words: Bill Cho, video screenshots: Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour
In The Grand Tour‘s 2nd season, episode 7 It’s a gas, gas, gas that came out this past Friday, Jeremy Clarkson dives into the history of what he calls “his favorite battle of them all”: Audi vs. Lancia in the 1983 WRC campaign. It’s a great piece done with the usual GT humor and interesting facts.
It starts back in 1977 when Audi was testing the Iltis for the German Army. Audi began building cars with all wheel drive and was determined to have their rally cars so equipped. But there was a problem…the 1979 rules book declared four wheel drive vehicles were not allowed. That didn’t stop Audi from going in front of the board and getting that rule changed.
We know what happened in 1982; Audi dominated the season and won the manufacturer’s title. In 1983, it looked to be the same story. But Lancia brought two big guns to the fight…Walter Rohrl and the 037, a RWD car. I admit, I love the 037 and so does Clarkson. He takes a civilian 037 around the Grand Tour track and isn’t afraid to wag its tail.
But bringing a RWD car to an AWD fight made Lancia the underdog. It would take cunning, skills, and a little bit of bending the rules for Lancia to take on the well financed and dominant Audi.
With interviews from Audi driver Hannu Mikkola, Lancia driver Walter Rohrl, and Lancia team principal Cesare Fiorio, Clarkson weaves a tale of punch and counterpunch that goes on all season. Tactics from Lancia ranged from salting the ice on the course and swapping the tires in the middle of a stage in Monte Carlo to choosing which rally they would attend to maximize the 037’s strengths to bringing four 037s to the Corsica rally.
As with the team picking which rally it would race, Walter Rohrl also picked which rally he would drive. He refused to drive the Finland race because “I don’t like jumps because if I want to fly, I would be a pilot.” Audi won.
With only three rounds left, it was still possible for Lancia to win the world championship. The next round was San Remo in Italy, home ground for Lancia. If Lancia was going to win, they needed maximum effort from the cars and the drivers. They got it. Walter Rohrl won 33 of the 58 stages. The 037s came in 1-2-3 and won the championship. The Lancia 037 would be the last RWD car to win it all.
I go back and forth about The Grand Tour. Sometimes I like it but most times, I feel it’s too stiff and scripted. I was sitting on the fence about this episode until this feature film came on. It was fantastic and kept me glued to the screen. While only about 20 minutes long, Clarkson tells the tale so well, I felt like it was a movie and a very good one at that. I’m back on board.