This rally business

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This nom-de-plume hides the identity of a regular rally competitor, who drives a Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. we present his suggestions in the hope that organisers of the future will digest and discuss them during the enforced leisure now prevailing in the sphere of competition motoring, but we beg leave not to associate ourselves editorially with his views.—ed.

Some Suggestions and Comments for the improvement of our Rallies.

By “CAYENNE”

THERE is no doubt that the war has hit the Sport as hard as any other institution in this country, but I do think that it has one advantage— it has given us a breathing space, which, for the good of the sport, we ought to utilise by sitting back and thinking how we can improve matters, before dicing in all its forms starts again.

It seems to me that a good start could be made on what should be one of the most popular types of sport in this country—the Rally. Barring the M.C.C. classic trials, the R.A.C. Rally attracts the longest entry list of any British motoring event, but, with the possible exception of the Scottish Rally, it also produces at the finish (or should I say after the issue of the provisional results?) the longest list of complaints. As a competitor who has only missed one important British rally in the last two years, and as one who did consistently badly in the four major rallies of 1939, I am completely out of sympathy with ninety per cent, of the grousers, but if rallies are to continue now that manufacturers’ support has been officially withdrawn, it is obvious that some changes—drastic changes, too—must be made.

The greatest outcry after last year’s R.A.C. Rally was against the entry of so-called  “Works Cars”; complaints were made that the common or garden driver in his family saloon had no chance against the professional drivers in “thinly disguised racing-cars.” Well, apart from the fact that the “racing cars” were so thickly disguised that I, for one, was unable to recognise them, it strikes me that the present system of dividing the entry into classes is perfectly fair, and even a cursory glance at the awards lists should show that certain drivers of ordinary cars are just as consistently at the top as some of those handling the “works racing-cars.” The fault, dear Mr. Smith, is not in your car, but in yourself; to name two successful rally drivers of recent years, neither Leslie Johnson nor Walter Norton has any connection with the motor trade, but by force of superior skill and experience, they will always beat the average motorist in the same type of car. After all, if a B.M.W. was first in the large open car class at Brighton, a B.M.W. was also last, and the names of the holders of at least the first six places in that class are none of them unknown in the competition world.

No, I am afraid that the elimination of works entries will not be the life-saver of the rally, if only due to the fact that no regulations in the world can prevent private owners driving cars specially prepared for the event by the works, whether at the owner’s or the manufacturer’s expense. Now before I go any further, I should like to make one or two points quite clear. I am a genuine enthusiast: I have competed regularly in every kind of competition organised in this country (treasure hunts excluded): I have even sat on the committee of a prominent motor club; but—I have never taken part in the organisation of a motoring event; my viewpoint is essentially that of a competitor. Moreover, I fully appreciate that the stringent motoring (or possibly anti-motoring) laws of the land do not make matters easy for organisers; and finally, I am fully aware (although I deplore the fact) that there is no solid connecting link between the motor clubs of Britain. Affiliation to the R.A.C., I regret to say, means very little.

Returning to our muttons, if you will excuse the idiom, the first rally to tackle is obviously that organised by the aforementioned body, the R.A.C. This is a fixture which must never disappear from the calendar, but it seems to be anxious to cut its own throat. It has always been Britain’s nearest approach to the incomparable Monte Carlo Rally, but now its conditions are yearly becoming easier. Surely the social runs can be left to the small clubs? In 1937, we had two nights’ run with a full day in be-tween: in ’38, two days and one night; in ’39, an afternoon, a night, another day, and then—heaven protect me!—a night’s rest. Now I always think of the R.A.C. Rally as something of an adventure, but if it had not been for the fact that I arrived at the start without a passenger, and only obtained one less than a minute before I was due to check out, the rally of 1939 would have been, for me, one of the dullest long-distance trips in living memory. However, a most sporting marshal, to whom I shall ever be grateful, volunteered at a moment’s notice to come as my co-driver, and by the time we had re-joined the route after driving to Birmingham to straighten out his affairs for the ensuing week, we were over three hours behind schedule, and only fifty miles in the desired direction from the start. Nevertheless, we made the breakfast check at Scarborough with a quarter of an hour to spare. Believe me, I still pity my fellow competitors who had been in bed for the best part of five hours when we arrived, dead beat, in falling snow. The R.A.C. Rally should be tough—1,000 miles virtually non-stop, with plenty of night driving, and an exacting time schedule. The much-vaunted “Colonial Section” of the last one did the event more harm than good by its not altogether unexpected withdrawal.

May I leave the R.A.C. Rally with just one more criticism? Were not the eliminating tests of last year’s event too dependent upon brakes and acceleration? “Circus Tests” are often a thing to be deplored, but there is a lot more in driving than mere starting and stopping. In conjunction with this, the system of marking these tests left quite a lot to be desired. In Test Two, for example, one accelerated for half a mile, and then had to stop before a line sixty yards farther on. The penalty for failure was the deduction of twenty marks; all well and good, but after another twenty yards was a second line, the crossing of which entailed the forfeiture of a further fifty marks. Now surely it must be obvious that anyone who has lost twenty marks at the first line is, as far as the awards list is concerned, “out of the rally.” Why go to the trouble of deducting additional marks from a car that has already no chance of winning? Surely a better plan would be to move the first penalty line say twenty yards nearer the finish, subtract five marks for passing this, and an additional mark for each yard in excess of it. These penalty lines would then live up to their name, and not be “disqualification lines.”

The Scottish Rally is in the main wholly delightful, although, of course, it is no endurance test. To employ a phrase used more than once by the motoring Press, “the inclusion of one test each day maintains lively interest throughout the rally,” giving the competitor something to look forward to—often with mixed feelings—on each day’s run. In my opinion, this is one of the best points of what is, perhaps, the most enjoyable motoring fixture on the British Calendar. Another excellent feature is the fact that the route lies very largely off the beaten track, giving the dual advantage that “non-rally” traffic is rarely encountered, and the surface of the roads themselves is of such a nature that a certain amount of real “dicing” is required to be on time at the checks. (I do appreciate, however, that it is due to road conditions, and not the fault of the committees concerned, that this is not practicable in the other big rallies.)

Finally, the R.S.A.C. do seem to go out of their way to consider the comfort of competitors once the road section has been completed. Not only at the Club-house at Glasgow, but at the night controls too, they make sure that the competitor and his crew enjoy themselves. The system whereby the three intermediate nights are spent in the same place is wholeheartedly welcomed, especially by that not inconsiderable portion of the entry list who come North as competitors in the M.C.C. Edinburgh Trial. It is indeed hard to find fault with the organisation of the Scottish Rally, particularly as I wish first to praise the inclusion of a parking test, which, as the J.C.C. have proved in their Brooklands rallies, is a real test of driving skill. But—now for the criticism. You have probably guessed it—the braking test. I am the first to agree that a braking test is a fair, nay, an essential, part of a rally. And yet what happened in I 938? The enormous differences in marking on this single test had such an influence on the final placings, that over half the entry signed a petition asking that the whole question should be reviewed. In 1939, something even worse (in my opinion) occurred. The revised test eliminated at least six of the finest drivers in the rally. It may be that I have a bee in my bonnet over the question of experienced drivers, but when so many first-class men (and women) are put out of the running, I must confess that I begin to wonder whether the test itself is all that it should be. To crown the tragedy, all this occurred on the first day of the rally, and so considerably lessened the day-to-day interest by reducing the number of potential winners.

The Welsh Rally, a comparative newcomer to our ranks, has several good points in common with the Scottish Rally. The first of these was introduced for the first time last year, namely to have both intermediate nights’ rest at the same control, obviating that hectic packing which every rally crew detests.

The second, equally appreciated by the writer, is the system whereby a separate test is held each day, although the question whether two hill tests per rally is not one too many is a moot point. What is certainly an excellent scheme, and I think I am right in crediting the S.W.A.C. with it, is the reversal of the starting order on alternate days, ensuring each crew at least one late morning during the rally, a favour much appreciated, especially by regular competitors.

On the debit side comes the final tests, which, for the purpose of this article, I intend to couple with those of the L.A.C.’s Blackpool Rally. There’s too much of this  “forwards-backwards-forwards” business. Yes, I know: you’ve got to have a certain amount of spectacle and quite a lot of driving skill in your tests, but after all, you’ve also got to consider the man who really pays for your rally—the competitor. There was never a gearbox made to stand up to the sudden to-and-fro movements demanded by some of last year’s tests in these two rallies, and if gearbox or back axle did not protest in practice, or during the event, it is either a testimonial to the manufacture of the car, or a warning of things to come. Such tests are excellent per se, but the havoc they are liable to wreak with quite expensive parts of a motor car makes even the most enthusiastic competitor think twice before entering a rally again. This applies particularly to the regular competitor, who appears quite prominently on the promoter’s entry list, and, consequently, on the credit side of that promoter’s bank balance.

Another fault shared by these two rallies, and one which will always arouse considerable controversy, is the institution of that luckless individual, the Judge of Fact. Both rallies included tests which demanded that the car should stop astride a line, and, upon a signal from the J of F., proceed forwards. The weak link here is the human element: no judge, however willing, can possibly give the same signal one hundred and fifty times without making several errors of judgment. Sometimes he will motion the car forward immediately, and at others there will be a lapse of anything up to half a second after it has come to rest. And half a second is half a point, and more than one class award has been lost by a smaller margin than that . . .

By all means have a Judge of Fact to decide whether the car stops, and whether it stops in the right place, but let the driver use his own judgment as to whether he is conforming to the regulations. If he fails to do this, he has only himself to thank, although, human nature being what it is, he will in all probability blame his navigator.

To complete this very sketchy criticism of British rallies, I should like to mention one or two of the Blackpool Rally’s good points, and with an experienced enthusiast like Maurice Toulmin at the head of things, the difficulty is not in finding them, but in selecting them.

First, the road section. I don’t know how they did it, but the committee saw to it that you had to work quite hard to keep up to schedule, even though the average speed required by the regulations was not excessive. Even some of the most hardened competitors will bear me out in this! May I commend also the provision of tests en route, although in fairness I must deplore their similarity? Another excellent innovation was the introduction of secret checks in a given area, wherein competitors had to cover a limited but unknown distance at a given average speed, and I for one would welcome the retention of this kind of test over greater distances (with correspondingly greater margins in the required average), in all long-distance rallies. Yet another feature worth copying is one that is possible only in a closed invitation event, organised by a private club. I refer, of course, to the offering (either by the organisers or the clubs concerned) of awards for the best performance by a member of each invited club.

Without a doubt, this increases the interest of any event, for, pot-hunting or no, one does enter a competition with a faint hope of winning something, and the knowledge that one has, at any rate, a slight chance of an award in spite of the experts makes a lot of difference to a large percentage of amateur motorists.

Briefly, then, my Rally Aims are these :—

First: a five-day Rally with a control reached at the end of the first day, from half a dozen starting points, which remains as a centre throughout the rally; no night sections; a route with really beautiful scenery (the passengers at least will appreciate this); an average speed fast enough to keep drivers up to the mark; a different test each day, and— a good party to come back to each evening.

Second: a two-day event, with less importance attached to the road section, the result depending more or less entirely on the eliminating tests, which would be frequent and searching. With this rally, a full-blown concours d’elegance might well be arranged, the marking of which might be included in the results of the rally proper.

Third: a Round-Britain Rally, or at least a genuine Forty-Eight Hour Non-Stop event, with frequent tests en route including (dare I suggest it?) several trials hills, of which one, for example, could be Bluehills Mine. These hills, even if not observed in the strict sense of the word, should at least be climbed without outside assistance to enable a competitor to qualify as a finisher. Controls should not be more than two hundred miles apart, and the time limits should be very much stricter than those generally imposed to-day. Naturally, Class Awards would be allocated, but there would also be an outright winner, who might well be the envy of every competition driver of the day, driving a car that every right-minded manufacturer should intend to improve upon before the next year’s event. Am I asking too much?

After all, it shouldn’t be too hard—I have known much wilder dreams come true. Might I then ask for one thing more—definitely my last territorial demand? Couldn’t some benefactor offer a really worthwhile prize, in cash or in silverware, for the best combined performance put up by one competitor in the four principal rallies of the year? It would certainly give great impetus to an excellent branch of the Sport.

You’ve plenty of time ahead, so— think it over, Authority—think it over.

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