There are no such things as predictions in rallying. Guesses there may be, but attempts at forecasting are invariably no more reliable than cast dice or tossed coins. Even with the strongest possible set of supposed certainties, events can still take strange courses, but as the Swedish Rally made its way through the province of Virmland in February more and more observers, both casual and closely involved, began to think that nothing would stand in the may of a win by Anders Kulläng and Bruno Berglund in an Opel Kadett 400. Nothing did, and Kulläng became a popular and deserving winner.
The car, even though it made its first appearance only a short time before, proved to be eminently reliable, and team manager Tony Fall must have been murmuring silent thanks that he had thought to enlist the aid of Rauno Aaltonen as a test driver whilst the team’s own drivers were engaged elsewhere either in actual competition or in practice. Kulläng himself was right on top form and his judgement of the absolute limit of adhesion on the snowy, icy forest roads of Virmland was a pleasure to behold.
General Motors has no competition inclinations whatsoever, but its subsidiaries Opel and Vauxhall both have teams which, on paper, are operated by dealer consortiums. This all began in 1964 when enthusiasts in Sweden decided that they could produce from an Opel, then considered a car without any youthful, spirited image, a competition winner.
With people like Ragnar Ekelund, Per Tjerneld, Ove Eriksson and Jan Henriksson, Sweden’s Opel Dealer Team was formed and when other countries saw the kind of success it enjoyed the idea cottoned on and soon there were dealer teams in several other countries. Even the factory itself decided to operate its own team, although, GM policy being what it has always been, this is still officially called the Opel European Dealer Team.
Despite the many Opel successes in Sweden, a car of that make has never mounted the winner’s rostrum of the International Swedish Rally itself, and it was fitting that when this did happen for the first time in the country where Opel rallying originated, it was driven by a Swedish crew.
Although dropped by the FISA from the World Rally Championship for Makes, the Swedish Rally remained a round of the Drivers’ Championship, and that is where the greater part of the interest is centred. Indeed, there was plenty of competition for Kulläng and although his winning margin was a minute and a half he was never able to take his mind off what was happening over his shoulder.
Stig Blomqvist, for instance, drove his Saab Turbo with the amazing degree of skill which only he can display, but was not able to make up the time lost with two separate front wheels punctures and the failure of his power steering. The handling of Björn Waldegård’s Fiat 131 was not quite to his liking despite attempts to make various changes during pre-rally testing, whilst Hannu Mikkola, this time driving virtually as a privateer in order not to miss the opportunity to score championship points, was troubled by a somewhat inadequate tyre stock which didn’t give him the choice he would have liked.
The weather, whether it be in African heat or the cold of a Scandinavian winter, tends nowadays to follow its exceptions more than its rules, and it seemed like the twentieth time that we have heard Swedes complain of the mild weather. The temperature rarely dropped below zero, but although the first day of the rally ran through the kind of dirty murk, sleet and rain which such weather brings, the second day was crisp, clear and sunny. Fortunately the much colder weather of a week before had left a deep coating of ice and frozen snow on the forest roads and this was just about able to resist penetration to the gravel beneath by studded tyres.
In short, the stages were in good condition and the weather satisfied everyone, including competitors, mechanics, organisers, photographers and spectators.
With his fourth place in Monte Carlo, Kulläng now had 30 points in the World Championship and led Waldegård, with two-third places to his credit, by six points.