I, like countless others, consider Group B to be the epitome of excitement on wheels – they were the most sensational cars ever to have graced the international rally scene. Never before, nor since, have engineers had such freedom of choice to create extreme rally cars as they did during that fantastic era of the early 1980s.
So, imagine my delight when I discovered that the digital TV backwater that is BBC4 were broadcasting a documentary on my favourite subject. And then I found out that it was produced by the same people who made sensationalist guff like Deadliest Crash: The 1955 Le Mans Disaster and Grand Prix: The Killer Years, causing a massive spike on my wary-o-meter.
Madness on Wheels: Rallying’s Craziest Years – a strong contender for the trashiest title of the year – spends an hour focusing on the rise and fall of the Group B beasts, but only in the hugely negative and often factually incorrect way that production company Bigger Picture seems to specialise in.
“In the 1980s rallying became more popular than Formula 1,” the narrator informs us within the first few seconds, which is of course utter codswallop. The basis for this claim is derived from the million punters who trundled through the Welsh forests for the RAC Rally, hardly the best barometer for the sport’s global popularity. And, rather deceptively, they use footage from Rally Portugal to make you believe that all rally spectators at the time were raving lunatics.
Aside from the Latin fans – which I will come back to in a minute – Madness on Wheels does an adequate job of detailing the background history of some of the more iconic Group B machinery, if you can ignore some of the gaffes, that is.
The Audi Quattro, for example, was actually powersliding its way around many a special stage prior to the Group B era, as was the Lancia Rally 037, which came before the Quattro. But the way in which the documentary is laid out would make you think otherwise.
What else? Well, Porsche hardly “weighed in with their 939″ as suggested, unless everyone around them trundling around with blindfolds on, and as for referring to the Ford RS200 as an “ugly duckling,” well…
Admittedly, these aren’t the most earth shattering of errors and are less severe than those that featured in the mistake ridden mess that was The Killer Years. Casual rally fans probably won’t batter an eyelid at them, but for aficionados like me, they don’t half grate.
Less forgivable, however, is the negative slant of the entire piece which points the finger of blame for the fatalities and injuries during the period at the drivers and vehicles, which is complete nonsense.
Yes, the cars were difficult to drive and yes they crashed all too frequently. But the main problem with the Group B era was neither the cars nor the drivers, but the lack of anything resembling crowd control.
Safety standards, particularly on the continent, were almost non-existent back then and moronic spectators would try and touch the cars, much like a matador in a bullfight. For reasons unknown, other than to laugh at his stupidity, one such idiot makes an appearance and has the audacity to blame Joaquim Santos for what happened during Rally Portugal in 1986.
For those that don’t know, Santos lost control of his RS200 and plunged into a crowd of spectators, killing three and injuring 30, one of which still harbours a grudge against the Portugese rally driver after all these years.
He comes up with possibly the worst analogy I think I have ever heard in my life. He suggests that Santos was incompetent and that him accidentally ploughing into spectators was akin to hitting a house on the side of the road. Yes, because houses are well known for their ability to jump out on unsuspecting rally drivers, causing them to take evasive action in an attempt to avoid them.
Thankfully, his friend who was also injured at the time has a lot more sense, saying “it was our fault, we were told not to stand there and we did,” which neatly summarises what the main issue was in rallying at the time.
<Deaths were likely irrespective of what was being driven and regardless of their speed. It doesn’t matter if a car is doing 120mph or 70mph, the outcome of going off-track and towards people is likely to always be the same.
But you would never have guessed that from watching Madness on Wheels. You would come away from it thinking that the cars were the biggest problem, not the lacklustre event organisation. You would also think that there had been no fatalities in rallying prior to, or after, the Group B period, and it paints a rather dour picture on what was unquestionably its greatest era.
If the DVD had the option to turn off the ridiculously melodramatic narration and just marvel at the lovely rally footage – as well as listening to the sport’s various luminaries – then it might have been worth a look. Otherwise, this has hatchet job written all over it.
God forbid if they ever choose to cover the Isle of Man TT.
|Format: PAL||No. of discs: 1|
|Region: All||Studio: Bigger Picture|
|Running time: 60 minutes||Release: 02 April 2012|
|The Madness on Wheels: Rallying’s Craziest Years is available to buy now from Amazon.|