Report from Autosport of 20th October 1983
Audi’s closed shop
Mouton teaches the regulars a lesson—Weidner’s third place wins him the title—Brookes second—Tuthill’s Group Aaward, but Clarke wins the title—Lovell takes Turbo prize drive—
Report: KEITH OSWIN — Photography: TONY NORTH.
The Audi National Rally nearly went down as the event that saw Mike Stuart make up for his dismal year with the Escort DR3. Despite needing to have its ignition pack changed on the run out to the first stage, the car proved that the team’s claims that it has amazing protential when all is working well are true. Sadly, when third place was just one stage and 13secs away, the car stopped with another electrical failure.
The remaining class positions were decided in Wales. Group A finally fell to Mick Clark with Group A classes being taken by Howard Lapsley, Clarke and Chris Mellors. In the general classes, Ian Hughes snatched the 1300cc award from Ralph Lockey, Brian Oswald took the 1300cc to 1600cc award and Weidner further extended his winning margin in the large capacity class.
The Audi National Rally proved the fitting end to one of the most open championships for years. The crews gave everything in appalling conditions, but could reflect on a slickly organised even and a truly great year.
People who felt that Michele Mouton is too highly regarded in the rally world will have had to change their views considerably last weekend. The attractive French starlet took up the challenge in fine style to dominate the rally from start to finish, and did so with such charm and good humour that she left Wales with an even bigger army of followers than when shearrived. Her arrival at the quiz evening on the Friday night was greeted with tumultuous applause that was undiminished when she returned 24 hours later to collect the enormous trophies as winner of the rally. Had the weather been drier — it certainly could not have been wetter — her winning margin may have been reduced, but there was nothing that Russell Brookes could do. Although he tried desperately hard throughout the day, he could never get his Vauxhall Chevette HSR closer than 23secs to the flying Quattro.
Michele and Russell were the only ‘star' names in the entry list this year, the anticipated appearance by Malcolm Wilson in a turbocharged RS1600i thwarted after the car had blown up in testing during the previous week.
Television crews are an uncommon sight in national rallying, but the BBC Breakfast Time team were in Aberystwyth to capture the experiences of Michele’s diminutive co-driver, Sue Baker. Although she had been a regular competitor on club rallies during her teens, Sue’s last appearance in a rally car was on the Tour of Eppynt with Tony Fowkes six years ago. The immense power of the Audi was an experience that she will remember for a long time!
George Marshall started behind the Quattro, knowing that his championship hopes rested on getting away to a good start. “We can’t hang about today,” admitted the Scot. “Darryl holds the advantage and we have got to beat him.”
“I know that Audi’s budget is fairly large,” commented Opel Manta 400 driver Phil Collins as he looked ruefully at the blackening sky, “but I didn’t realise that they could buy the weather as well!” The Herefordshire driver had prepared three of the cars among the championship leaders, but team orders were non-existent.
Bill Dobie sat in the other Manta knowing that he, more than anyone, owed his championship chance to the fracas at the end of the previous round. He left the Cumbria Rally in disappointment after a time consuming ‘off, but with Marshall not scoring the Cumbrian driver still had a mathematical chance.
Dai Llewellin lay second in the series with his Collins Cars Escort, but the young star was nervous as he considered
the task ahead of him. He knew he had the speed, but his lack of experience could yet prove to be his downfall. George Hill and Roger Chilman were the other two hopefuls, both with little more than outside chances of the title, but a steady run could see them score if the others slid off, a distinct possibility under the circumstances. Between these two sat Mike Stuart in the Butterfield Escort DR3, fresh from testing and hoping to end the year on a high note.
With the rain lashing even harder across the Aberystwyth promenade, the crews set off for the first test of car and driver. This year’s route was compact and yet testing: Pantperthog was followed by two stages in Dovey forest, service at Machynlleth, then a second go at these first three stages, more service and then the sting in the tail, 22 miles in Hafren.
The Quattro had attacked from the start, opening up a 23secs gap to Brookes. With the first Dovey stage being cleaned by Mouton, Brookes and Weidner (Mouton repeating the feat on the next test also), the leaders arrived at service in that order, 50secs now between first and second, 6 between second and third.
“I decided that I would attack the first stage, set a fast time and hopefully demoralise the opposition,” admitted Weidner after the event. Whether or not he had would remain to be seen but already there was drama among the other championship runners.
Phil Collins was another to clip the logs in Dovey but he escaped without serious damage. He was, however, worried about the clutch on the Manta, causing difficulties in gear selection. His team mate Roger Chilman, who had everything to do, was having a real crack, lying fourth but worried by a noisy axle that would need attention in Machynlleth. Just behind Chilman and attacking in the most spectacular style was Mike Stuart. The DR3 has stopped on the run out to the first stage to have a faulty ignition pack changed and, despite a misfire, was now setting amazing times.
The rally was running late at this point, however, because of an accident ending the challenge of the Sanyo Nissan 240RS of Derek and Terry Evans. Having got the big car sorted on the Cumbria Rally, the Welsh crew were hoping for a repeat performance. Sadly, when really motoring, the car hit a dip in the road absolutely sideways and the Nissan was catapulted into a rock face head-on. The car was destroyed and the crew hospitalised with suspected fractured ribs.
While crews huddled in shelters, the mechanics worked their miracles on the cars. Many had misfires, George Hill struggling over the first stages with a broken plug, and others had the wipers pack up — a delightful experience in these conditions! Russell Brookes’s mechanics changed the Chevette onto TRX tyres for comparison with the Noras that were fitted at the start. They also injected a piece of humour into the car. When they asked Brookes what he wanted them to do he suggested that they fit four-wheel-drive and a turbocharger. The car left service with a long sticker on the dashboard saying that the parts had been fitted. Mr Brookes was smiling, but not convinced . . .
"This car is so different from my World Championship Quattro,” admitted Michele. “At first I thought that there was something wrong; it did not feel right. The difference is that my Ingolstadt car had all the power above 5000rpm. This David Sutton car, it is very smooth from 4000 to 7800rpm and is easier to drive. I am now able to be more careful into corners and I am really enjoying the stages although they are so wet. It is good training for the RAC Rally as I am not used to driving without pace notes.”
This new found confidence enabled Michele to further increase her lead from 50secs to lm 32s by the time the car next pulled into service. This sudden burst of pace proved too much for the BBC presenter in the passenger seat, however, and on the fifth stage the inevitable and embarrassing sickness resulted. How Sue would explain that to the drivers over their breakfast without prompting a similar reaction, would be interesting!
With the TRX tyres fitted, Brookes’s times improved immediately, but not enough to challenge for the lead. He did, however, manage to secure second place from hard charging Weidner. The Quattro driver was now within 22 miles of adding the Shell Oils/AUTOSPORT title to the Esso/BTRDA crown that he clinched earlier in the year.
What was now interesting was the challenge to Weidner’s third place that was mounting from Mike Stuart. The DR3 was pressing on and lay a mere 13secs behind the Quattro, two fast times on the fifth and sixth stages (the latter being headed only by Mouton’s car), setting Stuart up for the great upset of the year.
Llewellin was back on the pace with his refettled Escort but both Collins and Dobie were out. The Hereford driver had run through Gartheiniog with a howling rear axle, the inevitable retirement on the next test putting an end to his championship hopes. “Our problem this year is that we got off to a bad start with the Ascona on the York and then, when the car was really on song, changed to the Manta and had to start all over again. In the end we have fallen victim to the classic axle trouble.”
Dobie’s problem was a broken track rod end, a part that was not changed after the Cumbria accident when perhaps it would have been prudent to do so. With Llewellin still struggling in 38th place and both Dobie and Collins out, the championship rested in the hands of four drivers. Chilman held fifth and was keeping Marshall at bay while George Hill had got the Autosmart Chevette back into the groove to lie eighth. There seemed little that could possibly stop Weidner from taking the title but the Audi personnel were taking no chances.
Elsewhere in Wales, Stig Blomqvist was testing the latest rubber from Pirelli. While team members were reluctant to talk about the fire that had destroyed the first car he had been driving (see Special Stage), they were more inclined to reveal the performance of the new NT tyres that had been fitted to its replacement.
The new tyres were first seen on the rear wheels of the Lancias in Sanremo. The new compound, construction and tread pattern is reckoned to be worth at least 2 secs a mile and Mouton's car was being fitted with a set of the latest covers. Weidner, too, was offered a set for the final test but co-driver Phil Short declined the offer, preferring to remain on the known quantity of the usual SG pattern.
And so the stage was set for the final showdown of the season. Mouton led the cars into Hafren to set yet another best time, with Brookes again second. These two drivers showed just how great is the ability gap between experienced international drivers and national competitors, as they were over 1 min clear of the rest, Michele believing that, had she needed, she could have taken a further l min from Brookes with the superior traction that the Pirellis were offering.
The championship crews held station over the final stage to leave Weidner in the clear as had been expected at the start. Elsewhere in the top 10, however, there were some intriguing performances. Roy Cathcart again produced a fine performance while Ian Hughes had driven superbly in the Talbot Samba, delighting Talbot personnel, Des O’Dell in particular. The car is superb, and its driver brims with natural talent. Welshman Glyn Jones, in Jeff Churchill’s ‘top of the range’ Escort RS, produced a fine performance in a more powerful car than he is used to. He finished 14th after a last stage puncture having been ninth at one point. Clearlite ANECCC Champion Dave Metcalfe showed that he could be a name to watch as he brought his Northern Auto Sport Escort home in 10th.
As the crews headed back to Aberystwyth for the celebrations, Mike Stuart was not among them. His finest hour was to be denied him as the DR3 had stopped in Hafren with a recurrence of the terminal electrical failure—this must put the car’s future in serious doubt.
It was a small, but enthusiastic crowd that gathered on a now sunny seafront to greet the crews. A more popular victor could not have been found, the French lady spraying champagne with as much exuberance as if she had won a World Championship event.
“It has been a good rally for me. Once I got used to the David Sutton car, the event was no trouble. The car was good and the new tyres superb. The stages were very good indeed, despite the conditions, and the event was so well organised. Sue has done very well today. She tried to be perfect and was so good to be with. Even when she was ill she did not tell me to slow down!”
And then there was Darryl Weidner. To win the championship was always his aim, but things have not always run smoothly and he had to work right to the end. To win the series in an Audi on the Audi National is an achievement that did not go unnoticed by the management. Next year he will be back with a works 80 Quattro for development.
The social activities continued long into the night, with Michele staying to dance the night away with a string of admirers. She also proved that, although her usual drink is Perrier water, she enjoys the taste of champagne. With a sparkle in her eye she explained: “Well I am French after all!”
AUDI SPORT NATIONAL RALLY (GB)
Shell Oils/AUTOSPORT RAC National Rally Championship, round 8
1, Michele Mouton/Sue Baker (Audi Quattro), 80m 41s;
2, Russell Brookes/Mike Broad (Vauxhall Chevette HSR), 82m 50s;
3, Darryl Weidner/Phil Short (Audi Quattro), 84m 47s;
4, Roger Chilman/Bryan Thomas (Ford Escort RS), 85m 47s;
5, George Marshall/Ken Wilson (Vauxhall Chevette HSR), 87m 04s;
6, Roy Cathcart/Ken Montgomery (Ford Escort RS), 87m 27s;
7, George Hill/Ron Varley (Vauxhall Chevete BSR), 87m 34s;
8, Nigel Worswick/Stuart Derry (Ford Escort RS), 89m 04s;
9, Ian Hughes/Brian Rainbow (Talbot Samba), 89m 32s;
10, Dave Mecalfe/Phil Saudham (Foid Escort RS), 89m 39s;
Class 1 (Group A up to 1300cc): no award.
Class 2 (Group A 1300cc to 1600cc): 1, Malcolm Surgenor/Neil Ewing (Talbot Sunbeam), 96m 08s; 2, Harry Hockly/Graham Evans (Vauxhall Astra), 98m 26s; 3, Geoff Stewart/Peter Murray (Mazda 323), 98m 35s.
Class 3 (Group A 1600cc to 2500cc): 1, Francis Tuthill/Roger Freeman (Audi 80 Quattro), 90m 41s; 2, Chris Mellors/Harold White (Ford Escort), 93m 51s; 3, Andy James/Colin Child (Ford Escort), 100m 46s.
Class 4 (Group A over 2500cc): no award.
Class 5 (Up to 1300cc): 1, Hughes/Rainbow; 2, Andrew Seagger/David Spafford (Ford Escort), 100m 26s; 3, Samuel Evans/Colin Kirby (Ford Escort), 102m 16s.
Class 6 (1300cc to 1600cc): 1, Metcalfe/Sandham; 2, Dean Senior/Philip Shaw (Toyota Levin), 96m09s; 3, Brian Oswald/Steve Hall (Talbot Sunbeam), 100m01s.
Class 7 (Over 1600cc): 1, Cathcart/Montgomery; 2, Hill/Varley; 3, Worswick/Derry.
Leading retirements: Phil Collins (Opel Manta400), axle SS6; Bill Dobie (Opel Manta400), track rod end, SS6; Mike Stuart (Escort DR3), electrical, SS7.
Rally leader: SS1 to SS7, Mouton.
Championship positions: 1, Weidner, 139pts; 2, Marshall, 129; 3, Hill, 121; 4, Dai Llewellin, 116; 5, Chilman, 112.