My only WRC win -- Franz Wittmann

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1987 Rally of New Zealand

How did you come to be in a Lancia?

I drove for Volkswagen in the WRC for two years in 1985 and ’86. Before that I had three years with a Quattro.  (Wittmann was the first driver to win an international rally with a Quattro —  the Janner Rally, January 1981). But now I needed a four-wheel-drive Group A car, so in 1987 I went to Turin to see Cesare Fiorio. He agreed to sell me a proper car and my mechanics would go to Abarth to build it. It was nearly ready when I called Giorgio Pianta and asked him to assure me that it was to full works specification. The next day my mechanics phoned me and said that they had to take the engine out and put a new one in on Pianta’s instructions.

Why did you go to New Zealand?

My first intention was to do the Austrian championship. I was champion already seven times, but this time it was not to be. The first rally we were leading, but on the last stage there was snow and I was on racers. We lost by just one second. Then the second rally I was leading when the gear selector broke and I was out.  So we decided that we would forget the Austrian championship and do some rallies in the WRC.

Did you have a big team?

On the contrary, we had only two proper mechanics, two friends including my wife’s brother, and Hans Geist as manager.

How did things go from the start?

The first day going to Rotorua there were eight gravel stages and four asphalt. There was a big fight between Stig Blomqvist in a 4WD Sierra, my ex-teammate Kenneth Eriksson in a VW Golf and me. Stig went off, and then on the asphalt there was just a little rain. I had only intermediates and Kenneth had to choose between slicks or full wets, neither of which was right. I took 20 seconds on one stage and, like a beautiful dream,  I came into Rotorua and there was my name on top of the classification.

So did things go smoothly when you were in the lead?

We were nervous, of course. But the Delta was very good, especially where the stages were sandy and loose. In the second day we found some cars on the stages when we almost had to stop to get past them. It all cost time and we never had much more than a one-minute lead.

No mechanical problems?

Going to the last stage we found a leak in the oil system. We could not see what it was but we took cans of oil with us. We stopped just before the stage start and, as we were short of time, Hans opened the bonnet and put the oil into the engine. Unfortunately I started the engine before he put the filler cap on and oil went all over him and over the engine. On the turbo it immediately caught fire. I shouted to Hans to close the bonnet and went off up the road at about 150kph to extinguish the flames. The problem then was that we had to put more oil in and no one could find the oil cap until it was seen lying on the sump guard. That was a lucky break. Somehow we only lost 20 seconds.

Was there a big celebration ?

Oh yes — at the prize-giving Hans played the accordion while we sang and Helmut Diemel, our TV man, got so excited filming it all he fell off the stage. — JDFD

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