At the end of June there was an Alpine Rally in Southern France, but it was an Alpine in name only. Gone were the old atmosphere, the old polish and slickness and the Who’s Who-type entry list. Unfortunately, the bad points which remained were magnified, and the whole emerged as an insignificant shadow of the glorious Coupe des Alpes which was.
The Alpine has always been expensive for competitors and for organisers. Without a sponsor the AC de Marseille et Provence finds it impossible to put it on at all, and last year it was cancelled altogether because of the absence of a backer. This year the same thing happened and an announcement was made that there would be no Coupe des Alpes in 1971. Then, with admirable generosity, along came BP France with an offer to support the rally financially. The club accepted and, in the six weeks or so left to them, started getting the rally off the ground. But it takes many months to do this properly, and in the time available they couldn’t possibly hope to produce a rally of a stature equal to that of past Alpines. In the circumstances all that BP did was keep a sinking ship barely afloat, and it would have been kinder, perhaps, if it were allowed to remain just below the surface for another year.
The Alpine team sent no less than six cars, which was not at all unexpected, but other teams displayed little interest. A Lancia and two mechanics came from Italy for Trautmann to drive, a borrowed Daf from Eindhoven for Claude Laurent and an Escort RS from Boreham for the Ford France pair, Piot and Porter. There were dealer-entered Opels and Alfa Romeos, and a cluster of private entrants bringing the total number of starters to a measly 34. British privateers were once as keen on the Alpine as they were on the Monte, but the entry fee of £130 (£200 if the entrant was not competing himself) was quite ridiculous. Had the organisers diverted some of the money spent on unnecessary trivia towards reducing the entry fee they might just have had enough cars for the event to qualify as a round in the International Championship for Constructors. As it was, it had to suffer the indignity of being disqualified, even though a French national event was tagged along at the back of the handful of survivors for the last of the event’s three legs.
Route changes were frequent and nothing will annoy a competing crew more than to get back after a week of practice to find that some of the roads on which they have been spending their precious time have been taken out of the rally route. A Swedish pair got so fed up with this that they packed up and went home. There were changes to the timing system, too, and sections which crews had found were possible in the target time allowed were converted to “scratch” when they came to start the rally. This meant that they had to tackle them without pace notes simply because of an organisational whim.
It was on such a section that Jean-Luc Thérier, one of Alpines stars, hit a bridge, lost a wheel and retired. The same happened to Ove Andersson, the most successful rally driver of 1971, whose Alpine left the road and went 50 feet down a mountainside.
Little can be said of the exploits of 34 rally crews whittling themselves down to 11 finishers. The rally was as fast and as difficult as ever, of course, but, oh, how needlessly complicated! At one time it was an advantage to supplement the closed-road special stages with things called “selectifs” as a means of disguising special stages sufficiently to be able to run them on open public roads without interference from the authorities. The need for such tactics has gone, for even selectifs are now closed to other traffic. Further to complicate matters by having some selectifs on scratch and others on target times is quite ridiculous. The sooner the Alpine simplifies itself by running clean, simple, easy-to-follow special stages, in which time taken is the sole deciding factor, the better.
Bernard Darniche proved to be the winner in his works Alpine, but more significant was the fact that second man Jean Vinatier was close enough to him in second place to win an Alpine Cup. This was his third in successive Alpine Rallies, so his name has now been added to the list of those who have won Coupes d’Or. The only other two drivers with Alpine Gold Cups in their trophy collections are Ian Appleyard and Stirling Moss. It was quite a curtain-call for Vinatier, for he has now left the Alpine team to become Competitions Manager for Ford France.
It is well known that the French Alpine Rally has its origins in the Austrian one. In the sixties, the French event was good and the Austrian one indifferent. This year the situation was reversed, and alongside its Austrian counterpart the Coupe des Alpes simply didn’t hold a candle.
French organisers are somewhat reluctant to accept advice from outside France, but in the hope that someone takes a hint may I suggest to them that next year they should fix a route and stick to it, fix a timing system and stick to it, rearrange the stopovers so that expensive hotels do not succeed in squeezing maximum profit from visiting rally people, and cut the superfluous pomp and the unnecessary extras in order that entry fees for private entrants might be reduced.
For some peculiar reason it is a very rare thing indeed for D.S.J. and I to be in the Motor Sport offices at the same time. On such occasions we spend the first few minutes of the conversation each attempting to convince the other that he is the more frequent globetrotter. There is usually a stalemate and the conversation wanders off to other things.
About a year ago those other things included the subject of pace notes and how the modern techniques used by professional rally crews compare with the system of hand signals which he employed when he shared the winning Mercedes with Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia.
Nowadays we use electronic intercom. sets fitted into the crash helmets of drivers and co-drivers to pass on the vital information. The unamplified human voice is hardly up to penetrating the noise of the engine and the constant clatter of stones being flung against the undertray, particularly as crash helmet padding muffles most of it—unless the co-driver wants to keep up a continuous shouting which would render him hoarse in a very short time.
D.S.J. has a theory that the spoken word is inferior to the visual sign as a means of conveying road information effectively to a driver who is on the absolute limit at ten-tenths. He maintains that when a driver is concentrating to that extent he becomes temporarily deaf and unable to make use of the audible signals coming from his earpieces.
We agreed to differ on this point, for I cannot bring myself to believe that an arm waved before Roger Clark’s eyes as he drove as hard as he possibly could along a special stage would do anything but put him off his concentration.
The conversation has a sequel. At the time of the Alpine Rally four Boreham mechanics, two French ones, Jean-Francois Piot and Jim Porter were staying at Le Relais de la Magdelaine, a rather tranquil hostelry some 20 kilometres outside Marseille. One afternoon, after a service planning session was over, Jim Porter and I were talking about things past and present when the conversation turned to Roger Clark.
We were in the middle of a chat concerning types of co-drivers for types of rallies when it became necessary, for some reason or another, for us to go to the hotel’s reception desk. Realising that the French Grand Prix was less than two weeks away, and that we were but a short distance away from the Paul Ricard circuit, we wondered whether there would be any familiar names on the reservations register which was there on the counter before us. Behold, there was the name Jenkinson. Could it be? It had to be. When Madame assured us that M. Jenkinson was un petit Anglais avec barbe, we knew that it was.
Simultaneously we thought of the same thing, each recognising the thoughts of the other by the grins which accompanied them. Why couldn’t it be arranged that D.S.J. should partner Clark on one of the several rallies he has planned in the UK? Furthermore, why couldn’t it be arranged that the chosen event should be one for which pace notes would have to be prepared? Our first evil thoughts were to put the cat among the pigeons, but then we realised that the result could be interesting as well as entertaining.
On most British special stage rallies reconnaissance trips along the special stages are forbidden, so there are no opportunities whatsoever to make pace notes. But there are exceptions (in the Isle of Man for instance) so perhaps we’ll have the chance of seeing a theory or two put to the test.—G. P.