How Miki Biasion led the WRC through its toughest times
At Race Retro, two-time WRC champion Miki Biasion reflects on the turbulent demise of Group B and how he picked up the baton in rallying's new era
Although still regarded by many as the greatest generation of rallying, Group B endured a gruesome final season that meant it became indefensible.
In 1986, 31 spectators were injured and three killed when Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200 on the Portuguese stages. Audi pulled out of the World Rally Championship altogether and Peugeot were under close scrutiny having run illegal skirts on two occasions.
Then, following Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto’s death in their Lancia Delta S4 at the Tour de Corse rally later in the year, FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre swiftly brought about the end of the hallowed era.
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Two-time WRC champion Miki Biasion reflects on the regulation’s demise as an avoidable occurrence.
’The problem with Group B was not the power. Instead it was that the cars were built with the goal only being performance, without having the safety of the drivers in mind.’
‘Rally drivers would like to have as much power as possible. Group B was really fantastic from the point of view of performance but really dangerous from the other side.’
Perhaps changes to improve the cars’ safety could have been enough to save Group B. But ultimately the damage was done, ensuring that calls for average speeds to be lowered became overwhelming. And so, in addition to the demise of Group B, Balestre also binned the proposed Group S regulations due to start in 1988.
After Group B
The promise of 1000 horsepower (in the case of the Quattro RS 002) carbonfibre prototypes firing up a mountain with genuine Formula 1 levels of pace was shelved. By the end, the most popular era of rallying to date was canned and the likes of Lancia 037s, Audi Quattros, Porsche 911s and MG Metro 6R4s would disappear from the stages.
But not before Biasion got to test the stillborn twin-turbocharged Group S Delta ECV – Experimental Composite Vehicle – which left its own lasting impression.
'Well I drove the car on an airfield. It was really an amazing adventure and scary. For sure the car was really difficult, not to drive but to think to drive that car in the mountains, in the snow, in the gravel with difficult situations.’
For 1987, new and slower Group A regulations were adopted. It put the emphasis on modified road cars meaning much of the design flair and faster speeds were filtered out. Suddenly the excitement of the WRC took a hit.
‘The Group B era had been the most crazy and hardcore moment of rallying. For spectators we were like gods in those cars,’ Biasion says.
'So the step between the Group B and Group A was too high. The first Group A cars were really, really standard. OK, in a couple of years the Group A became very competitive but the first year was dramatic.
‘Every year [for Group A] the Integrale road car got wider and wider because the rules and the evolution of the car permitted to grow up also the power. I think the most powerful Delta was the Integrale in ‘89. At the last event the car was nearly 390bhp so it was really, really competitive. But immediately after they changed the rules with the turbocharger and so they went down to 320bhp.'
Having won both Italian and European Rally Championships in an 037 on his way up to WRC and also piloting a Delta S4 during 1986, Biasion was well-accustomed to rallying’s fastest ever breed. But it was Group A that truly paved the way for Biasion to shine.
Prior to the introduction of the new regulations he had only once won a rally – Argentina in 1986. That tally doubled almost immediately when he won the following year’s season opener in Monte Carlo, kicking off the new generation in the best possible way.
‘The problem for me [during Group B] was that normally in the Lancia team they used to have the top drivers worldwide. So with [Walter] Röhrl, Toivonen, and [Markku] Alén so far it was difficult to show that I was competitive against rally gods.’
Even with his fast start to life in the Lancia Delta HF, Biasion still couldn’t ride a wave of confidence however. ‘People said, “OK, Miki only won because he had the Lancia Integrale”. But my team-mates had the same car and I beat them so it wasn’t so easy for me.’
Where an Italian winning with a manufacturer of the same nationality should have been a dream scenario, Biasion struggled with media criticism. Perhaps that’s why he ranks neither of his consecutive WRC titles in 1988 and ‘89 as the outstanding moment in his career.
Instead he nominates his crowning achievement as wins in the 4500km-plus Safari Rally. The victories, also coming in his championship winning years, could only have been achieved off the back of extensive testing that resulted in greater reliability.
‘I think that I am most proud about my victory in the Safari Rally, Kenya,’ Biasion reflects. ‘The Fiat Group with Lancia and Alfa Romeo – they tried for 19 years and never won that event. At the end of ’87 I was in charge to develop the car for the Safari and I spent a lot of time in Africa in Kenya.
'Then to win two times consecutively for me has been very satisfying. Not just for me as a rally driver, but also for me as a tester because I developed the car so it was a fantastic performance.’
It showed that Biasion was a team player, working towards Lancia’s own fortunes in order to better his own. The result was that in both ’88 and ’89 he only failed to win a single rally, Argentina and Finland respectively.
He had shown on the world stage that, regardless of who his team-mates were or how superior his machinery may have been perceived to be, that he could deliver a season-long fight for honours. But for Biasion, it was back in 1987 that he had proved to himself that he was worthy of taking title honours.
‘I think that personally, in my heart, I won the championship also in ‘87. I lost the championship by a handful of point against [Juha] Kankkunen. That year I won three events but I’d been very unlucky in others with stupid technical problems, while Juha had always been on the podium and won the last rally and then won the championship.
‘It means that for my heart and soul I was champion also in ‘87 but the points was not there. I won more races than anyone.’
Images courtesy of LAT
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