The car that brought rallying another route to success
Because four-wheel drive was such a dead duck in the racing world and had already been tried and found wanting commercially for anything but ungainly off-road vehicles, there were plenty of scoffers on hand when Audi announced their 4-WD Quattro at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring of 1980. The award-winning abilities of the Jensen FF and the performance of Stirling Moss with the Ferguson system at Aintree were all conveniently shelved. There were those, now amongst the keenest supporters of the car’s “invincible technological advantage”, who soon told us that, like front-wheel drive, it was doomed never to succeed in international rallying. Their grounds for such an assertion? “Too complex, too difficult to drive.”
Now, after three 1981 World Championship victories (one the first ever scored by a woman) and a performance that simply routed any trace of effective opposition upon the recent Lombard RAC Rally, some of these “experts” are busy telling us that “no, of course, I didn’t mean it was too complicated.” and “of course, the Germans were bound to get it right,” or “well four-wheel drive was bound to work, wasn’t it?”
For Britain the first inkling of how effective the factory Audis were likely to be in the UK came on the pre-RAC Rally Donington Rallysprint. Anyone — even those with Ford embossed across their undergarments — could see that: a) Hannu Mikkola set one fastest time, with recur wheel puncture for most of the run, against the best opposition the RAC rally was likely to offer, and b) Alan Jones defeated not only his fellow GP drivers easily but also all the rally drivers, bar Hannu Mikkola, when it came to his turn. All this in the rather tired ex-Sanremo factory test car that was used for the Donington TV outing. A car not even mining the specially designed RAC camshaft that had been originally proposed. The engine had been the subject of a hasty top end overhaul in the swirling mists of Wales, at a Welsh test session held a few days previously. Mix in the fact that Michele Mouton had shown that her determination and Quattro traction could win an event not biased toward Quartets motoring (Sanremo) and Britain got the Quattro message loud and clear.
Yet, set as they are for a massive number of 1982 entries in rallying and rallycross, through works and national Audi Sport teams, the Ingolstadt team are not relaxing. December I saw the homologation of a new alloy block to save some 20 kg. / 44 lb. in the nose-heavy machine, and testing is going on in the background for either a completely new rally car (based on the forthcoming Audi 804-WD saloon, due for 1982 public sale?) or a shorter wheelbase version of Quattro, again hoping to save weight, which is regarded as the Achilles heel (or Achillesferse as we German dictionary owners say) of the present car. At some 1,220 to 1.240 kg., up to 2,734 lb.), compared to the sub-1,000 kg. weights anticipated by 1982 World Championship homeland rivals Opel, one can see their point.
Just before the RAC we were accorded the privilege of riding in the factory rally car with Mikkola while he was completing three days of Welsh testing (we were allowed a day and an evening interview, at which Mouton joined us).This was followed by a day trip, without the usual presence of our colleagues from rival journals, to the factory, which is less than an hour outside Munich. In fact the competitions department is an assembly area really, for the engines and vital transmission train are developed and come ready for installation from the nearby Audi engineering and development department, while the unpainted Quattro bodies are sent to Mätter in Stuttgart. They are returned in white primer with a mass of detail strengthening work, a virtual tubular sub-chassis and roll cage, and a host of bracketry needed to support the systems of a 300 horsepower, five-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, turbocharged, rally car.
Unlike many rivals Audi have kept a log of important dates in the development of their Championship challenger. They do not credit Jorg Benzinger with the original idea of transferring Iltis military vehicle technology to road ad car, but that has always been our understanding of the case. It is also important to understand that the original competition manager, Walter Treser, got a very sharp heave-ho after the three-car team were disqualified from the Acropolis World Championship event (June 1981). Today the team is run by Roland Gumpert (ex-Iltis programme) and Reinhard Roede, who was concerned originally with suspension development engineering at Audi. We should also pay tribute to Jurgen Stockmar, who put some impetus into Audi’s competition aspirations by running the Audi 80 in saloon car racing in the late seventies (the company won the European title, takinng away from fellow Bavarians, BMW, for the first time since 1973 when Audi won in 1980!) and Freddy Kottulinsky. German nobleman and former Formula 3 “tough cookie”, who matured into a painstaking development driver.
“Fort Audi” has the usual teutonic aversion to unauthorised entry but competitions department is innocuous enough from the outside, its low two storeys and underground accomodation being part of suburban Ingolstadt. Unlike Ford’s old “take the left at the telegraph pole with three rings round it and you’ll find Boreham at the end,” Audi have a huge board up proclaiming their business — and their sense of history. For the board tells you this establishment is also competition HQ for NSU and Auto Union! There were no 16-cylinder GP cars that we could see, but any team that produces a successful rally car of this complexity might find GP racing straightforward by comparison: it’s just the politics that are difficult…
Having buzzed for admittance the interior holds few surprises. Upstairs a modern office suite with East German child emigrant Gumpert controlling the technical reins from one unpretentious room. Reinhard Roede, at 37 years of age a year senior to Gumpert, looking after the administration role for 27 mechanics, four chief, mechanics and a small staff — bringing total inhabitants to 43— in a slightly grander office.
Since it was obvious that the team were now getting to grips with their complicated charge after a fraught mid-season, I asked Roede what he thought had made the difference. “Now we work more closely together with the engineering department,” felt the drily humorous boss who has competed widely on two and four wheels himself. “We have had a shorter time to develop our cars than rivals at Opel, and everywhere else. Now we gels real quick exchange of information and action inside the company and that makes a big difference. Also the system of having one person to look after all technical matters is good…”
Discussions with Mikkola and Gumpert revealed that most progress has been made in providing predictable handling and a reliable 315 to 325 b.h.p. Gumpert felt, “you know, it would be easy to give Hannu 350 horsepower, or much more, but that is not the point. The point is to have a car at the finish of more rallies than we made in 1981. There will be better turbocharging in ’82, for sure KKK and ourselves are working on this. What we want is more horsepower and less revs, to make the engine more like a normal aspirated unit with the best response that is possible.” As an example of how much power Potential lies within the 2.2-litre five, Gumpert detailed a doubling in depth for the Langerer & Reid air-to-air intercooler, releasing another 20 b.h.p. by further reduction of induction air temperature.
Both Mikkola and Gumpert admit that the Quattro would be more effective as a competition car with a larger, normally aspirated engine (one is tempted to nominate Rover’s lightweight alloy V8), but Audi’s marketing department can only justify such expenditure if the vehicle maintains the principles that are being offered to the public.
How was the handling improved? The answer, in as much as any outsider may learn it, was a combination of Mikkola’s dedicated no-nonsense testing and Gumpert’s practical research backed by the inevitable computer back at base.
Mikkola remembers. “David Sutton let us have an Escort for comparison, so that we could see we were going always in the right direction. We did not use this too much, once we first had found where we were going.
“At first the engine temperatures were wrong, much too high. The engine was not nice to drive, there was nothing under 4,000 r.p.m. You had to wait, and wait, for any power. Then it would go like hell (Hannu emphasised it to heeaall!) to 7,500.
“We did quite a lot of testing in Finland and in Greece. We got it really right after the 1000 Lakes. It used to go to the right when accelerating — and I had to allow at least one metre each side for safety.
“Also we changed the power split. Always it was pushing and understeering. Now we have 75 per cent. limited slip setting on the back; 100 per cent. on the middle diff. and no limited slip at all at the front.”
That is just part of the story, necessarily glib for reasons of space, but you can take it as read that a good 50 per cent. of Audi’s success is owed to continuous Mikkola test mileage since 1979. Testing that he conducts usually without a helmet and with a technician (Kleber or Audi supplied) alongside. and which is conducted by driving briskly by his personal standard and faster than all but a handful of other rally drivers in the World can manage Hat out. He is not one for “I think it understeers a tiny bit here and we need 15.1 in. rims” school, but the flat statement: “it is understeering here, here and here,” leaving the German technicians to find the answers on solid fact. The amount of equipment tested is enormous and Mikkola does not pretend to “know all the tricks they have in here. I just tell them: it is better, it is worse, and you can see by the watch what is happening.”
At present Mikkola is still using the English language that he developed in over a decade of regular appearances and occasional living spells in this country. The team are also using English to communicate with Mademoiselle Mouton, but Hannu is learning the essential German technical phrases and is set to stay with the team until the new, lighter car comes for the 1983 season. He jokes about winning the World Championship at 40 (next year), but his recent years of comparative abstinence from alcohol and dedication to keeping fit have left him a fitter-looking man than he was during his factory Ford Escort career in the early seventies.
Looking at the Audis at rest in Ingolstadt was to view one of the most interesting technical exercises that any manufacturer has dared to field in motorsport. An engine, complete with its fuel injection. KKK turbocharger (the size of which may be varied from event to event in association with camshaft profiles to tune the motor to the likely terrain) and gearbox, is an awesome sight on its own. Now the layout and plumbing is neat compared with early examples, but there is still the inherent complication which attends such a car. Thus the philosophy that Gumpert expounded with convincing fervour, “in all things we must first make sure it does not break. Because if we have a breakage, usually it must take longer to repair than in other cars”. For example Audi changed a gearbox on the RAC in a 59-minute record: David Sutton’s Escort mechanics changed three gearboxes on Airikkala’s Ford, one in 12 minutes, and that is not the fastest they can manage!
The approach shows in the suspension. Aside from the precise length of arms and exact mounting points being settled by the computer working from that 1000 Lakes and other test data, all the components have been considerably strengthened so that the cur can brush a rock without requiring replacement suspension. Of course Audi pay the weight penalty, but the car is getting to the finish of more events — and extra power has never been a problem, just handling the way a turbo delivers it.
The “belt and braces” engineering attitude is also evident. Look in the boot. The massive 26gallon tank curves round much of the space, surrounded by floor pumps, a separator tank and failsafe filters. After embarrassing bouts of fuel injection maladies. Gumpert has ensured that any stray air is separated before delivery to the motor, that filtration is obsessively thorough and that each high pressure pump has a back-up. As another example there is the latest development that — unlike the alloy cylinder blocks — will be seen in Monte Carlo.
This is the answer to the gearbox trouble Michele Mouton experienced on RAC Rally. “First we make sure of the strength of the gears. There is a tooth missing from second, and also from the differential,” Gumpert explained of their post-RAC findings, “so we take both and make them in stronger steel. Then just to make sure that — if it does happen again — we are OK, we put three very strong magnets in the lubrication areas of the transmission. If it does break you can drive for miles without damage!”
There was much, much more. The ride with Mikkola deserved a separate article to itself and I have asked the Ingolstadt engineers if we may revisit the department when they are testing the alloy-blocked cars, but this time I would like to see the engine and transmission development too. They smiled tolerantly, knowing that therein not much point until Quattro technology is transferred to the 1983 competition car publicly.
Assuming they use what has been learned in the Quattro to produce a simpler and lighter endorsement of a 4-WD system that has already been effectively demonstrated as light and strong by 4-WD standards, the other two-wheel drive rally manufacturers might as well pack up their bags now and depart for something easy like file racing!
Ranged against that technical achievement I would place a question mark against Audi management beyond the competition department. They have stood beside the project through the most difficult times, but rallying may not mean enough to the public for that persistence to continue to a competition replacement for Quattro. Spending this sort of competition money, a board member could well ask, should we revive the Silberfeile (Silver Arrow) Grand Prix Team and sort those upstarts of Munich out? Stranger things have happened. — J.W.