Why Group A was the peak of rallying
The decade of rallying that gave us homologated heroes which stayed faithful to their road-going counterparts.
In 1982 three new regulations were introduced to rallying. They were Group A, Group N and Group B. Group N consisted of pretty much bone stock production cars with not much by way of modification except for the necessary safety equipment. Group A allowed for modification in order to make the cars lighter and faster while still trying to keep as much of the original car as possible. More about that later.
Group B however, was very different. It only restricted such things as wheel width, displacement and weight. These factors were all dependant on each other which meant if you wanted to have a 3 litre V6 bolted on to your rallying monster you could, providing it was over 1100 kg. Naturally, manufacturers favoured Group B as it allowed them to showcase their innovative ideas on the world stage while only requiring them to build 200 road-going versions of their car. This meant the slower Group A cars had no place at the top level of rallying because all the biggest manufacturers and drivers were too busy developing their 500 bhp deathtraps.
Audi Quattro S1 E2. Image credit- redbull.com.
Tensions grew as Group B inevitably became more and more dangerous and sadly it wasn't until the deaths of the highly-talented Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto in their Lancia Delta S4 at the 1986 Corsican rally that Group B was scrapped.
Finally, this is when Group A comes in. With Group B gone, Group A regulations would now be used at the top level of rallying from 1987 onward. Manufacturers would now have to mass produce four-wheel-drive turbocharged road-going cars if they wanted to be competitive on the rally stages. This gave way to such brilliant road cars as the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Ford Escort RS Cosworth. Image credit- Wikipedia.org.
Also, in the 90s some of rallying's greatest ever drivers were at the peak of their careers, driving these Group A cars. The most famous being Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen, along with other world champions such as Juha Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz.
Sadly, I was too young to ever witness Group A rallying but I hope to one day own one of the road-going versions of those great cars in order to experience a bit of it all myself.
In 1997, the brand new World Rally Car regulations replaced Group A. They didn't make the actual rally cars much different but crucially, the rally cars that manufacturers built didn't have to share as much with the road cars that they were based on. This didn't affect the sport that much, it just meant that the Ford Focus that was sat on your driveway shared very little in common with the one that you watched Colin McRae drive flat out on your TV.
Colin McRae's Focus (nothing like yours). Image credit- WRCWings.
The problem with the WRC regulations is that manufacturers no longer have to make high performance road cars to be competitive in rallying. This has led to a decrease in popularity for rally-inspired road cars and even led to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo being discontinued.
In 2017, the WRC regulations were beefed up and the cars now make 380 bhp along with completely mad bodykits. This means that the cars are now even further from their road-going counterparts.
2019 Hyundai I20 WRC car. Image credit- autosport.com.
However, there is no doubt that these cars are entertaining to watch because of their sheer speed and I am optimistic about the future of rallying as, in 2022 there are new regulations set to be introduced which will bring hybrid technology to the sport, something that could make rallying relevant to the real world once again.