Miki Biasion: Gli anni d'oro del Gruppo B - Intervista di Davide Cironi
D: The 037 ends and it comes the...? M: Look with the 037 I raced it from '83 to '85 winning the Italian title, European, with very important results also at world level Never a victory but always second, third always many then because by now Peugeot is Audi with four wheel drive were become effectively unbeatable and in Lancia they finally decided to build a real 4X4 car. I had earned the trust of Giorgio Pianta, of the engineer Claudio Lombardi, of engineer Sergio Limone and therefore besides becoming an official driver I was also used as a test driver. Giorgio Pianta loved to work in the "La Mandria" circuit apart for the his knowledge and for the parameters that had but also for a discourse of security and to actually see the improvement with each change that was brought to the car While I was being used as a test driver for road development so routes were chosen unpaved, asphalted where you would then run and you would bring the first prototypes already developed by Giorgio Pianta in contact with nature... In contact with the dirt
real special stages and there already in '84 I started to make the first steps with the Delta S4 A car that at the beginning was proved to be quite good cranky and complicated, also because it was the first project in Lancia, let's say Fiat, of a four-wheel drive car from competition. A research was made for innovative solutions where you didn't want copy neither Peugeot or Audi either at chassis level and at the level of traction of differentials So many experiments were done. At the beginning the 037 with the two wheel drive was clearly faster on the asphalt but also on the off road was not much less than the S4 and consequently we worked a lot on the distribution of the traction between the front axle the rear axle, a central differential which for example Audi didn't use, so there was a huge work of experimentation, it was a puzzle in figuring out how and when to have more traction on the front axle or on the rear, as center differential had to start this traction so it started with 30% in front and 70% on the rear and the 037 was so fast as the others, so an immense work from engineers, technicians but also mechanics because at that time electronics didn't exist... if you wanted to try a car with more traction on the front needed to replace differential, open it, add slats to make it stiffer, harder, things that now you do with a little button to adjust it with a little knob, more in front, more behind more to the right, more to the left, so it was a test for a couple of differentials needed two days of work and now in two hours maximum you can understand what is the ideal set up for the car so really, huge efforts also from a very important economic point of view. I also remind at electronics level The first time I tested the S4, that was in a military green, was camouflaged at La Mandria circuit, I did a little bit of laps and then Cesare Fiorio came with the lawyer G.Agnelli and with Ghidella I think, and when
they arrived he said "come on Micky let us see, do some laps, let us see how it goes" and the car didn't start up It didn't work then try, try again change buttons, control units etc the car doesn't start and then Dr. Fiorio said "well we'll go to take a coffee, when the machine starts up call us back" They take the Lancia Thema and drive away After two minutes they have left, the S4 starts immediately then the guardians call them and say "come back, the car works" They come back and the car turns off. So what is it, what is this? In the Lancia Thema there were the first mobile phones, one was lawyer Agnelli's the other was Dr. Fiorio's, those early briefcase mobile phones were "in tune" with
the ignition control unit of the Delta S4 So once the phones were turned off, the S4 would start it was impressive... Just to say what level there was of technology in electronics, very poor any kind of modification we needed days to be able to make it and then in the future with electronics and electronic differentials it was much, much simpler... So from the tests at La Mandria then with the test-drives on the road and dirt... Hundreds and hundreds of
kilometers until the debut in the '85 of Toivonen and Alen in England with the two official cars, and the victory at the debut of Henry Toivonen in one of the most difficult races of the world championship. The first thing one goes to think is "We made a highly competitive car, so it's ok" instead, the Lancia spirit was to continue working hard also because I myself was saying "look we have a car actually finally four wheels drive however for sure Audi, Peugeot, Ford are not standing at the window watching". The second race to which the team entered finally three cars, because finally I too became an official Lancia Martini driver, it was the Rally of Montecarlo '86 and also the one won by Henry Toivonen... The ridiculous thing is that I got a
very strange thing: We were fighting for the win Toivonen was in front and then about 40 seconds there was Salonen less than a minute behind me and there was the whole last night of the Rally of Monte Carlo which let's say was one night which as mileage corresponds to a World Rally of now, of these years so really a night where anything could happen and at start of the first special stage in night, after the few hours of rest, my car didn't start I immediately looked to see if there was any Lancia Thema around. With a mobile phone in the trunk but nothing, there was a problem to a wiring and when they finally managed to understand the problem I started. I was already cut off not only from the victory but from the race, because I had 15 minutes tops to show up at the beginning of that special stage... Unfortunately they already passed 16 minutes
but my navigator says "maybe there's a bit of discordance between our chronometers and the organization timekeepers' ones" So I started full throttle to try to see if I could hit the time control but on a bridge, completely frozen with slick tires that in the meantime had cooled down because we had already removed the tyre warmers and I took off two wheels and stopped there. In any case they wouldn't make me any more continue the race because I was out maximum time. It was a pity because for a trivial problem I lost let's say the opportunity to play the game finally me too with a 4x4 at the Rally of Montecarlo.
The Delta S4 then gave me immense satisfactions, because even in Portugal before the race came interrupted due to a serious accident to a local driver and I was in the lead and in Corsica unfortunately where missed Henry Toivonen... and Sergio Cresto, I was also there with them and I was also competing for the win... Then a second place at Acropolis. So it was a car that I was building around myself, I was dressing it up like a tailor-made suit and we were improving race after race definitely it would have been the winning car of the next years then unfortunately all the various incidents that there have been in the Group B brought the federation to decide to abolish it. In a way it was a pity because actually we drivers want power, I mean already the car was at an impressive performance level 0 to 100 in 2.5 seconds, when the most popular car in Italy was the Fiat 127 I mean we were heroes, then really there was so much potential to make it even more faster, more competitive and therefore having cancelled, I do not say the work of many years but this escalation of rally cars which had become the cars of the performance monsters, was a big shame. Definitely the
engineers in those years have worked much more thinking about performance neglecting a lot the safety, this car has the fuel tank under the seat It has the oil tank at 20 centimeters from the turbine which is 1200 degrees therefore it was easy in case the accident that some oil, some gasoline came out and there were some accidents, some dangerous fires Personally I think we could have continued to race with Group B, working a little bit more on security inside of the cockpit, by modifying the position of certain components so that the more easily ignitable parts were away from heat zones I would have modified the regulation, or I would have said the Group A which have been the substitute cars in the championship by the federation, with a new regulation that is series derived and adapted cars to competitions, these Group A had, I won't say, the power of the Group B but they should have been much more free as far as power is concerned the transmission, so total freedom from part of the manufacturers to do experimentation within the car, but with a security cell as a cockpit derived from a car of large production so that there would have been a lot more security a lot more weight, that's fine, but the drivers want to have the horsepower underneath, and it was enough traumatic when you came from almost 600 horsepower of the S4 and passed to 220 horsepower of the Delta 4WD. After that, logically, engineers and their technology evolved and even there in a few years it came to some remarkable performance. But those eight or ten drivers who raced assiduously in the world championship winning races, among whom I consider myself one of the lucky, let's say, they are still the most remembered ones in the rally history, they are still those who were considered a bit of a daredevil... When people saw these cars coming completely different from the ones you see everyday When they saw these accelerations that were greater than those of Formula 1 on a dirt road or a narrow street in the mountains with ravines around From a certain point of view they considered us crazy, but really that was the period when the popularity of the rally drivers and cars has been greater in the history of the sport You said that from the outside some may considered you crazy. Who is not accustomed to race in a car and see who race from the outside, may think that there is a little bit of madness. But you who were inside, behind the steering wheel of this stuff here, how crazy you felt and how much instead you felt under control? M: I start from a distance think of Nuvolari doing the parabolica of Monza at 300 km/h without safety belts, on a leather seat, with a leather helmet, a wood steering wheel Plus, without guardrail, there was nothing, so the world of motorsport, the world of sport in general evolved but the motorsports' world made some giant steps over the decades in terms of security... The driver when he gets into the car has
as the only goal to go faster than the others You get in, close the door, start the engine and turn off the light in a certain way inside your brain. You're paid to do this, plus the mentality of the race driver is also to say that the serious accident happens to others it never happens to you, if not, you would not be a race driver. In hindsight, indeed, if we think at the level of protection that there was in these cars also the roll bars they were as big as breadsticks... now the machines have reached an impressive safety level. But actually we were a bit reckless as reckless as the audience was, they were the organizers that sometimes with these cars we would open the road in in the middle of two wings of crowds, if you made a mistake you would have made a real massacre. There were also some very serious accidents. Security level was quite out of the ordinary as mentality but it was so. We used to race in that way, also in Formula 1
they were racing with cars passing at two meters from the spectators and there were stacks of used tires as protection, so motorsport had luckily and rightly an enormous safety evolution in the last decades. It starts from the concept that as they used to say "motorsport is dangerous" but the safety level today has become very high especially also in rallying But with those Group B cars actually we were, as I said, daredevils but also we didn't think about the consequences, the only goal was to go faster than the opponents with the means that you had at your disposal You inside the S4... When you were going fast, with the light off Were you thinking about how fast you were going? Was there even time to think about how fast you were going, is the question? Look, you definitely felt the acceleration and the speed... I have to say the cornering speed was not very high because tires and suspension we had 40 years ago were adapted to the technology of that time But the engines' performances were clearly superior to everything else's technology at the time, but if, by chance, Markku Alen or Henri Toivonen would give me 3 seconds in a 50 km race, the first thing that I said when I arrived to the assitance stage was: "Check the turbine, check the pressure, because the car seems too slow" That's the mentality of the race driver, to always want something more. The evolution of the Delta S4 was already on the ramp, the ECV.
The Ecv was a completely carbon fiber car with 700 horsepower, so even more exaggerated Let's say, actually the road taken wasn't rational anymore Thinking that we had to race on the Turini, Euganean Hills or the Tarzan in Greece that are the most challenging and famous at an international level... and racing with those powers would not have been I wouldn't say "possible" but manageable by the driver. I believe that many accidents that were happening with Group B were due to tiredness, that is not so much physical but the tension of driving those cars led you to have a mental fatigue and so when you are tired you are more prone to make the mistake or to not to evaluate certain situations in the rally we know the route because then the navigator It gives you the notes, it explains how the corners are made etc, etc... but if you are not 100% focused you are more prone to make mistakes If I think that the first rally of Corsica that I faced, there were almost 13 hours of chrono races... Today a world rally like Corsica does 2.5 hours of chrono races
It's incredible to think that after 3 days of competition, the last two chrono races were: 85 km, then a transfer, with a "rest" of 3 km, then another chrono race of almost 50 km, all this on a car with almost 600 HP Manage to stay focused for 3 hours on those roads was impossible Today the two final stages of the Corsica rally, as mileage and as time, are the same as all the Corsica Rally, while before we had done 22 days of previous races. It is changed very much, it is right that it is changed I personally think that the races should be longer as they were not so short, not just for giving the opportunity to those who have a mechanical problem or he misses a turn, to recover the gap but also to make a certain race strategy and use the own physical endurance concentration for a longer arc than course not only for those 2 hours divided in the 3 days of race... so today they go to 110% for 20 minutes and after they stand still for one hour. Once we were always in the car, always in the car, it was another way of racing especially then with the Group B. So talking also with the drivers I have recently met in a rally in Kenya everybody would like to come back a little bit to longer races I asked "you want to have more fun to drive?" but no it is just because of the ability to manage a little bit of tactics, so I think we lived with the Group B, with the 037 and the S4, the golden era of rally not for the fact that I raced in it, or that I won my first world championship race, but really because they were the golden age of this kind of sporting events How did '86 end up... with this one?
1986 ended so-so because Markku Alen and I were fighting for the title, for the drivers title, then I had a race where I didn't go to the 1000 lakes, and I did a third place in the rally of New Zealand, Markku won and so he had been in the fight with Juha Kankkunen in the Peugeot for the drivers' title At the Sanremo rally, where I was dominating the race from the beginning to the end before the finish line, I had to give up professionally logically, the place to Markku who was playing for the drivers' title and so after having recently tasted my first world victory in Argentina it was a pity not to also seal the home rally because you know, winning the home race is the dream of all drivers, but morally I feel like the winner of Sanremo '86 but I'm also happy to have tried to help Markku Alen to win the drivers' title which then instead eluded him because of the appeal by Peugeot for cancellation of the result of rally of Sanremo 86, so it is finished a Group B season with regret for abandoning those cars, with the sadness of having lost companions of team but mainly because it had closed a championship instead of special stage What happened there? What was Peugeot's appeal? At that time, "miniskirts" were forbidden. miniskirts were side skirts that were used in Formula 1, mobile in the sense that going up and down the side of the car but in general they were always crawling on the ground and they were doing a ground effect, so especially on the asphalt they increased so much the speed of the run of the curve because this ground effect did like aileron, that is to say it was crushing the car to the ground up to increase a lot the adherence and the contact of the tire, "footprint" is said in technical term, of the tire Peugeot presented itself with this devilry at the rally of Sanremo on asphalt tests Immediately, after the first stage that was on asphalt before going in the dirt, the Lancia complained because he said "look we have the pictures, the footage where you can actually see these that when they are in special test these cars have these straps coming down the sides". There were various discussions there and they wouldn't let them leave in the last stage of Sanremo the Peugeots just on the asphalt stage they didn't let them start with those skirts They disqualified them because they said they were not regular so Lancia did with me, Markku and Dario Cerrato first, second, and third place and both the Lancia that Markku Alen passed in the fight for the World Championship title constructors and drivers. When there were still only two races left at the end of the championship. Logically, Peugeot made an appeal showing that the straps were fixed, not going up down in the side of the car there was the car going into the curve which so the skirt was crawling therefore... but they said that on the other side was
high because logically the car has some roll, and that's where the legal battle started and finally when Markku was already convinced that he was champion of the world, he was stripped of the points of the rally of Sanremo and Peugeot and Juha Kankkunen became world champions. We know that in the world of sports, especially motor sports, those who are smarter at interpreting the regulations, win. Maybe that year they were smarter in Pegeout than us in Lancia. In Lancia we have always been convinced and we are still convinced that the title was up to us, if only for my sacrifice in Sanremo to give the race to Markku Alen, I am joking, but in every case it was the beautiful thing about those years, the constant search for loopholes. Not to circumvent regulations, but to interpret the regulations to own favor and from this point of view I believe that the Lancia team was number one because we had some specialized engineers to study the regulations' limit, to be able to adapt the cars and make them competitive