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The 1986 World Rally Championship was the 14th season of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) World Rally Championship (WRC). The season consisted of 13 rallies, including all twelve venues of the previous season as well as the addition of the Olympus Rally. This marked the return of the WRC to the United States and North America, as well as the first world rally to be held on the western side of the continent. The December rally would also be the only WRC event to feature Group B competition in the United States.
The 1986 season was notable for being the last World Rally Championship season driven with the popular Group B rally cars, which were banned after the fatal crashes at the Rally Portugal, where three spectators were killed and more than 30 injured, and at the Tour de Corse, where Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto died in a fireball accident. This was the year where Group B (first introduced in 1982) was at its peak, and the 1986 season saw some of the most powerful and sophisticated rally cars ever built, some of which were mid-engined, like the Lancia Delta S4 and the Ford RS200. The drivers' championship was won by Peugeot's Juha Kankkunen, followed by two other "Flying Finns", Lancia's Markku Alén and Kankkunen's teammate Timo Salonen. The manufacturers' title was taken by Peugeot, after a close battle with the Martini-sponsored Lancia team.
1986 World Rally Championship Wikipedia
The season began with the Monte Carlo Rally and Henri Toivonen took the win with his Lancia Delta S4, making himself the favourite for the title. At the International Swedish Rally in wintery snow and ice, Toivonen had to retire due to an engine failure and Juha Kankkunen won the event with his Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2, ahead of Toivonen's teammate Markku Alén. At the next rally in Portugal, Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200 and plunged into the crowd, killing three spectators and injuring more than 30. All the factory team drivers decided to withdraw from the race, giving the win to home country's relatively unknown driver, Joaquim Moutinho.
After veteran Swede Bjorn Valdegard's triumph at the extremely arduous and difficult Safari Rally in Kenya driving a Group A Toyota Celica over Alen and his Group B Lancia 037 Evo (which was the S4's predecessor and used only by Lancia for the Safari Rally; the S4 was not used for the Safari Rally due to Lancia determining that it was too new and not developed enough for that rally), another fatal accident at the Tour de Corse on the French island of Corsica would change the course of rallying. Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto in their Lancia went off the side of the road, plunged down a ravine and landed on its roof. The aluminum fuel tank underneath the driver's seat was ruptured by the trees and exploded. Toivonen and Cresto had no time to get out and both men burned to death in their seats. The accident had no witnesses close enough to clearly see the accident.
This caused Jean-Marie Balestre and the FISA to immediately freeze the development of the Group B cars and ban them from competing for the 1987 season. Audi and Ford decided to withdraw from competing, while other teams continued with their Group B models until the end of the season. Peugeot boss Jean Todt was outraged over the ban and pursued legal action against the federation. The Tour de Corse was eventually won by Peugeot's Bruno Saby, which marked his career-first WRC victory. The Acropolis Rally in Greece and the New Zealand Rally were won consecutively by Kankunnen; and the third driver to take his debut win during the season was Lancia's Miki Biasion, who edged out teammate Alén to win the Rally Argentina.
Finnish drivers finished 1-2-3 in the Jyväskylä (otherwise known as the Finnish Rally, the fastest race of the year), with Salonen and Kankunnen giving Peugeot a 1-2 result, with Alen coming in 3rd for Lancia. This was not much of a surprise, as this rally had only ever been won by Finnish and Swedish drivers until 1990. The Ivory Coast Rally, which was considered to be the most demanding, gruelling and certainly the most attrition-filled rally of the year (a rally where drivers had an unbelievable 1 in 10 chance of finishing) was skipped by all of the Group B teams, and was won by Waldegard in his Celica, completing his World Championship African rally sweep. The season included more controversy when the organizers of the Rallye Sanremo disqualified the entire Peugeot team from the event due to illegal side skirts. However, the cars were proven legal by the FIA, and the Italian organizers were blamed for not allowing French Peugeots to take the win ahead of the Italian Lancias. Eventually, the FIA annulled the results of the whole event. Peugeot then became the manufacturers' champions, but Kankkunen was not sure about his title over Alén until three weeks after the season ended, at the RAC Rally in the United Kingdom, specifically Wales and England. Salonen won this race, with Alen finishing 2nd and Kankunnen 3rd, this was enough for Kankunnen to take the Driver's Championship. The last WRC round of the year was the first Olympus Rally in Washington State in the northwest United States, which Alen won, with Kankunnen finishing 2nd.
1986 marked the only season in which the FIA issued the World Championship for Drivers of Group A Cars. Swede Kenneth Eriksson, driving a Volkswagen Golf GTI 16V took the title ahead of Austrian Rudi Stohl in his Audi Coupe Quattro, a lower powered version of the Group B Quattros. This championship became unnecessary in future years due to the elimination of Group B cars. From 1987 onwards, Group A cars would be the vehicles used by drivers competing for the main World Rally Championship for Drivers.