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Malcolm Wilson's Audi Quattro

A Stig in the Tale

by Derek Freathy

Two unexpected but welcome guests turned up at my office in the autumn of 1985. Chris Lord had been an indecently successful privateer on the international rally scene through the seventies. In the same period, Malcolm Wilson had made his debut as the boy-wonder of rallying, and had evolved to take the mantle of works driver for Ford. I'd not seen either for far too long, and it took some time for us to move from nostalgic catch-up to the business of the day.

It turned out that the guys had acquired a pair of Audi Quattros, at the time the all-conquering beast of the stages and now a motorsport legend. Malcom's example had previously powered the equally legendary Stig Blomqvist to the world Rally Championship that year. They asked that Dunlop support them with free tyres - not something that we gave away freely. The RAC Rally was forthcoming, and sponsorship had been secured from BBC's Top Gear. They were to broadcast a 30 minute special before the rally and follow progress through the event. The coverage for Dunlop was attractive, and I knew that both Malcolm and Chris were seriously quick. This could provide a strong marketing platform at relatively minimal cost.

"Let me see what I can do."

Dunlop rally tyre manufacture had by 1985 been moved to Japan, so this was a proposition that needed to be sanctioned by the Japanese head of motorsport. Mr Kyogoku and I had always got on well, so I gave him a call and explained the idea. He liked it, and the cars were duly painted in Dunlop colours and test tyres were delivered promptly - our eastern owners frequently demonstrated their ability to move tyres half-way across the world more reliably than we could manage the 300 yards from Tyre 8 to Base Stores.

In testing, the tyres proved themselves an ideal match for the car, taming the Quattros' enthusiasm for understeer and providing excellent wear and robustness.

The RAC Rally began well, with Malcolm moving up to sixth place before a blown head gasket ended his challenge on the second day. He'd been steadily climbing the leader board, so we were confident that there were wins to come.

The 1985 season began in Bradford with the first round of the British Open Rally Championship. Yorkshire holds some of the most famous - possibly infamous - rally stages, including the fearsome Kielder Forest. Malcolm, with co-driver Nigel Harris, won by over four minutes.

Next came the Welsh International, and a chance to take on the big guns. Audi challenged our privateers with two works cars, crewed by Michèle Mouton/Fabrizia Pons and David Llewellin/Phil Short (Phil had previously worked with Dunlop Motorsport, so was competing against his old alma mater!). Audi had chosen to shoe their cars with Pirelli. Interesting times ahead...

Malcolm and Nigel won by more than five minutes.

This was the first international rally win for Dunlop since the glory days of Roger Clark, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola. I was grinning so much I looked like a James Coburn tribute act.

Audi seemed to take this personally and threw everything behind their 500hp monsters for the Scottish International. Michèle Mouton exceeded even her own limits and took the lead on day one, albeit with Malcolm snapping at her heels. On day two the order changed. Drummond Hill is a fifteen-mile  forest stage and Malcolm, who had been running with reduced turbo pressure to protect the engine, piled on a pace to test the Dunlops' endurance to their limits, taking 39 seconds off Michèle and claiming the lead. Michèle fought back and claimed back four seconds in Ladywell, continuing her charge by chipping away seconds from Malcolm's lead on day three. She'd reduced Malcom's lead by seven seconds when her gearbox failed in Kirroughtree Forest.

Malcolm and Nigel's lead was now unassailable and they were able to coast to victory by twelve minutes. These were the days when motorsport was all about driver talent and sheer grit, but I'd like to think that those little rubber circles also played their part.

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