A short-lived rallying class created in 1982 as a more exotic form of rallying that created some hideously powerful vehicles before being tragically cut short in 1986. Group B rallying spawned such rallying legends as the Peugeot 205 T16, the Lancia Delta S4 and the Porsche 959.

The History

The Group B rallying class was created by the FIA in 1982 specifically for manufacturers who wanted to show off their engineering capabilites. The homologation rules were relaxed to a minimum production number of 200 roadgoing cars, allowing manufacturers to produce more powerful and experimental vehicles without the cost and effort of producing a large number of roadgoing homologation vehicles, as well as miminal weight restrictions and allowing the use of exotic materials. Furthermore, special "evolution" models were allowed that only required 20 production vehicles for homologation. Consequently, the Group B cars quickly became 500+ horsepower four-wheel drive monsters with lightweight space frames and kevlar bodywork that were crammed to the gills with high-tech electronics.

"Rallying has reached a point such that the speed limitation is the profile of the road. If everything goes right for the drivers, there is no more than two or three seconds of difference on a stage. Which means the judge is not the car, the tires, or the drivers - it is the road. They cannot go any faster!"

- Maurice Guaslard, former head of Michelin's rally program, 1986.

But as powerful, ballsy and awe-inspiring Group B cars were, they were also insanely unsafe. For starters, the cars were powerful almost to the point of being uncontrollable. In fact, so fast were the Group B cars that they quickly started requiring massive aerodynamic wings, that would give any Honda Civic-driving riceboy a lethal case of penis envy, just to keep them on the ground! Also, the increased speed meant that the driver's reaction times were almost literally cut in half. And further compounding the safety issue was that most Group B cars lacked important safety features that are mandatory on modern Group A and WRC-class rally cars, such as proper fire extinguishers and fuel safety bladders (rigid tanks were used).

Arguably, the most famous examples of Group B racing were the Lancia Delta S4, the Lancia 037 (the first Group B car), the Audi S1 Quattro and the Peugeot 205 T16. They were lightweight, high-performance beasts that offered supercar-level performance before many modern supercars did. The Delta S4, for example, could accelerate from 0-60mph (0-100kph) in a stunning 2.3 seconds on a gravel road. And when Henri Toivonen rocketed his Delta S4 around Portugal's Estoril Grand Prix circuit, his fastest lap time was quick enough to have qualified sixth for the 1986 Portugese Grand Prix. F1 legend Nigel Mansell drove a 205 T16 and claimed that it could out-accelerate his F1 car. While the early stages of the Group B WRC were dominated by the 037 (which won the 1983 season) and the S1 Quattro (which won the 1984 season, the 205 T16 allowed Peugeot to dominate most of the 1985 season, nicking the title from Audi with relative ease. The Delta S4 dominated the initial stages of the 1986 season. Between the monstrous cars and their brass balls drivers, Group B rallying was the stuff of legends.

Sadly, it was not meant to last and the dangers of Group B rallying were quickly realised in two horrific accidents. In 1986 during the Port Wine rally in Portugal, Joaquim Santos's Ford RS200 left the road on a spectator stage and crashed into a crowd, killing three and injuring dozens. And on May 4, 1986, Finnish driver Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto were tragically killed when their Delta S4 left the road during a twisty tarmac stage of the Tour de Corse rally and crashed, hitting trees and rocks whilst sliding down the hillside. There were no witnesses to the crash, and the subsequent fire destroyed the car, burning so hot that all that remained was the car's blackened space frame. The cause of the accident remains a mystery to this day. The Group B and the planned Group S class (which would allow even more futuristic models by requiring a mere 10 homologation vehicles) were instantly cancelled for the 1987 season. Ford and Audi immediately withdrew from Group B, while Peugeot (who went on to win the 1986 season) and the other teams elected to see the season out.

Though in hindsight, the dangers of Group B rallying were painfully obvious, much debate remains as to what created the conditions that contributed to the deaths of Toivonen, Cresto and the spectators. Some argue that the FIA were negligent in their monitoring of the engineering progress of the manufacturers in Group B due to their alleged preoccupation with F1, while others argue that the cars were too powerful (and lacking in safety features) to be safe anyway and that a fatal accident was all but inevitable. Regardless of the cause, Group B rallying was an exciting, if short-lived and tragically-ended, period in motorsport.

The Cars

Competition Model / Roadgoing Homologation Model (some cars have the same name for both types)

The Drivers

The Sources

  • http://home.planet.nl/~koper193/groupb.html
  • http://autozine.kyul.net/strange_car/strange_60.htm
  • http://www.stormloader.com/groupb/history.html
  • http://www.stormloader.com/groupb/drivers.html
  • http://www.rallyscene.com/cms/A_101067/article.html
  • http://sport.supereva.it/anpa1/ho_smesso/toivonen/career.htm
  • http://freespace.virgin.net/c.coleman/motorsp.htm
  • http://home.planet.nl/~koper193/bx4tc_evo.html
  • http://www.supercars.net/cars/1985@$Peugeot@$205%20T16%20Group%20Bg.html
  • http://features.teamxbox.com/xbox/267/RalliSport-Challenge-Group-B-Cars/p1
  • http://www.rallycars.com/Cars/Homologation.html
  • http://www.rallycars.com/Cars/Cars_Background2.html

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