Port for all

Gone are the days when the old TAP Rally had no roadbook, no mapping of any real value to navigators and presented its route merely by a list of the numbers displayed on roadside kilometre stones. If you hadn't made a reconnaissance of the whole route and made your own road book as well as pace notes, you stood no chance, and privateers who could not afford to make a pre-event run used to get lost frequently.

There were strings of three-minute road sections in those days, just as there were in the British road rallies of old, and to finish with a clean sheet was about as common as it was on the Alpine Rally or a Targa Rusticana for that matter!

We are not saying that the style of the Portuguese Rally in those days was good. In fact, it was pretty indifferent and has certainly improved considerably. But it has been affected just as much as other World Championship events by organisers' desires to suck up to FISA and agree to all the standardisation demands. Where events are grouped into a series, there has to be a certain amount of definitive ruling, but there is still ample room for individuality so that each event may retain its character.

As far as routes are concerned, separate characters remain, and no-one would say that the Monte-Carlo Rally is like the RAC, or the 1000 Lakes like the Safari. But there are other features which would be far better left to organisers' ingenuity and local experience than made to follow a pattern. Roadbook styles, for instance! Some may consider it a small point, but why should they have to be in a pattern laid down in Paris?

The choice of roads for the Portuguese Rally's special stages and the long, thin nature of the country give it a route character that is unlike any other event in the series. The mixture of dirt and tarmac, rough and smooth, takes its toll year after year and the retirement rate is always very high. This year it was about 60 per cent. Whatever else may be said about it, it remains a tough event even though it goes to bed every night, like all others, and no longer demands physical stamina and tenacity of its competitors.

The works teams in Portugal were those of Ford, Lancia, Mitsubishi, Nissan arid Toyota, and it was interesting to see from a list of entrants' nationalities that all of them except Toyota have British entrant's licences, even Martini Racing which is now the official name of the team of Lancias campaigned from Turin.

Ford entered two Sierra RS Cosworth 4x4s for Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero. A third car was entered by Ford of Spain for Josep-Maria Bardolet/Josep Autet, another appeared in Marlboro colours for Mohammed Bin Sulayem/Ronan Morgan and a Group N version was driven by Fernando Capdevilla/Alfredo Rodriguez backed by the Canary Islands Tourist Authority. Portuguese pair Jose Miguel/Luis Lisboa drove a Group A version.

Martini Racing had three works Lancia Delta HF Integrales for Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Piironen and Andrea Aghini/Sauro Farnocchia. Group N versions were driven by Mikael Sundstrom/Jakke Honkanen from Finland and Carlos Mennem/Victor Zucchini, the latter entered by Italy's Top Run Racing.

After the 'token' appearance of just Lasse Lampi in Sweden, Mitsubishi had two Galant VR-4s for Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander and Timo Salonen/Voitto Silander.

Nissan took two Sunny GTI-Rs from Milton Keynes for Tommi Makinen/Seppo Harjanne and Francois Chatriot/Michel Perin, whilst Group N versions were driven by Gregoire de Mevius/Willy Lux from Belgium and John Bosch from Holland.

From Cologne, Toyota fielded three Celica GT-4s for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya, Armin Schwarz/Arne Hertz and Markku Alen/lIkka Kivimaki, whilst local men Joaquim Santos/Carlos Magalhaes drove a privately entered version.

There were no British privateers, unlike the early days of the old TAP Rally when a substantial convoy used to make the crossing from Dover. In those days there were even concentration runs from start points in various European cities, just like the Monte Carlo Rally still has, the sponsoring airline seeking publicity at major international airports from which it operated.

In its time, the Portuguese Rally, now backed by the port wine industry, has moved around the calendar somewhat, as the Tour of Corsica did. It was held in the autumn for a while, but more recently it has been established in early March, when the weather can be extremely fickle. Last year, for instance, there were violent storms, heavy rain, floods and even snowstorms. This year the weather was more settled into spring sunshine, although in the north of the country it was often quite cold and windy.

Progress on the construction of motorways in Portugal has been the slowest we have seen in Europe, but at least you can now get from Lisbon to the northen city of Porto without quite as many of the frustrations and perils of Portuguese traffic which existed some 10 years ago.

The rally ran from Tuesday to Saturday, each day ending in a night stop. On the first afternoon, after morning car scrutiny, there was a dirt-surfaced spectator stage at the national stadium, after which the event got under way properly on the Wednesday morning, running via 13 special stages to Povoa do Varzim on the coast just north of Porto. The leg also included two regrouping stops of 15 minutes and two hours.

On the Thursday, a loop starting and finishing at Povoa went via seven special stages and ended at 19.15. On Friday began the return journey southwards, the first car leaving Povoa at 10 am and arriving at Viseu at 17.45 after nine special stages and one regrouping stop.

Saturday's final leg began at 4 am and ended at the Estoril Casino Gardens at 20.00. There were 10 special stages included, plus two regrouping stops.

Rally Headquarters were, as they have been for many years. at the Estoril Sol Hotel which overlooks the sea and dominates the coastline between Cascais and Estoril, some half an hour's drive west of Lisbon. Scrutiny was at the Cascais Sports Centre and the Tuesday night overnight closed park at the Estoril Racing Circuit.

The tarmac special stages in the Sintra area have not been used since the terrible accident of 1986 when several people were killed and all the works drivers packed up and went home because they felt that gauntlet-running in narrow avenues of tightly packed spectators was far too dangerous.

The rally still has special stages on both dirt and tarmac, more or less separated into distinct groups, enabling suspension changes to be easily planned. Apart from the opening spectator stage and one on mixed surfaces, all of them on the way up to Povoa were on tarmac, even that over the mountain at Montejunto which used to be pretty rough. Thursday's stages were either on dirt or mixed surfaces, whilst Friday's were on dirt except for one on tarmac and three mixed. Saturday's were all on dirt.

On the first stage at Gradil, Delecour and Alen took a joint lead, but the former moved ahead on the second, just one second ahead of Alen who had hit something with the front right of his car without being delayed significantly. Auriol went no further than Montejunto. After engine overheating, his cylinder head gasket blew and he was out.

One stage later it was Nissan's turn for misfortune when Makinen punctured, broke his steering, hit a rock face and promptly retired. On the same stage, team-mate Chatriot collected two punctures and finished on the two rims, losing some nine minutes.

There was a freak but tragic accident on the Serra da Lousa stage when Portuguese driver Rui Madeira went off the road in his Citroen AX and hit a tree. The tree promptly fell on to a spectator who was seriously injured and died later.

It was also on this stage that a Toyota note-making crew (much in the style of Monte Carlo ice notes), finding that there was no time to return to the start by going around, turned to go back along the stage in the reverse direction. The crew was instructed by an official not to do so but continued anyway. The matter was reported to the stewards who later fined Toyota Team Europe 10,000 US dollars, to be paid within 48 hours.

By this time, Delecour had moved further ahead, but Alen had dropped back. Biasion was second, 31 sec behind, followed after four seconds by Aghini and after another ten by Kankkunen. At the Gois regrouping stop Biasion made the comment that Delecour was faster than him because he knew the car better. Sainz (who had a gearbox replaced) and Schwarz felt that their cars were too twitchy and down on power, whilst Alen merely said that he was waiting for the dirt roads. Kankkunen made the same comment.

De Mevius needed a new turbocharger after his first one came loose, Mennem had two punctures, Bin Sulayem had brake discs and pads replaced and Chatriot changed his antiroll bar.

Further northwards another stage was delayed when a spectator fell and sustained serious injury. After he had been taken away by ambulance, officials did not restart the stage as they considered that spectators were too numerous.

When the rally got to Povoa that night. Delecoeir's lead was up to 51 sec, but Aghini had moved into second place. just one second ahead of Biasion. Kankkunen was third. 22 sec behind, followed by Sainz at just less than another minute.

After suspension changes all round, everyone got off to hopeful starts on the Thursday morning; hopeful because they were expecting handling improvements after moving from tarmac roads to dirt.

But the first stage was another of the 'Mickey Mouse' variety, around a rallycross circuit at Lousada. Because the track crossed itself via a bridge, two cars could start simultaneously without actually being on the same section of track. The bridge caused cars to leave the ground, and when Delecour landed he immediately realised that he had lost his front drive. Moments later, there were serious engine noises and clouds of blue smoke. After a tow to the service area, the car was checked by Ford mechanics who found that the sump had cracked and that both crankshaft and big end bearings were badly damaged. The leader was out of the rally.

This put Aghini into the lead ahead of Biasion, who said later that he was not used to the car on dirt roads. Earlier, he had been saying that he was not used to the car generally. <?p>

On stage 18 Kankkunen moved up to take a joint lead with Aghini, then moved ahead by all of 23 sec on the next one. Patrick Postilion, a French privateer who had Jean-Francois Fauchille with him, landed so heavily after a jump that his spine was badly jarred, causing so much pain that he had to withdraw afterwards.

Biasion needed attention to his brakes, whilst Alen, although he had broken a suspension, said that his car was handling much better on the dirt than on the tarmac.

At the end of the day, Kankkunen's lead over Aghini at Viseu was 44 sec. Biasion came next another seven seconds behind, followed by Sainz, Schwarz. Eriksson, Alen and Salonen.

The rally had visited the Arganil area on the way northwards and it did the same on the return journey, the area having a high concentration of stage roads which have been used for years on the Portuguese Rally. But this time three of the stages were used twice each, the loops separated by a 45 min stop at Arganil itself.

The area has seen much carnage in the past and this year proved to be no different. It was very foggy during that early morning and the first to go was Aghini. He smashed his front right suspension and could go no further. Eriksson also went off and could not continue. No one was hurt in these incidents.

German privateer Horst Honrath rolled his Volkswagen Golf GTi and when Bin Sulayem came along the car was still upside-down. They stopped, and he and Morgan were able to help the two Germans and get a message about the incident to the organisers. They spent some 10 min at the scene.

Even though they were still on dirt roads with suspensions to suit, Sainz said that his car's handling had deteriorated. It was jumping far too much and he felt that the front suspension was not right. Alen said the same: "I almost can't control it and I don't know the reason."

After the three-stage loop had been used twice, Capdevilla experienced clutch trouble and then had his turbocharger blow. De Mevius rolled but was able to continue.

In the Pampilhosa stage, the last before the Tomar regrouping stop and with just two stages left before the finish, Toyota again had problems when Sainz's turbocharger failed. Having closed the oil valve to prevent engine damage, he was continuing slowly when along came team-mate Schwarz behind him. Sainz did not realise he was there and Schwarz could not see properly to overtake because of the dust. Nevertheless he tried and promptly went off the road and retired.

Soon after, Schwarz was helped by a Mitsubishi service crew as he waited for his own to arrive. He lost more than two minutes in the stage but kept his third place.

That was about the size of it. As usual, several people had shown amazingly good form, whilst others expected to do well had not. In the Group N contest the favourite had been de Mevius in his Nissan, but delays dropped him to third in the group which was won by Mennem in his Lancia, ninth overall.

The result brings Kankkunen up to lead the World Championship for drivers, followed five points later by Sainz. It promises to be another Kankkunen-Sainz battle for the crown, with other drivers such as Delecour and perhaps McRae coming in to add some spice. Among the makes, Lancia leads Toyota by nine points, with Ford just another two behind.

Next round of the World Championship is the Martini-backed Safari Rally which, due to its being pressured to move from its traditional Easter dates, is taking place right at the end of March, finishing on April 1, a Wednesday.

Portuguese Rally - 3 - 7 March, 1992

1. Juha Kankunnen/Juha Piironen - Lancia Delta HF, Gp A
2. Massimo Biasion/Tizano Siviero - Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4, Gp A
3. Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya - Toyota Celica GT-4, Gp A
4. Markku Alen/Ilkka Kivimaki - Toyota Celica GT-4, Gp A
5. Timo Salonen/Voitto Silander - Mitsubishi Gallant VR-4 Gp A