The Rally Manufacturers in conflict
If nothing else the 1983 World Rally Championship helped disprove two myths. The first, that Germans are without exception coldly and clinically efficient. The second, that Italians are always in turmoil, always having a crisis. The championship just past would, however, seem to indicate that there had been a complete role reversal.
For those brought up on stories of the ruthlessly efficient Alfred Neubauer and the all-powerful Mercedes Grand Prix team, the activities of the Audi Sport rally team come as something of a shock. The stories of ineptitude and mix-ups within Ferrari and Maserati are legion, but somewhere along the line someone forgot to pass on the message to the small Lancia (née Abarth) rally team about the Italian trait for foul-ups.
However, where both Audi and Lancia did conform to their respective national images was in terms of engineering philosophies. Audi gave every indication that someone, somewhere, felt that increased horsepower was the answer to any problems. Forget how bad the handling may be, brute force would overcome. It is not the contradiction that it may seem to say that despite its four-wheel-drive and turbocharger, the Quattro is unsophisticated. It’s tough, strong, in fact built like a tank. That alone enables it to overcome any human frailties. There are even those within the team itself who refer to the Quattro as the “electronic tractor”. Certainly, the Audi has emerged as a sophisticated machine in concept, but in its application it lacks a certain delicacy or finesse.
Finesse is, however, a word which can be used in the context of the Lancia Rally. With its space-frame chassis it is in many ways the epitome of an Italian competition machine. Purpose-built for the job, iris light, strong, reliable, easily adaptable and simplicity itself to maintain. It is also apparently a joy to drive, the flexibility of the supercharged four-cylinder 1,995 cc engine a matter of some considerable envy amongst the non-Lancia drivers who as the season progressed had to contend with more and more intransigent power units as their employers strove to keep up, mistakenly substituting increased top-end output for a smoother torque curve.
Two, therefore, entirely different solutions to the same problem. At the start of the year it did seem — on paper at least — that the odds were stacked in Audi’s favour. The Ingolstadt team — based in an old supermarket — had made it known that they would be prepared to contest every one of the 12 qualifying events in order to achieve its dual goal — the Makes tide, and also the Drivers’ Championship. Lancia was more cautious. They really only wanted the Makes title. With customary cunning they would pick and choose the rallies which they thought best suited to them. In fact it didn’t quite turn out like that. Lancia ended up chasing Audi — or rather hounding them — to the four corners of the world. Once the Italians had achieved their aim on the penultimate round of the Makes Championship (Sanremo), they tactically withdrew, Director of Motorsport Cesare Fiorio announcing that he was considerably over-budget.
In this respect it is beyond any doubt that Audi’s budget was the largest. Motor manufacturers are somewhat coy about discussing such figures (surely they cannot be ashamed?) but conservative estimates indicate that Audi spent £6 million on trying to retain the Makes title. In the end they failed, salvaging the Drivers’ Championship for Hannu Mikkola. With no outside backer to help defray the not inconsiderable costs of transporting and maintaining a fleet of rally cars as they travel the world, one would expect Audi’s investment to be proportionately higher than the Martini-sponsored Lancia team.
At a press conference in December to unveil Lancia’s plans for this season, Florio said that the budget for the rally and Endurance programme was 10 billion lire — £4.5 million. It is safe to assume that less was spent in 1983, and one also presumes that this is how much the Fiat Group spends, and does not take into account whatever Martini pay for having its indentification on the cars.
However, whatever the outlay, Lancia obviously feel every penny was well spent, particularly as they won the coveted Makes Championship for the fifth time and with an evolution car which was in only its first full season of international rallying. In 1982 the fledgling Lancia Rally had stumbled from mechanical crisis to mechanical crisis. It looked bad, talk already suggesting that the 037 Rally (the type number given by Abarth for the project) was too fragile, too much like a Group C racing car to succeed. But Lancia was learning all the time. So much so that during 1983 the Rally earned a reputation for being one of the — if not the — most reliable cars contesting the current World Championship. So much so that it put more conventional machines in the shade — teams like Nissan have in the past been able to set great store and gain results from their unquestioned reliability, but not any more with the advent of the 037 evolution model. The instances of mechanical failure amongst the factory 037s were so rare that one can literally reel them off from memory. There was Jean-Claude Andruet’s supercharger failure on the Monte Carlo Rally, the Frenchman also drawing the short straw on Corsica when the engine seized afer the water injection filled up the car’s combustion chambers, a headgasket failure for Markku Alin on the Acropolis and a misaligned compressor on Walter Röhrl’s Sanremo 037. The Monte, Acropolis and Sanremo problems were corrected during the rallies.
In comparison there were a myriad of problems with the Quattros. Fires, transmission failures, broken engines, turbocharger faults, and even wheel losses dotted Audi’s season. At times it seemed that the team had taken on far too much. They never had time to test and prepare themselves properly, but that apart many of Audi’s dramas were compounded by bad service support. On almost every rally a mechanic managed to do something drastic, and even by the RAC Rally, the final round of the championship, there were still mistakes being made — 20 litres of water in the fuel tank of Michele Mouton’s car, for example.
There is no denying that these errors became a source of constant worry amongst factory drivers Mouton, Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist. One advantage of being a professional factory team driver is that you have the back-up of people which enables you to concentrate on the thing you are being paid to do: drive. Sometimes the Audi trio must must have felt that they were back in their early amateur private days. Mikkola, in particular, found it necessary to always check what was going on at a service point. Constantly cajoling and checking, Mikkola never really felt that he could relax.
The saviour of many a bungled service was team manager Roland Gumpert. The 39-year-old engineer was more often than not doing the work of mechanics. It was partly due to the highly regimented German system which dictates that each person is a specialist, and therefore only deals with his own particular problems area, partly a reluctance to do anything unless a specific order is issued. Add to these factors the basic lack of rally experience within the team mechanics — one week they can literally be working on an Audi production line, the next be trying to change a front differential at three in the morning on the top of an icy cold mountain — and one starts to sympathise with Gumpert.
The more the drivers experienced problems, the more they turned to Gumpert for help. The more Gumpert did, the less the mechanics felt inclined to do. It was a classic Catch 22 situation, but there can be no denying that Gumpert doesn’t exactly object to being thrust into the middle of a mechanical problem.
Like the cars they used, there was a complete contrast in styles between the men who ran them. Lancia’s Fiorio would no more think of delving under a bonnet than Audi’s Gumpert would of weaving some devious political web. There is a little doubt that Fiorio is highly politically motivated character. He knows how to manipulate the rules, and those who enforce them. He knows how to motivate his drivers. How to press home an advantage. But he has been at it a long time, and he does have a well structured organisation underneath him. On the other hand there aren’t many drivers who “enjoy” the highly charged politics of the team. in this respect the Lancia rally organisation is typically Italian.
One couldn’t imagine Gumpert manipulating his drivers in the was that Fiorio does. It does seem that Gumpert is sometimes in awe of his trio. Heaven knows how he is going to cope with the arrival of Raul this season. Certainly there will have to be a change in approach during 1984, Gumpert having to adapt himself into the role of a manager along the lines of Fiorio. I think he can make the transition, and once he does he could emerge as a match for his Italian counterpart.
The turning point for the championship was undoubtedly Greece. This was the chance for Audi to claw back the two point deficit from Lancia. With Mouton having won the Acropolis in 1982 the German team started as favourites, and in spite of some appalling service, Mikkola led. Then a boot hinge pin broke. A small failure, but one which resulted in his Quattro’s engine being starved of oil after the massive boot-lid mounted oil cooler pulled itself away from its connecting pipes. As a result ROhrl was a surprise winner, Lancia now having a six point advantage over Audi.
This totally unexpected result seemed to throw Audi into turmoil, so much so that they lost the next round in New Zealand. After this defeat there was even talk about a tactical withdrawal until the 1000 Lakes, but Gumpert rightly insisted that his team should still go to Argentina. Here were stages and conditions which could have been made for Quattros. With average speeds in three-figures, the need sometimes to change gear on a stage only a couple of times, plus snow, ice and rain it was no surprise that Quattros filled the top four places.
However, although this walk-over did help restore team morale, it basically came too late. Even though Mikkola and Blomqvist finished first and second on the 1000 Lakes, Alen’s tactical third place meant that Lancia maintained its advantage. All that Florio had to do was ensure that his team performed at its peak in Sanremo, there could be no mistakes on Lancia’s home event. There weren’t, and Lancia were champions for the fifth time.
Audi could now only salvage the Drivers’ Championship for Mikkola, and they had to go all the way to the Ivory Coast to do that, although even there they were beaten by Toyota.
It had been a difficult year for Mikkola, probably his last chance ever of becoming World Champion, as in 1984 he has opted for a limited six rally programme for the factory team. After 10 years at the pinnacle of the sport there is no doubt that he deserves his crown. There have been suggestions that he was given the title by Audi, that it was a hollow success as Lancia didn’t press home the late challenge from its drivers Alen and Röhrl.
It is a fact that Audi decided during the year that both Mouton and Blomqvist should step aside whenever necessary to give Mikkola as much chance as possible of becoming champion. This had been understood by Blomqvist all along. He was in the team to act out a supporting role to either Mouton or Mikkola, the decision to promote the latter’s chances not coming until after the Safari Rally where he was second overall to Art Vatanen’s Opel) and had a clear 28 point lead over Mouton. It got steadily worse after that, both Röhrl and Alen closing in rapidly, and as Mouton slipped further back it was only natural that she should be asked to give Hannu whatever support was necessary.
As it turned out there was only one clear cut incident when a team-mate was asked to slow down — Argentina, where Blomqvist backed off to let Mikkola through and earn himself another five penis, the difference between first and second. The 1000 Lakes in Finland was less clear cut. Mikkola had put in a brilliant drive, overcoming all sorts 01 delays and problems, to be on Blomqvist’s tail as the rally reached its climax. Gumpert says that no team orders were issued, but there is no doubt there was some discussion between the trio prior to the final stages. Mikkola did catch and pass Blomqvist, the Swede not retaliating.
If Lancia had gone to both the Ivory Coast and RAC rallies then the result of the championship could have been very different. But there was never any chance that Florio would send a car to West Africa — it was too close to Sanremo for him to make any last minute arrangements — so the fact that Mikkola finished second behind Bjorn Waldegård in a Toyota Celica Turbo, effectively put the title behind the grasp of Alen. Röhrl could still snatch the championship if he had come to the RAC, and if he had won, but against the Finn on unseen roads it is doubtful whether the German would have managed the task in view of his dislike of non-practice rallies.
Hannu Mikkola is a worthy World Champion, it hardly being his fault (or problem) that FISA’s continuing policy means that there are still two World Championships run in tandem. The need to have two events which count for just the Drivers’ Championship (Sweden and Ivory Coast) is an anachronism. If these events aren’t good enough for inclusion in the Makes’ Championship then why include them at all? Certainly the Ivory Coast is the least popular event of the season, and whilst Sweden is well organised and promoted, its specialist nature as a snow rally puts off a lot of people. But why should it be considered more specialist than, say, the roads of Corsica?
There is a growing feeling that 12 events are simply too many. If a team is to contest the entire championship then it places an almost impossible strain on personnel. A much more sensible solution would be to have a 10 round World Championship, the best eight results to count for both a Drivers and a Makes title. That would stop teams like Lancia being able to pick and choose, thereby creating a more meaningful series with all the rounds contested by the leading teams. Then we would start to have a real World Championship. — M.R.G.