As part of DirtFish Argentina Week we’re picking a pivotal Rally Argentina from the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties. And today it’s 1983.
Rally Argentina is back after an absence in 1982 due to a nationwide financial crisis and the Falklands War. Returning to the World Rally Championship calendar, the event has changed its name from Rally Codasur to Marlboro Rally of Argentina and its moved south, way south from Tucumán in the north to the ski resort of San Carlos de Bariloche. The event actually starts out of the Buenos Aires capital at 2200 on Tuesday August 2. The crews then drive south-west through the night, picking off a couple of stages on their way to an overnight halt in Neuquén. Leaving there at 0700 on Thursday August 4 there are four more stages on the way into Bariloche, where Friday and Saturday were based.
Like the previous WRC rounds in Argentina in 1980 and ’81, the roads were some of the fastest in the season. But this time, much to Lancia’s two-wheel drive-born frustration, they were run in the middle of a southern hemisphere winter. While Tucumán had been warm and dry, the foothills of the Andes were packed with snow and ice.
For months ahead of this rally, both Lancia and Audi pontificated on whether they would or wouldn’t be making the season’s only transatlantic trip (don’t forget, in those days teams weren’t required to tackle all 12 rallies – only seven scores counted). But when Audi’s campaign went off the rails with miserable results on the previous two rallies in Greece and New Zealand (where Walter Röhrl in Lancia’s 037 won both), it became apparent that they would be needing both Hannu Mikkola and Michèle Mouton in attendance in South America. More than that, Stig Blomqvist was called upon as well.
Blomqvist’s programme was based around Rothmans RAC Open Rally Championship in Britain in 1983 and the logistics of getting him from a penultimate round win on the Ulster International to Argentina in 48 hours would be anything but straightforward.
The Swede was a late entry for the previous round in New Zealand, and was disqualified after other teams protested his entry came in too late. Audi didn’t make the same mistake again, but Blomqvist only just made the Buenos Aires start.
He’d flown out of Belfast on Saturday night and was making good progress until he missed his connection to Buenos Aires in Miami. He was re-routed through Chile, only to encounter further frustration with a long wait in Santiago. With no transit lounge, Blomqvist and co-driver Björn “Captain’ Cederberg were held in a bus at the airport. Stretching the transit regulations slightly, the bus driver took it upon himself to take his famous passengers to a mountain-top restaurant for lunch.
Eventually arriving in the Argentine capital way after the recce had finished, Blomqvist photocopied team-mate Mikkola’s pacenotes (for the second event in succession) and cracked on.
He left Northern Ireland on a high, having scored fastest time on the 25th and final Ulster stage – a 1.12-mile dash around the Belfast Enterprise Zone. That was Saturday. In the early hours of the following Wednesday morning, he was fastest again – this time on a 50-mile test (Fray Louis Beltran-Valle Azul) on the other side of the world. He averaged 118mph for the stage on borrowed pacenotes. Maybe the jetlag and the fact he was still on British time helped…
Having gone from maybe not entering, Audi had eventually shipped five Quattro A2s to the event. Mikkola and Mouton joined Blomqvist in factory cars while Safari Rally legend Shekhar Mehta and local driver Luis di Palma were handed slightly more tired test cars to use.
Mehta finished fourth, while the Argentine crashed.
Lancia’s frustrations were two-fold. They struggled for traction in the conditions (and were denied when they appealed for the use of studded snow tyres) and the 037 was no match for the Quattro in terms of top-end speed.
The A2s were maxing out at 130mph, while a disgruntled Markku Alén sat his Lancia on the limiter at 115mph. He finished more than half an hour behind eventual winner Mikkola. Blomqvist led the event for 11 stages before dutifully standing down to let the Finn (Audi’s preferred driver for the 1983 world title) through.
The Swede therefore came second, with Mouton and Mehta locking out the top four for the German manufacturer. A result which carried Mikkola back into title contention, just two points behind Röhrl.
Alén’s team-mate Adartico Vudafieri fared slightly better in terms of top speed after he’d opted for taller gearing aboard his works 037. The Italian might have regretted that decision when braking for a corner three stages from the end. His wet shoe slipped off the brake and onto the throttle. The resultant crash once again highlighted Group B’s failings in terms of safety – the roll cage on the Italian driver’s side buckled and it was a miracle that he walked away without injury.
There was more reason for Audi to celebrate with a Group A win for Franz Wurz’s 80 Quattro. He was sixth overall, but close to two hours behind Mikkola.
1 Mikkola (Audi)
2 Blomqvist (Audi) +2m34s
3 Mouton (Audi) +6m41s
4 Mehta (Audi) +21m08s
5 Alen (Lancia) +31m18s
6 Wurz (Audi) +1h50m43s
Follow our Rally Argentina celebrations with #DirtFishArgentinaWeek on the DirtFish website and social media.