(MAIN) Sandro Munari heads to victory on the
1975 Monte Carlo Rally, the first of three
straight for the Italian. (BELOW, left to right)
The Lancia brain trust of Cesare Fiorio, Munari
and Mike Parkes on the ’ 76 Tour de Corse.
44 AUGUST 2014
lAnciA STrAToS HF
repairs saved huge amounts of time.
Indeed, it wasn’t unheard of for the cars to
arrive at the end of the stage shorn of the
flimsy bodywork and ready for attention.
On asphalt, that in-built rigidity came
to the fore, allowing the car to run higher
spring rates and lower ride heights as it
hugged the racing line and bellowed its
way to five Corsica wins in eight years.
So well born was the Stratos, Parkes’
development and subsequent
homologations of the car were centered
on strengthening the rear suspension,
beefing up the brakes, adding a rear
spoiler, and mounting a roof-mounted air
intake to help cool the crew. Fiorio,
however, acknowledges Parkes’ input.
“Mike was a big part of the success of
the story,” he says. “He was the reference
man for all the development work, and
the fantastic job he was doing ended too
early when he died in a road accident.”
Fortunately Parkes got to celebrate the
success he helped Lancia achieve with
three successive Makes’ World
Championships, 1974-’ 76, before the
accident which claimed his life in 1977.
Strong, lightweight and ferociously
powerful in its final, 24-valve, fuel-injected
configuration (developing 330hp), the
Stratos had become the dominant force
in rallying. Which made the decision to end
factory involvement in 1978 even harder
to take. Fiorio, for one, is convinced the
Stratos had more championships in it.
“I know if the Stratos had continued it
could have won the world championship
two, three or even more times,” he says.
“We could have made an evolution with
four-wheel drive and kept it competitive
for maybe the next 10 years.”
But, by 1978, Fiat’s 131 Abarth had
come on song and, from a marketing
perspective made a lot more sense to
spearhead the group’s WRC effort. Mere
mortals could buy one, for a start.
“It was a political point from Fiat,” says
Fiorio. “But it wasn’t such a bad idea. The
131 came after the Stratos had terrorized
all of the other manufacturers and made
them reduce their rally programs because
there was no chance for them against this
car. So, when we arrived with the 131,
the starting field was very poor and we
managed to win the championship with a
car which was not really competitive in
the rally world at that time. I was sad to
see Stratos go, but I was in charge of Fiat
and Lancia motorsport and I said, ‘OK, we
are soldiers and we make war with the
weapons that you give us.’”
World rallying’s first true supercar, the
Lancia Stratos HF, was a genuine
forerunner to the Group B monsters
which would follow in the next decade.
And from its first win with Munari on the
Firestone Rally in 1973 to Bernard
Darniche’s Tour de Corse success in a
Chardonnet-run car eight years later, the
futuristic machine set the benchmark.
Three world titles chart the story of the
car Bertone built and Ferrari powered, but
it’s the emotion which surrounds the
incomparable Stratos that still stirs the soul.
“Stratos had terrorized all
of the other manufacturers
and made them reduce
their rally programs”
He’s best known as
a Ford and Toyota
factory driver, but
three of the Swede’s
16 WRC wins came
in a Stratos, including
two on Italian Sandro
Munari’s home turf,
the Sanremo Rally
(1975 and ’ 76).