January 23, 1989 will go down in history as one of the darkest in the World Rally Championship. That Monday, two Swedish drivers, Lars-Erik Torph and co-driver Bertil-Rune Rehnfeldt, died. In addition, three spectators were seriously injured.
What made the tragic accident special was that Torph and Rehnfeldt were not in the accident car and not even racing, but along the road. The Swedish duo were swept to death by the Lancia Delta, whose control by Italian Alessandro “Alex” Fiorio had lost a moment earlier.
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Torph and Rehnfeldt were in the Monte Carlo Rally making ice sheet for Swedish Fredrik Skoghag, who withdrew from the race immediately after hearing about the accident.
The deceased Swedish duo had reportedly been walking away from the road and the accident car was estimated to have hit them, at least in part, from the back.
No. 1 driver Torph, 28 was an ascending ability who was expected to rise to the top of the World Series. He had already reached the podium in four World Rally Championships.
Fiorio and his Italian runner-up, Luigi Pirollo, survived the run-out without physical injuries, even though their drive crashed at a brisk speed at a brisk exit tens of meters from the rally road. Both Fiorion and Pirollon were reported to have been in shock and deeply shocked at the scene.
Luigi Pirollo (left) and Alessandro Fiorio.
Photo: Antti Puskala
The accident happened on the first special stage of the driving day. It was the Fifth Speedway of the overall competition, a special stage at Chateau Boulogne.
At the beginning of the special test, the accident occurred on an almost straight section of road on dry asphalt. The Lancia, driven by Fiorio, set off and the 23-year-old Italian quickly lost control of his vehicle. Lancia derailed and headed down the slope. On the way, the vehicle crashed to death in Torph and Rehnfeldt.
- I came to a gentle bend too hard. There were bounces on the road and one of them the car went to throw. I couldn’t do anything to avoid the run-out, Fiorio said freshly after the accident.
The TV crew was filmed on a fatal run-out and the car throws that preceded it. The imagery found on YouTube is drastic and sad to watch.
Fiorio had already driven the spectators in the opening special of the rally on Sunday, just a day before the death crash. That’s when he drifted into the audience with a snowy special stage. At the time, at least two people were reported injured in the eviction.
Fiorio competed in the Jolly Club stable car, which at the time was a kind of Lancia second team. At the Jolly Club, the Italian manufacturer matured its talented drivers for future reputations. For example, two-time world champion, Italian Massimo “Miki” Biasion rose from the Jolly Club to the factory garage in Lancia and became a two-time world champion.
According to press reports, the Fiorio car tested a new electronic switch developed by Lancia in Monte Carlo.
Initially, it was suspected that part of the reason for Fiorio’s outages was due to malfunctions of the new switch or problems in operating the equipment. However, the information was disputed by Lancia.
There was also speculation in the aftermath of the accident that the car's front wheel suspension would have been damaged and the vehicle would have lost its maneuverability if the bounces on the road were steaming. Doubts remained at the level of speculation.
Juha Kankkunen competed in a Toyota factory garage in Monte Carlo in 1989. He remembers the events on the roadside well.
"The atmosphere was, of course, really sad and sad when the accident became known," Kankkunen tells Urheilulehti now.
- The possibility of a technical fault can never be completely ruled out in such cases, but yes, I have the impression that the car simply got out of Alex's hands. All in all, it was a really sad and boring event, Kankkunen inches.
Juha Kankkunen and the 1986 Peugeot 205 T16 Evo2.
Photo: Tuomas Arkimies
Alessandro Fiorio was the son of Lancia's then team manager and Cesare Fiorio, who later took over the management of Ferrari's F1 team that same year.
Despite the deaths of Torph and Rehnfeldt, Father Fiorio did not pull Lancia's other cars out of the race. Lancia’s drivers eventually took the triple victory in the race under the leadership of Biasion.
Her son's accident, Cesare Fiorio, said it was a harsh lesson.
- For a long time I was against Alessandro starting to run a rally. I knew it was a challenging profession. For a long time he seemed to be five years more at the level of his skills. Now we have to start from scratch again.
Cesare Fiorio did not face death as Lancia's team manager for the first time in Monte Carlo in 1989: He was already present when his compatriot Attilio Bettega died in a Corsican World Rally Championship in 1985. Fiorio also led Lancia a year later when Henri Toivonen and his second-placed American driver Sergio In Corsica, a year since the Bettega accident.
Even after Toivonen's accident, German rally legend Walter Röhrl hinted in the direction that the safety of himself and his guests was not at the forefront of Lancia's operations.
- The top drivers who died in recent years have all been drivers of the same factory. It seems that for one carmaker the price of winning is higher than for others, the German champion who raced in Lancia in his extensive career also said.
Juha Kankkunen's car collection includes a line of Lancia rally beasts.
Photo: Tuomas Arkimies
Safety in rallies had been hotly debated since the mid-1980s. The impetus for the debate was especially the so-called era of supercars, ie Group B members.
Group B cars were spectacular and efficient, but were banned after the 1986 season as too dangerous. The World Series then shifted to Group A vehicles, which were closer to production cars.
In addition to the deaths of Lancia drivers, the ban on Group B drivers was prompted by a serious run-out of Peugeot driver Ari Vatanen in Argentina in 1985 and an accident at the 1986 World Rally Championship in Portugal in which a Ford driven by local Joaquim Santos crashed into the crowd. Three were killed and several injured in the accident.
In Monte Carlo in 1989, Jean-Marie Balestre, then president of the FIA and FISA, appeared in front of the press after the Fiorio accident. He noted that safety in rallies has improved dramatically and said the criticism of the umbrella organization for motorsport is completely unfounded.
Balestre noted that if Alessandro Fiorio had driven a Group B car, it is certain that there would have been two more dead in the accident.
The victim, Torph, had had time to take part in twenty World Championships in his career. His best accomplishments had been grabbed at the wheel of Toyota in the World Cup in Africa. He finished second in both the Safari Rally and the Ivory Coast Rally in 1986.
Just 28 years old, Torph was protected by his compatriot, world champion Björn Waldegård. For Toyota, Torph came to Kankkusen's place. Kankkunen transferred from Toyota to Peugeot for the 1986 season and later returned to the bread of a Japanese manufacturer twice in his career.
- Lars-Erik was a rider. He could have become a top driver. Unfortunately, he did not drive or live much, Kankkunen says.
- Lars-Erik drove well, especially long endurance races. Speed was also found and that aspect was developing for him. He was a confident driver - very much like Waldegård, four-time world champion Kankkunen says.
Torph's last World Championship race in early January 1989 was the gassed Swedish rally, which he interrupted due to a technical fault in the Audi cab organized by a local importer.
Torph has been driven in Sweden in memory of his title rally for years.
Alessandro Fiorio continued the 1989 rally season with Lancia. At the end of the season, he finished even second in World Championship points after Biasion, who grabbed the championship.
Fiorio gassed more than 50 World Rally Championships in his career, but never won any World Championship races. A dozen podium places were recorded for him.
Fiorio took part in the World Rally Championships in 2002. He has been racing lower category rallies and show competitions in his fifties.
In February of this year, Fiorio, 55, commented anxiously on Estonian driver Ott Today's ferocious exit in the Monte Carlo World Rally Championship. Even today, his co-driver Martin Järveoja was said to have survived the rush without physical injuries, but Fiorio demanded that the speed of the current WRC cars be restrained and compared them to those of Group B years ago.
Sources: IS-HS archive, Ylen Vauhdin killing document, primocanale.it.