On 2 May 1986, Henri
Toivonen, his co-driver Sergio Cresto, and Group B rally cars died on this
corner. To look it at it out of context, it’s a treacherous left-hander with a
drop so vast the sun can’t make its way through the trees to the bottom. But
framed by the Tour de Corse,
the ‘rally of 10,000 corners’ (actually closer to 20,000), it’s relatively
innocuous. The drop’s not vertical. It’s sweeping, not aggressive. It’s even
relatively well surfaced.
Things have changed
dramatically since the fatal crash, though. The D18 used to be potted and
uneven, and the corner, 7km from Corte, has grown a low wall and the memorial
stone you can see above. Even the profile’s milder - look behind the wall
you can make out the 90-degree bend tightly hugging the overhanging cliff that
claimed so much of motorsport.
But how and why the
Lancia Delta S4 left the road remains one of motorsport’s mysteries. There were
no race marshals or spectators nearby, and the only video footage was shot too
far away from the accident to draw any meaningful conclusions. We do know that
Toivonen had retired with engine failure on Rally Sweden, missed the Safari
leg, and with no points from Portugal after the race was abandoned following an
accident that killed three spectators, had his work cut out.
Fellow drivers and
teammates claim he was feeling unwell, but that hadn’t affected his performance
on the opening day. That said, his Delta S4 was reportedly an awkward, vicious
car. Like the 037, it had a spaceframe tubular chassis with a fully detachable
two-piece composite body, as well as long-travel double wishbone suspension
front and rear. Shackled to an Abarth-designed supercharged and turbocharged
500bhp 1.8-litre engine, it could hit 60mph in just over two seconds.
Kevlar-reinforced plastic body was extremely fast burning. And, like the rest
of the cars, the gravel guard that would protect the alloy fuel tank on unpaved
rallies had been removed to save weight. When it left the road, the tank was
pierced by the trees and the car burned to its spaceframe. Toivonen and Cresto
died in their seats.
Within hours of the
accident the FISA banned Group B cars from competing in the ’87 season. Audi
and Ford withdrew immediately, and the remaining manufacturers mothballed their
cars at the end of the season. An FISA investigation later proved that drivers’
reactions were too slow to keep up with Group B cars, and drivers’ eyes could
not adjust their focus between the fast corners, which caused tunnel vision.
Toivonen died here
aged 29, having competed in 40 world rallies, with three wins, nine podium
places, and 185 stage wins to his name. Lancia team boss, Cesare Fiorio, later
claimed that he was the only driver that could really control the Delta S4.