1981 had been fun, but it had all been a bit insular and provincial. True, the World Champion that was (Walter Rohrl) and the World Champion to be (Ari Vatanen) had both popped by, and there were a couple of Belgians on the Manx, but all the drivers battling for the series had been British resident even if, like Pentti Airikkala, they weren't British born.
However in these days of bang-bang devices and clever differentials it's hard to explain just how dull four wheel drive and turbo charging was when it first arrived on the rally scene. The Quattro was quiet, and it braked and accelerated in a straight line. Apart from the speed at which it could accelerate out of a slow corner, it did not look like a rally winner.
Leader of the home drivers for most of the rally is National Champion Terry Kaby. McRae has a slow start but gradually rose up the field to finish fourth. It had been a poor showing for the home team though and the Scandinavians had totally outclassed them.
McRae led, then Toivonen, then McRae again. Then Toivonen left the road and climbed a bank. Damage to the car was minimal but he's broken a bone in his wrist. Carrying on would be painful, but carry on he did. Vatanen then took up the chase, the World Champion pedalling the Escort as hard as he could, but not making much progress against McRae. Mikkola's Quattro was snapping driveshafts and David Sutton was reduced to pouring Coca Cola and then flour into the gearbox to prevent clutch slip. Brookes had been delayed early on by electrical problems but was now charging up the field.
Vatanen looked like he might just steal a win until he took a yump too fast and damaged the Escort, dropping him right down. Brookes had fought his way up to second, but a brave Toivonen held on for third but Mikkola was down in sixth, behind a pair of Irishmen. It was Jimmy McRae though who won, making it a hat trick of Irish wins for him.
In the end the rally went ahead without trouble, Walter Rohrl had said an "educated monkey" could win in a Quattro, but in the end Audi chose a different sort of primate for the event, the 1979 World Champion, and 1977 RAC Rally winner, Bjorn Waldegard. He vaguely remembered Epynt from an RAC a few years back, and was soon proving that Quattros could go well on tarmac. The Swede, who in his time had rallied everything from a Lancia Stratos to a Mercedes 450SLC, led from the off and took a comfortable victory.
Behind him there was chaos. Vatanen took a wrong turn on Epynt and was excluded whilst on the last blast through the tarmac McRae tool a "95mph corner at 100" and totalled the Ascona. Team mate Toivonen took second and the series lead whilst Stig Blomqvist, in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, was third.
Instead the Quattro broke its steering arm - again - on the first corner of the first stage. Mikkola managed to get the car off the stage in reverse, but he'd lost nearly eight minutes and was dead last. Vatanen was leading, chased by Blomqvist and the two Rothmans Asconas, but Mikkola was after them. The Quattro overtook Malcolm Wilson to lie fifth by half time at Aviemore.
As they raced through the northern forests Vatanen retired with a broken driveshaft handing the lead to Blomqvist, who then retired with head gasket failure. Mikkola overhauled Russell Brookes, then Toivonen and then finally leader McRae. He won in the end by a massive ten minutes, but he'd done it the hard way.
On the first day though, it is the Finns Vatanen and Toivonen who were dicing for the lead whilst Terry Kaby led the home challenge. Mikkola was again struggling and didn't make the finish, and both Talbots expired with engine trouble on the same stage.
But whilst a Brit may have won the Drivers award, every round had been won by a German car, With a series that featured two tarmac, two mostly gravel and one 50/50 rally, the battle between two wheel drive and four wheel drive had been fascinating. Had Mikkola skipped Corsica and gone to Wales he may have won both the rally and the championship, but that wouldn't have stopped Opel taking the manufacturers prize. The Ascona 400 had shown it was the perfect car for the series; a reliable all rounder. The Quattro had proved unbeatable on gravel, but too complicated and unreliable for a series where every score counts.
Audi would be back though, and next time the British boys wouldn't find it so easy.