The Lancia Stratos proved its potential right from the start, winning the 1974 WRC title with a late-season surge after its homologation at the beginning of October. It also dominated the 1975 and 1976 seasons, cementing its legacy as one of the most successful rally cars of all time.
In 1974 scrutineering for the Sanremo Rally took place on 2 October with the stamp on the homologation papers barely dry, but the Stratos delivered the dream result on this, its first WRC event. Lancia had two Stratos entered with Amilcare Ballestrieri and Sandro Munari, with two Beta Montecarlos as backup, and ranged against them were no fewer than seven works Fiat 124 Abarth Rallyes. In the inaugural year of the WRC, 1973, Fiat had finished second to Alpine Renault and were keen to improve on that.
The 1974 season was a little strange in that the early events in its calendar had been cancelled thanks to the ‘petrol crisis’. Fiat had won in Portugal, Lancia were third on the Safari, and now, at only the fourth event of the WRC with just four events to come after Sanremo, both of the Turin-based teams were keen to win.
1974: First season, first title
The Sanremo Rally did not turn out well for Fiat since six of their works cars retired, as did Ballestrieri. Munari won 14 of the 38 special stages and ran out almost eight minutes clear of the surviving Abarth at the finish. This left the WRC with Fiat leading with 48 points against Lancia’s 32. There was a further feather in the Stratos cap before the month was out when Jean-Claude Andruet drove a turbocharged Group 5 car to victory in the Giro d’Italia, an event that was, like the Tour de France, a mixture of racing and rallying.
The next two WRC events were both new to the championship, and both were in North America. On the Rideau Lakes in Canada, it was a complete Lancia triumph, with Munari’s Stratos winning by a narrow margin from his teammate Simo Lampinen driving a Beta Coupé and with all three works Abarths retiring. The 1974 Press-on-Regardless Rally held on the Michigan peninsula is famous for the failed attempts by a local sheriff to chase and apprehend Munari’s Stratos, even pursuing him down a forest special stage at one point. But the Stratos eventually dropped out with a broken distributor, leaving Fiat to pick up points by finishing second with Lampinen, some consolation for Lancia, in fourth…
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