"It’s exactly 30 years since Ari Vatanen won the UK stage of the World Rally Championship in the crazy days of Group B racing. This November Ari will be back in the UK for the Wales Rally GB (13th-16th "
Peugeot 205 T16
Jean Todt, Peugeot’s team principle, stood in front of the press at the start of the 1981 Rally season and announced that they were developing a new four wheel drive rally car.
He promised a prototype by 1983 and that the new machine would achieve homologation status by early ’84. He also stated that it would be good enough to win the World Makers Championship by 1985.
The current head of the FIA duly made good on all those predictions and delivered Peugeot’s 205 T16 ready to race in the 1985 Tour de Corse in the now legendary, then relatively new and ultimately short lived ‘Group B’ class.
It’s important to remember that in the early 1980s Rally was arguably more popular than F1 – both in terms of the media’s focus and its enthusiasm within the general populace. The fact that Rally cars were always based on affordable road-going cars meant in that newly motored age of aspiration, manufacturers were beginning to really see the possibility of what race success could do for road car sales – and not just for manufacturers like Porsche, Ferrari and Jaguar who had hard-won race heritage. This was the time when the unglamorous, everyday brands could aspire to greatness.
But despite Rallying popularity, rules and regulations were strangling the development of truly great Rally cars. A race car in the original Group A formula needed a base model production run of 5000 of the road version, and the mandatory requirement for four seats carried obvious weight implications. These strictures meant that Group A was predominantly composed of multiple private entries.
The introduction of Group B was a genius stroke of marketing that would not only provide a no-holds barred spectacle for the great unwashed, but would also help boost the car industry’s aspirations.
The new rules meant that homologation could be attained with a production run of just 200. Weight and power restrictions were more or less done away with. It might be difficult to get your head around in these Health & Safety dominated days, but this new mentalist formula ushered in the fastest most dangerous period in the history of the sport. During its furious five year stretch the power output of ‘Group B’ cars doubled and as new materials brought curb weight down speeds – as well as danger – radically increased.
Todt’s team made an immediate impact into this highly charged new sport. In its first race the fearless Ari Vatanen pushed the 4WD turbocharged 205 to seven race stage records before pushing it right over the edge crashing and burning the brand new car. From the 1000 Lakes Rally of 1984 to the Swedish Rally of 1985, he and the 205 T16 won five World Rallies in a row.
In effect, the road-going 205 T16 had very little in common with the actual rally car apart from its mid-mounted engine and the four wheel drive setup. But it was similar enough to the 205 GTi to make a lasting impression in the minds of the car consuming public.
Peugeot management were keenly aware of the effect that its high profile rally cousin would have on their new road hatch, especially the GTi version. Hence the only restriction imposed on the well funded T16 designers was to squeeze the race car into the same package as the road model. Subsequent sales figure have shown it a shrewd decision.
Vatanen himself nearly lost his life when he crashed in the Rally Argentinia of 1985, an event which was a major part of the resonant death knell of the formula. In a recent BBC Documentary Vatanen summed up why ‘Group B’ suited him so much. It is a creed to which many GTi road drivers aspired and helps explain why the model was always in the top insurance band.
“My driving style has always been wild…I have tried to maximise each corner in my life, living life to the full, braking always late in the real corners and symbolically. You end up having many mistakes, many accidents, but you end up living a very intense and meaningful life.”
Amen to that.
Great footage of Jean Todt, the T16 at Pikes Peak here.
CLICK TO ENLARGE