As far as I can remember…

There has always been a passionate affair between me and cars that were bred for rallying, cars that had their roots deeply seated in competition and were not always practical daily commuters. As far back as I can remember I loved these beasts. I was collecting Lancia Stratos pictures when I was only 10 years old. Rally cars and their drivers are constantly defying the laws of physics. These cars’ handling abilities are truly amazing. There’s no other type of car providing the feeling of invulnerability the four wheel drive turbo charged cars involved in modern rallying provide.

Now, being a bit older, I’m able to get my hands on some of them. I would surely like to own a Lancia Delta S4 or maybe even a Ford RS200 but that’s way out of line for the moment due to garage space and obvious financial reasons.
Still I am the happy owner a 1993 Lancia Delta Integrale Evolution II Kat (pictures here), a heavily modified 1994 Ford Escort RS Cosworth (pictures here), a Ferrari 308 GTB dry-sump (pictures here) and a 1975 Lancia Stratos (pictures here) and they manage to keep me happy all the same. I have previously owned two Mazda 323 4WD turbo16V and two Alfa Romeo GTV6 as well as a heavily modified Lancia Delta Integrale 8V Kat (pictures here), that to say I really have a passionate relation to cars in general with a special preference for Italian bred ones.

This site includes detailed technical descriptions and historic background on cars such as the Subaru Impreza,  the Toyota Celica GT4 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V and VI since these are same types of vehicle (4WD turbo) and, on top, the Impreza has won 3 WRC Championships.

I will try to present, in these pages, as many facts as I can gather on the cars and their history, the reasons behind some of the technical choices applied to them, while attempting to provide you with clues on their capabilities and the joys they offer.

I also present the Mitsubishi Lancer RS evolution IV but have no credit for that since the pages relating it come from Mitsubishi’s Web server in Japan. It’s still interesting to compare the older Lancia and Ford to this group A rally car. Also available are details on very recent official entries in the FIA World Rally Championship such as the Ford Focus WRC and Peugeot 206 WRC and Seat Cordoba WRC.

So what is a rally?

Very briefly, rallying is a motor sport in which cars have to get from one place to another in the shortest possible time. Rallies are organized in stages, each stage being made up of several special stages, which are run on everyday roads closed to other traffic during the event. The time it takes a driver to run through each special stage is cumulated to get the total stage time. Between each special stage there are liaison stages which are not included in the overall time. Special stages are run in closed roads. The latest FIA regulations force each WRC event to be run on a single kind of surface (tarmac, gravel, etc.). This eases the choice of tires, gear/differential ratios, etc. and helps keep costs for the contenders within affordable limits.

Of course there are several rules and details which I won’t mention here but keep in mind the following:

  • Each team is made up of at least a driver and a co-driver
  • Each driver has a limited choice of tires for one rally
  • Reconnaissance of the selected rally stages and note taking is permitted a week before each rally (currently FIA regulations allow three passes for each special stage)
  • No assistance is allowed between two special stages (if anything goes wrong the driver and co-driver have to fix it). Assistance is allowed before starting an odd-numbered stage (i.e. 3, 5, 7, etc.)
  • Cars are categorized depending on their performance and special features in, mainly, 3 classes: WRC class, group A and group N. Within each category cars are sorted in subcategories depending on engine displacement
  • Limitations to each category (such as turbo restrictors, tire/wheel sizes and others) are dictated by the FIA, mainly to limit the speed and horsepower of the cars and thus meet safety regulations.

The fact that rally events take place in normal, everyday roads and that the cars involved in rallying resemble closely, from the outside, to their street counterparts greatly contributes to the sport’s popularity. Rally races are extremely popular in Europe, South America and Asia, less so in the US (where people seem to like watching cars go round oval tracks) but efforts do take place in that country to render the sport more popular.

I hope the short list above allows you to get an overall view of what a rally is. If you ever get a chance to seen one, on television or, even better, in situ, don’t hesitate. The drivers reach incredible speeds and the excitement, they provide spectators with, is difficult to describe. Especially impressive are the videos shot from inside the cars. When you see one of these you realize why drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae, and Tommi Mäkinen, to name but a few, are gifted with abilities that are somehow more than human.

One last world on rallying. The sport is a victim of its own success. Major events, especially in Europe, can gather hundreds of thousands of spectators and fans that populate the borders of the twisty mountain roads to watch their favorite drivers. Under these circumstances security is very difficult to plan and ensure. The officials at FIA are seriously considering deleting some events from the WRC calendar. The next major accident involving spectators will most certainly constitute sufficient excuse for the FIA to go ahead with restricting measures. Please be careful when selecting a place to stand for watching the cars and on top of all drive safely.

Some historical background

Group A cars have existed for a long time (at least 20 years although the term GroupA is more recent) but were eclipsed by the monstrous group B cars until 1986 (previously known as Group 4) when the latter were banned mainly due to Henri Toivonen‘s premature death in Corsica driving a Lancia S4 , Attilio Bettega’s accident in a Lancia 037 (1985) and a dramatic incident involving a Ford RS200 driven by Joaquim Santos and spectators in the 1986 Portuguese rally. GroupB cars at the time had to be produced to only 200 samples in 12 consecutive months to get the FIA homologation and be able to race. The limited production numbers allowed manufacturers to produce cars whose overall cost would be prohibitive if they were to be produced massively. These cars’ only purpose in life was rallying.

Group B cars had in common:

  • tubular frame chassis (i.e. space frame based, very expensive. The Audi Quattro used a monocoque chassis)
  • mid-mounted engines (supercharged or not. The Audi Quattro had a front mounted engine)
  • free suspension design (usually upper and lower wishbones far better and more adjustable than current McPherson designs)
  • free brake layout

For more information please refer to the FIA complete guide to the allowed GroupB modifications here (Adobe Acrobat file).

The most renowned Group B representatives were (a full list can be found here):

  • The Lancia 037, test drive here (a.k.a. rally, centrally mounted engine, rear wheel drive), pictures here
  • The Lancia S4 (4×4, centrally mounted engine), pictures here
  • The Peugeot 205 T16 (4×4, centrally mounted engine), picture here
  • The Audi Quattro (the father of them all 4×4, front mounted engine), picture here
  • The MG Metro 6R4 (4×4, centrally mounted engine), picture here
  • The Porsche 959 (4×4, rear mounted engine), picture here
  • The Renault 5 Turbo (centrally mounted engine, rear wheel drive), picture here
  • The Ford RS200 (4×4, centrally mounted engine), picture here
  • The Ferrari 288 GTO (rear wheel drive, centrally mounted engine, never raced) picture here

The cars sometimes had 600+ Bhp engines and a weight below the ton mark. One can easily comprehend the danger the drivers and the spectators were facing. The FIA decided to ban GroupB cars in rallying starting in 1986. Some evolutions of old Group B cars are still being used in rallycross events and others in the European Mountain Championship. If you’re a fan and lucky enough you might still see one in action. In 1996, for instance, I saw a Lancia Delta S4 racing in Switzerland for the European Hill Climbing Championship, what a thrill!

To give you an idea of the kind of performance GroupB cars were capable of  I’ll mention that in the 1986 season Henri Toivonen made two laps around the Estoril circuit, during a stage of the Portuguese rally, the fastest of which, in 1 minute and 18,1 seconds, would have qualified him in the sixth position of the F1 Grand Prix that same season. Ayrton Senna had the Pole Position in the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix in 1 minute and 16,7 seconds…Toivonen was using the Lancia Delta S4 and was accompanied by his usual co-driver Sergio Cresto. Keep in mind however that current Group A and WRC cars are even faster, overall, than GroupB cars used to be. This is mainly due to technology advances in tire formulations and suspension technology leading to Group A cars being faster around corners but losing on straights as compared to GroupB cars.

Note also that the engine used in the Metro 6R4, a 3.5 lt. V6, was used to power the famous Jaguar XJ220 of the early 90s (it was fitted with twin turbos in the XJ220).