at all to compete in the RAC Rally and it took a fair amount of leverage within Audi to encourage him. He would be partnered with British co-driver Phil Short, which mollified the truculent star somewhat to have some local knowledge in the cockpit.
The RAC Rally also marked the World Rally Championship debut of new Group B weaponry – the Lancia Delta S4 and Austin Rover’s MG Metro 6R4.
The Lancia was mid-engined, four-wheel drive and its engine was both supercharged and turbocharged to give optimum power just shy of 500 bhp and superior throttle response. Two cars arrived for Henri Toivonen/Neil Wilson and Markku Alen/llkka Kivimaki. In contrast to all the other Group B cars, the Metro did not have a turbo but instead a bespoke 3-litre V6 racing engine good for 400 bhp with no lag at all and local hero Tony Pond at the wheel, co-driven by Rob Arthur.
It produced a furious opening leg from which Rohrl crashed out violently while pursuing the Peugeots and Lancias. Mikkola, the old master of the RAC, managed to get the standard S1 singing and took the lead but then the advanced electronics of the 20-valve engine management system began to go haywire.
Unlike an old carburettor car, this sort of job couldn’t be fixed at the roadside, and thus the screaming S1 fell silent.
The Peugeots also went out, which left Lancia rather stunned, holding the top two places on their car’s debut and fending off a determined attack from Pond’s raucous Metro. In the end the victory went to Toivonen, with Alen a minute behind and Pond in third. Per Eklund saved some pride for Audi by finishing fourth in a private Quattro A2.
An era ended for Audi Sport in the wintry wet and cold of northern England. Stig Blomqvist would leave the team for a long-term deal with Ford. Michele Mouton also left to spearhead Peugeot’s assault on the German national championship. The other major departure was that of Roland Gumpert, who had masterminded all of Audi’s title-winning successes but upon whom responsibility had fallen both for Rohrl’s abject Corsican performance and the potential damage to Audi’s reputation that would have come from any cheating in the Ivory Coast. More sad days were too soon to follow.