Mikkola and Hertz – 30 years of Group B

This year, we are celebrating 30 years of Group B Rallying – In what way do you feel that Group B influenced the present form of the World Rallying Championship?

Hannu Mikkola: We stopped rallying with Group B cars in 1987, and the sport started all-over again with completely new specification cars in the category of Group A, which were totally different. In effect, the cars went from one extreme to another. In my opinion, because modern rallying was built up again up from that point, I don’t think Group B really has much association or influence with the modern rally cars we see today.


What do you think the future holds for The World Rally Championship?


Hannu Mikkola: I certainly think we have to work towards making the sport more accessible for beginners, and surely that’s the right way to encourage those with talent, not just money. I don’t feel that rallying should try to compete with Formula One, as it’s currently too expensive for most who want to get started in the sport. We should return to the position where more drivers can afford to come and compete – Like we used to have in the seventies when everybody could build a Ford Escort. Currently, due to the expense of modern rally cars, it’s only a handful of people who can currently afford to do that.


So in your opinion, the seventies was the best time for rallysport?

Hannu Mikkola:
Absolutely. I think the best time for rallying was the end of the seventies. We had a lot of manufacturers back then who were building the rally cars but they never made it so expensive. In those days, it was relatively easy for a privateer to build their own car and go out to compete – that’s been completely lost. It’s now controlled by just a few people and you have to buy cars and parts directly from them. That’s why it’s out of reach for so many people now. The sport has somewhat lost the original ideals of true rallying. I feel it is a different sport now, compared to when we originally competed.


Michele Mouton said “The co-driver cannot win the rally but can certainly influence the final result”.  Arne, in your opinion, what percentage of influence does the co-driver have towards the result?

Arne Hertz:
It’s a very difficult question to answer – It depends very much on the particular rally. For example, in some events where you are not allowed to practice at all, the driver alone needs to be focused on the actual driving line and so they have a much bigger influence on the overall result than the co-driver. However, on many other events, the roll of the co-driver can be much more important, (when he is doing a good job, of course!) But I wouldn’t like to state a finite percentage. As an example, many years ago during The Lombard RAC Rally, although practice was not allowed, crews could use OS maps (ordinance survey maps). I was doing quite a good job to tell the driver what the road was like just from the maps. But I still can’t tell, it was 30, 40, 50 or 60 percent. And on the other events when we had pace notes, I did not need to use map reading skills but I had to be focused on reading pace notes, and in that situation, I’m not allowed to make any mistakes – of course!


Arne, in which rally was it the most difficult to perform as a co-driver?


Arne Hertz: Corsica was difficult – It was fast and the roads are extremely twisty. At those speeds, you really have to concentrate, so as to not fall behind the pace of your driver, when reading pace notes. Otherwise it was about some rallies where we going sideways all the time, that was easy to read. So Corsica was most difficult and Monte Carlo could be the same when was dry.

In your opinion, was the ban of Group B, the only reasonable solution?

Hannu Mikkola:
No, I was completely against the ban of Group B!. We could have made a crash test requirement to check safety, rather than simply lower the power. But still the ban occurred and the new regulations were introduced where manufacturers were obliged to produce 5000 road cars. I was afraid and told people at that time what could happen if a manufacturer had to build 5000 road cars with turbo and four wheel drive. And so, Lancia did it – and they dominated for next four years.  So perhaps that was not the right thing to do. I think they could have taken a few steps back from group B to first address safety, then maybe lower the power.

Arne Hertz: I think Group A is probably as fast today as group B ever was. Of course group B cars were in some respects, more dangerous. I mean, they were of lightweight construction with tubular space frames with lots of composite body parts, plastic windows, etc… Also the cars were too special, too powerful and too fast and somewhat, therefore dangerous. This led to some accidents and fatalities such as, Henri Toivonen, Atilio Bettega. So ultimately, I think if a ban had to stop these fatal accidents it was probably the right decision.

Hannu, Juha Kannuknen said “Group B was for men, Group A is for boys” is in your opinion this statement is true?   


Hannu Mikkola: Group B was asking quite a lot from the driver. But with these powerful cars it doesn’t mean it totally sticks out. When you have a lot of power you have many situations when you can put the throttle down and you can easily get the car sliding. And with less power you haven’t got that same chance to steer the car in that sort of way. Of course it was not the same drive any more. When you go 0 to 100 kmh in 3 sec, and 0 to 200 kmh in 9 seconds in a Group B car on tarmac roads, and experience almost the same performance on forest roads, I think you understand that we enjoyed it.


Would you have liked to have driven any other group B cars, and if so, which ones?


Hannu Mikkola: I was not too keen to drive other cars. I was offered a drive in a Lancia in The 1000 Lakes when there was a big fight between Peugeot and Lancia. I wasn’t too happy with the car. Fuel tanks under your seats and other constructional aspects of the car that I was concerned about, so I decided not to drive those cars.


Arne in your opinion was the job of a co-driver more difficult in a Group B car?

Arne Hertz:
I never felt it was a big difference. Everything was getting faster and faster but it was progressive, so it did not strike me. I had to read a little bit faster, but even when you were 2 seconds quicker per kilometre that didn’t make my job that much more difficult. It was still the same so I think Group B didn’t change my job dramatically.


Mikkola Hertz Goodwood 2013b


How did your interest in rallying begin? What was your inspiration?


Hannu Mikkola: I do not know where it comes from, because none of my family or relatives had never been a racing or rally driver. But already from a young age I was very keen to drive and rallying of course – that was my dream to get the chance. I was living for the sport of rallying and I was lucky to get through. Later I bought my first rally car, a Volvo p444, and that was beginning.

Arne Hertz: I was living in the same town as the SAAB factory and what is more important, the place where the SAAB motorsport department was located, and I knew the people. I was talking to them and finally they asked me to do a rally as a co-driver.  Also Before that I was competing a little bit myself as a driver on local, small events in a Volkswagen. But then SAAB asked me to become involved, and they were very satisfied with my efforts and that was start of it. That was a long time ago – around 1965, probably? Then I started co-driving for a few local drivers and then finally with Stig Blomqvist for three years. They were very successful years with Stig – we won a lot of rallies. Of course Stig was a very good driver and this was the start of a professional career for me. Later my friend, Mr Ove Andreson from Toyota finally asked me to work for him. It was the time when the Toyota team started. It was a really small team, just four mechanics, Ove and Myself. It was a great time in my life.  In that small team, we all knew each other very well. We are all together in the evening and you can sit and talk to each other and it was getting better and better and finally we started to win some events and Toyota became very successful. Then in 1975, Hannu joined the team, he was competing in The 1000 Lakes Rally in a Corolla. I was not co driving Hannu for this rally, because I was sort of chief mechanic without any skills to do any mechanical work but to organise the mechanics on the service side. And after that I began to co-drive with Hannu and we had many years together in rallying.

Was Hannu the driver which made you feel most comfortable in the car?


Arne Hertz: One of the few. I mean Stig was a fantastic driver and Ove Andreson as well, so I couldn’t really single one driver out. All of these drivers are masters in their own right.

Hannu Lets go back to the 1980 – at that time Audi was not regarded as a competitive team, so what was your motivation, and how big was the risk did you take to drive for Audi?


Hannu Mikkola: I think it was of course, a testing time of my own career. I didn’t know how the move to Audi could end.  Really, it was completely unexpected. But there were so many more new things – a new four wheel drive rally car, which nobody had really been testing, it had never been done before! I knew quite well, how it goes with rear wheel drive cars so, this was definitely a completely new challenge. It was a combination of so many new technologies, it was not only four wheel drive, it was the first time with a turbo engine, we had a new shock absorber supplier, a new tyre company. We were also building a new team so everything was a huge challenge.

What was your very first contact with the quattro, and how did that work?


Hannu Mikkola: I was three days at home between rallies and Audi called me, saying “We have something to show you, come and see”. And of course I knew Audi had not yet set themselves a reputation as a company that was building good rally cars or anything like that. But I thought I’d be polite and so I flew down to Ingolstadt to meet the head of Audi Sport, Mr Jurgen Stockmar. He was really convinced they had something, and he was pushing very hard! I remember we were sitting that night and I was testing the normal road car. They had only one car and were still trying to figure things out. Finally we made an agreement, and decided to do proper testing in 1980 and a rallying programme for 1981. I agreed the contract for two years, suggesting maybe we should meet in October and see where we are. The first time with the rallye quattro of course – it didn’t look like others group 4 rally cars with wide wheel arches because we were focused on gravel testing where car didn’t need wide tires. Later on we needed to correct that mistake and Audi developed wider wheel arches, which continued into development with their group B car.

Arne Hertz:
We were testing in a Greece, near Athens. I remember the first impression with amazing grip – the acceleration on gravel was fantastic.  Later on, we started to carry out testing on snow and ice and there, we discovered a big difference between the quattro and other rally cars.  I’ve still got in my mind, the first World Championship Rally in a quattro – that was in Sweden. There was a stage with a very long straight uphill – it’s maybe 800 meters, and when we were clocking into time control they said we were quicker by about 30 seconds on that 800 meters compared to the Opels and Saabs.

Hannu with Your engineering background, how big an advantage do you think the Audi had compared to Ford Escorts or Fiat 131’s?


Hannu Mikkola: Big, but that was all depending on which rally. When you were on snow that was extreme! Gravel too, but not like The Thousand Lakes Rally, where it’s very flowing fast roads. However, on the rallies with tight corners when you need maximum grip on the exit of the corner, the quattro advantage was huge. Also, you have to remember that the Audi quattro is a much bigger car in comparison to Escort, so on tight corners it needs more space, but still it has an advantage to drive it to faster.


How different was the short wheel base quattro compared to long wheel base, and how much input did the drivers have in the decision to go with short wheel base car?


Hannu Mikkola: I don’t think any of the Audi team drivers had input on that decision. I didn’t do any testing – and thought it was a mistake to make a short car. I don’t know if Stig did any testing. So when we eventually started to drive the short car, we quickly found it was nervous and had very difficult handling. The idea to shorten the quattro came because in rallies like Corsica where there are many bends, the team wanted to try and improve handling, and so they decided to take 30 centimetres out of the car.  That made it even worse because the engine is in front of the axle and they took the 30cm from the back of the car, and it destroyed the balance of the quattro.  When you accelerated, the back of the car sat down and when you braked hard it was lifting the back, and you couldn’t get the bends with a single slide. The short quattro without wings was very difficult to drive. After, with the development and addition of wings and other improvements  like titanium progressive springs, we sorted out some of the handling issues but it was a mistake, it was too short. They should have continued with the long wheelbase but fitted with the new 20 valve engine.


Were any Drivers given preferential treatment over others by Audi?

Hannu Mikkola: Not to my knowledge. There was once or twice where a strategic team decision was made in rallying but nothing like “You are winning this year”.

Out of all the others Group B machines what made quattro so special?


Hannu Mikkola: Other four wheel drive cars were one step forward, they left completely the original road car setup. Audi used the same basics of the car they were selling to the public, but then came pressure in competition and other manufacturers began to build proper space frames with engines in the middle, like real racing cars – they were actually nothing to do with production cars.

Arne Hertz: Vorsprung durch technik that was the best words to describe quattro. They had a great intuition to create some new rather than developing existing cars. So they were the first company seriously interested in four wheel drive technology and luckily they got a budget to build the car and test it and later develop it. And look now, everybody has a four wheel drive car, but all have to remember Audi was the first company who did that in motorsport, in a really serious way.
In Your opinion, are the rallying victories of the quattro, directly linked to Audi’s marketing success?


Hannu Mikkola: Yes I think you can see which kind of success story Audi has enjoyed. At the beginning of the rallying program, I suppose people didn’t think very much about Audi and in my opinion this four wheel drive system, its rally successes and everything came just at the right time. At the same time, there was also management changes for Audi and the quality of their products dramatically improved. Overall, the most important aspect was the proven ability with Audi to increase the volume of their sales based on their sporting department’s successes. You have a lot of examples where other manufacturers were very successful in rallying but that didn’t have an affect their sales at all. You can take Lancia, they were very good in rallying but they cannot build quality road cars in the way Audi can.

Hannu, what you can say about Audi’s mid-engined prototype rally car?


Hannu Mikkola: I didn’t know about that at all the time, and I never drove it. It was kept a secret and I think it was initially cancelled, but they still built it in secret.  Maybe Roehrl was involved or somebody but I wasn’t.


During Your career, did you have any one specifically big rivalry with another driver?
Hannu Mikkola: No, it was driving first against fathers and then the sons – I had plenty of those! Let’s take like Toivonen, at first I was driving against Pauli and then later, against Harri and Henri.


Gentleman what have you been doing after The World Rally Championship?
Hannu Mikkola: I learned to fly helicopters, and made quite a successful business with flying. I did that for nearly 15 years and then when I was 70, one year ago I decided to quit flying. So I’ve stopped completely with that. Now I just try to enjoy my life.

Arne Hertz: I was born in a family which is connected with a transport company, my father owned that transport company and I’m still doing some work with it. I’m not the owner of the company or anything but I`m still connected with that business. Occasionally, I`m driving to Poland, too!

Have you both completely left rallysport?

Hannu Mikkola: No, I followed my son Vesa, and his efforts to try rallying. He was 18 when he first tried the sport, so it took quite a long time.  He graduated in education when he was 23 years old – that’s when I said to him that it’s time to start his real life.

Arne Hertz: No!  I’ve kept going – doing some regularity events with Hannu and with Ove, occasionally. Now unfortunately, Ove had an accident and was killed. However, my motorsport activity is on a very low level, and I mean it’s maybe one or two events per year.


Hannu, comparing your career to Vesa`s, was it easier to start rallying then or now?


Hannu Mikkola: I think it was much easier when I started because the cars were nearly production cars and the whole sport was much cheaper.

Gentleman, do you have a favourite Stage, and/or a favourite Rally? 

Hannu Mikkola:
Yes, for me, it has to be Ounimpoja from The Thousand Lakes Rally. I have won The 1000 Lakes Rally seven times now, and I really like this stage.

Arne Hertz:
It’s difficult to pick just one stage but The RAC Rally was always one of my favourites. It was a big challenge with no pace notes. Also I’m choosing this rally because we had very good results. In eight years we were either first or second. We won four times and we were second four times. But that makes it more enjoyable when you have succeeded and you gain popularity – Ahh there is Mr Mikkola and Hertz We were doing some of The British Championship events as well, and that was a great practice for RAC which was more important to us. We have a lot of great memories from rallying in Britain. But there were other good events as well but if I need to pick my favourite rallies too I should say, The RAC, Finland and Sweden.


Thank you for the conversation.
Karol Wiechczynski



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