GRR

On this day in... 1987

08th May 2017
David Evans

A new dawn in the World Rally Championship and four different winners from the first four rounds. Sound familiar? Thought so. But this story’s not about this season. We’re rewinding three decades to the day.

And that’s where the modern-day analogy departs. On May 9th, 1987 the WRC delivered a fifth different winner (something this year’s series missed out on in Argentina last month). That fifth winner in 1987 was not one many saw coming.

Once Prodrive was left high and dry with a shed-full of obsolete MG Metro 6R4s, plenty pondered its next move once Group B was banished. Typically, team boss David Richards was ahead of the game. BMW had homologated its M3 as a race car and Richards saw its potential on stage as well as circuit. So he persuaded the Germans to homologate a version for the sport’s muddier side as well.

Agreement arrived early in the new year and the then Silverstone-based Prodrive set about turning a Bavarian touring car into a brace of Group A M3s for Bernard Béguin and Marc Duez to use at the fifth round of the World Rally Championship: the Tour de Corse. After as much testing as Prodrive could afford and fit in, the team cars were dispatched to Corsica. David Lapworth went with them. “We’d done the best we could with the cars on a limited budget,” he says. “Don’t forget, we weren’t a manufacturer like Lancia, we hadn’t done thousands of kilometres of testing.” 

Lancia had indeed done its homework as well as plenty of testing. Realising the Delta HF 4WD might not be at its best on warm Corsican asphalt, the Italians put their car on a crash diet. A composite prop shaft was fitted while sump guards and underbody protection were lightened considerably in the face of not just one rear-drive racer, but a quartet of Ford Sierra RS Cosworths as well.

The Fords faded, fell off and fell apart, with Carlos Sainz eventually limping home as the front-running Sierra in seventh, 18 minutes off the pace. 

87_rally_15-1.jpg

Béguin and Bimmer led from the start and were only foiled by a hailstorm on the fifth stage that left the road to a particular Corsican col covered in ice. Naturally, this worked in Lancia’s favour and local driver Yves Loubet eased his way past the rasping M3. A handful of dry stages later and Béguin was back to the front. And this time there was no stopping him.

“None of us knew what to expect from this rally,” says Lapworth. “Since the start of 1987, this was the first time this bunch of cars had come together. We knew our car was quick, but we also knew the Sierras would be very fast. They had more power and, as we saw later that year on French Championship roads, on the wider, more flowing roads, they were really difficult to beat.”

But 30 years ago in Corsica, there was nothing to beat Béguin’s M3. “It was the perfect car for that time and that event,” says Lapworth. “It was a rally car with the DNA of a touring car. It had a high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine with good power [reckoned to be close to 300bhp] and it was rear-wheel-drive and lightweight. It was like a go-kart. What more could you ask for?”

Béguin asked for no more and duly delivered an historic win, a win that Lapworth insists shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of Prodrive’s development.

“People always look at Subaru as the beginning for the company in the WRC,” he says, “and, of course, Subaru was a huge part of the success. But the foundations for what we did with Subaru were all laid with that BMW. As much as any of the presentations we made or any of the meetings we had, when Subaru officials came and saw the M3 in action on a WRC round, I think that was what helped convince them Prodrive was the way forward.”

Tour de Corse, 1987

1 Bernard Béguin (F)/Jean-Jacques Lenne (F) – BMW M3, 7h22m30s

2 Yves Loubet (F)/Jean-Bernard Vieu (F) – Lancia Delta HF 4WD, +2m08s

3 Massimo Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) – Lancia Delta HF 4WD, +2m28s

4 Jean Ragnotti (F)/Pierre Thimonier (F) – Renault 11 Turbo, +2m41s

5 François Chatriot (F)/Michel Perin (F) – Renault 11 Turbo, +4m35s

6 Marc Duez (B)/Georges Biar (B) – BMW M3, +15m28s

Photographs courtesy of LAT Images

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