In 1980, when the rules were agreed, Group B was never intended to create 500+ horsepower four-wheel-drive projectiles with advanced aerodynamics. The rules had worked in that they created an unprecedented spectacle and brought millions of people around the world to stand on the special stages and urge the cars on – but the stakes were now incredibly high for crews, spectators and the sport as a whole.
FISA and the manufacturers had broadly agreed a revised package, Group S, for 1987 onwards. The existing cars could be modified and, by dropping the requirement to build 200 road-going examples, the extravagant costs could be reduced. They would look even more insane but their performance would be moderated and many safety features not present on the current cars would be mandated.
Meanwhile, the 1986 season got underway in Monte Carlo and Audi Sport fielded two S1 s for Rohrl and Mikkola against the Peugeot 205 T16s, the Lancia Delta S4s and the MG Metro 6R4s. Their new manager was a man called Herwart Kreiner, who was ill at ease with rallying.
Rohrl challenged hard but road salt got into the electronics and gave him a power-sapping misfire that could not be fixed. Mikkola had an untroubled run but could only hope for misfortune to hit the Lancias and Peugeots – which it did, but not enough. Henri Toivonen collided with a spectator’s car but still managed to win.
The team then decided to miss the Swedish Rally, at which Ford debuted its new mid-engined RS200, but a single car was entered for Rohrl in Portugal. The event got underway but was still in its early asphalt stages when the privately entered RS200 of local ace Joaquim Santos went off and into the crowd, killing as many as ten people. In extraordinary scenes, the drivers of the works cars refused to go on with the rally, as no assurances on controlling the crowds could be given by event organisers.
Audi stepped back in the wake of the tragedy, releasing a statement that it was assessing all options, including a mid-engined car, for future competition. Immediately this position was contradicted by Ferdinand Piech who, in a rare interview, criticised FISA for allowing rally cars to become divorced from showroom product and expressed interest in touring car racing. Meanwhile, without Audi, the fateful Tour de Corse played out in which Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto died as their Lancia burned in a ravine.
A crisis meeting was held in Paris in the days that followed, at which Audi insisted that Group B could continue if the event organisers would enforce better crowd control and FISA demanded basic safety measures such as crash testing of safety structures, that flammable composite materials were banned and that fuel tanks were repositioned. No such commitments were gained and less than a week later, Audi AG issued another statement to announce its withdrawal from the 1986 World Rally Championship.
Two weeks later, in the German national championship, former F1 star Marc Surer was competing for victory in a Ford RS200 against the Peugeot 205 T16 of Michele Mouton. Going through a fast right-hander the car ran wide and struck a tree, breaking in half and bursting into flames. Surer was thrown out of the wreck and was critically injured but his co-driver, Michel Wyder, was trapped in the inferno and died.
Group S was cancelled with immediate effect and Group B was bundled out of the door as fast as possible.
Quattros would continue to appear in the world championship until the end of the season, entered by David Sutton and numerous privateers. The honour of the last competitive start in the series fell to John Buffum at the season-ending Olympus Rally, the USA’s debut as a host, in which he finished third.
The legacy of the Audi Quattro remained undiminished, however. In 1987, productionbased Group A regulations became the senior category in the sport, and every successful car of the era needed both four-wheel drive and a turbocharger. That same formula has held true from the Monte Carlo Rally of 1981 until the present day, and among millions of people the world over there is still nothing to compare with the sight and sound of a five-cylinder Audi at full speed, its crews forever in the top echelons of the sport’s heroes. Long may they be so.