Who really was the greatest Group B driver of all?

Many people mention that Group B was for men, and the current world rally championship is for ‘boys’.  In arguably the most legendary era of rallying, the machines were breath-taking, imaginative but out-right ‘off-the-chain’.


The cars then were ground tremblingly quick, insane would perhaps be the correct term. As Ninni Russo has mentioned, “the gap then (1986) between F1 and WRC cars was not as big as it is now.” These fire-breathing monsters were tamed by the finest drivers ever to grace the world stage, but which one was the greatest?


The late Henri Toivonen for example; his flamboyant, flat out driving style allowed him to push any car to its limits. During the Portuguese rally, Toivonen is rumoured to have tested his Delta S4 at the Estoril Circuit and to have set a fastest lap time that would have qualified him in sixth position at the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix. It’s pretty unimaginable to envisage a rally car setting a pace that would rival a Grand Prix machine, on its own territory.


Walter Rohrl on the hand though, was more of a professional athlete, arguably setting the trend for today’s breed of rally drivers. His driving style was more precise than most; a very smooth and delicate approach, but exceptionally fast none the less.


The remarkably beautiful and sensationally fast French lady that is Michelle Mouton was the perfect combination, perhaps? Vice world rally champion in 1982, the first and only lady to win at Pikes Peak and a class winner at the legendary endurance race that is the Le Mans 24 hours; her raw speed, determination and her voluptuousness was certainly a fantastic marketing tool for Audi.


Mr Maximum attack, Markku Alen was frighteningly quick. Markku was crowned World Rally Champion in 1986, albeit for 11 days after Peugeot won their appeal  with the FIA after exclusion in Rallye San Remo, gifting the crown to Kankkunen, another particularly quick Finn.


Ari Vatenen was just like the other Finn’s of this era; his wild driving style, philosophy and the fact he was Scandinavian created a charismatic combination. His raw speed and ‘flat out’ approach was always going to be gorgeous, maybe not always in terms of results however…


And then we have Hannu Mikkola, who stuck with the quattro and continually worked on improving the legendary four wheel drive system, something which changed the face of rallying forever. His ethos of, never giving up and to keep moving forward made him an appealing character and really was one of the Group B greats.


Considering all of these points, if we break it down; all pilots of Group B machinery danced on the edge of a razor blade. Rally cars that were on par with Formula One machinery, being driven to their limits on all surfaces, took immense courage and bravery. The likes of Blomqvist, Rohrl, Ragnotti, Bettega, Salonen and Mouton, for example, had differing driving styles but were united in their breath-taking speed.


Each driver had their own driving style, but they all had one thing in common – it was flat out from the word go! In this instance, aside from some having won more world titles than others, there is no greatest driver; they all fought for the same goal but in their own style and their own way.

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