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New Zealand’s farewell to the Group B Supercars

Season 1986 was a tumultuous year for the World Rally Championship and Rally New Zealand came after the events in Portugal and Corsica where deaths had placed the future of Group B into question.

The entry was down on previous years, but the big guns were there in the form of Peugeot and Lancia, while local entries were led by Audi Dealers of New Zealand’s Malcolm Stewart, while Reg Cook partnered by Paddy Davidson formed a two-car Nissan assault.

Another of interest was the MG Metro 6R4 of Tony Teesdale featuring sponsorship from Repco and although running a lower specification to Group B was expected to still be a contender to finish as lead New Zealander.

Interests in Group A were led by Possum Bourne as part of a three-strong Subaru team and ex-pat Rod Millen in a locally prepared Mazda 323 4WD, but both faced stiff competition from future WRC rally winner Kenneth Eriksson in a Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Peugeot’s Juha Kankkunen set the pace early to lead Markku Alen in the leading Lancia by 10s in the outright battle as the Group A battle was close as Bourne led by 2s from Ericsson, who led Millen by another 1s.

Alen’s opening afternoon was a scorcher as he closed significantly on Kankkunen and even beat a stage record by 30s set previously by Peugeot’s Timo Salonen just a year prior.

Turbocharger problems were delaying Salonen as he maintained equal third with Lancia’s Miki Biasion some 38s off the pace.

Teesdale, Stewart and the Mazda RX-7 of Neil Allport were locked in an intense battle early to lead the local charge, as Cook’s Nissan encountered gearbox trouble.

In Group A, Ericsson held a 3s from Bourne in a see-sawing battle.

Alen took the lead on Special Stage 5 as Kankkunen maintained a 48s lead from Biasion,as Lancia’s lead driver further built his margin to 15s from his fellow Finn.

It was Lancia’s day as first the Peugeot’s were hampered by soft tyre compounds in the afternoon’s running before Salonen was hit by a Japanese Toyota entry during the touring section resulting in significant damage and incurring 26-minutes’ worth of penalties.

Bourne was losing his grasp on Group A as Ericsson continued to build his lead, however tragedy struck the Subaru team when a service crew member passed away in a motor accident, the squad withdrew after consultation with its Japanese headquarters.

Kankkunen began to close on Alen during the start of Day 2 as atrocious conditions began to challenge all competitors, but not the large number of spectators lining the stages.

The Peugeot driver took a stunning 17s out of Alen on the final stage of the leg to finish the leg equal with the Lancia entering the final part of the rally as Baision was a further 3m 12s behind.

The battle for lead Kiwi was down to two as Stewart’s Audi retired leaving Teesdale 31s in front of Allport. Ericsson held a comfortable 3m 25s advantage from Millen’s Mazda following the Subaru withdrawals.

Kankkunen and Alen continued to be level after the first stage, but it was the Peugeot snatching a slight advantage following the morning stages.

This was extended to 21s at the end of the day as Alen entered the final leg needing to pull something special out to challenge Kankkunen.

Allport meanwhile had taken the position of lead local runner from Teesdale, but it was just a 35s margin. Ericsson continued to lead Group A as he extended the margin to 3m 56 back to Millen.

Day 4 proved a forgettable one for Lancia as Kankkunen tightened his stranglehold on the rally to take the rally victory by 1m 40s from Alen, with Biasion, Ericsson and Salonen rounding out the lead contenders.

Allport finished as lead New Zealander as Teesdale was delayed on the final day to elevate the Nissan pair of Davidson and Cook.

Ericsson dominated Group A to lead home Millen.

New Zealand was a crucial victory for Kankkunen in pursuit of his maiden world title, which he did achieve as he defeated Alen by 14-points to end the Group B era on top.