Rally Review, April 1968

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San Remo Rally

It was certainly a good day for Porsche, way back towards the end of 1966, when they allowed themselves to be persuaded by Vic Elford that they should take an interest in rallying. In cars which differed only very slightly from those which could be bought from a showroom, they had a pretty generous measure of success in 1967, and they look like doing even better in 1968.

So far, three European Championship rallies have been held this year, and all of them have been won in Porsches. Firstly, Waldegärd and Helmer won the Swedish Rally, then Elford and Stone won the Monte Carlo Rally. Now, the Italian San Remo Rally has been added to the list, for it was won in mid-March by Pauli Toivonen and Martti Tiukkanen, the two Finns who finished second at Monte Carlo.

Although it was billed as the eighth San Remo Rally, it was actually the first, for the other seven were held under the title Rally of the Flowers, after the horticultural industry which is carried on in that part of the North Mediterranean coast. The idea for the change may well have resulted from a desire to remove any hint that the rally is a gentle wander through the blooms, for this could not be further from the truth.

For 31 hours, the rally runs through without a break over two days and one night, the route totalling over 1,500 kilometres. Included in this are twenty special stages making up 170 kilometres. To some seasoned rally campaigners, this may sound like easy meat, but let me assure you that it is not. Those twenty stages were over rough, stony tracks little changed from the time they were laboriously hewn through the mountains by the military between the Wars.

Rough as they may be, they are the only roads over the mountain passes and have consequently been taken over by local authorities, or whatever are their equivalents in Italy. Being public roads, their closure for rallying means that the route has to be published well in advance, thus giving competitors the opportunity to practise.

Practising, and the making of detailed pace notes, is a laborious but necessary evil which all professional drivers have to put up with if they are to do at all well. Most of them would far rather not be involved in reconnaissance of this kind, but if the other fellow does it, one has to oneself. But practising for the San Remo Rally was more than just tedious. The shortage of roads in the mountains led the organisers to use several of them twice and even three times as special stages, often in opposite directions, and the final route map presented such a complex network that it could not be superimposed on an existing map; new ones had to be specially printed.

Practising, therefore, was more than a little perilous. No driver could be quite sure that he would not meet someone else practising the other way. The obvious precaution was to do it all by night, but even so the hazard was not completely removed and several crews damaged their practice cars, among them three of the five cars entered by the Lancia factory.

Two years ago, when Elford won in a Ford and was then disqualified due to it misprinted homologation form, the rally had two starting points, the routes converging at San Remo before any special tests were tackled. It was at the joint scrutineering that Fall was eliminated because the air filter on his Mini contained no paper element. He was not allowed to replace it as it was argued that the rally had already started. Wisely, there was only one starting point the following year so that any technical problems could be sorted out before the start and this arrangement was kept for 1968. The Monte Carlo Rally organisers could well take a leaf out of this chapter of the Italian book.

Although most European events run their special tests on scratch, when the fastest man wins, the Italians suffer from an administration which insists that there should be target times for each special stage. Anyone achieving a time less than target is credited with the target, and not the time which he has attained. Where several cars beat the target, this system results in a rather unfair levelling, much as the speed of a desert caravan is that of its slowest camel—provided, that is, that all camels are quicker than the bogey.

The same system is used in Britain on the R.A.C. Rally and all the other rallies which use special stages, although here the 50 m.p.h. rule is laid clown by the R.A.C. and not by the law of the land as in Italy. To increase the target, or even to abolish it altogether, would certainly not be dangerous, for crews are already driving as fast as they possibly can.

Having digressed enough, I had better start talking about the cars. Although there were only 73 starters (another international rally in France at the same time had 112), no less than eight European manufacturers were represented, their entries totalling 18 cars. The majority of the entries were from sponsored drivers, their cars liberally plastered with advertising despite a clause in the regulations which said, “Publicity vehicles are not admitted.” True private entrants were in the minority, the masses of Fiat Abarth drivers who entered in previous years having doubtless learned that a car-breaking rally, such as this one was, could be disastrous financially.

As expected, the strongest team was that of the Lancia factory who, earlier in the year, lost two of their best men when Luciano Lombardini was killed on the Monte and Leo Cella whilst testing an Alfa Romeo at the Balucco test track. Nevertheless, they had Fulvias for Barbasio, Ballestrieri, Pat Moss-Carlsson and, from Sweden, Jerry Larsson and Harry Källström.

Two years ago, when two Fulvias came to the R.A.C. Rally they all but fell to pieces, but considerable amount of work has been done in the meantime to strengthen the cars; on the San Remo Rally all five of them finished, Pat Moss-Carlsson in second place, taking the team award easily. The Lancia mechanics, of which there were many, had very few problems to contend with, their main one being to keep exhaust pipes in one piece. They were knocked off or damaged so regularly that two of the cars had them removed altogether.

The three Alfa Romeo GTAs entered by: Autodelta were not really set up for rallying. One failed to start in parc fermé, another didn’t finish and the third returned to San Remo absolutely shattered with the tyre missing from the right-hand rear wheel. Its dramatic, spark-showering entrance was greeted with the usual hot-blooded Italian enthusiasm.

Jean-Claude Ogier took his Citroën DS21 stably and comfortably to eleventh place, but not so lucky were the three works Dafs, none of which finished. Porsche, with their usual Teutonic assurance, worked on the principle that only one car can win and sent just a single entry for the two Finns.

B.M.C. entered their efforts on two Group 2 Cooper S, for Aaltonen/Liddon and Fall/Wood. They went well in the earlier stages, being beaten only by cars of much more power, but retired during the night with severely overheating engines. Ford, to baptise their new Escort, sent just one twin-cam version for Andersson and Davenport, the pair who drove for Lancia last year and still do when they are not required by Boreham. For a first time effort, it did well to finish third, with negligible mechanical trouble into the bargain, although I think it was a mistake not to have studded tyres at the ready for the few stages which had snow on them.

Finally, a word must be said about the two Alpines entered by Renault. These frail, ultra-light, glassfibre-bodied machines were almost laughed at when they arrived at scrutineering, and I must confess that I was among the doubters who expected them to retire early, broken by the rough mountain roads. To use them on the Monte was one thing but to take them at rally speed-over unsurfaced tracks was quite another.

But how the sceptics were made to revise their views! Not only did both cars finish, but Jean-Francois Piot actually led in his until nightfall. He would have finished near the top of the list had not his oil pump stopped working, necessitating much coasting on the last stage and down the main road to the finish.

Jean Vinatier, the other Alpine driver, had no trouble whatsoever and made fifth place despite the baulking which he suffered on an early stage, an undesirable happening which affected many crews (including the Escort’s), caused entirely by the failure of the organisers to seed the entries properly.

It was thought that an Alpine would be seen rallying for the first time in the British Isles when Piot brought his over for the Circuit of Ireland Rally, but after San Remo was over he told me than this was not at all certain.

The next rally which counts for the European championship is the East German Rally on April 4th-7th, but it is not expected that there will be any entries front the British factories, although there will doubtless be a Porsche on the scene. Later in the month, far more interest will be centred on the East African Safari to which B.M.C. are sending three Austin 1800s and Ford a Cortina Lotus to compete against highly experienced local crews driving Peugeots, Renaults, Triumphs, Datsuns, Vauxhalls, Porsches, Dihatsu, Alfa Romeos, Volvos, Volkswagens, Saabs, Opels, Fords, Toyotas, Fiats, a Mercedes-Benz and a Rover—91 cars in all.—G. P.