Save for a cluster of European Championship events, including the Scottish Rally reported in Motor Sport last month, June and July are relatively quiet months in the international rallying calendar, and it is at this time that most competitors take their holidays, if they can escape the clutches of team managers who will claim that they are needed for testing or that they should start recceing for some rally several months hence.
Summertime provides a natural break, at least in the World Championship, for organisers generally are not keen on running rallies when nights are short and when countrysides are likely to be somewhat crowded by tourists and holidaymakers. It was largely for these reasons that such great classics of the past as The Liege, which ran to Eastern Europe and back at furious pace, and the Alpine Rally, equally fast but punctuated by rest stops, eventually ceased to exist.
A new rally has joined the list of World Championship qualifiers for 1980, the Codasur Rally in The Argentine, and as it takes place at the end of July it means that those who tackle it will have to spend some of the summer in preparations, building cars, despatching spares, organising service schedules and, in the case of competitors themselves, practising and making pace notes. The date, of course, means that the rally cannot be reported in this edition of Motor Sport. The teams which will have taken part are those of Mercedes, Fiat, Datsun and Peugeot.
The European Championship is a cluttered, top-heavy series with 48 rallies scattered throughout the year, often overlapping and sometimes with two or even three taking place at the same weekend. The series as a whole is spoiled by its own magnitude, not to mention the mathematical and geographical complications presented to those who wish to put in a bid for the title. However, taken separately, many of the events in the series are first class and are more than capable of standing on their own feet without the prop of the championship to keep them up. The situation is not unlike a collection of extremely fine trees making up a rather mediocre forest.
Several of these events regularly attract professional teams, and many are also suitable for privateers since costs are often quite low when related to the calibre of the competition provided. Alas, the number of competitors concerned with scoring championship points is very small indeed.
One European Championship event which has become popular very quickly is the 24 Hour Rally of Ypres in Belgium. Not only has it attracted the occasional factory team but it invariably draws those few who are in the hunt for points. Furthermore, it always offers a good deal to amateurs, especially those from outside Belgium, and it is now the case that a driver from the South of England could compete in this Belgian rally at less cost than one in Scotland or even the North of England. Southerners have long been aware of this, and they are now being followed across the channel by people from other parts of England.
Ypres is perhaps the annual cross-channel destination of the greatest number of British crews and this year 20 of them went over to help make up a 200-strong starting list which included Stig Blomqvist in a Saab Turbo, Mauro Pregliasco and Maurizio Verini in Alfetta Turbos, the Abingdon team with two Triumph TR7 V8s for Tony Pond and Per Eklund, the Frenchman Bernard Beguin and Francis Vincent in Porsches, and the Spaniard Antonio Zanini in a similar car.
The Belgians have a simple formula for keeping rallies away from potential trouble spots; they base them where the public is enthusiastic and officials helpful, and use roads in the vicinity over and over again so that there is never any need to venture far. This reduces the time needed for practice, cuts down travelling for marshals, makes communications easier for the organisers and lends itself admirably to a festive atmosphere at the base town where enthusiasts can join in revelries whilst waiting for the rally to make its several visits.
This is precisely what happens at Ypres; the town square becomes a lively centre for those not actually out on the road watching, and the staff of cafes, hotels and similar establishments rise to the occasion and contribute to the carnival atmosphere.
This year’s event was something of a Triumph/Porsche battle, for the greatest opposition to the two Abingdon cars were the three private Porsches of Beguin, Vincent and Zanini. Vincent retired with clutch failure, Zanini put his car into a ditch and Beguin lost much time having bent steering put right, and later when his throttle stuck open. However, all three were, in turn, threats to Pond and he was by no means able to ease off whilst one of them was close behind him.
Pond himself needed a gearbox change and then found that the replacement was jumping out of fourth, but the greatest drama in the Leyland camp was that brought. about by Eklund. First he demolished a lamp post which promptly dropped its illuminating bowl on the Triumph’s bonnet. The same incident also caused radiator and oil-cooler damage and it was in clouds of smoke and steam that the car eventually pulled into a service point to have these items replaced.
Later he managed somehow to take a wrong turning and found himself in a field alongside the road he should have been on. Startled marshals at the stage finish gave him a time even though his car was on the wrong side of the verge, but then he had to savage a gate in order to get out of the field, to the detriment of his bonnet which he promptly discarded. Alas, after surviving all this he retired on the final stage when the gearbox broke.
This weekend event which began as a 12 hour rally some years ago may be short, but it is most certainly sharp and there is precious little time for servicing. Indeed it is very easy to build up lateness beyond maximum and this contributes a great deal to the high retirement rate. – GP.