Swedes and Finns are the acknowledged experts on snow rallies, both as organisers and as competitors. It is understandable, therefore, that Scandinavia should have the best selection of such events that any winter has to offer. The best known of these is probably the International Swedish Rally, a qualifier in the Constructors’ Championship, mainly because it derives from that exciting summer event, the Rally to the Midnight Sun.
Rally organisers in Sweden have always shown a great deal of ingenuity—they once had a special stage in the underground tunnels of an iron ore mine—but there is nothing remarkable any longer about driving on frozen lakes and rivers. It is quite commonplace for any Scandinavian snow rally to have special stages on frozen waterways; indeed, it is the rule rather than the exception. So to retain its reputation as the premier winter rally in Scandinavia the Swedish Rally really has to be faultless, for other events have improved tremendously in the last few years.
In February this year, the Swedish Rally was not faultless, and the organisers will have to stir themselves from their resting place against past laurels, or another snow rally could well take over the number one position; Finland’s Arctic Rally, for instance—but more of that later.
Moving the start/finish point of the Swedish Rally from Karlstad to Göteborg didn’t help matters at all, for it meant that much of the initial and final parts of the route were rather dull with few special stages. Furthermore, the winter was exceptionally mild, and there was no snow that far south. Some stages even had to be cancelled in order that the muddy roads might not be ripped up by the passage of the rally cars. This transfer of headquarters from the popular starting point at Karlstad, a friendly town with enough hotels to accommodate the entire rally fraternity but small enough to ensure that everyone knew where to find everyone else, was done in order that the event might be considered part of Göteborg’s third centenary celebrations. In the city’s vast network of one-way streets it took considerable time to get about, particularly as rally headquarters were at the Volvo factory beyond the outer suburbs, where there were no hotels.
In past years the Swedish Rally has been run on lines similar to those of the RAC Rally, with the special stages providing all the competition and the road sections being timed at a low average to avoid antagonising other road users. Furthermore, the time controls were always far enough apart to render high-speed tactics in traffic unnecessary. This year the road average was tightened up slightly, but the change which really made matters worse was the decision to make every special stage a time control also. With so many, competitors were never sure of being able to have enough time in one place for servicing, and they were, therefore, indirectly encouraged to break Sweden’s reactionary speed limits—even lower than our own. Competitors were not very pleased at all with this, particularly as it seemed to be playing into the hands of the police who set up several radar traps to catch competitors, letting the non-competing law-breakers pass unhindered. Competitors who were caught were also given 300 penalty points in the rally.
Lack of snow got the organisers very worried indeed in the weeks before the rally, and there was even talk that the event would have to be cancelled. But the snow eventually came in the northern parts of the route, where most of the stages were. But fresh snow is not conducive to high-speed driving, no matter how good the tyres and studs, and it turned out that the higher powered cars at the front, the Porsches, the Alpines, the Escorts and the Lancia, were acting as snow ploughs for the rest of the field.
On the other hand, there was a stage on which Stig Blomqvist in his Saab caught, passed and drew away from the Porsche of Ake Andersson after having started a full two minutes after him. Blomqvist was the man who made the greatest impression during the rally. From just after the start he led all the way to the finish and there was little anyone else could do to get within striking distance of him.
Of the two Alpines, Thérier’s left the road and Andersson’s developed an oil leak and seized. Quickest of three factory Fiats was the 125S of Hakan Lindberg, but he crashed into a tree in the closing stages of a rally and wrote off the car. The Porsches were struggling hard for grip on the soft snow and Waldegard found it very hard indeed to fight back to fourth place, let alone challenge for the lead. The Opels were as spiritedly driven, and reliable, as they had been in Britain during last November’s RAC Rally, quickest of them being the Group 2 Kadett driven by Ove Eriksson. He finished fifth overall, and was one of many who collected a speeding penalty, another being one of the works Dafs which lost a class award as a result.
At no time during the rally were competitors provided with interim results, except at the half-way stop at Torsby, a small town where private households had to be asked to provide beds for competitors, so few were the hotel rooms available. This was disappointing, for one’s strategy during a rally often depends on one’s performance on special stages relative to that of one’s rivals.
Blomqvist’s win was an important victory for Saab, for they had shown that it is still possible, even with an ordinary family saloon, albeit in Group 2 trim and with front-wheel-drive, to beat the heavy metal such as Porsches, Alpines and 16-valve Escorts. Just one of the latter cars was entered by Boreham, to be driven by Tinto Mäkinen. A bottom-end breakage stopped the rubber belt driving the valve gear and the car came to a sudden and noisy halt.
In the remaining space two events have to be crammed. The first is the Arctic Rally in Finnish Lapland, a three-day event which took place during the week before the Swedish Rally. Every rally is affected in some way by weather conditions, it being generally accepted that the one which labours greatest under the threat of sudden climatic change is the East African Safari. The Arctic Rally, the complete opposite of the Safari, most certainly qualifies for the same tag.
The entire event is held north of the Arctic Circle, with the possibility of instant blizzards always present. Half-way through the event such a blizzard did blow up, just when the competitors were at the most northerly part of the route close to the Arctic Ocean. Within minutes the ploughed road became blocked with fresh show and the rally came to a standstill. But there was no panic by the organisers; the army put up arctic tents in which competitors were able to rest in warm sleeping bags after feasting on spit-roasted reindeer. When the blizzard was over, out come the snow ploughs and the rally was on the move again—it was as simple and unflurried as that.
Four British competitors made the effort and flew to Finland for the event, having shipped their cars ahead by sea. They were the first Britishers ever to take part in the rally, and they had the distinction of probably being the first to take part in an international motor sporting contest north of the Arctic Circle. Only one finished, Londoner Jill Robinson driving a Ford Escort RS1600.
So well organised was the Arctic Rally that it rather outshone the Swedish Rally which took place a week later. The Swedes will have to look to their laurels lest the honour of hosting the world’s premier snow rally should cross the Gulf of Bothnia to Finland.
The second event was the Sanremo-Sestriere Rally in mid-March. With Alpine and Saab having scored a win each (Monte Carlo and Sweden respectively) in Constructors’ Championship events, and with Saab, Porsche and Ford absent from Italy due to Safari preparations, the rally turned out to be a two-way fight between Alpine and Lancia, the Italian team having broken off their practice in Africa to tackle the major event on their home soil. Snow, fog, rain, mud, rocks; they all appeared during the rally, and no less then nine of the 27 special stages could not be run due to the weather and bad road conditions.
Driving an Alpine-Renault which was not officially part of the Alpine team, Ove Andersson followed up his win at Monte Carlo with another in Italy, co-driven this time by Bristolian Tony Nash, a man of many years experience of the sport. It is rather surprising that Andersson, after his Monte win, was not offered a long-term contract by Alpine-Renault. No offer came even after his most recent victory, which means that the Swede is still open to offers from Alpine’s rivals.