The corner that killed Group B
We visit the bend that ended the golden days of rallying
Posted: 19 May 2013
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.
But the 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.