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[NEWS] Autocar's favourite races: 1987 RAC Rally

Autocar's favourite races: 1987 RAC Rally

1987 rac rally
1987 RAC Rally - image credit Getty Images

From F1 to kart racing, we all have that one race that will forever stick in the mind. These are our highlights

You know you’re working in a good (admittedly remote) office when an email for writers’ favourite races goes out and all the replies come flooding in within five minutes. 

Spanning the globe and a whole number of different eras, it’s amazing what memories stand out, be they individual driver performances or tiny details like the way one driver leant his head into a corner. There’s even a near-riot in NASCAR in our list. 

Let us know which was your favourite in the comments below.

1987 Lombard RAC Rally

For many, 1987 was something of a nadir for the World Rally Championship. The first year after the outrageously powerful, fire-spitting Group B machines were consigned to history following a spate of tragic accidents, it witnessed the first faltering steps of Group A, which lacked the speed and drama that had made rallying almost as popular as Formula One. Not only that, manufacturer interest was somewhat lacking, with only Lancia’s slim-hipped Delta HF 4WD having the right combination of turbocharging, four-wheel drive and limitless lire budget.

Yet for a 10-year old me who was largely unaware of the fabled Group B era having only just become hooked on the sport, there was genuine excitement to be found in 1987. Yes Lancia had steam-rollered the opposition, but there had been some exceptions. Mazda won in Sweden, BMW took victory on Corsica and, remarkably, Kenneth Erikkson’s giant-killing performances in the VW Golf were rewarded with a win on the gruelling Ivory Coast. Or how about Jean Ragnotti’s startling speed in his Renault 11 Turbo in Portugal, a rally he could have won if Lancia hadn’t flown in a load of spare dampers for Alen’s Delta?

I’d followed all these events through the pages of Autosport or Motorsport (whatever I could persuade my dad to buy), but by the time of the season-closing Lombard RAC Rally it all played out thrillingly on TV, with William Wollard giving me blow-by-blow daily updates. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

Effectively it was a Lancia two horse race for the championship between ice-cool Juha Kankkunen and Mr Maximum Attack himself, Markku Alen. It was win or bust - whoever won the rally also scooped the title. In the end Kankkunen secured overall honours with relative ease, becoming the first driver ever to win back-to-back crowns. Alen was out-and-out faster, but the hot-headed Finn suffered more than a few time-consuming rolls in his desperation to secure what would prove to be an elusive world championship.

While this was exciting enough, it was the action elsewhere that really captured my attention. For instance, there was former British champ Russell Brookes in a one-off drive in a factory Lancia that had been bedecked in his famous Andrews Heat for Hire livery (to this day one of my favourite car and sponsor combos), plus Louise Aitken Walker’s stirring drive well into the top 10 in her little Peugeot 205 GTi, which was brought to an agonising end by a holed sump. Or the entire Vauxhall Astra contingent being drowned in Weston water splash on the first day.

And then there were the Sierra Cosworths. Ridiculously powerful but with just rear-wheel drive, they were spectacular to watch, particularly the black and red Texaco-backed factory car of Stig Blomqvist, who dragged the car to a remarkable second place, just ahead of home hero and reigning British champ Jimmy McRae (son Colin made his RAC debut in this event, driving a Vauxhall Nova very quickly before the inevitable accident) in an RED-prepared Ford.

However, it was the driver that would have beaten both of these Fords that had me enthralled - Per Eklund. The veteran Swede set some staggering times in his privately entered and woefully underpowered Audi Coupe quattro, his commitment on what was effectively a blind rally (no pace notes until 1990 on the RAC) was mesmerizing and resulted in a second place on the road before a minor homologation issue with his car’s inlet manifold saw him heart-breakingly dropped from the results.

There have been closer and faster rallies with more exciting cars, but that 1987 round of the world championship was the one that cemented my love for the sport that continues to this day.


Autocar's favourite races: 2011 Canadian Grand Prix 

Autocar's favourite races: 2006 NASCAR UAW-Ford 500 

Autocar's favourite races: 1991 British Grand Prix​

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