The PSA Group plans rally winners

French national pride has been well served by Grand Prix racing in the past ten years, Elf Petroleum, Matra, Renault, Ligier and Michelin having risen to the top of their field and brought with them a star-studded list of drivers of the calibre of Cevert, Beltoise, Prost, Arnoux, Laffite and Tambay. On the other hand the Gallic fortune's in rallying have waned. Nothing has equalled the victories by Renault-Alpine (or Alpine-Renault, as they were then!) of the early 70s, and as a result rallying has taken something of a back seat to Formula 1. The Michelin involvement with Opel and Audi at World Championship level. has helped a little, as did Bernard Darniche's efforts with the French importer run Lancia Stratus in the late 70 s, but the diminutive Renault 5 Turbo has never really shown its full potential, living as it is under the shadow of the Regie's preoccupation with Formula 1.

Hope, however, is on the horizon. Peugeot SA, the vast conglomerate which embraces Talbot and Citroën, has plans to rectify the situation, though as yet they do not have a Quattro or Lancia Rally beater in their stable. Both Peugeot and Citroën agree that four-wheel drive is a necessity, but despite their PSA lineage each is going about achieving its aim in completely different ways.

Peugeot has created a completely new department (Peugeot Talbot Sport) whose 65 personnel have been beavering away at making the computer designed and committee created 205 Turbo 16 into a competitive Group rally car. As for Citroën, its much smaller department (about 15 people) is busy planning a fairly straightforward four-wheel drive conversion of the Visa Trophee. Named the Visa Mille Pistes in honour of its victory in the prototype category of the rally with the same name, it uses the same 1,440 cc 135 bhp four-cylinder engine of the current two-wheel drive GpB car, and should be homologated on March 1st. It's hardly a Quattro beater, butt by clever promotion in France (Citroën is running a Ladies Cup for the four-wheel drive car, and is sorting out some 650 applications for a chance to become the new Michèle Mouton and win a works drive for 1985), Citroën is benefiting from a new sporting association. That apart, the Visa Mille Pistes could prove a relatively cheap way (around £17,000 for a ready to run rally car) for drivers to learn about left-foot braking, and the difficulties of four-wheel drive. Not many people can afford to buy £50,000 worth of Quattro, to perfect the art.

No one talks about the price of the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, but one must be talking Quattro money for a car which is one of the most technically sophisticated. Although Citroën can only hope for class successes with its four-wheel drive car, at least until the projected four-wheel drive 400 bhp BX gets off the ground, nothing less than outright victory will do for Jean Todt, the former co-driver who has created Peugeot Talbot Sport. As far as Todt is concerned there is no compromise, and his job is to make the 205 the "ultimate word in rally cars".

The overall specification and design of the monocoque construction 950 kilogramme Peugeot is an attempt to bring together the best aspects of the Quattro and 037 Lancia having as it does four-wheel drive, but in much more sophisticated form, a mid-engine, transversely mounted but unusually offset, together with KKK turbocharging.

It is the decision to offset to the right (as you look from the rear of the car) the 340 bhp 16-valve, 1775 cc engine which has brought the new car many a curious look. This weight bias would appear to give the 205 Turbo 16 an in-built handling problem, but Todt is adamant that there have been few (if any) difficulties in sorting out the car. Recently the 38-year-old Director of Peugeot Talbot Sport got very upset with French journalists who had dared to suggest that there had been any such difficulties! He says that between the car's announcement at the end of February, 1983, and its competition debut at the end of October the time had been spent tuning the exhaust system to reduce turbocharger lag, and sorting out gearbox ratios.

There had been some alterations to the suspension geometry, the Peugeot having double wishbones front and rear, the upper arms acting as stressed members. Anti-roll bars are also fitted front and rear. Initial reports suggested that the car suffered from inherent understeer on gravel, but when it did appear in public for the first time it showed a tendency to oversteer.

Todt also confirmed at the end of last year that the team had not yet decided on the ideal power split between front and rear for gravel. For tarmac it was 50-50, and on its debut a special autocross event was 67/33.

The ability to alter the amount of power which is transmitted through either the front or rear wheels is a valuable feature of the Peugeot, the intention being to overcome any deficiencies prompted by four-wheel-drive when confronted with conditions ranging from dry tarmac to thick mud.

The decision to mount the Lotus Esprit-derived XU engine transversely meant the drive train had to be turned through 90 degrees using a bevel drive, and the incorporation of a epicylic differential enables the torque split between the front and rear wheels to be altered. A ZF limited slip is used at the rear, a Ferguson unit in the central differential, whilst the front wheels can be run without any limited slip differential.

Over engineering? Perhaps, particularly in view of the fact that the Audi team drivers report that the Quattro's lack of tarmac form is due to turbocharger lag rather than problems caused by the permanent four-wheel-drive system.

It would be unwise to set any store by the results of the Peugeot's first public appearance, particularly as this was at a spectator orientated, autocross style event on a mile-long artificial circuit. Nevertheless chief test driver Jean-Pierre Nicolas was beaten into first place by Philippe Warmburge driving a factory prototype four-wheel-drive Citroën Visa Mille Piste!

By comparison with the Peugeot the four-wheel-drive system on the Citroën is beautifully simple. It's based on the conventional front-wheel-drive Visa, the conventional longitudinal engine enabling the engineers to take the extra drive from the back of the gearbox. It's so straightforward that, subject to the availability of parts, customers will probably be able to convert existing cars from two to four-wheel-drive.

Even the current front-wheel-drive Visa Trophee has shown itself capable of top 10 placings in the longer, tougher World Championship events, but despite these successes Citroën have failed to attract what might be termed as the aspiring young drivers who have their sights set on becoming World Champions. A lack of money has also stopped the factory itself from employing top flight, established professional drivers, it being a fact that the majority are only interested in outright, rather than class wins.

All that could change when, or if, the 2.1-litre-engined four-wheel-drive BX project comes to fruition. Then there'll be a large queue at the door of Competitions Manager Guy Verrier. But, it could be that ultimately, the more influential Peugeot Talbot Sport organisation won't be pleased to have such stiff competition from within the framework of PSA.

For the time being Citroën is considering running factory Mille Pistes on the Safari, Argentina, Ivory Coast and 1000 Lakes World Championship rounds. For Peugeot Talbot Sport the season starts with Corsica in May followed by the Acropolis, 1000 Lakes, Sanremo and RAC rallies, the Ivory Coast also being considered on the basis that it will give the new team experience of Africa prior to entry into the 1985 Safari.

Todt is justifiably proud of the fact that he has been able to keep the whole project on target, it being no mean feat to set up a new competitions department from scratch and develop such a hybrid car as the 205 Turbo in just over two years.

Todt even seems to be able to ride out the current turmoil within PSA, and at a recent press conference dismissed suggestions that the strike and hooliganism at Talbot's Poissy plant would affect his department in any way. He is adamant that the 200 cars necessary for homologation into Group B will go ahead as planned, and be completed by the end of March. Moreover the 20 evolution models, the actual rally cars, will be built and approved in time for the car's May debut, these fine-honed competition versions hand-built at Peugeot Talbot Sport's Boulogne workshops, 15 of them being kept by the team itself.

The decision to sign 1981 World Champion An Vatanen alongside Nicolas means the team has one of the fastest drivers in the world on its books, the Finn also bringing along Terry Harryman as his co-driver, a fact which means that White will at least have someone to talk to.

Judging by their considerable investment and commitment Peugeot Talbot Sport is determined to put France back on the map as far as rallying is concerned, past masters Renault still being preoccupied with Formula 1 and leaving the small rally department with a token programme as well as a car which is falling further and further behind in terms of development.

However, it remains to be seen whether or not it is Citroën 's steady, low-key approach or Peugeot Talbot Sport's bullish, win at all costs attitude which finally pays dividends. As in Formula 1 there are no short cuts to success, although having a lot of financial support does help ease many of the problems. On this basis PTS must have the upper hand, and one has to believe Twit when he states that their object is to win the 1985 World Rally Champio-isbip. -- MRG