Published on March 22nd, 2017 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
When Rally Cars were faster than F1 Cars!
In the golden age of rally driving, the Group B cars were the fastest, most powerful, and most sophisticated rally cars ever built. So why was Group B removed?
The specific intentions for Group B (to replace Group 4 and 5) were to help persuade more car manufacturers into motorsport by promising quicker car development, subsequent publicity opportunities, all without the need for an existing production model. In fact, only 200 homologation cars would now be needed to be manufactured for it to be accepted in competition. Hence effectively cutting in half the previous requirements of Group 4. In short, this lower number was to favor top levels of performance at a much lower production cost.
The infamous battle between Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA)’s Jean-Marie Balestre and Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) Bernie Ecclestone revolved around the commercial aspects of Formula One and it had shown no sign of a quick resolution. This feud was a big concern for the FISA since F1 was the most popular and most investment heavy motorsport series worldwide. If the war would persist for a long time it would seriously put the FISA’s very financial survival at risk. Then someone within the FISA remembered the big success story that the WRC had become in the previous years. The manufacturers that were already heavily invested in rallying were mostly different from those in F1 and convincing them to invest even more could be the FISA’s salvation. The matter was put back to a vote and Group B was accepted in all rallying competitions.
In October of 1980, Group B was officially approved, but there was dissension within the FISA as to if the new category was to be allowed in the WRC and other international rally series. The first vote was not in favor (9 to 3). The main reason cited was that many countries whom hosted WRC events did not want “race cars” on their public roads. This decision sparked vivid reactions within the BPICA members and they urged the FISA to reconsider. This was particularly true for Ford and Fiat since both had already started to develop new rally cars for the category. Then came an event, from the unlikeliest of places, that would help shuffle the deck in favor of Group B rallying: the “FISA-FOCA war”.
After years of mishaps with many deaths to drivers, navigators and even spectators, Group B was finally banned after the deaths of Lancia Martini’s Toivonen and Cresto. FISA’s president Jean-Marie Balestre had a private meeting with Lancia Martini team boss Cesare Fiorio. Balestre told Fiorio that “things can’t go on like this” and that “Group B has to stop”, to which Fiorio reportedly agreed with even though that meant the demise of his newly launched Delta S4 rally car. Shortly afterwards, Balestre organized a press conference and announced the immediate freeze on further development of Group B cars and of their outright ban from competition for the end of the year. They were to be replaced by Group A, which had a good safety record since it replaced Group 1, 2, and 3 in 1982, as the new top class in the WRC, effective January 1st 1987.