1984: Peugeot 205 T16's first win
Rarely, if ever before, can a professional team have simultaneously achieved their season's goal, while being dealt a body blow of the proportion that hit Audi Sport last weekend. Because while they notched up enough points on the Rally of the Thousand Lakes to earn the 1984 World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, they were humbled by the opposition as the next generation of machinery took command in absolutely stunning fashion
Just as the Germans have held the technical advantage of 4WD for some years, so it seems now to be the turn of the French and the ease with which Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman gave Peugeot their first victory for the 205 Turbo 16 was astounding. The early potential which saw the 205 leading its opening events has already been transformed into raw results and it could not have come at a better time for Vatanen.
This remains the rally that really counts with the professionals and as ever the pace this year fully justified the tag of "Finnish Grand Prix". Markku Alen ultimately finished in second place, refusing to accept defeat right to the bitter end. This was Markku at his fabulous best, urging the Rally 037 even faster in his hopeless chase. By contrast team mate Henri Toivonen found himself a safe, content, third and after a drive which combined sheer bravery - sometimes over the biggest of Finland's jumps-plus considerable maturity, there was at last a smile on Toivonen's face.
There were smiles, too, from both Juha Kankkunen and Per Eklund (partnered as usual by Fred Gallagher and Dave Whittock respectively) while Terry Kaby and Kevin Gormley acquitted themselves well with a result just outside the top 10 in their Nissan 240 RS.
So what of Audi? Stig Blomqvist was the man who ensured that the title heads back to Ingolstadt with a most subdued performance which was a reflection of his own personal championship aspirations, avoiding too much confrontation with his older long Quattro, but still unable to match the latest
Worse still was the performance of the Quattro Sports upon which Audi's future rests. Neither Hannu Mikkola nor Michele Mouton was ever particularly happy, both ended up off the road - the current World Champion inauspiciously grinding to a halt after steering failure outside his summer retreat - and the writing seems to be firmly on the wall. Peugeot have entered the winner's enclosure in the most impressive manner.
Those that have to justify rallying projects attach such importance to the Manufacturers' series that in many ways that Drivers' title fight virtually has always been forced firmly into second place in the list of priorities. Lancia, of course, give no consideration to the Drivers' series, and so it really is not surprising that outright wins continue to offer drivers the greatest satisfaction.
Few have doubted that ultimately Stig Blomqvist will collect the award at the end of this year, leaving the others to gain their place in the record books through individual performances on events. Of all the opportunities in a season, few rival the kudos which accompanies success in Finland, and so it is no surprise that the entry list included most of the world's best.
They train rigorously, most making an effort to memorise the stages almost as if it were a circuit race. As with the other Grands Prix in the calendar, the Jyvaskylan Suurajot included a warm-up period, with the road which would feature as the second special stage being closed on Wednesday evening to allow drivers to establish themselves for the contest ahead.
Always eager to capitalise on such a opportunity, Alen recorded quickest time, backing it up with confident talk and leaving the others to reflect on the severity of the Lancia opposition. Peugeot, meanwhile, took a couple of steps backwards, the suspension settings established in Germany proving most unsuited to the jumps. A compromise would have to be established, but it meant that Vatanen's opening bid would also have to serve as an extension of the test session; the others would have a chance to make the break.
The first stage on Friday evening took place almost immediately after the Rantasippi hotel start on the edge of Jyvaskyla, with a steep climb away from the township and towards the forests. Blomqvist capitalised, Mikkola followed in the little car with Vatanen sandwiched between the two, and arriving at the first service point to instruct his mechanics to stiffen the suspension, and lower the ride height. Too much emphasis had been put on suspension settings for the jumps.
Throughout that first leg, the French team cracked on with the changes, efficiently using their time to allow the driver to find a sensible specification. It would be a gradual process, and Jean Todt only hoped that his man would not find himself with too much of a disadvantage at an early stage. The 1000 Lakes is, according to Lancia boss Cesare Fiorio, "a 110 per cent rally. No-one has any time to wait and watch; it is all attack."
Behind the opening acts of this 35th 1000 Lakes, Lasse Lampi took the unfortunate honour of first retirement, his engine letting go at an early opportunity, while the British crew of Julian Roderick and David Holmes were suddenly in-volved in an horrendous accident when their Chevette went sideways on a jump, landed awkwardly and rolled four times. A total of nine people were taken to hospital, and Roderick is expected to be detained, although he is not in danger.
The incident meant the stage was cancelled after later numbers were delayed and already the convoy was in two parts as the evening closed in. So far, it had been bright, sunny, and dusty. "For me it is absolutely important that it stays dry like this," explained Alen, sitting casually at the roadside as his mechanics fitted fresh Pirellis and screwed home the front pod housing the battery of auxiliary lamps for the remain-ing evening stages in the opening section.
By now he had established a slender advantage, with Vatanen second and Fiorio was already into action, quizzing the leader about a lost second on the last stage; encouraging Messrs Toivonen and Piironen with a few positive waves to underline that they were fourth and ahead of Mikkola. Henri admitted that he was not totally used to the grip on offer from the car and prepared to learn some lessons the easy way this time.
Meanwhile, Audi were a little further down the road, their site already the target for the first of the evening's midges and a few early problems. Blomqvist's initiative was spoiled with a misfire, Mikkola had a similar problem in his Sport, and Mouton was complaining - in considerable detail - about the way her car wandered around the tracks. Already she seemed to have moved into one of those black moods, characterised by the long face and an exit from the
service point which shows real attack and a chance for the rev limiter to spring into action as she crackles her way up the 'box.
Eklund's Clarion Quattro was next into place, Dave Whittock's nervous laughter confirming that the pace was hot. Those with some cause for concern on this opening lap around Jyvaskyla included Kankkunen whose Celica Turbo had a mysterious propshaft vibration and needed occasional replacement, Airikkala whose Nissan 240RS had brake problems, and Bruno Saby whose Renault 5 Turbo caused plenty of interest both with the thousands of enthusiasts, and with the local polisi who-seemingly unfairly - made him the first to get one of Finland's legendary speeding tickets.
Drivers are actually faced with a severe problem on this event because it really is run at a hectic pace, but there are very firmly controlled speed limits and the highways are simply crammed with spectator traffic. The run out on Satur-day morning (the crews having reached Rantasippi around 1.00am for a six hour rest halt) was a typical example and while most expected to see the action in bright sunlight, the heavens opened in a matter of moments before Markku Alen burst into view at the head of the field.
Vatanen followed, the four-wheel-drive, turbocharged 205 seemingly in its element; then came Mikkola, Blomqvist and Toivonen whose effort over one enormous jump left the crowds roaring, and prompted one or two people to change their vantage point. One estimate put the leap at around 30m (everyone else was recording about half that) and the car juddered back to ground level, squeezing past some rocks with the driver's foot still pushing onward.
Kankkunen was quick, but Michele's hectic adventure in her Sport Quattro was about to come to an end, arriving at the service point after stage 15 with the bodywork in a sorry mess.
"It started after a crest," explained the lady, arms flailing to underline the erratic progress, "and the steering went light... and light... and then round... and over. Fabrizia thought we had lost the time card, so we lost more time, and then found it under the seat." As the sunshine again gave way to a cloud burst Michele dived for cover, as Roland Gumpert wielded a selection of hammers in an effort to reform the door pillar on Fabrizia's side. Despite the efforts it was going to take too long and as the following cars swept by, the French lady's season continued in pretty dismal fashion.
This northern loop has in the past caused Lancia some problems in their fight against four-wheel-drive. Traction is not always so important in Finland because of the fast flowing stages, but here Alen was again faced with an uphill struggle. "It is always the same," explained Fiorio, "as it is so sandy. Last year we lost one and a half minutes to Audi here, but this time our evolution car is quicker than the Audis, both long and short."
Fiorio knew this would happen. and so there was little outward disappointment as he saw Vatanen edge ahead for the first time, the Peugeot now running even harder springs as Ari gained confidence and Terry confirmed the car still went a bit too sideways occasionally.
Italian tempers rose furiously soon after, however, as on the 19th stage - before the regrouping halt back at the rally HQ - Alen's effort took a real blow when a stone fouled the gearchange, and the Finn arrived in service having lost a further 20secs. There simply wasn't the time to change a 'box, so with loud discussions continuing, the car was dispatched to complete the last stage leaving Nini Russo and Cesare Fiorio standing in the rain under their umbrellas screaming about the pros and cons of what action to take. The job was completed before arriving at Rantasippi, Markku upset that he had subsequently gone off the road and collected a puncture, compounding his misery.
From Jean Todt's point of view, it was the next major step in the correct direction as his solo car now held a 1m 13sec advantage over Alen, with the next long loop to the south still to come. He also knew that Ari was happier with the now-sorted suspension, and the second half of the rally promised something very different from the scene on Corsica earlier in the year when Todt and Fiorio worked together to demote Audi down the order. Now the two would join battle.
Mikkola was third grafting away with Blomqvist next up, Toivonen losing the supercharger after a broken compressor pipe and dropping 1min and Messrs Eklund and Kankkunen already engaged in a private affair which currently saw them separated by 1sec, and would continue in similar vein until the finish the following day.
While they had been fighting for seventh place they both moved up as Mikkola's surviving Ouattro Sport hit
trouble. Already, the mechanics had changed one steering arm after SS25 when it had been damaged after a crest. Now they waited in tranquility in a village, with the river running so peacefully across the road. Soon Markku was within earshot, the four-cylinder supercharged racer howl-ing towards the finish line, out of the control and handbraking its way into the service point.
"Too much gravel on the surface sometimes, very loose... and I did not like that accident before Jyvaskyla . . . and..." Alen was shaking just a little, as he does when things are getting serious. Ari arrived alongside looking remark-ably calm, then Blomqvist sweating furiously as he climbed from the car to be quizzed by Alen about Mikkola, who was now overdue.
"Off," confirmed the Swede, "I don't think he is coming. Summer stage."
Alen smiled, as did the rest of the field as they drove past the stricken car, because this road leads to the Mikkola family summer house, and has also been used for Audi testing work. Surely Hannu had not launched it into the scenery on home ground? The answer came from the driver, as Roland Gumpert took the radio.
"After the jump the steering was completely wild, and I have looked," explained the Finn, "and it is not the side we changed, but the other side. The wheels are back ... I don't think it is possible to get out. We are only 2kms from the finish of the stage." The team boss agreed it was over, considered a quick departure, but was then collared by Per Eklund, who'd noted the lack of HB machines left in the running and wouldn't mind terribly if the factory boys gave his stretched equipe a hand. Or even a few new tyres might help the situation.
The help was there, Eklund was happy, and Gumpert departed in his roadgoing Sport. It just was not his day, as only a short way out of the village poor Roland was making up for someone's slight slip, and getting his own car back onto slightly firmer ground. There were many others slipping into trouble as the speed and hectic schedules started to take their toll.
Toyota were reduced to one car when Waldegaard was stranded with a blown head gasket, and his opposite number at Nissan - Airikkala - disappeared on Saturday afternoon when the gearbox jammed. With the Blydenstein car out, the barges then switched attention to the Finnish Freeborough cars which were battling on. Kaby had not enjoyed the early period, his car running with no lsd, and effectively one-wheel-drive for some time before it could be fixed. Otherwise he was happier, running close to team mates Erkki Pitkannen and Peter Geitel.
By now, the cars were heading far south in the general direction of Helsinki for the final etape and a run through the night which would bring them back to Jyvaskyla on Sunday morning. Still the queues of spectator cars - mingled with the odd coach - lined the major roads and still Vatanen managed to ever so slightly increase his lead! In the stages Ari looked so much in control it was almost odd, because there wasn't the drama with which he is so often associated.
He would arrive at the corner, power it round, wind off the opposite lock and rattle through the gearbox so effortlessly that the combination made it look very easy. At high speed it seemed awfully stable as opposed to the oversteering Lancia or the understeering Audi and yet Ari still could not relax. Alen was around one and a half minutes in arrears; the chance was still there. And while that chance was there, Markku would try, even if he must have realised that nothing short of a mechanic-al disaster would stop the first success for; the Peugeot. As it turned out routine maintenance was all that was needed, although a new turbocharger was fitted before the finish just to be safe.
It was a cold night with even a touch of frost in among the trees, the lakes strangely peaceful and still. Attention turned away from the leaders, concentrating for a while on the battles between Blomqvist and Toivonen for third, and Kankkunen and Eklund for fifth.
Toivonen was eager to make up for the delay caused by the supercharger problem, trying hard - still producing the action - and sliding off for about 20secs in the early hours, bumping Blomqvist back up to third, and leaving the Lancia driver to mount yet another attack before the Mantta halt and finally put a bit of space between the cars.
Blomqvist for his part was worried by the gearbox which left him uncomfortable with some odd noises, and had little to gain by sparring with the youngster and perhaps losing so much. Instead, it would again be the Swede's role to stay put, get round, and make the most of it.
The confrontation between the following Toyota and the private Audi was somewhat different with no strings attached, although Eklund's car was beginning to look particularly tired. The crew were also getting that way, and the situation was hampered when Whittock lost his voice. While he could 'hear' himself nothing was happening and it seems that there were the odd interesting moments, before the Audi doctor worked a little magic, and massaged the appropriate parts.
Another crew to have internal problems were Kaby/Gormley whose inter-com broke down at an inopportune moment on SS39, affectionately called "Motorway" and featuring a number of significant jumps. Apparently Gormley was trying to ensure everything was perfect for this particular test, but the new battery proved to be completely dead...
The breakfast halt at Mantta allowed little time for anything more than a wash and a cup of coffee, although Kankkunen's pace had eased just a little too much over those last few stages, Gal-lagher confirming that the gap was now down to just 28secs, "and so now we have to go a little bit again."
Eklund would be sure to push over the last four tests but while the pair fought a bit the Toyota driver kept it all in order and ultimately the Swede broke his gearbox on the last stage, the car arriving at the finish with just rear-wheel-drive and a pretty relieved crew were happy just to be there.
Just outside the top 10, in 12th place, Kaby had done well in his "learning" year and admitting to really enjoying the roads in the latter part, keeping his Finnish team mates within reasonable reach.
Further up the order Stig Blomqvist and Bjorn Cederberg had to accept that this was but part eight of their 12 round chase for the premier awards. Not so much personal satisfaction, but another job complete, and of course a very real achievement for Audi who have now amassed such a points total that even if Lancia win everything until the end of the season they could only draw level, and would then lose out on the tie decider. The championship was won.
Toivonen's championship aspirations currently lie at a slightly lesser level, with Porsche in the European series, and so his face really told a story as his Lancia approached the finish ramp of the Thousand Lakes for the first time in seven years. In front of his home crowd he had recorded his best WCR performance since the Lombard RAC two years ago and for the future he had assured himself of an A seeding for 1985. He loved it: "Seven bad years, seven good it says in the Bible", and it made a fine birthday present. He was 28 the day before.
Emotions were a little different for Markku and Kiki, whose efforts to deny Peugeot victory were truly heroic although, ultimately, they had to accept that the odds were stacked against them. The crowd outside the HQ hotel rose to them, Markku smiled and did all the right things, but with no real chance in the World series, he is after victories.
So it was Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman who led the ceremonies at Jyvaskyla last weekend, the Finn toast-ing his success with a glass of milk as the sunshine again gave way to a cloudburst. The Ulsterman complied to keep Ari's sponsors happy, before the pair - ever so carefully - climbed onto the car for Terry to let the champagne fly.
The pair had led their first event in Corsica before crashing badly. They had led the Acropolis before mechanical troubles intervened and now they had pulled the act together and achieved their aim, backed by Jean Todt's already impressive technical back up. There is no doubt that the determination of the little Frenchman has played an enormous part in the build up of this challenger and the whole thing is going exactly to schedule, with Sanremo a month off and the 1985 World titles looking a very distinct possibility.
1984: Peugeot 205 T16's first win
OPINION: The headlines were dominated by the Italian Grand Prix crash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who had the halo to thank for avoiding potentially serious injury. But two days earlier, Formula 1 had a lucky escape with a Monza pitlane incident that could also have had grave consequences
With two sprint races under its belt, Formula 1 must now consider its options for them going forward. While they've helped deliver exciting racing on Sundays, the sprints themselves have been somewhat lacking - creating yet another conundrum for F1 to solve...
OPINION: With Valtteri Bottas already signed up for 2022, all eyes are on the race for the second seat at Alfa Romeo next year. Antonio Giovinazzi is the current incumbent, but faces a tough competition from appealing short and long-term prospects
OPINION: Daniel Ricciardo has long been considered one of Formula 1’s elite drivers. But his struggles at McLaren since switching from Renault for 2021 have been painful to watch at times. Yet he’s recovered to banish those memories with a famous Monza win – built on a critically important foundation
OPINION: The Italian GP clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen followed a running theme in the 2021 Formula 1 title fight. Their close-quarters battles have often resulted in contact - and although Hamilton has shown a willingness to back off, Verstappen must learn to temper his aggression
The clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was the major flashpoint the 2021 Italian Grand Prix will be remembered for. Yet by this point, race leader Daniel Ricciardo had already done the hard work that would put him in position to end his and McLaren's lengthy win droughts, on a memorable afternoon in Monza