1st: G. Staepelare/A. Aerts (Ford Lotus-Cortina) 228 points
2nd: A. Fall/H. Liddon (B.M.C. Cooper S) 278 points
3rd: J. Oiger/B. Oiger (Panhard 24 CT) 296 points
4th: G. Verrier/J. Syda (Citroen DS21) 317 points
SUCCESS can be very elusive; and certainly in European Championship rallies success has been very, very elusive for the Competitions Department of the Ford Motor Company. Try as they might, the men from Boreham have seen outright victory snatched from their grasp several times in the past two years. As perfect examples take Vic Elford’s retirement 20 miles from outright victory on the Alpine last year, or his technical disqualification on this year’s Italian Rally of the Flowers. Therefore it was by a peculiar quirk of fate that a lone Ford of Belgium Lotus-Cortina should take premier position on the seventh round of the European Rally Championship, the Geneva Rally.
Admittedly the driver, up-and-coming 29-year-old Gilbert Staepelaere, co-piloted by Andre Aerts, is not such a private entry as may seem apparent at first glance. He was employed basically as a salesman by Ford of Belgium, however, because of his prowess over the past few years in his own country (Belgian Rally Champion in 1965; co-driver to French Rally Champion Henri Greder when they won this year’s “Rallye du Nord” in a Ford Mustang) his company has provided him with the car, and assistance in preparation. The assistance extended to purchasing a Group 1 engine from Alan Mann for use on this rally. He also has the use of his staff Mark V Zodiac for towing the Cortina (and in this instance for reconnaissance purposes as well!).
Ford had declined to enter the Geneva as Championship points were only scoreable in Groups 1 and 3. Vic Elford was due to do the rally in a similar car to Staepelaere’s, and ironically would almost certainly have won it, but was let down by the non-arrival of his Sir Peter Moon-entered vehicle.
One should also take a closer look at the result, for the Geneva is not run on a “scratch” making basis, i.e. quickest man wins, but on a handicap system which takes into account tuning and capacity—by category and by class.
Definitely the most favoured cars were those in Group or Category 1 (Touring cars, unmodified, of which 5,000 must have been built). Particularly then a less-than-1,000 c.c. car in Group 1 had the best time allowances over the ten selective sections (the three hill-climbs counted only as tie-deciders), while next best came the Cortina and cars like the Group 1 1275 S of Tony Fall and Mike Wood. With less time allowance, but still in with a chance were the modified touring cars, like Paddy Hopkirk’s Group 2 Cooper S. Less time allowance still and with virtually no chance at all came the Grand Touring cars.
One other point to consider was that the road sections were marked at 100 points per minute lost, while the selectives only carried a penalty of 60 points per minute. The idea being that the less powerful Group 1 cars might find it more difficult to stay clean on the road. Needless to say it didn’t quite work out that way. Notice that Group 1 cars filled the first six places.
The rally itself was divided into two portions, one to the north and west of Geneva, and the second leg, after a day’s sleep, to the south and west. The second leg was the more interesting for it included a lot of favourite Alpine sections, the St. Jean-en-Royans circuit to name but one.
However, the first night saw the early demise of B.M.C.’s premier hope, Paddy Hopkirk, with Terry Harriman navigating on his first Continental International. They went out with a broken gearbox. B.M.C.’s other hope was Tony Fall, fresh— well, perhaps that’s the wrong word—from his Scottish Rally victory the previous week. Try as he might, the Yorkshireman could not match the Lotus, incidentally both being in the same class, and so had to be content with second place overall. However he did manage to hold off the strong challenge from the Panhard 24CT of Ogier and the DS21 Citroens of Bianchi and of Verrier.
Tempers flared slightly at the end when Patrick Lier (Hillman Rally Imp) threatened to protest against the organisers for not specifying a set route on the tightest of the road sections. On this piece everybody had lost time, some more than others, by taking the 3-kilometre longer, albeit less foggy, way. If the section were to be cancelled Lier would win the GT Category from the Triumph Spitfire of Swiss garage owner and Triumph ex-works driver, Jean-Jacques Thuner. However, we gather that the outcome was peaceably settled.
B.M.C. did quite well out of the event, taking the Manufacturers’ Team Prize and two class wins in Group 2; Culcheth/Syer up to 1,000 c.c. and Freeborough/Krauklis 1,000 c.c. to 1,300 c.c. Poor Tony Fall, although second overall, came second in class as well as Category!
Determined story of the rally must come from the works Porsche 911 driver, young Gunther Klass. When the throttle linkage broke on a selective section he sat on the back holding on to the open “boot” and hand-operated the throttle, while co-driver Wutherich steered and braked. Not only did they finish the 13 km. of stage, but continued like that for another 50 km. to the next service point! They won their class!