- Group B
The Group B referred to a set of regulations introduced in 1982 for competition vehicles in
sportscar racingand rally racingregulated by the FIA. The Group B regulations fostered some of the quickest, most powerful and sophisticated rally cars ever built. However, a series of major accidents, some fatal, were blamed on their outright speed. This led to the nickname "The killer B's". After the death of Henri Toivonenand his co-driver in the 1986 Tour de Corse, the FIA disestablished the class after only four years. The short-lived Group B era has acquired legendary status among rally fans.
Group A referred to production-derived vehicles limited in terms of power, weight, allowed technology and overall cost. The base model had to be mass produced (5000 units/year) and had to have 4 seats. Group A was aimed at ensuring a large number of privately-owned entries in races.
By contrast, Group B had few restrictions on technology, design and the number of cars required for
homologationto compete (only 200). Weight was kept as low as possible, high-tech materials were permitted, and there were no restrictions on boost,which turned out to mean almost unlimited power. The category was aimed at car manufacturers by promising outright race victories and the subsequent publicity opportunities without the need for an existing production model.
Group B was initially a very successful concept, with many manufacturers joining the premier
World Rally Championship, and increased spectator numbers. But the cost of competing quickly rose, and the performance of the cars proved too much, resulting in a series of fatal crashes. As a consequence Group B was cancelled at the end of 1986 and Group A regulations became the standard for all cars until the advent of World Rally Cars in 1997.
In the following years Group B found a niche in the
European Rallycross Championship, with cars such as the MG Metro 6R4 and the Ford RS200competing as late as 1992. For 1993, the FIA replaced the Group B models with prototypes that had to be based on existing Group A cars, but still followed the spirit of Group B, with low weight, 4WD, high turbo boost pressure and staggering amounts of power.
Group 2 and Group 4
Until 1983 the two main classes of rallying were called
Group 2and Group 4. Major manufacturers competed in Group 4, which required a minimum of 400 examples of a competition car. Notable cars of the era included the Lancia Stratos, Ford Escortand Fiat 131 Abarth.
In 1979 the FISA (then the name of the FIA's motorsport regulatory division) legalized
four-wheel drive(4WD). Car companies were not keen on using 4WD as it was generally felt that the extra weight and complexity of 4WD systems would cancel out any performance benefits.
This belief was shattered when
Audilaunched the 4WD Quattro in 1980. That year a Quattro was used as an opening (zero) car and driven by professional driver Hannu Mikkolain some rallies. Its combined time for all stages in one rally was nine minutes quicker than that of the rally winner. While the new car was indeed heavy and cumbersome its off-road grip was staggering.
The Quattro was officially entered in the 1980
Janner Rallyin Austriaand easily won. Audi kept on winning throughout 1980 and 1981 seasons, although lack of consistent results meant that Ford took the driver's title in 1981 with Ari Vatanendriving a rear-wheel-drive Escort. The team's victory at the 1981 Rallye San Remowas particularly historic: Piloted by Michèle Mouton, it was the first time a woman won a World Championship rally. Mouton placed second in the drivers' championship the next year, behind Opel's Walter Röhrl.
Groups N, A and B
The FISA decided to separate the rally cars into three classes:
Group N(production cars), Group A(modified production cars), and Group B (modified sport cars). These groups were introduced in 1982. Group Nand Group Acars were the same cars with different amount of race preparation allowed (In Group N almost no modifications, in Group A significant modifications). The cars had to have 4 seats (although the miminum size of the rear seats was lowenough that some 2+2 cars could qualify) and be produced in large numbers. This was 5000 cars/year between 1982 and 1991. It later changed to 2500 cars/year if the version being homologated was derived from a mass-market car (25000 cars/year for all versions).
Group B was conceived when the FISA found that numerous car manufacturers wanted to compete in rallying, witnessing the successes of the Stratos and the Quattros, they felt that having cars with mid-engine and RWD or 4WD was the way to go. Unfortunately, they found that their RWD models had been gradually replaced by their FWD counterparts, lessening their chance of winning. By reducing the homologation minimum from 400 (in Group 4) to 200, manufacturers had a chance. [Mad For It, Mike Goodbun,
Classic Cars, December 2006]
Group B cars could be two-seaters and the minimum production was only 200 cars/year. Manufacturers were allowed to homologate an evolution each year by producing only 20 cars of that evolution. The cars entered in the races were further modified (same modifications allowed as in Group A).Group B could in theory be used to homologate production sport cars, which could not be homologated in Group N or A, because they did not have four seats or were not produced in large enough numbers (e.g. cars like the Ferrari 308, the
Porsche 911, etc). The designation used in the regulations "Sports Grand Touring Cars") show this intention.
The big manufacturers, however, used them in a different way: they designed a rally car, of which 20 were produced and designated the evolution model, and then built a limited series of only 200 street cars for homologation. (Similar things have been done before in Group 4, for instance the
Lancia Stratos.)In some cases these cars were sold at a loss and journalists reviewing them now acknowledge that their development was not quite finished.
In each group there were classes based on engine displacement (with a 1.4 equivalence factor for forced induction engines). Each class had different weight limits, maximum tyre sizes, etc. The most important classes for Group B were the 3000 cc class (2142.8 cc with turbo or supercharger), 960 kg minimum weight (
Audi Quattro, Lancia 037) and 2500 cc (1785 cc), 890 kg (Peugeot 205 T16, Lancia Delta S4).
Renault 5 Turbohad only a 1.4 L engine so it was in the 2000 cc class. The Ferrari 288 GTOand the Porsche 959were in the 4000 cc (2857 cc), 1100 kg class, which would have probably become the normal class for track racing if Group B had seen much use there. Otherwise they existed for old Group 4 cars which competed until 1985.
Classes in Group B: [FIA Regulations, Appendix J 1986, Art. 256 - Specific regulations for Sports Cars (Gr. B): http://www.fia.com/resources/documents/991499716__Hist_App_J_86_Art_256_a.pdf]
Audi was in the 3000 cc class due to the displacement of the street car happened to be in that class, and as a car derived from the street version, it would have been difficult to reach the minimum weight needed. For the 037 Lancia decided that the lower class might be too light and consequently too fragile for gravel rallies, and they happened to have a good 2000 cc engine.
When these rules were decided it was felt that these displacement restrictions would be enough to control power, but in the early and mid-80s engineers learnt how to extract almost unlimited amounts of power from turbo engines (the same thing was happening in
F1). Nowadays the power of turbo engines is limited by mandating a restrictor in the intake (in World Rally Car, Group Aand Group N).
Although the Audi Quattro was still in essence a Group 4 car, it carried Hannu Mikkola to the driver's title in 1983.
Lanciahad designed a new car to Group B specifications, but the Lancia 037still had rear wheel driveand was thus less consistent than the Audi over different surfaces (generally the Lancia had the upper hand on tarmac, with the Audi remaining superior on looser surfaces such as snowand gravel). Nevertheless, the 037 performed well enough for Lancia to capture the manufacturers title with a rally to spare, which was generally considered more prestigious at the time. In fact, so low was Lancia's regard for the Drivers Championship, they did not enter a single car into the season finale RAC Rally, despite the fact that driver Walter Röhrlwas still in the hunt for the title.
The low homologation requirements quickly attracted manufacturers to Group B.
Opelreplaced their production-derived Ascona with the Group B Manta 400, and Toyotabuilt a new car based on their Celica. Like the Lancia 037 both cars were rear drive, but unlike the Lancia they met with little success, although Toyota won the 1983 Ivory Coast Rallyafter hiring Swedish desert driving specialist Björn Waldegård.
In 1984, Audi's
Stig Blomqvistbeat Lancia to the driver's title, although the victory was bittersweet: Midway through the year Peugeothad joined the rallying scene with its Group B 205 T16. The T16 also had four wheel drive and was smaller and lighter than the Audi Quattro. At the wheel was the 1981 driver's champion Ari Vatanen, with future Ferrari Formula Oneteam manager Jean Todtoverseeing the operation. A crash prevented the T16 from winning its first rally but the writing was on the wall for Audi.
Despite massive revisions to the Quattro, including a shorter
wheelbase, Peugeot dominated the 1985 season. Although not without mish
Argentina and was gravely injured when his seat mountings broke in the ensuing crash.
Although the crash was a sign that Group B cars had already become dangerously quick (Although Vatanen did have a consistent record of crashing out while leading), a rash of new Group B cars entered the rallying world in 1985:
* Late in the year, Lancia replaced their outclassed 037 with the Delta S4, which featured both a
turbochargerand a superchargerfor optimum power output.
* Ford returned after several years away with the
Citroëndeveloped and entered the BX 4TC, which ultimately was too heavy and cumbersome to be successful.
* Rover created the distinctive Metro 6R4, which featured boxy bodywork and a large spoiler mounted on the front of the car.
The stage was set for 1986 to be a very exciting season. Defending champion
Timo Salonenhad the new Evolution 2 version of Peugeot's T16 with ex Toyota driver, Juha Kankkunen. Audi's new Sport Quattro S1 boasted over 600 hp (450 kW) and a huge snowplow-like front end. Lancia's Delta S4 would be in the hands of the Finnish prodigy Henri Toivonenand Markku Alen, and Ford was ready with its high tech RS200 with Stig Blomqvistand Kalle Grundel.
Everything was to go tragically wrong, however, on the "Lagoa Azul" stage of Portuguese Rally near
Sintra. Portuguese national champion Joaquim Santoscrested a rise to find the road blocked with spectators crowding to see the fastest cars come through. He lost control of his RS200 while trying to stop and plunged into the crowd. Thirty-one people were injured and three were killed. All the top teams immediately pulled out of the rally and Group B was placed in jeopardy.
Disaster struck again in early May at the
Tour de Corse. Lancia's Toivonen was leading the championship, and once the rally got underway he was the pace setter. Seven kilometres into the 18th stage, Toivonen's S4 flew off the unguarded edge of a left hand hairpin bend and crashed into a ravine. The car landed inverted with the fuel tanks ruptured by the impact. The combination of red hot turbocharger, Kevlar bodywork, and ruptured fuel tank ignited the car and set fire to the dry undergrowth. Only a cloud of smoke and the lack of Toivonen's car at the finish indicated that something was very wrong. By the time rescue workers made it to the remote spot (some 30 minutes, by some accounts) all that remained of the car was a blackened frame with the bones of Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Crestoinside. With no witnesses to the accident it was impossible to determine what caused the crash other than Toivonen had left the road at high speed. Some cite Toivonen's ill health at the time (he reportedly was suffering from flu); other suggest mechanical failure, or simply the difficulty of driving the machine although Toivonen had a career full of crashing out while leading rallies. Up until that stage he was taking stage win after stage win and leading the rally by a large margin with no other driver challenging him.
The crash came a year after Lancia driver
Attilio Bettegahad crashed and died in his 037. While that fatality was largely blamed on the unforgiving Corsican scenery (and bad luck, as his co-driver, Maurizio Perissinotwas uninjured), Toivonen and Cresto's death, combined with the Portugal tragedy and televised accident of F1 driver Marc Surer in another RS200 which killed his co-driver, compelled the FIA to act: Group B cars were immediately banned for 1987. Audi decided to quit Group B entirely after Corsica.
The final days of Group B would also be controversial. The Peugeots were disqualified from the
Rally San Remoby the Italian scrutineers as the 'skirts' around the bottom of the car were deemed to be illegal. Peugeot immediately accused the Italians of favouring the Lancias. Their case was strengthened at the next event, the RAC Rally, when the British scrutineers passed the Peugeots as legal in identical trim. FISA annulled the result of the San Remo Rally eleven days after the final round in America. As a result the championship title was passed from Lancia's Markku Alen to Peugeot's Juha Kankkunen.
Although 1987 saw the end of the Group B cars on the world stage they did not disappear from motor sport. Peugeot adapted their T16 to run in the
Dakar Rally. Ari Vatanen won the event in 1989 and 1990. Improved Peugeot and Audi cars also competed in the Pikes Peak Hillclimbin Colorado. Audi used their Group B experience to develop a production based racing car for the Trans-Amand IMSA GTO series in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Ford sold off their RS200s to private buyers, with many being used in Rallycrossevents. The Metro 6R4 also became a frequent sight in Rallycross and the car was also entered in British and Irish national championship events. Porsche's 959 never entered a World Rally event, although it did compete in the Middle East championship and swept the Dakar.
The category as a circuit never in fact took off as the cars were proved to be too expensive for privateer teams which they were intended for. At US$325,000 for 959's sister car, the 961, many privateers would rather opt for a "clone" 962 or for less a Spice and were never expected to win in the face of the factory teams. The 961's career was proved to be short as Porsche only built only one prototype car which was burnt down in the 1987 Le Mans race. The
Ferrari F40, although meant to be used for Group B circuit, never saw action in its category. The WSPC grids it was intended for was filled up by a batch of Group C cars, but it saw limited use in a IMSA GTOrace in 1989. The F40 appeared in various GT races for a few seasons after the demise of the Gr. C category, but was to be outmoded by the new generation GT1cars such as the McLaren F1.
In recent years the popular "
Colin McRae Rally" computer racing gameseries has brought the extinct Group B cars to the attention of younger generations by including many of them as un-lockable 'bonus cars' to reward progress in the game. They all have the distinctive mark of being very difficult to control. Group B cars are also featured in the Gran Turismo series and the Rallisport Challengeseries of games.
As well as the cancellation of Group B, the tragedies of 1986 also brought about the scrapping of Group B's proposed replacement: [http://www.racecar-engineering.com/allarticles/275877/group-s.htmlGroup S] .
Group S rules would have limited car engine power to 300 hp (225 kW). To encourage innovative designs, only ten examples of a car would have been required for
homologation, rather than the 200 required for Group B. By the time of its cancellation, at least two Group S prototypes had been built: The Lancia ECVand the Toyota MR2, and new cars were also planned by both Audi (the 002 Quattro) and Ford (a Group S development of the RS200). The cancellation of Group S angered many rally insiders who considered the new specification to be safer than Group B and more exciting than Group A.
The Group S concept was revived by the FIA in 1997 as the
World Rally Carspecification which, as of 2007, is still in use. WRC cars are limited to convert|300|hp|abbr=on and require 20 examples of a model but, unlike Group S, are required to share certain parts with production cars.
* Audi Sport Quattro S1
* Citroën BX 4TC
* Citroën Visa 1000 Pistes
* Ferrari 288 GTO Evoluzione
Ford Escort RS 1700T(car built to gr. B regulations but not homologated; project abandoned in favor of RS200)
* Lada VFTS (homologation number B-222)
* Lancia 037 Rally
Lancia Delta S4
* MG Metro 6R4
* Mitsubishi Starion 4WD (not
homologated before Group B ended, ran as prototype)
* Mazda RX-7 4x4
* Nissan 240RS
* Opel Manta 400
* Peugeot 205 T16
* Peugeot 305 V6 (car built to gr. B regulations but not homologated; project abandoned in favor of 205 T16)
* Porsche 911 SC RS
Porsche 959(see also Porsche 961for circuit racing version)
Renault 5 Turbo
* Škoda 130 LR (homologation number B-269)
* Toyota Celica Twin-Cam Turbo
* Vauxhall Astra 4S
* [http://www.rallybase.nl/index.php RallyBase - complete results]
* [http://a178.v096910.c9691.e.vc.akamaistream.net/7/178/9691/v0009/audi.download.akamai.com/9691/history/04_mh/05_rallye_original_b.wmv?MSWMExt=.asf 2m:23s streaming video of Audi, Lancia, Peugeot and Renault "in full song"]
* [http://18.104.22.168:80/7/178/9691/v0009/audi.download.akamai.com/9691/history/04_mh/05_rallye_original_b.wmv?MSWMExt=.asf Alternate site for the above]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8608158075746975267 Audi S1- Rally Clip (from inside, 1m:5s Google Video)]
* [http://www.photo-rallye.com/grb/F-grb-A.htm Group B car images]
* [http://www.stormloader.com/groupb/index.html Group B history site]
* [http://www.thruxton.f9.co.uk/henri/toivonen_intro.htm Henri Toivonen tribute]
* [http://www.oka.urban.ne.jp/home/marie/eng/kit/vol.3.htm Lancia Group B cars]
* [http://www.pubblimais.it/ecv.htm Lancia rally cars]
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