Two significant facts emerged from this year's International Swedish Rally. Firstly Stig Blomqvist must be the most difficult man to beat in rallying today; secondly if local rules are to take precedence over international practice competitors, foreign ones in particular, should be given adequate notice.
Stig Blomqvist has been rallying for a number of years but it wasn't until early 1971 that he achieved international prominence when he won the Swedish Rally and just about everything else that was worth winning in Sweden. At the end of the year he won the RAC Rally for Saab against fierce opposition, and now he has won his country's premier event for the second time in succession.
The remarkable thing about his latest victory is that he drove a 145-b.h.p. Saab in what was virtually a straight fight against the 264-b.h.p. Porsche 911S Of Björn Waldegård, himself an extremely able driver with two Monte Carlo wins to his credit. When you consider that both cars were of identical weight (1,050 kilogrammes) Blomqvist's astonishing ability in the f.w.d. Saab almost defies description.
Notable entries in the Swedish Rally included three works Saabs with 1.8-litre carburettered engines (Blomqvist, Eklund and Orrenius), a single works Lancia for Källström and five Opel Asconas prepared and entered by the efficient team run by Sweden's GM Dealers' Association, Two of these were Group Two cars (Eriksson and Kulläng) and three Group One (Nasenius, Henriksson and Sylvia Osterberg). The team used to run Kadetts but switched completely to Asconas at the beginning of this year after considerable testing during which the team drivers gradually got to prefer the new car.
Waldegård's Porsche was the same one which he had used in Monte Carlo, and after re-preparation at Zuffenhausen it was delivered personally to his home at Rö by Jürgen Barth. Another single entry was that of the Fiat 125S of Håkan Lindberg. The car had been prepared in Sweden and was even running on Swedish plates.
Presumably due to pressure from Régie Renault and Svenska Renault, the Alpine-Renault team had left their Berlinettes at home in Dieppe and brought two R12 Gordinis instead, both with 1.6-litre engines similar to those used in the Alpines. One was driven by Andersson and the other by Thérier. It wasn't a particularly wise move to take the R12s to Sweden, for they weren't at all competitive and neither driver was able to get used to their handling. Indeed, both managed to roll in practice.
There were some rather quick Volvos entered privately but supported by factory service, and there were three BMW 2002 TII saloons which were favourites for the Group One category, which they won comfortably. There were six private entrants from Britain and one from Eire. Of these Scotland's Alistair Robertson achieved the highest placing, 32nd. The Irish driver, Billy Coleman, brought his well-worn ex-works Alpine; on the forest stages he wasn't at all competitive but on the two four-lap races around the ice-covered oval track of a pony trotting stadium he put up the best performance ever by a foreigner and brought the crowd to its feet by his display of overtaking through clouds of ice dust.
In the past the organisers of the Swedish Rally have enjoyed a reputation for efficiency and ingenuity, but it seems that the experts are becoming a little stale, for there were several complaints from local drivers against the use, year after year, of the same roads, the use of roads which are so straight in parts that power takes precedence over skill—Blomqvist's skill apart—and various other little shortcomings.
There was a tremendous row over the use of certain studded tyres which are banned in Swedish Championship events. Tyres of exactly this type, in which the studs are inserted through the tyre from the inside instead of being punched in from the outer tread surface, were brought by Pirelli for the Lancia, the Saabs and the Fiat, among others, and it wasn't until they got to Karlstad that they discovered that they were not to be allowed.
It really was an odd decision by the organisers, for the tyres have been widely used by Pirelli; in fact, Blomqvist used them when he won the rally in 1971 and Munari when he won the Monte Carlo Rally for Lancia this year. It was then found that many Swedish drivers were using studs which themselves did not comply with Swedish Championship regulations, so Hălton Lindberg, on behalf of Pirelli, protested against them immediately after scrutineering. Over thirty cars were involved, and the result was a late sitting of the jury whose decision was not announced until 10 a.m. the following morning, one hour before the start of the rally.
The long studs which were the subject of Lindberg's protest were to be allowed, but the through-studded Pirelli tyres were not. It was indeed an odd decision, and one which resulted in Källström's Lancia starting the rally on Hakkapeliitta tyres until Pirelli could get other tyres fitted to the Lancia's spare wheels.
The Swedish is the only real snow rally in the Constructors' Championship, but in the past few years it has laboured under unexpectedly mild conditions which have resulted in far less snow than is usually the case. A week before this year's rally there were fears that this might happen again, but a severe fall of snow in Central Sweden's Värmland, where the rally is centred, saved the situation. By the time the rally started the roads were covered by a firm coating of packed snow and there was no trouble with fresh snow falling during the event to upset the early runners. But temperatures were mild, and the famous stage over the river ice at Stöllet was covered by so many pools of water that a new track had to be ploughed through the snow during the half-way stop, making a nonsense of notes for that particular test.
Conditions suited the powerful Porsche, but the fight for the lead was so fierce that both Waldegård and KäIlström spent some time off the road in snowbanks after trying too hard.
In Sweden Stig Blomqvist has become a national hero, enjoying far greater publicity than footballers or even pop stars in Britain. As a giant killer he has certainly made a name for himself.
When the rally was over there was a long conference to discuss the future of the rally and it was there that various suggestions for improvement were made, such as finding new roads etc. Erik Carlsson was present at the meeting and he even suggested that the event should revert to its summer date of the early sixties, adding that the former Rally to the Midnight Sun had more magic than all its succeeding winter events put together. Who knows, perhaps we may one day see a repeat of that famous piece of organisational ingenuity which appeared in 1963 when a special stage was held in the underground passages of an iron ore mine. — G. P.