The event now has three parts, the first up to Bastia, the second returning to Ajaccio, and the third forming a short loop to the South of Ajaccio. There were 32 special stages of which four were cancelled for various reasons.
From the start there was never a hint that Lancia considered anyone a serious challenger. Five of them led after two stages, followed by Beguin’s BMW M1 and the two Quattros. At this stage there was little to choose between Alén and Röhrl, first the Finn led, then the German, but then Andruet got ahead, which seemed logical since he knew the island better than anyone.
Beguin’s car split a water pipe causing the head gasket to blow, and this let Mikkola up to fifth place, while a few punctures caused Röhrl to drop back a little. Mikkola was struggling with a gear lever which would not stay in the engaged position, caused by a broken gearbox mounting, whilst Thérier had the unhappy experience of watching his car consumed by flames.
Initially the turbocharger waste gate activator lost its synchronisation, and although a temporary repair was effected the problem returned, and got worse. Eventually the mixture became leaner and the exhaust gas temperature higher. Flames appeared and the car had to be evacuated — fast!
Röhrl got himself back up to second place, and still the Quattros were not really challenging. True they had a few problems, but it seemed that the drive, handling, power, braking and weight balances built into the Lancia’s rear-wheel-drive system were superior on tarmac to the equivalent achieved with the Audi’s four-wheel-drive system.
Andruet stopped to change a wheel after a puncture, but was carrying only an emergency spare which could fit either front or rear, but was ideal for neither. This is an old Stratos weight-saving dodge which never really pays off if you actually have a puncture, and Andruet was slowed by indifferent handling afterwards.
Ragnotti, who had been coping with tyres which lost much of their friction properties when they got too hot, eventually stopped very smartly indeed when he ran full tilt into a cow and smashed his radiator, putting him out of the rally there and then.
A re-route on one stage was contested on the grounds that there had been no opportunity to practise the new part — another of the FISA’s rules for no other reason than “to show who is boss” — and the stage was cancelled. The same rule plagues the Safari, whose organisers have to issue a huge file of alternative route notes in advance just so that competitors will not be put to the tremendous risk of driving down a road they may never have seen before!
At Calvi, the coastal garrison town on the way back to Ajaccio, Alén led Röhrl by over a minute and a half, and only Mikkola, in fourth place, broke the run of five Lancias. It was important to mend this break and Bettega was told to do his best to get ahead of the Finn. They did change places once, but they changed back again before the end of the leg and the order into Ajaccio was Alén, Röhrl, Vudafieri, Mikkola, Bettega and Mouton.
Andruet had vanished, his engine full of water after the supercharger water injection system had gone haywire. Fiorio endeavoured to conceal this little problem, though it’s difficult to appreciate what strategy might have been behind the attempt. After all, Andruet’s team-mates were well entrenched in the lead, comfortably ahead of their rivals.
Team orders are quite common in the Lancia team, as Björn Waldegård will bear witness, and it was not surprising that the three front runners were told to keep station. Only Bettega was told to “attack”, for Mikkola’s presence among the Lancias was somewhat embarrassing. Bettega did get ahead, but the spurt had not really been necessary for very soon afterwards Mikkola was out with a broken suspension and a lost wheel.
The orders to the Lancia men seemed not to have been heeded by Röhrl, for as the others eased off a little, so he gained time. But everyone was keeping a careful watch on the others’ times, and Alén was making quite sure that the German didn’t get too close. But he must have wondered whether Röhrl was attempting to pull a fast one by taking advantage of his team-mates’ obedience to orders.
The result was an outstanding triumph for Lancia, in a car said often to frighten its drivers, and a personal moment of jubilation for Alén and his regular partner Kivimäki. He is now within striking distance of the Championship lead, so what Fiorio has in mind for his Finnish driver remains to be seen. Mikkola still leads with 65 points, and Röhrl second with 47, but Alén now has 45, ahead of Mouton’s 37, Vatanen’s 34 and Blomqvist’s 27. Among the makes, Lancia has moved to the top with 50 points, followed closely by Opel with 49 and Audi with 48, rather a tense situation to say the least. — G.P.