Sunday, December 4, 2016

Coffee Brake: 1986 Olympus World Championship Rally

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the start of the 1986 Olympus World Championship Rally.  The Olympus Rally was run out of Olympia, Washington and marked the end of the Group B era of the WRC and was also the first WRC round in North America since the Press On Regardless Rally in 1974.  I was there as a starving college student and took a few pictures with my trusty 35mm film camera.

The 1986 season of the World Rally Championship was filled with controversy and tradgedy.  The works teams from Lancia and Peugeot battled for the manufacturers World Championship and Juha Kankunnen and Markku Alen battled for the driver's title.  Peugeot managed to win the manufacturers title before the end of the season, but the drivers title went all the way down to the last event of the season, the U.S. round of the championship, Olympus Rally.  The Olympus was run as a drivers points only round, so the factory Peugeot and Lancia teams sent a car to far off Washington State.  Lancia had a fearsome Delta S4 for Markku.  The Lancia was both supercharged and turbocharged and reportedly made around 750hp and could accelerate on gravel to 60 in around 3 seconds.  Tragically, the Lancia killed Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto in the earlier Tour de Course Rally, leading the the banning of Group B.

 Peugeot sent a 205 T-16 Evolution 2 for Kankunnen.  The little Peugeot was the dominant car of the Group B era.

American Rally Champion John Buffum was there in his ex-Pikes Peak, Michelle Mouton Sport Quattro, backed by Audi of America.  The factory Audi team withdrew from the WRC earlier in the year after spectators were killed on the Portuguese round.  Too bad, it would have been cool to see the S1 E2 winged wonders from Ingolstadt.

New Zealander expat Rod Millen coudn't run his regular American Pro Rally car, a 4wd RX-7 due to FIA rules, so he ran a Mazda 323GTX in Group A.  He was to win the class.

Toyota was the roundabout sponsor of the Olympus Rally, sending a 3 car works team of Group B Celica Turbo's to the event.  Two cars for their regular factory drivers of Bjorn Waldegaard and Lars-Erik Torph and a third car car for Steve Millen.   The works drivers finished the event but Steve was to crash out.

At the end of 4 days and 525 km of competitive driving on gravel, Markku Alen won the event by 3 and a half minutes over Kankkunen and clinched the driver's title.  John Buffum finished 3rd, 24 minutes down on the winner.  His third place was the highest placing of an American on a WRC event and still is today.  

Above I mentioned the tradgedy of the 1986 season of driver and spectator deaths.  The controversy was in the Italian round of the WRC at San Remo, where the Italian organizers disqualified the Peugeots from the event, leading to a Lancia win and was key to Markku Alen's points total necessary to win the driver crown.  Seven days after the event, the FIA overturned the San Remo results and the loss of points stripped Markku of his title and gave it to Juha Kankunnen.  Ironically, they would be teammates at Lancia in 1987 at the dawn of the Group A era of the WRC.

Gianni is Daily Turismo's Pacific Northwest correspondent.  He must be really old if he was in college in the 1980's.


  1. Best story and photos that I've seen on his page. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gianni -- those are some great pictures to go with a fascinating story. Did you ever think that you'd publish it on the internet some 30 years later?? Or did you imagine developing a roll of film filled entirely with photos obscured by thumbs and just shoving them in a box with the rest of your photos?


    1. If you told me that anyone would even be interested in them 30 years later I would have laughed.

      It's funny how digital photography has changed everything. I took about 70 photos at the event, which was a lot when shooting with film (at least for a college student). Now you would probably shoot several hundred. And you wouldn't have to wait for a week for the film to be developed to see if you had managed to get the whole speeding car in the frame. Now you can just hold the button down and get at least one good shot.


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