The unthinkable was happening. Lancia was leaving the World Rally Championship. Lancia. Something was wrong. Something had to be done.
To many, 1986 and the end of Group B represents rallying’s greatest crisis; we’re all well versed with the tragic evidence underpinning such theory. But a decade on and rallying really needed help on a global scale. Manufacturer numbers were dwindling and the sport and series’ future looked bleak.
The problem was nothing like as front-page-grabbing as the fatalities that marred the mid-1980s. No. This was much more simple: the sharp end of the World Rally Championship had become too trick, too tech and far too pricey.
Twenty years ago this season, world motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, introduced a raft of regulations that would change world rallying forever. Those rules introduced two decades ago have not only lasted longer than any other technical regulations in the WRC’s 44-year history, but they underpin the 2017 principles that have allowed the championship to flourish today.
Since the dawn of WRC time, like all motorsport categories, classes were demarked by numbers and letters. Group 4 was the premier class before it became Group B, which turned to Group A in 1987. In 1997 the Group was gone (but not entirely forgotten as the cars were still categorised as Group A) in favour of something much more fitting with what was being seen as a new dawn for the sport and the championship.
In 1997, the World Rally Car was born.