1988 WRC Season Commentary

1988 WRC Summary by Chris Biewer :

The event calendar is again exactly the same as in 1987, as well as Bandama Rallye and Rally NZ not counting to the manufacturer WRC and best 7 scores count.

There is an important technical rule change for 1988. The turbo factor is increased from x1.4 to x1.7 and turbo air restrictors are being discussed (and introduced not much later to control power and provide a more level play field). This rule change is one of the most perfect examples how you can never get things right to please everyone.

To explain the turbo factor. Turbo charged engines have near twice the power and triple the torque of normally aspirated engines of similar size. Clearly it would be unfair in competition classes to have a 2000cc turbo compete a 2000cc atmospheric in the same class. Therefore with the turbo factor the displacement is recalculated. In the efficiency a turbo engine is far more than 40% up on it's non-turbo equivalent. The FIA to change this factor to 70% was absolutely the correct thing to do.

However exactly this rule change lead to the withdrawal of Renault, maybe the strongest competitor to Lancia the previous season. Once again (see the 1986 scoring modus change) Renault had been hit in an unfortunate way by rule changes. Raising the turbo factor had the effect that Renault's so efficient FWD 1400cc turbo machine (R11 Turbo) was moved up a class into the biggest cc category. Therefore the minimum weight limit for the car was changed too and with a less powerful (air restrictor) as well as heavier FWD 1400cc R11 Turbo sadly but understandably Renault saw little point continuing to fight the all conquering Lancia.

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1988 is a very good proof that group A was neither easy nor tempting for the manufacturers to come along with a competitive car. This year Lancia won all manufacturer WRC rounds bar Corsica where Didier Auriol won in a Ford (bloody tarmac specialists? Thanks God for a change to the boring norm!). Although Toyota arrived with a new 2.0 turbo 4x4 car, Audi already quietly disappeared halfway through 1987 while for 1988 Renault is missing, VW disappeared after the Safari and Subaru had slimmed their program, although they at least had a 1.8 turbo 4x4 car. Only Mazda seemed to struggle on, but even their effort didn't look as serious as only Lancia was to take things.

Interesting was the drivers situation. Juha Kankkunen was disappointed with Lancia management as soon as his first rally in 1987, thanks to team orders asking for an Italian driver to win MC. As the reigning WRChampion, Juha duly moved to Toyota, even though they couldn't offer him a full program, the Celica being launched on Corsica 88 only. Toyota as well picked up Kenneth Eriksson from VW while Lars-Erik Torph moved the other way round, just as things at Toyota got busier and at VW phased out.

Mike Kirkland and Per Eklund were 2 drivers that moved from Subaru to Nissan for an equally limited, Africa orientated program. Ford was another of the many teams that were to slim down their program. They only retained one driver, Stig Blomqvist. But Ford's slimming was ‘overshadowed’ by giving cars to 2 youngsters on occasions and both these newcomers turned out to be some of the most amazing discoveries: Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz.

Curiosity of the season: While Hannu Mikkola moved from Audi to Mazda, taking Christian Geistdörfer as his new navigator with him, the pair was the centre of some amusing controversy. Christian Geistdörfer got in contact with Opel and indeed arranged a one off Safari drive for Hannu, the 1987 Safari winner. Then suddenly Opel remembered the Walter Röhrl (navigated by Christian Geistdörfer at the time) situation at the end of 1982. Opel gave the drive to Hannu, but even though Christian was the one arranging the deal, Opel strictly refused to have him as the navigator!

Surprise of the season part1: The performance of the Nissan Team. Lancia may have won about everything. And the surprise of the 1987 season Renault was hampered by the turbo factor change (see Ragnotti's 2nd place on Portuguese gravel 1987!). Then, with the exception of Auriol's Ford win on Corsica, the Nissan performance was a revelation. Nissan only had an African orientated program. And here during 1987 the Toyota Supra looked more promising than the Nissan Silvia. And for 1988 that Supra was turbo charged. Yet in 1988 on Safari it was a pair of Nissan Silvia 200SX with ex-Subaru drivers Mike Kirkland and Per Eklund to come 2nd & 3rd, chasing the leading Lancia until the finish line. And in Bandama Alain Ambrosino took an unexpected win for Nissan.

Surprise of the season part2: How to become works involved. Since their withdrawal after the groupB ban, Peugeot came back in an official way with Kalle Grundel driving a Peugeot Sport UK (formerly the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus Team) entered 205 GTI on the RAC 1987. For the coming years there were intentions with the 309 and Guy Fréquelin, Francois Delecour and Kalle Grundel. But French privateer Jean-Pierre Ballet was never part of the plan! Ballet started the Monte 1988 all privately in an Enjolras prepared groupA 205 GTI. The car had neither 4x4 nor turbo, but Ballet was taking on the works Mazdas and pushing the Lancias on day1. That called Peugeot Sport onto the plan. Overnight Peugeot sent works lorries, works material and works engineers to Monte Carlo to assist Ballet for the remaining legs. While Ballet finished an amazing 3rd overall, this move also caused controversy. Ballet turned an official Peugeot entry mid event and such qualified for makes points for Peugeot!
(Similar Ford had done on Corsica 1987 to Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz, once the works Fords had all retired, but Ballet was more of a curiosity: the Ford works team was at the event anyway, helping drivers for 7th & 8th places. In the Ballet case we had a 175BHP FWD car battling for podium and a works team leaving their head quarters after the event had started! For model car collectors: Solido has launched an all white, sponsor-less 205 rally car in 1/18 scale and some fans wonder why this model is selling like crazy. Well, because of this amasing story!)
 

1988 WRC Factory Team and Driver Line Ups :
 

Lancia Lancia, 1988 - Martini Racing Lancia Abarth : 1st on 140 points.
 

 

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Ford Ford, 1988 - Ford RS Rallye Sport Team : 2nd on 79 points.
 

 

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Audi Audi, 1988 - Audi Sport : 3rd on 71 points.
 

 

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Mazda Mazda, 1988 - MRT Mazda Rally Team Europe : 4th on 66 points.
 

 

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Toyota Toyota, 1988 - TTE : 5th on 46 points.
 

 

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Renault Renault, 1988 - Régie Renault : 6th on 32 points.
 

 

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BMW BMW, 1988 - Bastos Motul BMW Prodrive : 7th on 25 points.
 

 

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Nissan Nissan, 1988 - Nismo : 8th on 23 points.
 

 

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Subaru Subaru, 1988 - STI Nurijuki Koseki : 9th on 18 points.
 

 

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Peugeot Peugeot, 1988 - Peugeot Sport : 10th on 15 points.
 

 

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Volkswagen Volkswagen, 1988 - Volkswagen Motorsport : 11th on 14 points.
 

 

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Opel Opel, 1988 - GM Euro Dealers : 12th on 13 points.
 

 

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Mitsubishi Mitsubishi, 1988 - Mitsubishi Ralli Art Europe : 13th on 7 points.
 

 

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