When late WRC regulation change allowed an underdog to shine

With Group B banned, Jean Ragnotti took his 1.4-liter turbo Renault 11 to second overall on the 1987 Rally Portugal

Ragnotti PotW Girardo overlay

How long do you need to prepare for a new set of technical regulations? Three years? Two years? One year?

The current crop of World Rally Championship teams are busy debating this very issue with the FIA and WRC Promoter as they endeavor to give themselves the best chance of coming out on top in 2025 and beyond.

But what if there were no time to prepare? That’s exactly what happened back in 1987. When Group B was banned at the end of the previous season, Group A was thrust into the limelight as the WRC’s top category.

Lancia found itself on the front foot as this new reality set in. Its Delta HF 4WD was the perfect tool for the job and would go on to enjoy a run of dominance unmatched until a certain Citroën and Loeb combo arrived on the scene some two decades later.

Others were left scrabbling for a solution, and the resulting period of make-do-and-mend meant a fascinating mix of unlikely cars were pressed into service, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Which brings us to the Renault 11 Turbo.

Rallye de Portugal Estoril (POR) 11-14 03 1987

It seems almost preposterous to mention a small French hatchback with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and front-wheel drive in the same breath as greats like the Delta, BMW M3 and Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, but the little Renault would enjoy its moment in the sun as the French manufacturer tried to find its feet in the days after the mid-engined 5 Turbo.

This shot from the Girardo & Co. archive shows French front-wheel-drive pedaller extraordinaire Jean Ragnotti on his way to second place on Rally Portugal in 1987. Second isn’t as good as a win, but it was a deeply impressive result for such an unlikely machine.

Long-time Renault driver Ragnotti took an incredible seven stage wins along the way, and beat the likes of Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion in works Lancias. Only Markku Alén got the better of him, winning the rally by nearly three minutes in another Delta.

Portugal wasn’t a fluke either. Ragnotti finished third at Sanremo later that year.

By the end of the decade, the other manufacturers had got their acts together and Renault would retreat back to the lower categories as more and more specially homologated four-wheel-drive cars appeared on the scene.

For this fleeting moment in time though, the Renault 11 Turbo had its chance to shine.

It is highly unlikely that we will see a repeat of this scenario in 2025, but the Renault 11’s story demonstrates that perfect regulations are not required to deliver fascinating competition.