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When Group B Rally cars went racing

Submitted by on November 21, 2011

Strap in, sit tight, and watch the most outrageous rally cars ever built, racing each other in the European Rallycross Championship – and a novel idea…

Anyone who has seen (or heard) a Group B World Rally Championship car in action will know it takes the breath away. Brute force, power, four-wheel drive, and flame-spitting, machine gun exhaust-popping noise.

In WRC, one car at a time was breathtaking every two minutes. Put a handful on a race track to race each other on and off track was awesome. It was almost the start of the adrenalin-filled X-Games.

In the late 1980s crowds of around 30,000 plus went to a cold November Brands Hatch, England, to the British Rallycross Grand Prix to watch the cars go off the traditional tarmac onto the dirt in certain sections, spit fire and make the pulse race over four laps. It was a day full of a true assault of the senses that went from heats, to quarters and a Grand Final.

Welcome to the extreme world of the European Rallycross Championship.

In terms of regulations for the manufacturers to use to build these cars initially for the World Rally Championship – well basically there were hardly any. The world was their oyster. The main one was that 200 cars had to be built. Turbos were unlimited in power, and it was like watching a rocket.

Sadly, the deaths in 1985 Attillio Bettega and the following year of and Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto, as well as spectators in separate accidents spelt the beginning of the end of Group B in the World Rally Championship.

So what happened to all these supercars that were now redundant? They found a new home in the European Rallycross Championship, that’s what.

With the recent apparent cancellation – or postponement – of the Austin, Texas, Formula 1 race, and a track that is still all mud…. Here’s an idea – let’s bring the Group B cars back out for Retro Rallycross!

The heady days of the European Rallycross Championship had ‘Mr Rallycross’, Martin Schanche in a Ford RS 200, while Will Gollop was in an MG Metro 6R4, throw in a Peugeot 205 T16 or two, Lancia Delta S4s and some fearsome short wheelbase Audi Quattros. And let them race… It was a recipe based a little on Speedway. Four lap races, a handful of machines, which took them from tarmac to gravel, mud, and back to tarmac. It was perfect Saturday afternoon television on BBC TV, and pulled in the crowds at the track.

If we are going really Retro, let’s bring back 1970s rallycross star John Button, father of Jenson. And if we are going for broke, how about David Coulthard and the Red Bull F1 car to take them on? The Scot is now likely to be the only person to lap the Circuit of the Americas in a Formula 1 car. But could he beat Martin Schanche around there in a Ford RS200? Or Stig Blomqvist in an Audi Quattro? Would be fun to see wouldn’t it?

Throw in Travis Pastrana and Ken Block for good measure too. We may have an idea on our hands…

Here’s Coulthard’s lap of the Circuit of the Americas in the Red Bull from earlier this year. Watch it all the way through – it’s well worth it.

Andy Hallbery

@hallbean

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