Rallying in the 1980s was very different to the sport that we know in 21st century.
In today’s World Rally Championship, events are almost entirely three-day affairs at which the teams gather in one place and stay fixed to the spot in ever-more impressive temporary structures. From these canvas castles the cars are sent out to do a loop of three or four special stages before returning to base at lunchtime, then they are sent out to do them again in the afternoon.
So it is that the cars complete around 15 different special stages over three days and, if one removes the road sections in between them, the competitive distance is seldom more than that covered by Formula 1 cars in a 90-minute blast. The teams stay put and the people who cover the highest mileage on an event tend to be the corporate guests who are shuttled from one viewing spot to another.
In the Audi Quattro’s time, rallies would start in one city and move off, taking in special stage after special stage along the route. This meant that the service crews had to be in place and ready to receive the cars somewhere out in the wilds – remote servicing – before hurrying off to reach the next destination and set up before the rally cars arrived. The result was a high-speed chase for the mechanics in their heavily laden service barges, wending their way at breakneck speed between tens of thousands of cars crammed with eager spectators, for long days and sleepless nights.
‘I drove up central reservations on an A-road to get through to a remote service and the police would wave us through,’ chuckled campaign veteran team mechanic, Allan Durham. ‘Cars would be dragged off a stage on three wheels and round the corner to a waiting van but you can’t do that anymore.’
As an example, the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally consisted of 65 special stages covering a distance of 557 miles (896km) with a further 1,622 miles (2,610km) of road sections linking them together. That compares with the 2018 Wales Rally GB, which saw 23 stages covering 197 miles (317km) with 673 miles (1,083km) of road sections.
The fleet of service vehicles primarily consisted of small but heavily laden 2-litre petrol Volkswagen LT35 panel vans, while larger parts were carried in the LT28 ‘Koffer’ trucks. A pair of Audi Quattro road cars would also be present as the ‘chase cars’ for the team, tracking every move of their competition siblings and equipped with enough tools and expertise to get an ailing rally car to its next service halt.
Overhead on many events there would also be a helicopter, particularly the most remote, such as the Safari Rally or the most challenging for vehicle access, such as Monte Carlo. Audi would take roughly 30 support vehicles to the world championship events, as would Lancia, Peugeot, Opel, Porsche, Renault, Citroen, Austin Rover and Ford, then the privateers would have ever-decreasing numbers, right down to the hardy amateurs with a few mates piled into a Transit. Life was frenetic but often fun – as recalled by Allan Durham.
‘Mick Jones was a real character – one of the longest-standing team members of Ford at Boreham. I remember sitting at traffic lights in the chase car and feeling a bump behind as Mick was there just tapping the front bumper of his car up against the back bumper of mine, then slowly he’d be pushing you out past the red light into a busy intersection. He’d think this was hilarious – it was the kind of thing that happened back then.’
Keeping all this movement and potential for havoc rolling to precise locations in precise order was the job of the team’s rally co-ordinator, which for the majority of the Quattro’s competition career was the position held by Phil Short. Although an extremely experienced and successful co-driver in his own right, he was a man who found that he relished the opportunity to develop the schedule for such a vast troupe.
‘As a co-driver you’re a bit of an in-car manager so you’re already, if you’re doing your job properly, doing that sort of stuff anyway,’ he said.
In 1981, Short was co-driver for Pentti Airikkala in David Sutton’s privateer team of Ford Escorts on the British Open Championship and part of the travelling party for the Rothmans-backed team on its World Rally Championship schedule. Although Ford had withdrawn as a works team, Sutton and team leader Ari Vatanen benefitted from as much support as Ford’s dedicated motor sport division could muster, including the services of long-standing logistics man, Charles Reynolds.
‘Halfway through the season, Ford started to get cold feet, firstly because they knew that the old Mkll Escort was going out of production and the new one was unlikely to be a rally car,’ Short remembered.
‘And so, basically, coming up to the Acropolis Rally in 81, Ford said: “OK, after the Acropolis, we are going to withdraw Charles Reynolds from this particular effort.” So David Sutton asked me at that point if I would be willing to understudy Charles on the Acropolis with a view to continuing on for whatever rounds of the world championship were remaining at that point.
‘So I said I was fine with that and I worked alongside Charles on that event, on which the Audis were excluded because of a modification on the headlamps which was letting air into the engine bay for cooling purposes. The Audis were excluded, Ari Vatanen won and at that point he became a contender for the world championship.’
Short relished the challenge of marshalling Sutton’s forces to best effect, and when Vatanen and co-driver David Richards won the title against the factory might of Talbot and the new but still-frail Quattro, his credentials were evident to all. For 1982, Sutton began its long association with Audi, and Short remained in place to manage the team’s British Open campaign with Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz. Nevertheless, Roland Gumpert could see the benefit of Short’s calm and measured presence upon a team and swiftly recruited him to bring order to the major international events as well.
‘We used to do the coordination from an aircraft because of the range, rather than a helicopter,’ Short said. ‘The team did have a helicopter that was used from time to time by the team but the coordination for the event was done from an aircraft. It was primarily to control the movement of the service vehicles and the service areas. There would be a service schedule drawn up before the event and the service crews needed to follow that. It would take a certain amount of management while the event was live to make sure that the right people were in the right place at the right time.
‘With the factory team, I did the aerial coordination in ’82 for a number of rallies. Sweden stands out, New Zealand, Ivory Coast – those sort of events. As far as Audi UK were concerned we didn’t have an aircraft, we just did it on the ground. I suppose initially it would be about 50/50 between coordinating events and actually competing on them.’
The core team in Ingolstadt numbered 40-45 people in most seasons, all based in the large former supermarket warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The upper decks had offices for the head of the entire operation (Walter Treser initially, Reinhard Rode succeeding him, Roland Gumpert from 1982-85 and Herwart Kreiner in 1986), together with senior staff such as homologation engineer Jurgen Bertl, head of engine development Fritz Indra and his chassis engineer counterpart Dieter Basche, together with head of press Dieter Scharnagl and, from 1982, Reinhard Rode’s command post for all of the national rally programmes worldwide.
The core of Audi Sport engineering staff would be joined by whatever talent was needed to actually compete on the rallies, swelling the team numbers up to as high as 700 on occasion. Among them would be staff engaged in Audi’s other rally programmes, such as Lancastrian rally veteran Allan Durham, who had been taken on to engineer the team competing in the South African national series.
As with all of Audi’s staff, Durham could expect to be called upon for several other events per year outside his main remit – usually the Ivory Coast, Safari and RAC rallies. Getting out of South Africa to attend these events was, however, a bureaucratic quagmire that Audi had to add to its myriad costs in time and money to keep the rally cars rolling.
‘Because I was resident and had a resident’s stamp in my passport for South Africa, I was barred from travelling to Europe or even to Kenya for the Safari,’ Durham recalled. ‘So what I had to do was go to Zimbabwe, go to the British embassy there, give my passport in and they would give me another to say I was resident in Zimbabwe rather than South Africa, which allowed me to travel to Kenya or Europe. Then I’d do my job and fly back to Zimbabwe, give that passport back and pick up the one with my South African residency in it to get home again! Audi Sport did all that for me – they did all the negotiations and paperwork but otherwise you really couldn’t do a lot outside South Africa.’
Once the teams were mustered, they were usually straight into the thick of the action. The rally community is a close-knit and friendly place to this day, where everyone involved shares a sense of good fortune to be pursuing a job in the sport that they love. It may have been a case of no quarter being given while the stopwatch was running but the social side of rallying was every bit as important, as Durham remembered.
‘Back then you’d be in the same hotels as other teams… You’d eat together, compete with each other, get drunk together. There was a lot of banter – especially coming our way because the Quattro was so dominant. Mind you, it made the other teams build some superb cars to try and catch us.’
For Durham, one event in particular stood out above the rest. ‘The Safari used to go on for four days, and you would leave Nairobi and go off on different legs. Even though we were chasing and on public roads you had a bit more time, you could interact with the locals, you’d barter at water crossings and things like that. A lot of rallies went by in a blur but you got a sense of being somewhere very, very special in Kenya.’
The travelling circus – AUDI QUATTRO RALLY CAR MANUAL
Rallying in the 1980s was very different to the sport that we know in 21st century.