6 Unbelievable Rule-Bending Stories From Rally

There’s bending the rules—and there’s breaking the rules.

In the early days of competition, there was a fair amount of grey in the rules and the way cars were constructed. In a race weekend, for even the most ardent officials, there’s simply not enough time to have every machine be torn down and checked against the rulebook. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for instance, the three phases of checks takes the better part of two entire working days.

You can check things before or after, but what about during the race? Moreover, if you were running second place before a service area and a mechanic replaces your fire extinguisher with one filled to the brim with power-boosting NOS, would you be able to leave the trigger alone?

Don’t laugh: stranger things have happened. Talking about cheating may be down to your interpretation of the rules and events that followed, but in rally there have been a few ingenious “solutions” for getting to the finish faster than competitors.

1 | 1985 Rallye Cote d’Ivoire

Michele Mouton was a force to be reckoned with in her Audi Sport Quattro, though during this race, early engine troubles sidelined her #2 car. After finishing a stage with a particularly grim-sounding engine that was belching ominous white smoke, the other team bosses were expecting a retirement and so were surprised to find Mouton leaving service—with the #11 car of Braun Franz and Arewd Fischer following closely behind.

The #2 left the rally route, took nearly an hour and a half of time penalties, and rejoined, without engine trouble. Audi’s official explanation was that the #11 car gave its oil pump to put Mouton back in the race, but multiple accounts charge the team with switching every body panel from the sick car to the healthy one—something the scrutineers said couldn’t be done, and the allegations were unproven. When someone noticed that the car’s windshields had apparently been swapped, team boss Roland Gumpert said Mouton’s “anti-fog” system had failed.

If you start getting all Zapruder on things, you’ll notice some odd details, including hood-mounted fog lights at the base of the windshield that seem to move between cars.

2 | 1966 Monte Carlo Rally

In rally, sometimes the rules can be bent the other way, such that in 1966, ten cars were disqualified from this event for having headlight bulbs that didn’t match items fitted as standard to the production version. That year, the fastest Mini Coopers would have finished 1, 2, 3 with Timo Mäkinen, Rauno Aaltonen, and Paddy Hopkirk; instead, victory went to a most normal Citroën ID19 (but you can call it the DS).

3 | 1985 Peugeot 205T16 E2

Of course, it wasn’t cheating unless you got caught—or until your competitors could figure out why your car was so fast. There’s nothing wrong with being ahead of regulations, but often the most promising and extreme solutions are banned before they ever really get going, like how Peugeot ran its rally cars with skirts to promote ground effects, increasing downforce. Lancia filed a protest despite the cars being deemed legal before the rally and Peugeot was disqualified.

4 | Any time there’s snow

Though far more difficult to do these days, in the early days of rallying, some better-funded teams would shovel the course in advance of its cars—it’s most effective if your closest competitors were starting ahead of you. Spectators have been known to be arrested and charged for (stupidly) shoveling snow onto the course, too, for the opposite effect.

5 | 1991 Lancia Delta Integrale

With huge budgets at its disposal, the Lancia Rally Team did like everyone else did and innovated in areas where the rules were yet to follow. That year, Deltas were entered—depending on the event—with water-cooled brakes and suspension, electronic centre differentials, movable radiator cooling openings…

In Lancia Delta 4×4 / Integrale, author Graham Robson mentions an Autosport report from the Corsica round, where reporter Keith Oswin notes fire extinguishers in the leading cars were changed regularly. That was odd, since they were supposed to be plumbed-in, never used, and part of a fire suppression system. Rival teams rumored that more potent fuel was being used, but nothing was proven.

6 | Toyota’s 1995 World Rally Championship

This story would be nothing without Toyota’s exclusion from the 1995 World Rally Championship, when after a lot of careful investigation—involving microscopes and leak tests—FIA scrutineers were able to detect a solution that must have cost Toyota a pretty penny to develop.

An ingenious, fully-engineered, and nearly undetectable mechanism moved the car’s mandated restrictor plates, offering not only 25 per cent airflow but as much as 50 extra horsepower. Then-FIA President Max Mosley said:

“Inside, it was beautifully made. The springs inside the hose had been polished and machined so not to impede the air which passed through. To force the springs open without the special tool would require substantial force. It is the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA’s technical experts have seen for a long-time. It was so well made that there was no gap apparent to suggest there was any means of opening it.”

What’s your favorite story about a rally team (or driver) balancing on the edge between bending the rules and breaking them?

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