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Motorsport Moments – This was the last `Mental Monte` of the uncaged Group B era

22 January 2021

by Alex Easthope

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It’s January 1986 and little do the thousands of thrill-seeking daredevils lining the snowy special stages of the Monte-Carlo Rally know that this is the final time they’ll witness the untamed 500bhp monsters of the Group B era negotiate the French Alps at full tilt…

The 1986 World Rally Championship is teed up beautifully. The wild flame-throwing Group B cars are the fastest and most sophisticated in the sport’s history and the manufacturers have hired an arsenal of fearless warriors to tame them. Think Lancia Delta S4 Corsas, Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evo 2s and Audi Sport Quattro S1 E2s. Think Henri Toivonen, Juha Kankkunen and Hannu Mikkola.

Round one is the legendary Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo, a grueling six-day behemoth comprising 900km of special stages and 3,000km of transit sections – all on dizzying Alpine roads that one minute are bone dry and the next treacherously icy. If there’s an event on the calendar that separates the men from the boys, it’s the Monte.

“If there’s an event on the calendar that separates the men from the boys, it’s the Monte.”

Out the traps, Lancia’s golden boy Henri Toivonen is the man to beat. That is until he collides with a spectator’s car while transiting from Stage 13 to 14 and bends his Delta. Badly. What follows is one of the most heroic comeback drives of all time – a visceral, high-risk demonstration of how to ring every last ounce of performance out of a truly fearsome 550bhp rally car in conditions that were changing by the minute.

Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto win the rally in front of 50,000 spectators – by a staggering four minutes. Manic, mesmerising and terrifying – it’s Group B in a nutshell. Alas, the writing will soon be plastered all over the wall for the category after a tragic accident at Rallye de Portugal. And its death knell will finally sound when the Flying Finn Henri Toivonen himself perishes alongside Cresto in a fiery crash at the Tour de Corse.

Photos courtesy of the Girardo & Co. Archive. Click here to discover more than 3 million motorsport images dating back to the 1970s.

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