35 year anniversary 3rd place Argentina Rally 1988

“Service crew save 3rd place” – “On 3 wheels to third place” – “The King of Argentina” – “Austrians with start no. 1” an excerpt of the press headlines at the time. It has now been 35 years since Franz Wittmann and the Lancia Team Austria took the sensational 3rd place overall in the strong field of the World Rally Championship in Argentina. Gerhard Karlhofer, the service technician at the time, gives insights and remembers a rally that was hardly surpassable in terms of excitement.

“Besides our numerous engagements with the Integrale in the World Rally Championship, the 1988 campaign in Argentina was certainly one of the most exciting and at the same time one of the most successful. Even before the start, we were in close contact with the Lancia factory in Turin in order to be able to set up a current Gr.A Integrale with the latest technical standards for use in Argentina. The difference to the 4WD that we had a year earlier, for example. with the New Zealand victory in 1987 was that we had around 40 hp more engine power, improved chassis technology with the 16” gravel wheels for the first time and more options in terms of body reinforcement and tuning. The new Integrale was necessary in order to remain competitive at the highest level both internationally and nationally.On the first special stage, the Super Special Stage on July 2, 1988, in front of more than a hundred thousand euphoric Argentinians, Wittmann set the best time even though he damaged his radiator and stem in a big jump. But also the “slower” works drivers like Biasion and Recalde underestimated the jump hill that had just been filled up and didn’t get over the first SS without damage. With the normal service work and repairs, we got Miki Biasion and local hero Jorge Recalde set the pace and we were right behind them as the best private team in 3rd place overall ge of the day was the most exciting and thrilling for us as the service crew. Recalde is an icon and folk hero in the country and should be won over and celebrated by viewers.

However, Biasion was steadily catching up and had victory within reach, so some fans put stones on the road to prevent Biasion from continuing and possibly winning. But the stones missed their effect, as Biasion had to stop his Integrale shortly after the start due to electrical problems. Wittmann passed bias and thus came to kiss the hand. At around 140km/h he crashed into the boulders in the middle of the road. With a lot of luck he stayed on the track and saved himself on three wheels from the stage and to the stage finish in Cordoba, where we as the entire service team waited knowingly and prepared. The Integrale was very badly damaged, but giving up/failing was out of the question on our part. The complete wheel suspension on the left front as well as the entire stem was bent and massively compressed. The rear right wheel had torn out with the complete wheel suspension. After long negotiations with the organizer, who of course recognized this unfair situation for the fans, we received the promise that we could still repair our vehicle in the Parc-Ferme so that we could leave the Parc-Ferme on four wheels, at least temporarily . In just 4 minutes we changed the complete wheel suspension on the rear axle and drove to the applause of everyone in the service zone, where we had 40 minutes to repair everything. By joining forces and using whatever tools we had at our disposal, we managed to do the almost impossible and brought the integral back into competitive condition. The Abarth engineers around Georgio Pianta and Nini Russo of course followed everything very closely and were also visibly impressed. The subsequent tests on the 5th and last day were only a matter of form, since the positions were largely secured. So we waited completely exhausted but still excited at the finish line for the redeeming news. 3rd place overall behind Recalde and Biasion!!”