Rally Review, April 1969

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The Swedish Rally

There was once a popular theory that high-powered cars, such as Porsches, were not at all suitable for rallies over surfaces which were predominantly snow- and ice-covered. Now that Porsches have twice won the Monte Carlo Rally and twice the Swedish Rally the theory is becoming less popular.

In 1967, when Elford’s lead in the Monte was snatched from him on the last test by Aaltonen’s Mini, it was said that the blizzard caused the Porsche to wallow almost uncontrollably, letting the Mini through to win. This, perhaps more than anything else, was the thing which gave rise to the theory about power and slippery roads.

But now that a Porsche has twice won the Swedish Rally people are beginning to realise something which rally drivers have known for some time; that power is by no means an embarrassment on ice and packed snow—provided, that is, that proper means are used to put the power on the ground.

Snow tyres, equipped with several hundred sharp, hard studs punched into the rubber tread blocks, are capable of biting into ice and packed snow to such an extent that high-speed handling can be compared to that of a similar car using ordinary tyres on wet tarmac. Sometimes the studs-on-ice combination is even better. Most Swedes use studded tyres for everyday winter driving and are experienced in their use. Swedish rally drivers are so much better, but Waldegard is exceptional. To have stood at the side of the frozen track of one of Sweden’s pony trotting stadiums and watched him hurl his Porsche around at fantastic speed, knowing that it was difficult even to walk over the slippery surface, was indeed a privilege.

There is no doubt that the unofficial title of “Greatest Winter Classic” is wasted on the Monte when there are such events as the Swedish Rally. Similar in concept to the R.A.C. Rally, with strings of high-speed special stages linked by much slower road sections, it runs over snow and ice from the start to the finish. And the Swedes do not rely only on finding suitable roads for the stages—they send bulldozers to plough the snow off the frozen surfaces of rivers and lakes. And if you think that is ingenious, may I remind you that when the Swedish Rally was a summertime event (and called the Rally to the Midnight Sun) they sent competitors into a coal mine for a special stage through tunnels and passages beneath the ground!

Held in mid-February, the rally attracted factory entries from Saab, Ford of Britain and Lancia, and a very strong team of Opels from the General Motors dealer network in Sweden. But Waldegard never looked like faltering, despite having to stop for a gearbox change halfway through the event, and he won with ease.

His victory illustrates the importance of having efficient mechanics in service cars to meet the rally cars at intervals along the route. When his gearbox broke, Waldegard all but retired on the spot, for the service van failed to make its rendezvous; it had been ditched several kilometres away, and a couple of smart dashes by taxi were necessary to convey a spare gearbox and tools from one stricken vehicle to the other.

Whereas studs are extremely efficient on slippery surfaces which are also hard, they lose their efficiency rapidly on fresh snow. To work properly they need something to bite into, and when the roads become covered by soft, powdery snow the tread surfaces clog up and the wheels spin at the slightest provocation. This was illustrated in Sweden when snow began to fall on the rally’s second night and Waldegard’s stage times reflected his car’s sudden unmanageability. It was even caught up by other, less powerful cars.

Whereas the Porsche was fast and intelligently driven, the Saabs, as ever, were reliable. That is not to say that they weren’t driven equally intelligently, of course, for they were and Simo Lampinen, winner of last year’s R.A.C. Rally, came second and led three of the Trollhättan cars to the team prize. Both Ford Escorts retired, Andersson’s with gearbox failure (the spare one didn’t mate properly with the lever in the selector box) and Soderström’s with a broken half shaft.

The Lancias were suffering badly from the intense cold, and Munari had to retire immediately when a contretemps with a snow bank smashed his screen. In such temperatures it would have been unthinkable to go on. Källström, however, went on to finish sixth.

In one respect the Swedes suffer from their own reputation. They are so difficult to beat in their native conditions that private entrants from outside Sweden are rare, and even factory teams pick Scandinavians to drive for them. This causes the rally to lose much of its International flavour and it is rare to see in the entry list a name which is not studded with the little accents which sometimes worry our printers.