Rally Vltava

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General Classification

1st: R. Aaltonen/H. Liddon (B.M.C. Cooper S) 8,320 marks
2nd: B. Soderstrom/G. Palm (Ford-Lotus Cortina) 8,373 “
3rd: T. Makinen/P. Easter (B.M.C. Cooper S) 8,377 “
4th: S. Zasada/Z. Lesczuk  (B.M.C. Cooper S) 8,761 “

IN 1965 Rauno Aaltonen’s victory on the Czechoslovakian contribution to the European Rally Championship started him on the path to final conquest of that very contest. It will be interesting to see if history will repeat itself for the Finn took his Group 2 B.M.C. Cooper S to a lucky first place on this year’s event. Lucky because the quickest and also the unluckiest man, Timo Makinen, had assured victory snatched from his grasp when the Mini went onto three cylinders with a broken rocker only seconds from the end of the very final test—the regularity run. Makinen’s motto has always been that the car should be driven hard from beginning to end. However this does not mean that he is an engine wrecker by any means, it being rare for him to have engine blow-ups. More often it has been just sheer bad luck; for example the Mini-bonfire on the 1965 Acropolis, broken suspension bracket this Acropolis, transmission on the Swedish, notwithstanding the Monte disqualification this past January.

When talking with Timo about his driving technique it becomes apparent that he is most conscious of rev limits, this being exemplified by the fact that the two racing engines he uses in Finland for local events have not needed major rebuilds during the past two years. When reasoning why he does drive so hard it helps to recall his 1965 Monte victory—the snowy one. His car was the only one to reach Monte with a clean sheet through the entry-decimating blizzard. It was obvious that victory was his for the picking merely by taking it relatively easy on the seven tests in the final 600-kilometre mountain circuit. But no, Makinen went out and set up fastest times on six of these stages. His view was that if he took it easy the chances of going off, and one must remember that for Timo to go off is a rare occurrence indeed, were for greater than if he drove at his usual fiat-out pace and kept up his 100% concentration.

On rough stuff the idea behind flat-out driving is that it will do less damage than nine-tenths motoring. His method is to keep the nose of the car high, so if a rough patch appears a quick slam on the brakes followed by hard acceleration keep the front suspension up as the car roars on. It goes without saying that this doesn’t apply for undulating road surfaces which make the car “yump.”

Timo Makinen must surely be regarded as the fastest rally driver of the time, and therefore taking the parallel example of Stirling Moss, if he drives the car the hardest then any weaknesses will come to light in his hands. By comparison Rauno Aaltonen is a more sympathetic driver who will nurse the car as far as possible.

All this was quite apparent on the Vltava for Makinen put up fastest times on ten of the fourteen special stages, and despite a 45-second disadvantage early on due to a sticking petrol pump, had regained the lead before the penultimate stage. Then of course the misfortunes of the regularity run back in Prague wherein Makinen dropped to third place just four seconds behind Soderstrom.

The same penultimate stage saw Aaltonen in the bushes for a loss of a minute and a half. However, this still left Aaltonen ahead of the Swedish-crewed works Ford-Lotus Cortina of Bengt Soderstrom and Gunnar Palm, and even another 20 seconds dropped on the last special stage through running out of petrol did not bring the Cortina within victory distance. Incidentally, Soderstrom is to be commended for a line, steady, quick, trouble-free drive!

The 2,500-kilometre rally was only seriously contested by the four red cars from Britain—all running in Group 2. The second Ford went out on the eighth special stage when Vic Elford departed from the road and made the acquaintance of a large tree, luckily without injury to himself or co-driver John Davenport. He had gone from 100 mile-an-hour roads in brilliant sunshine into a dark wood with art immediate slow left and sharp right. As is his usual practice on loose stages Elford wasn’t using pace notes.

They didn’t make the right-hander!

One person who could have affected the leaders if he had been Group 2 mounted was Polish rally champion Zasada in a loaned Abingdon Mini. He was most impressed with the car; and now that both Rovers (they lent him a 2000 for the Monte) and B.M.C. have given him a try-out one wonders who will try him next!

Saabs were the only other non-Iron Curtain country to send cars, and these were just for their pair of Carlssons. Eric was making his first appearance since the back affliction from the East African Safari Rally. He retired when a nut worked loose on a petrol union and sucked air into the carburetters. Pat kept the Saab flag flying by bringing her outpaced car into fifth place behind Zasada. She was astonished to find at the start that her car was of the old body style without the full-width grille, and with the radiator at the rear of the engine instead of at the front. Apparently Saabs have still one or two old-style body shells which are to be used up! As can be only expected of a country with a motor industry still some years behind ours in technical advancement, the local works teams had little chance of success. The severity of the event (or the weaknesses of the locals) can be gained from the fact that only 20 cars were classified as finishers.