Hard Times and Glory Days

After the glory days of 1981 when David Sutton Cars won the World Rally Championship with Ari Vatanen in a Ford Escort, one could be forgiven for thinking that the concern had rather fallen by the wayside, especially in view of its recent poor results with the Audi 200 quattro. An investigation at its premises in Daventry, however, reveals what is very much a hive of activity.

David Sutton’s involvement with rallying goes back 22 years, but his break into running regular contenders on World Championship events began at the end of 1979. It was then that Mike Kranefuss, Ford’s European director of motorsport, announced that the company had decided to retire from the sport temporarily in order to develop a new car. The rear-wheel-drive Escort, which had brought Ford great success for a decade, was about to be made obsolete by a new front-wheel-drive model.

Peter Ashcroft (the manager of Ford’s Advanced Vehicles Operations in Boreham) arid David Sutton went back many years. In 1976, Pentti Airikkala in Sutton’s car nearly beat Roger Clark in the works entry in the Lombard RAC Rally, and at the end of 1978 Sutton and other private teams had helped Ashcroft circumvent a strike at Ford by producing the six cars which allowed the Escort to notch up its seventh successive RAC win. Following a meeting with Ashcroft, Sutton found himself the unofficial Ford entrant for 1980.

Through this arrangement he was given the run of Ford’s equipment and parts, the pick of the drivers and a good sponsorship deal. But he had to provide the cars themselves, so those he campaigned in 1980 for Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen were built up by his own mechanics.

That year Vatanen won the Acropolis and was runner-up in the 1000 Lakes, San Remo and the RAC, while he and Mikkola completely dominated the British Open series as well. In 1981, by winning three of the ten championship rallies and finishing second twice, Vatanen became World Champion.

In Germany at this time Audi was keen to run one of its new Quattros in Britain and came close to a deal with Russell Brookes, but it fell through at the last moment. Thus it was at the end of 1981 that Audi Sport UK contracted David Sutton Motorsport (DSM) to run Mikkola in a Quattro in the British Open.

On the crest of a wave having just won the World Championship for Ford, David Sutton severed his connections with that company and took up the Audi contract. It meant that the team would no longer be concentrating on World Championship events, but at least he was getting in on the ground floor with the car which looked set to become the dominant force in rallying.

Without the benefit of the light-alloy cylinder-block which had been homologated by Ingolstadt in December 1981, Mikkola clinched the British Championship after he won the Mintex and Scottish events and came sixth on the Circuit of Ireland. While Hannu was away on the Tour de Corse, Bjorn Waldegard won the Welsh Rally.

In December DSM sold the car to Darryl Weidner (who used it to win the Shell Oils/Autosport national series the following year) and produced a new car with which Stig Blomqvist won the Mintex, Welsh, Scottish and Ulster and took the British Open title in 1983.

The Quattro story continued into 1984, with Hannu Mikkola returning to the fold and winning the National Breakdown (previously the Mintex), Welsh and Scottish rallies, and 1985 with Michele Mouton and David Llewellin. Hannu returned to the team again in 1986, but his challenge in the Sport Quattro was curtailed when Audi withdrew from rallying halfway through the season due to its concern over safety.

Audi Sport UK followed the lead from Ingolstadt and also withdrew. It was a decision which hit DSM very hard indeed, for it had heavily invested in setting up the rallying side as a business in its own right, and had only just moved to new premises in Daventry. Nor was there was much private work to fall back on, as the Audi programme had taken up most of the company’s resources. The only silver lining to this cloud came at the end of the year when Simon Davison won the National group A title in a Sutton-prepared Golf GTi.

Since this traumatic period it has been one of David Sutton’s priorities to build up the private side of his business, so as never again to leave all his eggs in one basket. This would also help to get over the bottlenecks caused by being committed to only one rallying programme, whose workload comes at infrequent but very hectic intervals. A sensible private programme can be spread out, and allow the team to employ a decent number of mechanics and supervisory staff who can then cope with any emergencies as they happen.

DSM has widened its activities so that by mid-1988 it is involved with Sebastian Lindholm on selected European rounds of the World Championship, is running David Llewellin in the 200 quattro on the British Open, has an involvement in the Volkswagen Bonus Programme, and is embarking on a new Middle East programme.

The Volkswagen Bonus Programme is on two levels. Alongside VW Motorsport, DSM co-ordinates the scheme as a whole, helping competitors make decisions about buying cars and parts, advising on preparation, choice of events, and monitoring both progress and finances. and it also participates itself.

It prepared the first two customer cars that went into rallying, breaking new ground in Group N, just before the 1987 Lombard RAC Rally. Despite having only a few days in which to prepare them, while at the same time completing its own three cars for this event, it was rewarded when its customers came first and second in class. (Francis Tuthill, the old man of the pair, then went on to do the Swedish Rally, which was entirely outside the Bonus Scheme, and won his class there by over an hour).

Since then DSM has been involved in a great number of rally Golfs. Some have been competing on National Championship events for as little outlay as £2500 on top of the price of the car, but there have been others who have almost doubled the price of the vehicle and have a car more than capable of doing Group N in the World Championship.

This year, though, the team has been greatly disappointed with its own results in the British Open series, even though nobody in the team really knew what to expect at the start of the season with the 200 quattro. It had had a very limited development programme at Ingolstadt, and had competed on very few events; its tarmac ability, important in the British series, was practically untested. Indeed, the factory quoted Monte Carlo settings from 1987 as being the tarmac standard, though those conditions were hardly typical of summer or Irish tarmac prevalent in the British championship!

In the first round, the Cartel Rally, Llewellin lost his lead to Airikkala’s Mitsubishi when a fuel problem caused the Audi to lose 20 minutes just after a service point. Although he was able to set off again, the damage had already been done to the engine, and he went out a few miles later with a blown head-gasket.

On the Circuit of Ireland, he was in a confident third place on the first day when his rally came to an end with piston failure, and another good placing was lost.

Throughout the Welsh Rally, Llewellin was the only challenger to Airikkala, and towards the end was leading his home event. But while trying to consolidate his lead, he hit a pile of logs just over the crest of a rise and rolled the car, critically damaging the front suspension and subframe in the process.

Until the beginning of this year, David Sutton had not had an engine builder on his staff, but early in 1988 he began employing John Reid on an on-event basis only. Just prior, to the Circuit of Ireland, however, DSM was struck with engine problems on Volkswagens; one unit had gone to a car doing the British Touring Car Championship but blew in practice, suid the other dropped a valve in its initial running prior to the Circuit, so both race and rally Golfs were without engines and there was no time to take them back to the tuners. The onus thus fell upon John Reid to rectify the situation.

The race unit, built by Lehmann in Liechtenstein, had been totally demolished, but at least it enabled John to see what had been done and rebuild it in that image. The other engine was not so badly damaged but required a new head, which is where most of the modifications are. In building the car to Group A regs, the race engine underwent a great deal of dyno work, developing manifolds so that it became, by one whole brake horsepower, the most powerful engine seen in a Golf in this country. On the rallying side, on the other hand, Reid has spent a great deal of time trying to bring the power band down the rev range.

DSM would like to see engine development extended to the Audi side, and has the Coupé’s injected engine in mind. Turbocharging, with its electronic management, is a different kettle of fish however, and DSM still needs to go to Lehmann for that.

Another area of very large expenditure for any rally team is body preparation and repairs, but the retailing side of the business has just opened its own bodyshop which is already being put to good use by the motorsport department.

DSM is still involved with Group B cars. When Audi AG backed out of Group B rallying, Sutton invested very heavily in parts from the factory so that today he probably has more spares than Ingolstadt; for instance, he still has in stock four or five Sport intercoolers, which are virtually unobtainable anywhere else. DSM is consequently the focus of customers running Group B machines in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, America and New Zealand.

In Spain, for example, DSM has a tie up with Klippan Competition, part of a motorsport promotional organisation called Promo Service which runs approximately ten cars for Spanish customers including two Group B quattros run in the local gravel championship.

David Sutton’s business can be subdivided into three elements; the Audi/Volkswagen dealership, the bodywork shop and the motorsport department. The latter employs seven full-time mechanics, one storeman, one rally engineer and the few who make up the administration side. As part of the deal with Ingolstadt, two service barges and spares have been loaned for the season, since virtually nothing is interchangeable with the Coupé.

As the team which is entirely responsible for Volkswagen/Audi motorsport activities in this country, David Sutton Motorsport is obviously a thriving concern, and with a driver of the calibre of David Llewellin on the driving strength, one feels certain that its run of bad luck on the British Open will soon be broken. WPK