A Touch of the Midnight sun

In the past, the Swedish Rally to the Midnight Sun has often clashed with the dates of the Coupe des Alpes so that, although both have been qualifying rounds in the European Rally Championship, it has been virtually impossible to compete in both. This year, there was just over a week between them, which meant that, apart from consideration of whether this made reconnaissance of both routes practicable, it was perfectly possible to compete in both rallies.

As it turned out, only three drivers did, in fact, compete in both events, though, as I shall explain in a minute, the number might have been four. The fact that there were so few Continental drivers who were prepared to go to Sweden and vice-versa cannot just be explained away by the distance and the expense. The answer is that for each set of competitors, those used to tarmac roads in the Alps and the others used to dirt roads in forests, competing in the other's event is the equivalent of bearding the lion in his own den.

It was instructive to see that the Italians had fielded what must be, by the standards of previous European entries in the Midnight Sun, quite a large entry. There were three Lancia Flavias entered by HF Squadra Corse (the same team that enters Trautmann so that it is a reasonable surmise that these were works-supported cars) and four Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Supers entered by the Jolly Club of Milan which I believe is Conero's nom-de-plume. Luciano Lombardini in one of the Alfas did best of the Italians by finishing fourth in his class, which was won by a Cortina GT, but even he did not get into the first fifty of the general classification. It was said by the Italians afterwards that it was not cricket (perhaps they would have said football) to have a rally in the European Rally Championship that comprised nearly all speed tests on dirt roads.

This was a rather foolish thing to say after the rally for I cannot believe that they did not know what they were letting themselves in for when they went to Sweden. I am almost certain that they came to Sweden as a result of Erik Carlsson and Pat Moss finishing first and second on their own contribution to the European Championship in February, the Rally of the Flowers. The answer to the whole question is very simple; the objection that non-Scandinavians have to rallies like the Midnight Sun and the 1000 Lakes is not the dirt roads which they use (look at rallies like the Liège and the R.A.C. and roads like the Gavia, the Croce Domine and the Fromagère) but the fact that at the present time the Scandinavians have a monopoly on travelling quickly over such road surfaces.

Having come to the not very surprising conclusion that a local driver was going to win the Midnight Sun, it is interesting to try and discover why it was Tom Trana and why a Volvo. The test that faced both car and driver was a figure-of-eight-shaped route with its central point on Stockholm which had to be driven in about 67 hours with a single night halt of twelve hours in Stockholm. The road Section is perhaps the least demanding of any rally that I have yet encountered and I gather that this is mainly because the police are not too well inclined towards this big event with over two hundred entries, as both crowds and competitors take a bit of controlling. The crowds, incidentally, are the most amazing aspect of the whole rally and when you hear that the crowds at one special stage alone were estimated to be of the order of 30,000, it is possible to feel a little sympathy for the police. The whole substance of the rally resides in a number of special stages of which there were supposed to be 25 this year but cancellations (the police scrubbed one test as competitors had killed two elks while practising) reduced this to twenty. The great majority of them were over public roads closed for the occasion and chosen for the fact that they had more humps, brows and bends in them than the average Swedish road. Some tests were on tarmac and these included the test at Tierp airfield, where Erik Carlsson parked his Saab on its side at the last bend, and a test of three laps at Karlskoga racing circuit. As a general rule, on the dirt road special stages the fastest car in each class was given no penalty marks while the others in his class were penalised by the number of seconds that they lagged behind him. On the other tests, however, there was a direct comparison with a set time for the test so that a Group 1 Saab had to do the same time as a Group 1 Volvo or Falcon.

Trana was very fortunate that in his class for Group 2 cars from 1,600 c.c. to 2,000 c.c. there was no strong opposition so that he was unlikely to lose time on the special stages, for on those he had only to worry about the other cars in his class. This system of scoring is often unpopular with drivers for it may so happen that the quickest driver in the class leaves the road on one stage and thus amasses a penalty big enough to stop him winning the class but can continue to put up fastest times and prevent his nearest rival in the class from doing well in the general classification. Still it is a tribute to Trana and the Volvo that, even on the tests where he was in direct competition with the rest of the entry, he was only beaten by Ljungfeldt's Falcon three times and by a second in each case while on the other direct comparison tests he was comfortably ahead of his chief rivals.

The Volvo that he was driving is, of course, a highly developed version of the post-war Volvo 444 and there can be no doubt that the lightened and tuned Sport version is a very quick and agile car. All the Swedes say that it is a delightful car to drive especially on the loose and that it is possible to do things with it that one would not expect with a rear-wheel-drive car. However, the front-wheel-drive cars did not disgrace themselves and managed to occupy six of the first ten places as well as winning the team prize. Harry Källström, nicknamed "Sputnik" because of his meteoric rise to fame as a driver, has turned from driving Volkswagens to become a works driver for B.M.C. Sweden and his present record in that country has shown him to be both quick and reliable. His finishing record with the Cooper S is almost 100% and his driving on the Midnight Sun showed admirable restraint considering that for most of the rally he was in a position to catch Trana by driving like a maniac and risking the consequences to his car. He had stiff opposition from within his class as well, for both Barbara Johansson and Lars Lamka in similar Cooper S's beat him on occasions.

The Midnight Sun is not all that terribly hard on a car as there is just not sufficient mileage of really fast or heavy going to break it and, in any case, the road sections are sufficiently easy to allow the replacement of almost any part. Almost any car with the right driver seems to be able to do well - the Opel Kadetts beat the Coopers in their classes for instance - but the marking system is too obscure for the general classification to mean very much without a detailed analysis of each stage time which unfortunately the organisers do not supply.

A final thought is that there was only one British competitor in the whole rally: Pat Moss. The marking system and a dead engine at the start of one of the tests conspired to keep her out of the running for the Coupe des Dames but otherwise she went well. There is no reason why British drivers should not do as well on the Midnight Sun as they have on the Liège or the R.A.C. and if Paddy Hopkirk manages to win the R.A.C. this year against the Scandinavian challenge, we may see more British drivers going over to Sweden for the Midnight Sun - if the police let them run it next year.

 

Alpine Sunshine and Showers

The Alpine Rally as well as being one of the oldest rallies in the international calendar is also reckoned to be one of the toughest, mainly because it is run over a course of some three-and-a-half thousand kilometres in the French Alps with plenty of rest allowed for the crew but none whatsoever for the car. This year the route was divided into three parts with one going from Marseilles to Cannes, the next from Cannes to Chamonix and the last from Chamonix to Monte Carlo and at the two intermediate points there was a night's rest for the crew while, in the tradition of the old Alpine trials, the cars were locked away, far from the tender care of the mechanics.

The route is so demanding on the cars and their drivers that any time that is needed for refuelling, replacement of parts or repairs can only be obtained by driving the car to the limit and thus inducing further failures and causing extra wear on brakes, tyres and suspensions. It comes as no surprise to discover, therefore, that out of an entry of 97, of whom about 73 started, there were only 25 finishers, but it was something of a shock to find that seven of them had contrived to remain unpenalised on the road section and thus win Coupes des Alpes, the premier award of the rally.

The discrepancy between the number of entries and the number of starters was increased by three only a very short time before the first car left Marseilles on the first section, when the organisers refused to let the three Alan Mann-entered Ford Falcons start on the grounds that their homologation was still under suspension from the F.I.A. committee. Offers were made to telegram America and Paris in an attempt to clear the matter up but eventually nothing was done and the three cars of Bo Ljungfeldt (the fourth Scandinavian), Peter Harper and Peter Procter did not start. An interesting point raised by the action of the club is that, if the homologation of the Falcon was suspended in April and, according to them, has not yet been reinstated, what should happen about the results obtained by Greder on the Tulip and Ljungfeldt on the Midnight Sun? Were they running in non-recognised cars? We may never know, but it is clear that Greder had wind of the development well before the rally as he turned up in one of the 1963 cars, only to retire early on with shock-absorber trouble.

No manufacturer got off-lightly on this rally and even the highly professional B,M.C, team had two of their most favoured works entries retire with cars that had not stood the strain. These were Paddy Hopkirk (winner of the Monte Carlo) and Timo Makinen (winner of the Tulip), whose 1,300-c.c. Cooper Ss both let them down. Ford of Dagenham, who could at least offset any losses against an outright win in the Touring Category by Vic Elford in one of their Cortina GTs, had three of their four works Cortinas drop out with various maladies. The Finn, Esko Keinanen, and Geoff Mabbs were both out early on with faulty engines, while David Seigle-Morris' engine waited until only 30 miles from the finish, when leading Elford in the Touring Category, before failing him.

Mercedes' only entrant, ex-European Rally Champion Eugen Böhringer, shared the same fate as the Swiss driver Jean-Jacques Thuner (works Triumph Spitfire) by retiring after being in a collision with a non-competing car. This is always one of the problems of the Alpine as it is run over roads on which, despite the publicity given to the rally, one is still likely to meet the odd tourist labouring his way to the summit of a col. Precautions in this respect extend to the organisers getting the police to marshal most junctions at the foot of the cols and to the competitors fitting powerful horns - and using them.

The two other Triumph Spitfires entered by the works shared mixed fates: Roy Fidler retiring with a burnt piston on the Rousset, and Terry Hunter finishing seventh in the GT category after losing a minute on a particularly tight road section. Other newcomers to the world of rallying were the works Rover 2000s, who conducted themselves well in their classes, for two were entered as Group III cars with twin carburetters while the others went as standard Group I cars. Of the four, perhaps the most impressive was Roger Clark who was giving the works Citroëns something to think about with his Group I Rover, until it suffered the same fate as Anne Hall's Group III car had earlier, and blew out an oil ring. Mr. and Mrs. Peter Riley and Ken James and Mike Hughes brought the other two Rovers safely to the finish.

Saabs had their biggest disappointment when Pat Moss had the cylinder head gasket go on her Saab Sport, while on the speed hill-climb at Mont Ventoux, for there is little doubt that if her car had lasted she would have won or at least been second in the Coupe des Dames and won valuable points towards increasing her lead in that branch of the European Championship. Erik Carlsson made up for this by winning a Coupe des Alpes on his fourth attempt at the Alpine and finishing second in the Touring Category.

Most of the retirements occurred in the first stage to Cannes, on which the heat and generally dry, abrasive roads made it possible to drive really fast, but only at the expense of the car. On the smaller cars, wheel bearings took a hammering with the amount of sideways thrust that was put on them during cornering while, of course, on the bigger cars it was the transmission and the engine which received most punishment.

The Alpine is always something of an epic struggle, though in a different way from a rally like the Liège where the drivers are given the endurance treatment as well. The driver who acquitted himself best in this particular Alpine was John Wadsworth, a private entrant in a Cooper S, who achieved one of the great ambitions of a rally driver by winning himself a coupe, while the car that distinguished itself was the lone Alfa Romeo of Jean Rolland which had been dismissed by some before the rally as being too fragile to finish, despite its Targa performance. - J.D.F.D.