The little Renault that could.
The story of a small Renault 5 at the big 1989 Ivory coast rally.
It's 1989 and the World Rally Championship is reaching it's end. The Ivory Coast rally was to be the second to last rally of the year. This rally was more along the lines of the Africa rally meaning that timing was done by using 87 control points over a distance of 3528 km instead of the usual closed special stage nature of other rallies. This long distance, Ivory Coast's landscape and torrential downpours just days before the start of the event made for one of the toughest and most gruelling rallies on the calendar.
One of the cars at the start line was the small front wheel drive 120 horsepower Renault 5 GT turbo of Alain Orielle and Gilles Thimonier competing in the Group N championship for near stock cars. Orielle had made quite the impression over the course of the season by winning Group N class in Monaco, France and Italy. Orielle was just 6 points ahead of Gustavo Trelles in his four wheel drive Lancia Delta so Renault tried to seal the deal by entering Orielle in the Ivory coast rally. This was peculiar because rules stated that only one overseas event should be raced in order to be eligible for the world championship and Renault had already done that by racing in Australia where it finished third its class.
Orielle/Thimonier at the 1989 Rally Sanremo. source: Rally's en Races 89/90 (book)
An eventual 60 cars where entered into the event. Many of which were Group A spec including Lancia Deltas, Audi 90 Quattros, Turbo Toyota supras and corollas and many more. Seeing that these cars were in a league of their own (literally) Orielle focused on the competiton in Group N including 4 wheel drive machinery like lancia Deltas, mazda 323s , a 2wd peugeot 205 and many more. After day one however Orielle managed to get up to 10th overall.
The Rally was starting to take it's toll on many of the competitors. Cars were breaking down left and right due to the tough nature of the rally. Some crashed out as well. But Orielle in the small Renault kept soldiering on. The event would only see 7 cars reach the finish line which is coincidentally the same amount of cars that lead the rally at one point. The longest car in the lead was the Group A Toyota Corolla of Jean-Pierre Van de Wauwer and Luc Manset.
Van de Wauwer had lead from control point 42 all the way up to point 82 until the rear axle snapped. With just 2 hours to go and 5 control points to pass Orielle found himself in the lead of a WRC event. He held onto that lead all the way to the finish. What was previously deemed impossible had happened. The little Renault achieved the overall victory finishing just 3 minutes and 3 seconds ahead of the next car which was the Group A Mitsubishi starion turbo of Patrick Tauziac and Claude Papin.
Orielle inspecting the limited edition blue sport liveried 5 GT turbo created to celebrate the historic championship win.
With this win the duo Orielle/Thimonier became the 1989 Group N champions. They would also cement themselves into WRC history as it would be the only time a Group N car would achieve an overall victory.