Featured: This Globetrotting Audi 200 Quattro Was Hannu Mikkola's—And Audi's—Final WRC Podium Finisher

This Globetrotting Audi 200 Quattro Was Hannu Mikkola’s—And Audi’s—Final WRC Podium Finisher

Robb Pritchard By Robb Pritchard
May 10, 2021
1 comments

Photography by Robb Pritchard
Event images c/o Wolf-Dieter Ihle

The motorsport world lost one of its greats earlier this year. One of the highest-flying Finns, a World Rally Championship winner, and an excellent driver who led a decades-long competitive career, Hannu Mikkola deserved his legendary status, and his passing this February was a solemn time for his many fans, his family, and the motorsport world.
He famously took Audi Sport’s first and last wins in the WRC, earning a drivers’ championship title in 1983 in the process. After an opportunity to see one of his former cars up close—the 200 Quattro that Mikkola drove to his final WRC podium step during the 1987 Acropolis Rally—we took a look back at the man’s achievements with Audi Sport in the presence of a physical piece of his legacy.

Mikkola began driving competitively in his native Finland in the early 1960s, winning his first event of record in 1966 at the wheel of a Volvo 122. He later came to prominence and gained major manufacturer attention in 1970, in part for winning the five-week, 16,000-mile rally from London to Mexico World Cup Rally at the wheel of a Ford Escort 1850 GT, with co-driver Gunnar Palm. Throughout the rest of the decade, Mikkola drove an eclectic mix of Fords, Volvos, Peugeots, and Toyotas, and officially started his WRC career in 1973. Mikkola earned his first world rally victory at the 1974 1000 Lakes Rally, an event he would go on to win seven times (a record he holds with Marcus Gronholm).

In 1979, again at the wheel of a Ford Escort, Mikkola came to within a single point of the the first official WRC drivers’ title, finishing behind his friend Björn Waldegård. Although successful in Fords, it was ultimately Mikkola’s time with Audi in the 1980s that places him among the sport’s all-time talents.

With its four-wheel drive system and turbocharged engines, the Quattro completely rewrote the rulebook on how to win, inciting the biggest paradigm shift in rally history by proving what could be done with four driven wheels. It wasn’t an overnight success for the then still small German manufacturer, and in the early years the Quattros were plagued by reliability issues. The sheer capability of the cars were still enough for the Audi Sport team to win its first constructors’ title in 1982, and its second and final in 1984.

The 1983 season marked the last time any constructor would win the championship with a rear-wheel drive car (Lancia with its 037), but is was also to be Mikkola’s year as a driver. With four wins and three second places for Audi, he took the 1983 drivers’ title with a 23-point margin over second-place finisher and future teammate Walter Röhrl. The following year, Mikkola finished second in the final standings behind teammate Stig Blomqvist, but from that season onward, the dominance that Audi had snatched up early was reined in. The short wheelbase Sport Quattro that debuted late in 1984—and its evolved be-winged, fire-spitting S1 E2 variant—just didn’t have the same competitive edge the mid-engined Peugeot 205 T16 the Lancia S4.

Following the deaths of spectators and participants during the truncated 1986 season, the 1987 brought sweeping changes to the WRC by getting rid of the dangerously fast and lightweight Group B cars, putting a revised set of Group A regulations at the forefront instead. Based on mass-produced cars rather than quasi-prototype homologation specials, the Group A cars weren’t as exciting in a vacuum, but the competition and manufacturer support were consistently strong during their time.

Compared to the peerless Lancia Deltas that positively took over the 1987 season, the Audi 200 Quattro was overweight and ungainly. The Audi Sport team won just one rally all season with the car—which would also prove to be their last in the WRC in general—but it was a special one.

The Safari Rally in Kenya is held on open roads over vast distances, and on the toughest terrain the WRC has ever seen. It has always been an event unlike any other on the calendar, and is always a battle of attrition first and foremost. Compared to its lighter and nimbler competition, the relatively tank-like 200 found its strong suits played to in Kenya. With Mikkola’s expert ability to know when and how much to push while still looking after the car, he and the Audi proved to be a winning combination. This last win of his took his total tally to 18, one more than compatriot Markku Alén at the time, making Mikkola the winningest driver in WRC history… until Alén won two more events the following year. But nigh on 35 years later, Mikkola is still in the Top 10 list of WRC drivers with the most rally wins. 

Second only to the Safari Rally as the toughest event on the WRC calendar, the 1987 Acropolis Rally in Greece was as much a car-breaker as it’s been any other year. And when attrition was an issue, Audi, in their big but strong 200, rose to the front. In the heat, rocks and dust, all of the two-wheel drive cars from Renault and VW struck trouble, as did a couple of the all-conquering Lancias, leaving Mikkola to pick up the last podium spot behind 1987’s title protagonists Markku Alén and Juha Kankkunen. And this is the car, part of Wolf-Dieter Ihle’s collection (which includes the previously featured 1984 Dakar Porsche 953, and twin-engined Pikes Peak VW Golf).

While this car was part of Audi’s last rally podium, the very last points for the manufacturer in the WRC came courtesy of Per Eklund’s fourth-place in the 1000 Lakes, and David Llewellin’s sixth-place in the season-ending RAC (that car can be seen its Gemini livery alongside Mikkola car below). Although they were both privateer teams, they helped Audi finish second in the season, although a very long way behind Lancia.

Mikkola spent the next few years with an uncompetitive Mazda, but never saw the podium again. In his later years he was a regular and popular fixture on the classic rallying circuit, driving his cars from seasons past, as well as many others that took his fancy.

The Safari Rally-winning car, Audi’s last WRC victor, was retained for posterity by the factory, but the Acropolis car that saw the last podium wasn’t afforded as much reverence, and over the next couple of years competed intensely with privateer teams, often shipped around the world for a diverse set of events.

Run by the Austrian MIG Linz team, and driven by Georg Fischer, a triple Austrian rally champion, the car was entered in a number of Austrian, European, and World Championship rallies, including the Olympus Rally in America, where Fischer netted an impressive fourth overall, as well as the Argentina Rally, which resulted in a DNF.

The following year, the car was rented by a Swedish VW/Audi importer and driven by none other than Stig Blomqvist, who was the first seed for the Swedish Rally, finishing fifth, before Fischer took it back for rounds in Portugal and Argentina, where he finished a creditable fourth overall in both. It was then shipped to India for the Himalayan Rally, where Fischer took second.

In 1990 the Audi was given a bit of a break when it was relegated to being the reserve car to Fischer’s new one, but in 1991 the MIG Linz team called it up again, entering it in the Dubai Rally, where it was driven by Raphael Sperrer, and then, the following year, in the Castrol Rally of South Africa with Ernest Loidl at the wheel, meaning that by the time the car was just three years old it had competed in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa.

Raphael Sperrer was impressed enough with his experience in the car that at the end of 1994 he bought it and ran Walter Röhrl under the Sperrer Motor Sports banner as the zero car on an Austrian rally championship round. They kept it until 2007, when the new owner, a big Audi fan, put it in the old HB livery and added a bull bar at the front to make it look like the Safari-winning car.

It came to Wolf-Dieter Ihle’s collection in 2013, and in the time since he’s quickly brought it back to its original Acropolis spec. A collector of German rally cars, Ihle knows a thing or two about putting historical cars back into their original configurations. “I have some Group B Audis, so compared to searching for a 20-valve aluminum cylinder head for an E1, anything for a Group A car that was much closer to a road car, seems very easy!”

Another bonus was that although the MIG Linz team has rallied the car extensively, they had kept all of the original works Audi parts that had come off it, and they survived the subsequent 30 years. “I am glad that it came with the original fuel tank,” Ihle remarked, “the Group A ones are actually very specific and are impossible to find.”

As you can probably imagine, driving a full-blooded Group B-era Quattro anywhere close to its proper operation window is a task suited only to the world’s best or bravest drivers, so the Group A-spec 200 Quattro is much easier to handle as you approach its limit, especially so because of its long wheelbase. But although the Group A cars had strict homologation rules in an attempt to keep them resembling their road-going counterparts, parts like gearboxes and suspension were allowed to be upgraded to better endure the rigors of stage rallying, so the shocks, springs and parts of the drivetrain are shared with the Group B cars—Wolf-Dieter thinks it handles better than one would think.

And although the 200 looks a lot bigger and heavier than the Sport Quattro that preceded it, it’s actually less than 200kg heavier… but with less than half the horsepower it’s certainly not the thoroughbred that its ancestor was. So much so that Wolf-Dieter has nicknamed this car “the Taxi”!

Since 1987 the works Audi Sport team has been absent from rally stages, but the four-wheel drive masters have seemingly been at the forefront of every championship and contest they’ve ever entered at one point or another. From Pikes Peak, the TransAm series in the late 1980s, the IMSA GTO championship, the early 1990s domination of the DTM, titles in several different touring car series, and of course the most incredible of all, 13 wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And the very first piece of silverware from that now dynastic collection came when Mikkola won the 1982 Swedish Rally in an Audi Quattro.

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