Our look back at five of the most creative, damning and effective ‘creative interpretations’ of the rulebook went down rather well, so here are another five. Not all were as successful, some were engineering marvels and some downright brazen, yet all are evidence of the lengths car makers, teams and individuals are willing to go when the chips are down and the bloody pressure is well and truly up.
Some of the below have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and have passed into motorsport legend, while others are more apocryphal in nature, and should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt.
So without further ado, let the cheating commence
1 – Lancia’s Strange Brew
The very nature of rallying lent itself to cheating, and the practice was rife among the top teams until relatively recently. Think about it; there can be few motorsport environments better suited to rule bending than a crew of two, in a car, miles from the powers that be, and with few (if any) rivals around to keep an eye on them.
Step forward Lancia, a team with a history of creative rule bending as long as its victory tally. The demise of Group B had left the Italians sitting pretty atop the Group A pile, but with Toyota’s Celica-shaped charge looming ever larger in the Delta’s rear mirror, Lancia opted to get creative in order to retain its edge.
Rival teams began to notice that Lancia mechanics were particularly fastidious about swapping fire extinguishers at each and every service, even if the device had never been activated. The unproven rumour, one muttered darkly around service parks and overnight halts across the globe, was that Lancia had resorted to filling its fire suppression equipment (as many as four extinguishers per car) with NOS.
It was never proven, and in any case, Lancia’s rivals were doubtless doing the exact same thing, but it remains a fascinating cheat (and let’s face it, that’s what it quite brazenly was) from rallying’s less polished past.
2 – Audi’s Swap Shop
Special stage cheating might’ve ended in the Group A era but it had been rife for decades previously, including in the infamously lawless Group B period of the mid ‘80s. The best known example of outright cheating occurred on the 1985 running of the Ivory Coast. It was always among the more poorly supported events of the calendar, and was often disparagingly referred to as the poor relation of the Safari Rally, but it was a top-tier event nonetheless.
That year saw Audi and its drivers struggle with the ill-handling Sport Quattro, none more so than Michelle Mouton. It was also prone to engine issues, a point proven when Mouton’s car limped into service at the end of the opening leg sounding none too healthy. Come the next morning and the Quattro spluttered into life and into the West African scrub, where it (and the identical chase car of Franz Braun) was soon lost and out of sight of officialdom.
Exactly what went down in the African savannah that year is open to discussion, though what is known is that Mouton’s car eventually remerged, running perfectly – in marked contrast to the sickly sounding chase car. Eagle-eyed observers also noted subtle discrepancies in the livery, not to mention a missing jacking point on the rally car.
Nothing was ever proven, and in any case, Mouton crashed out of the rally before the end and before any act of subterfuge could come to fruition. But it set paddock tongues wagging nonetheless, not least as it concerned out, the team which had transformed the sport of rallying just a few short years previously, yet now found itself very much on the back foot.
3 – Alfa Wings It
Not so much a cheat as a literal and dedicated interpretation of the rule book, Alfa Romeo’s assault on the British Touring Car Championship in 1994 is the stuff of tin-top legend. The BTCC had been run under Super Touring rules since the banishment of the Group A Sierra RS500s at the end of the ‘80s, and while the new formula didn’t explicitly forbid the production of ‘homologation specials’ the powers that be didn’t reckon the need to produce 2500 round going variants would be deterrence enough. After all, this was the BTCC, a domestic tin-top series.
Enter stage left, Alfa Romeo and its brace of 155s driven by Gabriele Tarquini and Giampiero Simoni. A new entrant for that year, the Alfas sported moveable front splitters and adjustable rear wings, and therefore had a demonstrable downforce advantage. Italian domination soon followed and the red cars won the first 5 rounds at a canter, before, under pressure from Ford and Vauxhall, TOCA stripped Alfa of its points from Snetterton and Silverstone and commanded the team to run the aero devices in the ‘lowered.’
The waters were muddied by the race cars being based of a limited edition version of the 155 called the Silverstone, complete with mounting points for both splitter and rear wings, not to mention a box containing both aerofoils in the boot! Alfa took the championship with ease, most of the grid sprouted similar devices the following year, and for 1995 TOCA increased the homologation threshold to 25,000.
4 – Schumacher’s Perfect Launch
This is probably the darkest and most contentious entry on this list, bound up as it is with the events of 1994 and the untimely death of Ayrton Senna at San Marino. The F1 world was in a state of flux that year; the erstwhile dominant Williams had been found wanting, its car ill-suited to even the sublimely talented Senna. The Brazilian was visibly frustrated by both his new team and the FW16B, and his mood wasn’t helped by a fresh-faced Michael Schumacher emerging as a force to be reckoned with in his Benetton B194.
Senna’s dark mood was compounded by his consternation at being unable to keep pace with the Benettons as they shot away from the grid, and it wasn’t long before the Brazilian was muttering darkly to all who’d listen about illegal software and the possibility of launch control, a system that had been legal in F1 the year beforehand.
It was only after Senna’s death that the FIA swung into action and seized Benetton’s ECU and associated software. Careful interrogation revealed Senna’s suspicion to have been well founded, and while the FIA couldn’t prove that the team had made use of the hidden launch control facility (supposedly too buried in the ECU to easily remove and well-hidden to prevent accidental activation), the discovery cast a pall over Schumacher’s title success.
5 – Bambrilla’s Marching Orders
Not every cheat is the result of countless hours of painstaking work by engineers; sometimes it’s merely a case of creative thinking and quick action, both of which were far, far easier to get away with in the ‘60s, ‘70s and into the ‘80s. The 1975 running of the Swedish Grand Prix provided perhaps the best example of this ‘keep it simple, stupid’ approach to cheating, though ironically it was only made possible through a belated attempt to embrace modern tech.
That year, the organisers of the began experimenting with a timing beam as a means of recording lap times, a far more sophisticated approach then the standard approach of a carefully clicked stopwatch. This being the ‘70s, the technology was less than perfect out of the box, a fact not lost on March’s Robin Herd, not least as his team was handily located right next to the timing beam/finishing line.
Spotting a chance to improve the grid placing of his lead driver, Vittorio Brambrilla, Herd swung his pit board fractionally too early, while the lead March was a good 40 or so metres up the road. Doing so broke the beam and triggered a time a good deal faster than might otherwise have been achieved, gifting Brambrilla the sole pole position of his career.