This week marked the 30th anniversary of the last all-snow event for the World Rally Championship’s Group B monsters – a fearsome and flat-out blast through the forests and across the frozen lakes of central Sweden.
This Steve Rider-narrated review of the 1986 Swedish Rally brings all the key stories from the service parks and special stages of the Karlstad-based event, including interviews with relieved Ford Motorsport boss Peter Ashcroft, whose all-new Group B challenger, the RS200, was ready for its maiden WRC outing, and confident Lancia chief Giorgio Pianta, whose Martini-liveried Delta S4 had won on its debut in Britain at the end of 1985 and topped the results table in the ’86 season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.
We also hear from Austin Rover works driver Malcolm Wilson, who’s in awe of the speed of the Swedish stages and unsure if he can take on the locals at their own game in his MG Metro 6R4. Turns out Wilson gives many of them a scare in what is only his 15th WRC start.
The 30-stage event would certainly take its toll on many of the fast-but-fragile Group B machines. World Champion Timo Salonen dominates the first six stages only to retire with engine failure in his Peugeot 205 T16. Lancia’s top man Henri Toivonen takes over at the front, leading until SS13 when he too is hit by engine failure. Toivonen quips that he’d soon be ‘joining Salonen in the bar’ as he walks away from the broken Delta. Swedish hero and multiple event winner Stig Blomqvist, giving one of the two Ford RS200s its debut, also succumbs to engine trouble, leaving team-mate and countryman Kalle Grundel to fly the Boreham flag. In fact, Grundel is involved in a titanic scrap for third with Malcolm Wilson in the Metro until the Cumbrian is hit by cambelt failure and terminal valve damage. He’d have to wait until Rally New Zealand in 1989 for that maiden podium finish…
Out front, though, in his second outing for Peugeot and in his maiden appearance in Sweden, is Juha Kankkunen. The Finn takes the lead after Toivonen’s retirement and trades fastest stage times with the surviving Lancia of Markku Alén until the end, taking victory by almost two minutes from his fellow Finn. Third goes to Grundel, ahead of Group A-class winner Mikael Ericsson in his Audi 90 Quattro, with one of the Citroen BX 4TCs – the French firm’s overweight and underpowered Group B challenger – coming home sixth in the hands of French veteran Jean-Claude Andruet, whose third and final WRC victory had come nine years earlier, for Fiat in Sanremo.
Don’t miss our tribute to rallying’s most exotic formula during the Festival of Speed, on June 23rd-26th, with examples of all the iconic Group B machines in action on the hill and the Forest Rally Stage.