The San Remo Rally

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Wheras the Swedish Rally is characterised by snow, the San Remo Rally ought to have been held in the March sunshine of the Mediterranean. But it wasn’t. On the coast at San Remo it rained and along the route in the mountains it snowed.

Accepted as one of the rough rallies of the European calendar, the Rally of the Flowers (its former name is far more appropriate than its present one, despite this year’s conditions) uses an incredible winding, climbing route in the mountains behind San Remo, its 1,000 miles along stony tracks so concentrated that it crosses itself several times and uses some of the special stages twice, even three times.

Like many other rallies, special stages are used, but the road sections between are by no means easy. Some, in fact, are so difficult as to assume greater significance than the special stages. When you also consider that penalties were awarded at the rate of one per two seconds on stages and one per second on the road, the concept of the rally as a long, rough road race is easy to imagine.

Although Ford, Lancia and Daf had factory entries, the Porsche effort was rather half-hearted. Indeed, they sent two cars (one an old one) to be used by Zasada and Taramazzo, and no mechanics at all. This was because the Stuttgart factory has declared an interest only in events which qualify for the European Constructors’ Championship, and the San Remo was a drivers’ qualifier.

Lancia had five cars in the running, and a shrewd move in the first hours of the rally put their Fulvias into an early lead which they never looked like losing. Furthermore, even if they didn’t admit it, the opposition was somewhat demoralised by this early jump ahead by the leading Lancia drivers.

What happened was this: The first tight section was over 30 miles of rocky tracks zig-zagging through the mountains and crossing the Passo di Teglia. Even the fastest drivers reckoned on having only a minute or two available for service at the end of it. The last 10 miles was a special stage contained within the 30-mile road section, and those 10 miles were so covered by snow that studded tyres were essential for good times.

Most people rejected the idea of having a tyre-change point just before the start of the special stage, on the grounds that this would rob them of valuable road time. They therefore fitted new tyres before the whole section, and proceeded to wear their studs away completely on the rocky climb to the snow level.

The Lancias had new rear tyres fitted before the section, causing rival drivers to raise their eyebrows in amazement that the driven wheels should be neglected. But their surprise was short lived; at the top of the mountain Lancia had a well-organised tyre change point to give new front wheels, each with 5 mm, studs on its BF Goodrich tyres, to its team cars.

The Aaltonen/Liddon influence was most apparent here, because the mechanics were using quick-lift jacks similar to those which were used by the B.M.C. rally mechanics on their Minis. One sweep of the long handles and the cars were in the air. A maximum of one minute had been allocated per car for this change and not one car ran over time.

The benefit came at once, for the leading Lancia was over a minute quicker on the test which followed than the fastest non-Lancia, Mikkola’s Escort. And not one of them lost road time as a result. It was a gamble, but it paid handsome dividends.

But the next tests were dry ones and the power of the Escorts came into prominence. Mikkola was fastest on each one until the diaphragm springs of his clutch went over-centre. He continued with clutchless gear-changes until he missed one on a critical corner and smashed into the steps of a house, to be followed some five minutes later by the works Lancia of Paganelli.

Britain’s Roger Clark lost an irretrievable amount of road time when he had to stop twice to have a rear axle oil seal change and Munari’s Lancia left the running when a broken link gave him steering only on one wheel.

Although the San Remo Rally is one of the shortest in the calendar, its 1,000 miles being compressed into some 31 hours, it is always one of the most pleasant and is invariably hard-fought. Its organisers are always helpful and, more important, the Italian authorities are among those few who are left who encourage the sport rather than merely tolerate it.

By winning at San Remo so decisively the Lancia team (which calls itself HF Squadra Corse Lancia) has gained a shot in the arm which it has desperately needed. The Italian company has spent much of its resources on racing and rallying and near-wins can never really compensate for the absence of victors’ laurels. The more teams contesting the round of International events the more interesting the results, and it seems certain that Lancia will be putting in their new 1.6-litre Fulvias as soon as they are homologated —G. P.