Rally review

The cockpit of his E-Type Jaguar, the garden of a Routier between Sarthe and Milan, a restaurant table on a cross-Channel ferry and the transit lounge at Orly are all places where one can imagine D.S.J. having sat down to write his monthly "European Letter". We have all been compelled many times to begin writing in odd places, but the one in which I now find myself beginning these words must take some kind of oddity record— a hard chair in the uncomfortable and sparse waiting-room of Warsaw Domestic Airport. It isn't at all a place which lends itself to concentration, but at least one can watch an assortment of humanity pass by, gaze at an equally assorted collection of cars parked outside and wonder who owns what.

Polski-Fiat, Moskvich, Volga, Skoda, Trabant, Wartburg, Vaz, Syrena and Dacia (the latter being a Rumanian-built Renault R12) are all represented, together with a few examples of Western cars from Minis to Rovers and from Renault R4s to BMWs.

Polski-Fiat has a strong team entered in the Polish Rally, complemented by two factory 124 Abarth Spiders from Turin. The only other Western manufacturer with an entry is Alpine, with just one A 110 Berlinette. But comment on the Polish Rally, in which World Championship points are at stake for the first time (hence Alpine and Fiat), must wait awhile for I am presently on my way to the event's base town at Krakow, not from it.

My present journey began at Vienna in the forests around which I was able to have a first-hand look at much of the route to be used on this year's Austrian Alpine Rally in September. I confess that I was horrified to discover that, with just two months before the rally, the OAMTC were so far behind with preparations that many of its private road special stages were still awaiting written confirmation from landowners of permission for their use and local authorities had still not given final approval for closure of public roads.

Most other events of similar stature have their routes planned, surveyed and approved many months in advance, but there are two very good reasons for the apparent tardiness in Austria. The first is the fact that no-one within the OAMTC has the competitive experience to lay out a suitable route. The Club therefore called on the services of Richard Bochnicek, the Viennese Citroën driver who has more international rallying experience than any other driver in Austria. Unlike the RAC, whose secondment of Jim Porter to the organising committee of the 1972 RAC Rally meant that Roger Clark had to seek another co-driver, the OAMTC is not insisting that Bochnicek should not drive in the rally. Practice is allowed in Austria, and this will provide other competitors with notes as detailed as the ones Bochnicek has. Furthermore, it is one thing to have good notes and quite another to utilise them to good advantage.

The second reason is one which doesn't seem to cause much concern in Austria but which will remind many British and other rally people of the enormous disappointment of 1967 when the RAC Rally was cancelled in order not to cause extra hindrance to farmers who were in the middle of coping with a serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The same disease has recently spread to Austria from Czechoslovakia and already thousands of head of cattle have been destroyed. The OAMTC has completely scrubbed the rally route which they had planned for that part of the country to the south of Vienna and made up for the loss by increasing the distance in the western part. But even in the west one sees the ominous disinfection pads which were common in Britain some six years ago as attempts were made to stop the spread of the disease on vehicle tyres. One only hopes that Austria's present outbreak will get no worse and that there will be no need to make further changes to the route of the classic Alpenfahrt.

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Before the end of 1973 it is likely that the first rally open to drivers of all nationalities will take place in Russia. In Eastern Europe there is a rally championship which embraces several of the socialist countries, but so far the Soviet Union itself has not had a qualifier in the series although several National events are held in that country each year. Russia now has a qualifier, and although it is expected to be no more than a touring event in the main, with just two or three special stages and a completely foolproof means of route definition —road blocks on all the "wrong" roads—at least it is a start. Who knows what it might lead to, for there are surely thousands of miles of fine rally roads in the vastness of the Soviet Union?

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The first week of August sees the start in Finland of an event which this year has attracted the strongest field of foreign drivers to any event in the Nordic region, the Rally of the Thousand Lakes. Well organised and blessed with a wealth of suitable loose-surfaced roads with more blind crests than East Africa has drifts, the rally has been steadily increasing in popularity over the years and now it has all of 121 entries, of which 46 are from outside Finland.

In the past the feeling that no-one except Sweden's Stig Blomqvist could beat the Finns in Finland probably kept foreign entrants away from this brow-ridden rally in the thick forests of Central Finland, but a growing interest in the premier event of a country which has bred so many champions has led to the very reason for keeping away in the past becoming an attraction. Joe Bloggs may never have a hope in a million of beating Mikkola, Lampinen or Blomqvist, but he wants to see how he actually compares.

Running at the head of the field will be no less than eleven FIA graded drivers, Lampinen, Blomqvist, Kinnunen, Mäkinen, Mikkola, Mehta, Culcheth, Eklund, Toivonen, Chasseuil and Jacquemin, whereas from America Bob Hourihan is bringing his Datsun 1800 SSS and Scott Harvey, several times a POR winner, a Dodge Colt which is really a Mitsubishi in its US Chrysler guise. What is more there are all of ten British entrants and a whole package trip of spectators all eager to see the Thousand Lakes for themselves ever since they saw that splendid Castrol film The Flying Finns.

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Finally we are able to squeeze into this month's Motor Sport the result of the Polish Rally which ended at Kracow in the late evening of July 14th. Of 65 starters only three cars managed to complete the route within the lateness limit of 2-1/2 hours for each of the two legs. Outright winners were Achim Warmbold and Jean Todt in a works Fiat 124 Abarth Spider, a real cosmopolitan combination. Second place went to the works Wartburg of Culmbacher and Ernst, and third to the works Polski-Fiat of Stawowiak and Czyzyk. The second Fiat Abarth retired with a blown engine after oil pump failure and the Alpine was disqualified after arrival at the finish for missing the start of a special stage, a decision which was disputed by the Alpine team manager, who may yet take the matter to the FIA.

The event was poorly organised, with impossibly fast averages on open public roads creating a needless danger for competitors and non-competitors. Special stages were not sealed off from other traffic, marshalling and timekeeping was slack, and the results service was almost non-existent. Visiting competitors were openly critical of the whole event and their opinions were shared by those Polish observers who had experience of events outside Poland. It was certainly not of the standard required of a World Championship qualifier.—G.P.

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Formula Two review

Tragedy and disorganisation at Rouen

The annual Formula Two race at the impressive Rouen Les Essarts road circuit has always been a favourite. The track itself is fast and extremely challenging, the surroundings are extremely pleasant and the meeting has always had a relaxed air. This year it was rather different and a shadow was placed over the whole proceedings by the death in practice of the promising Scottish driver Gerry Birrell. It appears his Chevron had a puncture on the fast downhill section at Six Freres and he ploughed straight on into the Armco barrier. Sadly the barrier was neither fixed into the ground very well nor well positioned. The two rails split open and Birrell succumbed to head injuries almost immediately. He was the first person ever to be killed in a Chevron.

After this tragic turn of events the organisation, almost entirely part-timers who run a meeting once a year, completely fell apart. At one stage it looked as if the whole meeting might be cancelled but finally the F2 drivers, led by Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, agreed to race if a chicane was erected near to the point of the accident in an attempt to slow the cars down. Unwisely the organisers decided to use blocks of polystyrene which were shredded all over the place. Drivers soon found they could hit them with impunity and in so doing even lap faster.

Meanwhile other aspects of the organisation failed. There only appeared to be a couple of old and slow breakdown trucks so that at the end of each race it took ages to tow in those who had stopped on the circuit for one reason or another. We left the track at 9 p.m., three hours after the scheduled end of the programme, and there was still a French club race to be run.

Despite all of this we should not overlook that the young Frenchman and March Engineering discovery Jean-Pierre Jarier scored a fine win and put himself in a very much stronger overall lead of the European Formula Two Championship. At no point during practice, the heats or the final did Jarier look like being beaten except when he spun at the plastic chicane and clipped the guardrail. By that time he was so far in the lead that he was able to recover and still not lose first place.

Into second place some twenty seconds behind in the 100-mile final came the German driver Jochen Mass in his Surtees. Mass, who had won the previous F2 race a week earlier at Hockenheim, was the only Ford-powered runner at Rouen who really mixed it with the BMW-powered cars. Patrick Depailler in the Elf 2-Ford was actually second fastest in training but because of last minute gearbox trouble had to switch to team-mate Jean-Pierre Jabouille's car which he found very much slower and he was never in the hunt.

So third place was claimed by Tim Schenken in the now much better handling Motul M1 powered by a Cosworth-BDG Ford. Schenken was driving on top form and in the closing stages he closed right up on Mass. Fourth at the finish was the private Antar March of Jacques Coulon and fifth was Wilson Fittipaldi. His works Brabharn BT40 has been given a new lease of life by replacing the Ford engine with a BMW engine tuned by Schnitzer. BMW and March Engineering have an exclusive contract together for Formula Two but, naturally, that doesn't stop firms like Schnitzer, who have just had this engine homologated, selling to any customers that come along. Several other Formula Two cars will almost certainly have Schnitzer BMW engines soon.

A despondent Patrick Depailler finally finished sixth and saw his championship chances slipping away in the process while American Brett Lunger drove to a steady seventh place ahead of Jean-Pierre Jaussaud (Rotul) and the GRDs of Tetsu Ikuzawa and Brenden McInerney.

Talking of GRD, Rouen was the first meeting where Roger Williamson, Tom Wheatcroft's promising protege, was driving his new March-BMW which was purchased to replace the GRD with which he had been campaigning so far this year with a marked lack of success. Williamson was sixth fastest in practice and went on to lead his heat before the engine blew up.

It was a promising start and five days later at the Monza Lotteria Williamson went out and scored a superb victory over a small field. Obviously still a man to watch.

Another March-BMW driver who impressed at Rouen was Hans Stuck. Despite his minimal single-seater experience and the fact that he had never raced at Rouen before he was third fastest in practice. Unfortunately in his heat he had to make a couple of pit stops with gear linkage and engine problems and in the final he left the road, fortunately without too much damage.

Rouen also saw the second appearance of the latest Lotus Formula Two cars called Texaco Stars. So far they are far from starring and frankly are very disappointing and Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson were at the back of the grid and racing in company with drivers of only a fraction of the Formula One drivers' ability.

The problem does not seem so much the chassis which looks terrific, but the engines. These have been built up around the Lotus 907 unit as used in the Jensen-Healey by Novamotor in Italy. At a guess they must be a good 40 b.h.p. down on the decent BMW and Ford units. In heat two Peterson did manage to work his car quite well up the field but was obviously trying too hard. He lost it at the chicane, hit the Armco barrier which partly collapsed and blew along the top of the rail before landing back on the track on all four wheels. But the Lotus was bent and Peterson could count himself lucky that he didn't fly completely over the barrier into the trees.

No, 1973 was not a Rouen to be remembered.—A.R.M.