10 years in the making: How Lancia won the 1988 Safari Rally
Lancia’s record up to and including the 1987 season – the first of the all-new Group A era in the World Rally Championship – was enviable: a hat-trick of manufacturers’ titles with the fabulous Stratos in 1974, ’75 and ’76, another crown with the Martini 037 in 1983 and a drivers’/makes’ double in ’87 with the Delta HF Turbo.
The Italian marque had won all the great rallies – Monte Carlo, Sweden, Corsica, Acropolis, Sanremo and the RAC – but its WRC victory tally had one glaring omission: the Safari.
Success on the gruelling African adventure had eluded Lancia in its 10 previous attempts. The best result had been second and third in ’75 courtesy of Stratos aces Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegaard.
For 1988, Lancia was determined to finally chalk up that maiden success. Armed with the now-six-speed Integrale, a car that had won on its debut last time out in Portugal with Massimo Biasion, the team’s hopes rested on Biasion and his team-mate Vic Preston, a Kenyan-born driver with ‘local’ knowledge.
Fears of a sodden event following intense rainfall during the build-up to rally the were allayed on the first day when crews headed into 35C heat and dusty terrain. The Volkswagen Golf GTis of Erwin Weber and Lars-Erik Torph made the early running on the run to Mombassa, while both Lancias suffered gearbox trouble.
The status quo was soon restored for the team that hadn’t lost a WRC event it had contested for 10 months. Biasion’s Lancia moved ahead on the return up to Nairobi when the leading VW suffered a driveshaft failure, but the Italian was soon to feel the reliability heat when the turbo on the #6 Delta failed, losing him 35 minutes.
The only Italian machine left in the rally – Preston had retired with driveshaft failure – went on a charge. Making up huge chunks of time on his rivals, Biasion fended off a driveshaft issue of his own on the third leg and a collision with a zebra on the fourth to record a relative narrow (in Safari terms) 12-minute victory over the Nissan 200SX of Mike Kirkland.
The historic win, 26 years ago today (April 4), gave Biasion the drivers’ championship points lead for the first time that season and helped his march towards the first of two consecutive titles. It also went a long way to helping Lancia on its way to a sixth makes’ crown.