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Unwarranted though it may be, it is a fact that one bad experience can put you off something for life even though you know that the experience was an isolated one. A single mediocre meal in a restaurant may, however undeservedly, put you off the establishment permanently, whilst a trip with an unsmiling aircraft cabin crew may deter you from using that entire airline in future even though this would be just as unfair.
So it is with rallies. If something goes wrong, or you put up a poor performance, or you encounter officials who are not quite on the ball, that particular event is likely thereafter to be rather low on your list of favourites even though whatever gave rise to your dissatisfaction may in the meantime have been completely eradicated. Portugal’s TAP Rally engenders that kind of feeling in me and in many other past competitors whom 1 know, although I appreciate that its root no longer exists. A case of the effect remaining inequitably long after the cause has been removed. Back in 1968, when the TAP Rally was in its infancy, it emulated the Monte-Carlo Rally’s concentration runs and had start points in various European cities, those with airports from which the Portuguese airline operated. Many foreign privateers were attracted to
the event, including a good number from Great Britain who started from what was then the Centre Airport Hotel at Heathrow.
The only officially-issued means of defining the route was a list of numbers on roadside kilometre stones and, especially as the special stages were supplemented by strings of very tight, three-minute road sections, as in British road rallies of yore, anyone who had not made a thorough and complete reconnaissance ran a very real risk of not completing the distance. It was very easy indeed to get lost and, as frequent stops were needed to check the numbers on those stones, it was equally easy to exceed maximum permitted lateness.
I was among those privateers who started from London. My partner and I had been to Portugal for an advance recce but had no time to complete more than some twothirds of the competitive distance and the result, in common with many others, was a failure to finish within the prescribed time. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the Lisbon ‘rest stop’ had been eaten into considerably by the need to tackle a spectator-pulling stage on a banked, oval track in the city, with the result that very few people were at peak concentration on the last day.
Nowadays, the event is vastly different.
Much of the route is the same, but the documentation has improved tremendously, there are no tests to be undertaken during rest stops and the road sections are no longer as tight as to verge on the impossible. Of course, many of the dirt roads used in the past have since been coated with spoilsport tarmac and the rally is now one of the few which continues to have special stages on both tarmac and dirt roads, though not mixed within the same day.
Some years ago the TAP airline ceased its sponsorship of the event even though the whole thing began as a competition for members of the airline’s sports and social club. Backing was taken over by the port wine industry, but in 1994 the airline returned as the rally’s main sponsor.
For many years the organisers have established their rally headquarters in the Hotel Estoril Sol, a vast, towering building which dominates the coastal skyline between the resorts of Estoril and Cascais, to the west of Lisbon. They had planned to continue this arrangement this year, but they were told no earlier than January that during the rally the entire place would be closed for refurbishment and would not be available. Hastily, a substitute was found in the Hotel Palacio at Estoril, alongside the Casino Gardens where the rally’s final slalom test was held years ago, when the original timing device was Right,
Juha Kankkunen heads for his first WRC victory of the season.
activated by cars breaking a thread as they crossed the line. The late change of HO did not affect competing teams because they had already made block bookings in other hotels, but it certainly caused the organisers severe disruption, although they coped very well and set up shop in their customary fashion. The start of the rally was
at the Estoril race circuit, which is not in Estoril at all but quite a few miles inland towards Sintra. The event was divided into four parts by three night stops, the first two at Povoa de Varzim, on the coast to the north of Porto, and the third at Viseu, about a third of the way southwards from Porto to Estoril. The first leg, on Tuesday, I March, ran through I 1 special stages on tarmac roads, divided after seven stages by a two hour stop at Arganil. The second formed a loop starting and finishing at Povoa, through eight special stages on dirt roads, the first of which was a two-at-a-time test around an autocross track at Lousada. On the third day the route covered nine more stages on its way to Viseu, via a I h 15m stop at Lixa, whilst the final leg, on the Friday, included eight more stages and two short stops at Arganil and Tomar. The finish on the Friday evening was outside the casino at Estoril. There were three inter-stage road sections in which service was forbidden, one on
the second day and two on the third. All three were in places where the stages were close together so that the no-service rule was easy to enforce.
Entries this year included all the regular works teams except the UK-based Mitsubishi Ralhart outfit, but talk that the team has called a halt is not true. They are advanced with plans for the Acropolis in late May and will tackle the New Zealand Rally in early August, to name but two certainties. But whilst factory presence was considerable, the number of foreign privateers was by no means as substantial as it has been in the past, and the 88 starters represented less than half of the 186 which tackled the Monte-Carlo Rally. In addition to the two Celicas brought by the Toyota Castro! Team for Kankkunen/Grist and AurioVOccelli, a third car was in the hands of Italian pair AghinVFamocchia. This was looked after by the Italian Grifone outfit, but the crew was nominated by the team to score
makes championship points.
The Ford Escort is becoming as popular as the Lancia Delta was a few years back, no less than II of them appearing in the first 25 of the start list. Boreham’s two regular crews were there, Delecour/Grataloup and Biasion/Siviero, but two other crews were also nominated for championship points, Belgians Thiry/Prevot and Italians Fiorio/Brambilla. Their cars were entered by the works team but were in the care of the RAS team and were sponsored by the Italian Giesse window company.
Others in Escort Cosworths were Bin Sulayem/Morgan (GpN), Menem/Zucchini (GpN), Peres/Caldeira (GpA), Coutinho/Lisboa (GpN) and Puras/del Barrio (GpN).
From Prodrive in Banbury came two Subaru Imprezas for Sainz/Moya and McRae/Ringer, whilst a third such car was entered privately by Japanese pair Nishiyama/Yamaguchi. Only the two works crews were nominated for makes championship points.
There were no Mitsubishis from Ralhart in the UK, but two Group N Lancer Evolutions were entered by Team Mitsubishi Motors and looked after by mechanics of Mitsubishi Germany. They were driven by Recalde/Christie from Argentina and the two girls Holderied/Thorner, the former from Germany and the latter from Sweden. Only the latter crew was nominated for makes championship points, although the German team’s main objective this year is the ladies’ world title. Two works Skoda Favorit I36Ls were driven by Sibera/Gross and Triner/Klima, whilst a Group N Sunny came from Nissan Motorsports Europe for Makinen/Harjanne. Opel Team Belgium sent an Astra GSI for de Mevius/Lux. None of these was nominated for makes championship points. Note that drivers’ points are scored by anyone finishing in the first 10, whether nominated or not. Among the privateers down the list
there were Austrians, Spaniards, Swiss, Italians, Germans and Frenchmen, but not a single crew from Great Britain. Times have changed.
Scrutiny took place at the Estoril racing circuit on a blustery, rainy Monday. Delecour summed up the weather by remarking that he’d seen enough rain during his 10 days of practice. “1 hope it stays away during the rally. I don’t like pools of water on the road.”
Among the visitors it was good to see John Buffum from the USA, although Armin Schwarz looked out of place as a driver for Mitsubishi’s film crew, especially after his stirring drive in the Monte-Carlo Rally. As if in answer to Delecour’s prayers, Tuesday dawned in sunshine and the Ford
driver wasted no time in asserting himself. On the way up to Povoa de Varzim the Ford driver gradually pulled out a lead on the tarmac stages, despite breaking a halfshaft. On the ninth stage of the day, with two more to go, he broke another, this time losing so much time that his lead over Kankkunen dropped from 32 seconds to just one. On the next stage Kankkunen moved marginally ahead, but the Frenchman regained it on the final test and finished four seconds ahead of the Finn who shared second place with Biasion. Kankkunen, not regarded as a tarmac specialist, was very satisfied with his performance during the day and was happy to be so close to the leader without actually leading himself. “It’s not so good to be the
road sweeper out in front, although to be further back can be worse when those in front are cutting corners so much that they throw rocks and rubble into the road.” This proved to be very true, as several cars collected punctures and one even holed its radiator.
On the first stage, where there was some standing water from the previous day’s rain, Thiry lost about half a minute after a halfshaft broke, whilst Aghini needed a change of turbocharger. Thiry was still feeling his way around his four-wheel-drive Escort and confessed to having missed gear changes several times. Sainz was another to be adjusting both himself to suit his car and his car to suit himself. Several times during the day he had his suspension settings altered, indicating that, no matter how much testing is done in advance, the old maxim still holds good that cars need numbers on their sides before they show their true mettle. De Mevius was without his intercom for
two stages, whilst McRae lost a good minute as a result of a puncture. Recalde was another to have a puncture, although it was perhaps Sainz who had the most dramaticlooking moment. Towards the end of the Arganil stage he spun after missing a gear change and, finding himself facing the wrong way, he decided not to waste time turning around and drove the last 200 yards of the stage in reverse!
Menem went out early in the day when his gearbox broke and Biasion needed attention to his rear suspension after a joint loosened. Fiorio cracked his sump in a hard landing and lost two road minutes later having the matter seen to by mechanics. But there was no time for a proper repair and, two stages later, the oil pressure thopped so low that the Italian decided to switch off and call it a day. Bica put his Lancia Delta off the road and down a very steep drop, but the car did not roll and the crew escaped unhurt.
At the end of the day, Delecour’s fourminute lead over Kankkunen and Biasion was not as much as he had hoped or even expected, especially as the Finn would undoubtedly begin to shine on the dirt road stages to come. The Subarus of Sainz and McRae finished in seventh and eighth places, but again these are cars which are not at their impressive best on tarmac — at least, not yet! Aghini held fourth place, 39s behind Biasion and Kankkunen and just 9s ahead of Auriol, whilst Thiry was another 14s back. The highest placed Portuguese driver was Peres, in ninth place just less than three minutes behind McRae, whilst the Group N leader was Bin Sulayem in 13th place overall. Wednesday was cooler and more cloudy, and there were fears that more rain would bring rubble and undergrowth down on to the roads. Fortunately, this did not happen. The first stage of the day was at the Lousada autocross track where Sainz, his suspen sion at last to his liking, posted best time. In front of the huge crowds, filling tree branches, rooftops and lamp standards as well as the terraces, Auriol collected a rear puncture, but the biggest drama came when Delecour’s Escort stopped in mid-stage. The car eventually had to be towed away, into retirement. We gather that engineers later found that the trouble was a broken valve, or even two,
On the first proper stage of the day, Aghini spun and rolled off the road and out of the rally, fortunately without an injury, whilst one stage later Thiry hit a rock and holed his radiator. They continued, heater on at full blast and adding water whenever they could, but after crossing the flying finish line they could go no further and were out. Sophisticated though they may be nowadays, perhaps rally cars should still carry cans of Radweld, or at least packets of porridge oats or cartons of half a dozen eggs!
Auriol, after a slow start, speeded up on this second day, whilst McRae was slowed when his turbocharger pressure dropped due to a loosened valve. Biasion managed to cope with an engine which overheated for a while, but when the same happened to Bin Sulayem his engine packed up altogether and he was out. Recalde, after a misunderstood note, went off the road and damaged his Lancer so badly that he could not continue, whilst Sainz had his transmission deteriorate due to a small hydraulic leak. Auriol spun on the last stage of the day and took some time shunting back and forth before he could get going again.
At the end of the day, Kankkunen held a slender six second lead over Biasion, with Auriol another 44 seconds behind. The Finn oozed confidence, but Biasion was in a troubled situation. He wanted to go for a win, but he was the only works Ford driver left and his team needed championship points, so he was presented with a tough assignment: “Stay up there, but don’t go off the road.” Sandwiched between two Toyotas, the lone Ford driver was in a difficult spot.
The third day saw the rally head southwards again, at least as far as Viseu. This time it was fine, even sunny, again, with none of the drizzle and fog which had affected a few of the northern stages. But it was a gloomy day for de Mevius. On the very first stage, a second run over the Fa fe test, his gearbox packed up and he was out. Another to go was Coutinho whose clutch stopped working so that he could not leave the start line of the second stage.
The morning’s stages tended to be soft and sandy, but Sainz nevertheless broke his rear anti-roll bar. Makinen, then the twowheel-drive leader, lost second gear whilst Kankkunen, determined to hold his lead, clipped a rock and bent both suspension and steering. The Subarus were improving during the day, but a setback came when McRae had to stop to investigate the cause of flames and smoke emerging from beneath his bonnet. A power steering pipe had fractured and the leaking fluid had ignited on hot engine parts. Alas, it was later found
that terminal damage had been caused to the wiring loom and other components and there was no chance of continuing. Mother to go out was Makinen who stopped when his cylinder head gasket blew.
As the day progressed, Auriol, no doubt spurred on by the fact that team-mate Kankkunen was in the lead, moved ahead of Biasion into second place and arrived at Viseu 41s behind the leader. Biasion, who lost a little time when a rear shock absorber seized, ended the day 22 seconds behind Auriol, with Sainz another 57s back. The others were almost in another rally, for fifth-placed Peres was more than 22 minutes behind Sainz. The best Group N driver was Puras, seventh overall, some 36 minutes behind the leader.
The last day of the Portuguese Rally is often one of little action as drivers settle for whatever places they have achieved. This time it was different. Biasion was still able to move ahead and the two Toyota drivers were not taking any chances by letting up. So the fight was still on as little over a minute separated first from third. The Toyotas stayed resolutely ahead, seemingly grabbing extra power from thin air. There were those who murmured words about ‘screwdriver tuning’ but we won’t indulge in such speculation without first hand evidence, which we do not have. There was a frantic moment in the Subaru camp when fourth-placed Sainz was engulfed
by the same clouds of smoke and flame which had stopped McRae. Again a ruptured power steering hose was at fault, but this time it happened as the car was arriving at a service point and mechanics were able to extinguish the fire quickly and prevent any serious damage.
Biasion, still with hopes of moving up from third place, was again trying new suspension heights and spring rates. At Linhares, the first stage after the lh 30m lunch break at Arganil, he finished the stage without any front brakes, but he nevertheless achieved best time.
Three stages later came the Tomar rest stop where, in years past, the action has come to a definite end. But, even with just two stages to go, there was no let up. Biasion was pushing hard, although the wily Occelli was obeyed implicitly by Auriol when he suggested easing off on the last stage. The two Frenchmen finished I Os ahead of Biasion and 40s behind their team-mates Kankkunen and Grist.
It was certainly a close thing, as close as any of the rougher European events can get. Toyota was delighted by its one-two result, whilst Ford, after the initial disappointment, seemed to be content with the points gained from third place. Subaru salvaged fourth place and went away knowing that, although their Imprezas are good on dirt roads, perhaps their tarmac handling needs some attention. A little more power from the engines would seem also to have been noted on the Prodrive wish list.
At the end, despite having lost Recalde, IngoIf Raiss, team manager of Mitsubishi Germany, was delighted with the performance of the girls Holderied and Thomer. They finished a creditable 11th overall, even after losing 10 road minutes following a roadside replacement of a broken wheel bearing, and are in a good position to take the world ladies’ title this year. Kankkunen now leads the World Championship, whilst Toyota has moved just ahead of Ford among the manufacturers and will probably extend that lead in Easter’s Safari Rally as Ford will not be going to Kenya. Works teams on the Safari will only be Toyota and the Subaru squad from Japan (not Prodriva this time with Imprezas rather than the tiny Vivios used last year. G P