Rally Review, August 1972

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FIA Championship

Authority, no matter which ornate nameplate appears on its door, stands on a pedestal, a ready-made and convenient Aunt Sally for all who wish to take a pot-shot. The government, the judge, the Bobby on the beat, the schoolmaster, the pop star, the journalist, the local councillor; anyone who appears, or whose work appears, before the public eye must accept the fact that he is an ideal target for criticism, and by common practice it has become an occupational hazard for all those who accept such an office.

The sporting world is not exempted, those who play and those who administrate their play being just as likely to come under fire as a Chancellor who announces an unpopular budget. But here there is a small difference; the players have only their sport’s own enthusiasts as critics, whereas the rule makers have both players and supporters ready to pounce on any shortcoming.

In the UK a ready target is the RAC, and over the years the officials at Belgrave Square must have become accustomed to criticism. Indeed, it is so fashionable to knock Auntie that the thick skin which she has developed often prevents justifiable comment reaching its destination and taking effect. Much of the criticism is frivolous, but some is not and it’s unfortunate that the latter is frequently clouded by the former.

Internationally, the ready target is the FIA which has to put up with multilingual slings and arrows from all over the world. Many of them are trivial, but it must be said that from its lofty perch overlooking the Champs Elysees the world governing body for our sport does give an impression of aloofness which tends to annoy those who seek to communicate with it. Rally people in particular have discovered this, for compared with other forms of motorised sport rallying does seem to be the poor relation.

For years there has been discontent at the way in which the FIA has handled its various rally championships. The title of European Rally Champion has never had much significance, for the events which go to make up that series have been a pretty mixed bunch and Europe’s leading drivers have invariably been occupied on other, more relevant rallies so often that they have never been able to contest the championship as a complete series. Indeed, it has happened that halfway through a year a driver has found that he has picked up sufficient points along the way to be well placed in the championship—without actually having the series in mind as a goal.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned—or Rally Championship for Makes as the FIA calls it—this has taken precedence, with the series for drivers playing second fiddle. The best events are always picked for this one, although there are one or two disagreements at times over the choice. When it was felt that the East African Safari should be put into an FIA Championship, it went into the Constructors’ series, which then took the name International instead of European. Obviously the FIA was wooing the manufacturers, but was unwittingly destroying its own series, for any student of public opinion will tell you that a live person has far greater publicity potential than an inanimate machine.

For several years there has been open and loud criticism of the two series. It was considered in many quarters that rallying was the poor relation of the sport as far as the FIA was concerned. Grand Prix racing had a World Champion to capture the imagination of the public but all rallying had to put on the champion’s rostrum was a hunk of metal—a sophisticated, well-designed hunk it is agreed, but nevertheless a hunk, which could not be interviewed, could not set an example to youthful aspirants and could not wear a garland. Rallying was lacking a number one personality who could be touched, slapped on the brick, shaken by the hand and kissed by beauty queens.

Throughout the early part of 1972 there were signs that the FIA would take steps to improve the situation for 1973, that there would be a World Champion in rallying as there was in Grand Prix Racing. After all the title World Champion Driver is really a misnomer if it is based solely on achievements in Formula One.

But after various meetings it has become apparent that this is not to be, that the major championship for rallies in 1973 is to be one for constructors once again. True that some kind of trophy for drivers will be built into the series but the fact remains that the man has to take the back seat, as it were, to the car he drives. Perhaps the FIA feels that this is what the constructors want. Perhaps this is what the constructors themselves feel. If so, they are both so wrong. When a Lancia Fulvia won this year’s Monte Carlo Rally there was jubiliation in Italy, but it was nearly all generated by the car’s Italian driver Sandro Munari. Had Harry Kallström been the winning driver Italian feeling would not have run as high.

When Stig Blomqvist won the 1971 RAC Rally the advertising campaigns in Sweden were based on him, using him as a means of getting over the message about the superiority of Saabs. There were huge pictures of Blomqvist in the newspapers. Had there been pictures of a Saab in their place the impact would have been far less, and Saabs advertising people must be aware of this.

Most of the events for the 1973 Championship (in which the term International is to be replaced by World) have been chosen, although there are still about four to be picked. Largely they are the same as before, one of the possible additions being Finland’s Rally of the Thousand Lakes. This difficult and exciting event certainly deserves a place in the series, particularly as it is the premier event of a country which has provided so many world-beating drivers.

The European Rally Championship for drivers is to continue, presumably in its present clumsy and complicated form. It has too many qualifying events and a needlessly complex way of points allocation. The sooner it is scrapped in favour of something far more realistic the better, though it seems that the FIA is well practised at turning deaf ears to suggestions of that kind.

What is needed is a World Rally Championship based on a series of not more than ten—or a dozen at the most—events. From it should emerge a Champion Driver. The car he drives will reap its own attendant publicity which will be more than enough to keep its makers happy. It’s all very well to send the Safari-winning Escort on a tour of Ford showrooms; it is much, much better to send its crew. A separate constructor’s trophy based on the same World Championship series could to easily be incorporated, but after all a champion is made of flesh and bone, not metal and rubber.

* * *

June and July are what may be called the quiet months of rallying. Both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe it has long been the practice to concentrate the sport at the extremes of the year when the winter months provide the maximum number of night-time hours and the minimum of tourist traffic. In June one of rallying’s old classics should have taken place in France—the Coupe des Alpes. but for several reasons it did not.

In 1970 the Alpine Rally was cancelled because its organisers could not find the money needed to run it. In 1971 the money was provided by BP-France, but the financial rescue came so late that the AC de Marseille et Provence was so disorganised that the event was a complete shambles. This year the money was again put up by BP-France but the administration of the event was not very impressive and certainly behind schedule. Furthermore memories of last year’s chaos were quite strong and the result was a mere 18 entries, only two of which were accompanied by the proper fee.

It is sad that a giant among rallies should fall from popularity but it is better that the Alpine Rally should have been cancelled than be run as an insignificant shadow of its former glorious self.

* * *

Although the incidence of tourism renders the summer months a quiet period for rally people, August this year is going to be a month of considerable activity. In Britain the “long break” comes to an end in August with two qualifying events in the Motoring News/Castrol Rally Championship—the Peak Revs Rally on the 12th and the Gremlin Rally on the 19th. On the international side, the month starts with the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in Finland and goes on to the Olympia Rally in Germany.

The Thousand Lakes is an annual event, but the Olympia Rally is being organised by a German consortium as a one-off feature in conjunction with the Olympic Games. Both are events which demand thorough practice, so competitors who are tackling both—and there are several—will have pace noted before the eyes by the time August is over.

The Thousand Lakes is a comparatively short event, crammed between Friday and Sunday, but its special stages are the most undulating in the world. Indeed, they have more blind brows per unit distance than any other event and to do well it is of the utmost importance that pace notes are as accurate and reliable as possible. Anyone slowing down needlessly for a crest beyond which the road doesn’t bend significantly isn’t going to have much chance of winning.

The Rally is a qualifier for the European Rally Championship for Drivers, for what that’s worth, but it is on the short list for inclusion in the World Championship next year, a place which it certainly deserves. The continual violent jumping is an extreme test of vehicle ruggedness and reliability and a good result demands driving skill of the highest possible order. The forest land of Finland is no playground for the faint-hearted unless one is to be content with merely finishing.

One week after the Thousand Lakes is the Olympia Rally which begins at Kiel, centre of the Olympic yachting competitions, and finishes at Munich, taking up almost the whole of August’s third week. The rally has more than sixty special stages, most of which are open for practising, and to prepare and check notes for that many stages is a task which certainly cannot be crammed into one week. Anyone entering both events and wishing to make the best possible preparations for each of them will have begun thinking of practising before the end of June. Two complete months of hard, concentrated work will not have been too much for two events of this calibre.

Although most of the Olympia’s special stages will be on tarmac roads in the mountains and loose ones through forests, some are to be in places which are established crowd-pullers—the Nurburgring, Hockenheim circuit and the cinder tracks of three speedway stadiums. The event will by no means be won or lost on such tests which have been put in merely as publicity catchers in much the same way as the back roads of Silverstone and the estate roads of stately homes have been used on the RAC Rally of Great Britain. Indeed, to promote the sport and to foster goodwill among the public the organisers have arranged for some night time stages to be completely floodlit as spectator attractions and have put up a special award for the town or village which shows the greatest enthusiasm, is most co-operative and has the best atmosphere during the rally. The prize is to be a fully equipped children’s playground—a splendid gesture which cannot fail to rouse public enthusiasm. The same could be done elsewhere, and if there is a sporting minded contractor seeking a worthwhile outlet for some publicity expenditure in Britain, we would be pleased to offer guidance.

Right at the end of August is South Africa’s premier event, the Total Rally organised by Pretoria Motor Club. At one time this was a “Mickey Mouse” event, that being the term used by rallying people to describe events which resort to navigational trickery and which present crews with problems more mathematical than mechanical. But its organisers are setting out to transform the event into one based on European lines with special stages forming the meat of the competition. Some progress has been made in this direction, but there were some shortcomings last year which the organisers are putting right for this month’s effort.

The East African Safari is entirely a road event, with the competition based on open public roads—almost a road race on dirt, in fact. The Total Rally is quite unlike that, and if it progresses as its organisers expect there is no reason why the continent of Africa should not have a whole string of major rallies, others being the Ethiopian Highland Rally and the impeccably organised Moroccan Rally. — G. P.

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