Audi Quattro: A Road and Rally Icon.

Looking back at how Audi's success on the track translated to the road.

Exploring Audi’s Rally Success

Although Audi dominated the rally circuit in the early 1980s with a range of different Audi quattro models, the brand’s rally success actually began in 1912, when an Audi Type C claimed victory on the Austrian Alpine Rally. Since then, rallying and the development of the quattro have been closely linked.

When Audi began racing in 1978, it was not with the all-wheel-drive quattro, but with a front-wheel-drive model. Interestingly, the team actually tested the quattro whilst disguised as an 80 model. This was the perfect way to get the team ready for the quattro’s debut at the World Rally Championship in 1981.

The early 80s was a spectacular era for Audi. Not only were they hugely successful, but their success enabled the company to emerge from relative obscurity in the UK to a must have car brand. Audi’s emergence came at the perfect time too, as the brand had just adopted the Vorsprung durch Technik slogan we recognise today.


Introducing the Quattro

We didn’t actually see the quattro on the track or road until 1980, but when it finally did arrive, it made a huge impression on David Ingram, who had joined Audi as the Marketing and PR Executive only two years earlier:

‘I remember first reading about the Quattro in the motoring press… and I thought wow, this sounds like something else,’ says David. ‘The first time I got to drive the quattro was amazing. The characteristics of that five-cylinder engine as the turbocharger came in, and the burble as you came off the accelerator – it was just so exciting.’

Soon after, the rally car arrived. At the time, Audi had been rallying a front-wheel-drive 80 with some success, whilst they quietly developed the quattro, which Harald Demuth (who helped develop the model) said was ‘light years ahead of the Audi 80.’

When the quattro finally arrived on the rally track, and with Hannu Mikkola as the driver, the quattro tore through the circuit to win by a convincing 11 minutes, solidifying it as a star of the UK rally circuit for the next few years.

Graham Rood, the Route Co-ordinator for the Audi team at the time recalls his experience: ‘My job was to make sure that from the moment the car left the workshop until it won the rally, everything went right – that was the theory anyway. It involved creating a detailed route plan and schedule for the rally car. On a five-day event like the RAC Rally with 65 special stages, there would be 300 tyres to look after and maybe fifty service halts to arrange.’

According to Norman Gault, the team Mechanic, Audi’s most potent car across their period of success ‘was the Sport S1 that we ran at Shelsley Walsh hill climb for Hannu Mikkola in 1986. Audi Germany told us to break the course record – whatever it took. I have never seen a car leave the line so fast in my life. Hannu could barely change gear quick enough. We broke the record in practice, broke it again during the first run, and then again during the second run.’

Sadly, the Audi UK team decided to withdraw at the end of the 1988 season and did not return to the rally stages until 1993. During that season they used a Group N Coupé S2 quattro for Shell Scholarship winner Jonny Milner.


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