January 13, 2023

Lancia & Montecarlo: 40 years of an epic victory

In 1979 the FIA approved the participation of four-wheel drive vehicles in the World Rally Championship. Most of the factories mistakenly believed that a car with these characteristics would be complex and uncompetitive, but Audi would forever change the history of motorsport after presenting the legendary Quattro model and obtaining the manufacturers’ championship in 1982, already with the Group B first year regulations.

But in Italy, things were a little different. The Fiat group needed to recapture the spirit of the Lancia Stratos and replace the successful 131 Abarth, and they were confident that single-wheel drive cars were still competitive. Based on the Beta Montecarlo model with a central engine, they developed the beautiful Rally 037 with a 1995 cc engine prepared by Abarth and supercharged with a volumetric compressor.

The car debuted in 1982 and during that season, it received improvements that made it a serious title contender for 1983. That season promised to be exciting from both a sporting and technical point of view: while the Lancia model had been created specifically for Group B, the Audi was based on a production sedan that had been fitted with an all-wheel drive system along with a turbocharged engine.

The 1983 championship began, as usual, on January on the snowy and intrinsic roads of Montecarlo. The Germans premiered the brand title achieved in 1982 and their confidence seemed to have no limits; on the usual white roads covered by snow and ice, the all-wheel drive would have no rivals. But the weather doesn´t usually act based on statistics or team projections, and in that European winter the snow was only present on the high peaks. Suddenly, with the asphalt practically dry, the chances of victory for the single-wheel drive cars seemed to be reborn. The Lancia Rally 037 was lighter, more agile and with better weight distribution than the Quattro; Walter Röhrl and Markku Alén knew that they were facing a unique opportunity. Audi’s powerful army -Hannu Mikkola, Michele Mouton and Stig Blomqvist- bet on the reliability of their war tanks and a greater presence of ice that would allow them to take better advantage of all-wheel drive.

But what the German team didn´t imagine was the brilliant strategy orchestrated by Lancia´s Team Principal Cesare Fiorio: on the special climbing sections on ice and snow, he stopped the cars to replace the Pirelli slick tires with studded ones and take advantage of both compounds. It was a masterful move, especially since the race regulations didn´t contemplate this action… but didn´t allow it either. As if they were the Formula 1 pits, the Lancias changed tires at the side of the road, losing one and a half minutes at the pitstop but making up for it in the general average of each stage.

Without snow, without ice and with a solid and sweeping ride, Lancia finally obtained a spectacular 1-2 (Röhrl –Alén) in what was the first victory of Rally 037 in the World Championship and applied it to Audi -everyone’s favorite- a very hard knock-out at the opening of the 1983 season. It would also be the last victory for a rear-wheel drive car in the traditional Monegasque rally and the cornerstone that would give the Italian brand the constructors’ world title at the end of that unforgettable year.

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