Rally review - Total loss, August 1978

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Months have passed since that fine event in South Africa, the Total Rally, had its foundations rocked when Total Oil SA withdrew its financial backing after years of loyal support. Suddenly the country’s major international rally was in trouble and already its regular dates have passed for 1978 and there has been no firm inscription in the calendar for its replacement.

Total has long been a perennial sponsor in South Africa, backing not only the rally which takes the company name but many other events, including that unique competition the Kalahari Road Race in Botswana. But it was the Total Rally itself which was the best known. Indeed, it had become an institution among European competitors, several of them, ourselves included, returning year after year for a splendid, tough contest in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The reason for the loss of the Total Rally is simple, and illustrates how it can sometimes be impossible for idealism and commercialism to exist side by side.

Total’s policy (though it has since changed!) was not to back individuals or teams, but complete events, so that all competitors, whether professional or amateur, sponsored or otherwise, could benefit. However, other companies did support individuals, and it often happened that a competitor needed to display on his car the decals of an oil company which was one of Total’s business rivals.

This was not at all to Total’s liking. He who paid the piper called the tune, and that tune was going to be sung solo, not by a choir of voices each anxious to be heard above the rest. But the CSI had other ideas. Recognising that the sponsors of some competitors were often commercial opponents of the sponsors of the events in which they took part, the CSI introduced a rule which forbade organisers having any regulation which disallowed advertising on cars which conflicted with the event sponsor’s advertising. This put Pretoria Motor Club on the spot. The CSI decreed one thing, but Total demanded the other, and the discussions eventually ended in the deadlock which prompted Total to pull out altogether.

There is an arguable case for both sides. Competitors should have the right to display whatever sponsorship-bringing advertisements they have been astute enough to sell, for without competitors there would be no rallies. On the other hand, a sponsor who invests a considerable sum of money in an event should have the right to prevent his rivals cashing in on his investment.

People, least of all commercially successful companies, are not in the habit of giving away money unless there is a very sound reason for it, and philanthropy, no matter how much popularity it creates, will hardly alone satisfy any self-respecting board of directors, nor dividendseeking shareholders. The expectation of a return by way of publicity is a common reason for a sponsor’s investment. Another is the reduction of taxable profits, and there must be many more. But simple generosity can hardly be one of them.

So much for the cause; what of the effect? Pretoria Motor Club finds itself with a popular international rally on its books and no cash with which to run it. For months nothing seemed to happen, and at long range it seemed that the club was content to wait for a new sponsor to turn up out of the blue, or for Total to reverse its decision and come back to pick up all the tabs. But neither happened and it became obvious that there was no chance of running the rally on its planned mid-June dates.

The search for a single major sponsor, whose name would be taken as the name of the rally, proved fruitless, and it was at quite a heated meeting of the organising committee that the idea which might save the rally from extinction was eventually suggested.

In the first place, half of the sum required would be met from existing club funds. The other half would be raised by a lottery; not an ordinary lottery but one among potential sponsors for the plum of renaming the rally. Tickets cost 250 rand each, and the holder of the winning ticket would receive all the benefits which would have been his had he invested the entire proceeds of the lottery. He would also have the privilege of providing the rally with a name.

This was sponsorship-seeking with a difference. Instead of offering a big return for a big investment, the club was offering, for a small investment, the chance of a big return and there was no precedent from which its likelihood of success could be judged. But indeed the sponsors came forward, and after the first four tickets were bought jointly by Alitalia SA and Fiat SA, several other sales were made.

Who knows, “ raffle-a-rally” may catch on as an accepted means of attracting sponsorship, though it can hardly be conducive to peace of mind for any planner of a publicity campaign not to know until what may be the last moment whether he is going to have a campaign to plan.

But at least the Total Rally will live on, albeit under another name, and perhaps the CSI may one day put political considerations to one side and give this tough event the recognition it deserves by making it a qualifier for the World Rally Championship.

* * *

Since we first began studying the complexities of regulations produced by rally organisers in various parts of the world, we have regularly been kept amused by well-intentioned efforts to translate technical terms into comprehensible English. It’s a long time since British crews were puzzled as to why they should have “ fire-eaters” as passengers when they competed in the Swedish Rally, and how an entrant could be “ either a real person or a fictitious one”.

A constant source of mirth, even today, is the pamphlet which Pirelli produces in English prior to each World Rally Championship event. The Acropolis edition reported a conversation after the Portuguese Rally between Mikkola and Alen, the latter having scraped a win when the former punctured on the last stage. Alen: “ Sorry you are very unlucked, but next time, you will see, will be your time.” Mikkola: “ Firstval my compliments and than it is indigest for me to collect a lot of second places.”

But perhaps the most amusing of all was the unintentionally ribald manner in which the Automovil Club Argentino presented its compliments when writing to us concerning the long-distance event which the club is running in South America in August. The letter began . . . “ It is a pleasure for us to get in touch with your renowned diffusion organ, widely known in your country and outside its frontiers.” We were proud to be thus addressed, but guarded and very accurate in our choice of words for the reply!

* * *

We are delighted to record that New Zealand’s major international rally, which was such a worthy part of the World Championship last year but was unjustifiably and underhandedly dropped from the 1978 series by the CSI, will take place during September 2nd-5th. Last year it was backed by Radio New Zealand, but that sponsorship was withdrawn and there can be no doubt that the CSI was hoping that no sponsor would be found for 1978. A cancellation would have provided Paris with an excuse for a sardonic “ We told you so”.

Sponsored by the country’s biggest accessory distributors, it will be called the Motorgard Rally and will have a 2,000 km. route in North Island, starting at Auckland and finishing at Wellington. It will have 45 special stages (the longest will be 110 km.) mostly on the country’s fine forest roads, and two 10-hour stops at Rotorua and Palmerston North.

One of the official “ reasons” for its exclusion from the World Championship was that it was not difficult enough. That is complete rubbish and a reflection on either the powers of comparison or the integrity of those who reported in such vein to the CSI. The rally is efficiently organised by a capable, friendly bunch of enthusiasts and we have no doubt that the Motorgard Rally will be as tough and successful as last year’s Radio New Zealand Rally.

* * *

June and July have gradually lost their popularity among rally organisers. At one time the summer months were ideal for rallying, but as tourism increased, and traffic with it, so rallies tended to move away from the period when roads are likely to be most congested. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere things are different and New Zealand was going to have its major rally in late July, but that event, no longer in the World Championship, has been moved to September.

This means that the 11 -event World Championship has a natural summer break from the Acropolis Rally right at the start of June until the Rally of the Thousand Lakes at the end of August. This provides a planning and testing period of nine, ten or even eleven weeks, depending on how early people decide to start their preparations and practice sessions in Finland.

The championship is again being tackled in its entirety only by the Fiat team, although both Ford and Opel have many of the qualifiers in their programmes. So have Toyota and Datsun, but to a lesser degree.

After five qualifying lounds in Monaco, Sweden, Kenya, Portugal and Greece, no less than sixteen manufacturers have points to their credit, some as the result of the efforts of official works teams but many due to the efforts of privateers. Current leading positions are as follows:

Fiat……………….64

Ford ………………. 50

Opel………………. 47

Porsche………………..41

Datsun…………………32

Lancia ……………….31

Peugeot……………….27

Toyota………………. 23

The other scorers, in order of classification, are: Renault, Mercedes, Volvo, Volkswagen, Saab, Skoda, Mitsubishi and Lada.

Leader in the unofficial World Rally Championship for Drivers is still Jean-Pierre Nicolas with two outright wins and a third place, but close behind him is Markku Alen who has one win, one second and one third. After them come Hannu Mikkola (two seconds), Bjorn Waldegard (one win and one fourth) and Walter Rohrl (one win and one fourth). – G.P.

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