The second instalment of our picture of the week feature comes on March 1 – day one of DirtFish Women’s Month – which is one of the reasons we’ve gone for Michèle Mouton on the 1986 Tour de Corse.
One of the reasons…
The 1986 Tour de Corse is an event remembered for one thing: the deaths of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto.
The Lancia crew was out front and looking good to get their 1986 title aspirations back on track with a second win of the season when the Delta S4 left the road high above Corte on Friday May 2.
Hard as it was to imagine back in the day (and it’s not much easier now), the story of the #4 Lancia wasn’t the only one on the island.
Ahead of the rally, the news lines were largely about Michèle Mouton’s full factory return to the world championship with Peugeot.
Moving from Audi, Mouton joined Peugeot Germany for a shot at the importer’s national title in 1986. Included in that program was the odd WRC outing. The season-opening Monte Carlo Rally came first.
Michèle’s first WRC start in anything other than a quattro in more than five years came up short. A broken pulley on the oil cooler of her 205 T16 led to some ominous noises from the engine and an early exit.
Just over four months later and Corsica came next. This one was different.
This was no satellite team entry, this was a full Peugeot Sport effort. The French woman was given one of two brand new, latest specification 205 T16 E2s – the other was for defending world champion Timo Salonen.
And Fabrizia was back. Fabrizia Pons had co-driven Mouton for much of her career and was tempted back at the prospect of a factory Peugeot.
The third driver in the Parisian’s squad was Bruno Saby. He took Salonen’s Sweden car.
For the first time, the 205s ran six-speed gearboxes and tested – but didn’t use – carbon fibre brakes. A tweak to the dampers at the front of the Peugeots was an effort to dial out some of the apparently inherent understeer.
Stage one? The perfect start. Peugeot’s were one, two and three, with Saby, Salonen and Mouton separated by a handful of seconds across the 23-mile opener.
For pretty much the remainder of the first day, Mouton was right there at the sharp end and very much still on the provisional podium.
Somewhere in the 34 miles that separates Pont d’Altiani and Pont St Laurent, the Peugeot jammed itself in gear. Mouton struggled on, but retirement beckoned when the starter failed.
Her tribulations and desperate disappointment at a stunning factory debut for a French driver in a French car on a French island were put into context a day later when news filtered through of the Toivonen crash.
There’s no doubting Mouton was one of the world’s finest and fastest rally drivers, but her Corsican performance in 1986 remains, for me, one of her most overlooked. Labelled an Audi driver for five years, she stepped aboard a very different Group B car and, with very limited knowledge and experience of the T16 E2, wrung its neck down some of the world’s most technical and tricky asphalt roads.
Saby went on to finish first – it’s hard to talk of winners in such a tragic week – and Mouton would have been right with her team-mate all the way to the finish.
Guest editor of DirtFish.com throughout Women’s Month last March, Michèle Mouton will join us in person for our Women in Motorsport Summit in Snoqualmie on Saturday March 11. Much as we know she’s all about the future, we might just sneak a question or two in about this picture.