Sunday, 16 December 2012

The History of the British Open Rally Championship: 1984

Blomqvist had beaten the Brits handsomely in 1983, but for 1984 he was away on a campaign that would see him become World Champion in the Ivory Coast in October.

Instead, Audi sent the reigning World Champion, Hannu Mikkola, to contest the series. Also in a Quattro was Malcolm Wilson.

Wilson had been developing a new car for Ford, a rear wheel drive turbo charged Group B car using an Escort Mark Three bodyshell. Ford though had realised that you could win now without drive to all the wheels and had abandoned the project and gone back to the drawing board.

This left Wilson without a team, so he bought Stig Blomqvist's 1983 series winning machine and formed his own, learning the skills that he would use fifteen years later to run the official Ford team.

Up against Audi was the works Opel team of Jimmy McRae and Russell Brookes, using the two wheel drive Manta.

With the demise of Vauxhall that, unfortunately, was that in terms of  Works teams. Quality not quantity. Group A was also looking fairly quiet, with Per Eklund in the Toyota Corolla the only factory driver starting the series.

The series started, as usual, in a chilly Yorkshire with the event formerly known as the Mintex, but now called the National Breakdown. On the icy stages Mikkola's Quattro walked the event, but behind him in the fog McRae, Brookes and Wilson had a good tussle. McRae caught a glove in his harness on the first stage and spun, punctured in Wykham and needed an axle change, but still managed to finish ahead of Brookes. Wilson couldn't keep up with the Mantas on his Quattro debut and retired whilst lying fourth.

Group A meanwhile was not the expected walkover for Toyota. Eklund's Corolla was headed for most of the rally by Mikail Sundstrom's Sunbeam Ti. The Talbot left the road once and broke three gearboxes, the last one failing mid-stage and stranding the Finn.

However the event was overshadowed by the death of Escort driver Hafsteinn Hauksson in Dalby. Treeless Iceland's leading rally driver, he had had to overcome a phobia of driving in forests to compete in Britain, so his death was both tragic and ironic.

The rally circus next grouped at Easter for the traditional blast around the Emerald Isle, the Circuit of Ireland. Mikkola and Eklund were tacking the Safari, so German Harold Demuth took over for Audi and Juha Kankkunen - another future World Champion - sat in for Eklund. Up against the Toyota was the new Rover 3500 Group A car driven by veteran Mini and Imp man Colin Malkin. The Rover was far too big for the narrow lanes, but it offered oodles of tail out grunt and was an instant hit with the fans. The Irish petrolheads also got to gawp at Henri Toivonen in the Rothmans Porsche. The Finn was desperately unhappy in the team, but you couldn't tell from his pace.

The opening stages provided drama a plenty. Brookes suffered prop shaft failure on the first stage, McRae suffered brake problems and went into a field on stage two, Toivonen left the road on the third stage and Malkin retired on the fifth stage. The Rover had more power than the Group B Mantas and its back axle couldn't cope. By the end of the season the Rover engineers were reduced to a device to spray washing up liquid on the tires to reduce mechanical strain.

All this left McRae the surprise leader, but his car was only running on three cylinders and steaming like the Flying Scotsman and he was soon out. Demuth also suffered engine failure which left the local boys Billy Coleman and Austin McHale battling it out in their Mantas. McHale took the lead on the last day only fir his engine to go bang, leaving Coleman as the sole surviving works driver and winner by a country mile. Second was privateer Ernest Kidney and third Hot Rod World Champion Davy Evans in his first ever rally.

Normality was resumed on the Welsh. Brookes took the lead on the Epynt tarmac, but once the rally reached the forests Mikkola's Quattro took over. McRae's Manta was still causing him problems. It overheated, then wouldn't stay in gear. Trying to make up time he crashed and squashed the exhaust. He then did it again and injured his hand. He dropped to sixth but managed to climb back to fourth, behind Malcolm Wilson, helped in part by Anterio Laine's sick Quattro holding up the rest of the field.

It was the dust and midges of the Scottish next. Mikkola and the Quattro led from start to finish again, but behind him the three Brits battled it out. Wilson's Quattro was fastest, but he suffered suspension failure. Brookes then took over second, but he left the road for twelve minutes handing the runner up spot to McRae, who for once had a trouble free rally.

It was back across the Irish Sea for the Ulster Rally next. Mikkola was away in Argentina, so double World Champion Walter Rohrl drove the works Quattro, which appeared to have shrunk in the wash. This was the debut of the Audi Sport Quattro, and it blew the opposition into the weeds. Austin McHale had a major accident on the third stage, so second place ended up being contested between Brookes, McRae and Irishman Bertie Fisher.

An spot of Irish rain put Fisher off the road, and so it was Brookes and McRae scrapping for second place. Seconds separated the two Manta, but in the end McRae overshot a junction and had to concede the position to the Englishman. Just fourteen seconds separated the two Opels in the end.

The crews went into the Manx then with Mikkola on 45 points, Brookes on 44 and McRae on 42. It was all to play for.

Rothmans had intended to send Toivonen in one of their Porsches to contend the event they sponsored, but he had injured his back in the 1000 Lakes and so Kankkunen once more made an appearance in the series.  Eklund, who had walked the last three rounds in Group A now again faced opposition from the Rover Vitesse, this time driven by Tony Pond.

Brookes took an early lead and after stage four was looking reasonably comfortable. The Porsche's engine had failed and Mikkola's gearbox had jammed, leaving only McRae to beat. The Andrews Heat for Hire Manta then punctured on the next stage costing Brookes three minutes. McRae took the lead and decided attack was the best means of defence. The Scot set a series of fastest times. Brookes put his foot down to reel in the lost time, but overcooked it at the Tholt-y-will bridge and crashed out of the event.

McRae led Bertie Fisher home by more than ten minutes to take both the rally and his third championship. Third place was Tony Pond in the wheel spinning, tail out Rover.

Brookes was once again the bridesmaid, but he'd enjoyed his first year with the Opel Manta. Next year he'd be back.

2 comments:

  1. What about Group N? Brian Wiggins / Tony Shepherd dominated this class in a nearly standard Mk1 Vauxhall Astra GTE ( GTM 420Y ) beating many more powerful cars along the way.

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  2. Yes I really should mention the minor classes. I will in 1985 when Skoda dominated Group A up 1300cc.

    The Astra GTE/GSi gets a mention my One Hit Wonders blog though.

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