Rally review - Skoda Wins in Turkey, August 1986

Although rallies have been held in Turkey since the ‘fifties, it was not until 1972 that public interest was stimulated in sport which had, for many years, been attracting millions of followers elsewhere in the world, Europe in particular. In that year, the Turkish daily newspaper Ganaydin (it means Good Morning) decided to back a new event which spanned the entire country and which was open only to cars built or assembled in Turkey. At that time the rally was called the Web Offset Rally.

The object was achieved, and within a few years the sport became known throughout the country. However, the organisers were keen to stimulate interest outside Turkey, and the rule excluding non-Turkish cars did little to help make this possible. Eventually, the rally was opened to cars of all makes, and at the same time, because the country-wide extent of the route rendered the rally difficult to manage, it was made more condensed by being contained within the area in the vicinity of Istanbul, thus providing for easier communications by the organisers and shorter practice sessions for competitors.

Gradually the rally became better known, gaining a place among the 40-odd events which make up the European Championship. and later having its coefficient increased from one to two Foreign entries became more numerous and overseas publicity increased. Slowly, the Gunaydin Rally, as it was later named, had become recognised, but as it became bigger, so the costs increased, and the organisers soon realised that if the rally was to continue its progress, they needed more funds than their own resources, and those of the Gunaydin newspaper. could provide. In 1986 those funds were made available and the rally became known as the Marlboro Gunaydin Turkish Rally.

This year the rally was based at a tourist hotel. almost a package holiday camp. on the Marmara coast just to the West of Istanbul city centre. It had the serious disadvantage of having just two payphones as the only means of communication available to guests, but at least there was plenty of room for parking in the grounds.

The rally ran from 11 am on Friday, June 28, to 5.30 pm on the Sunday, the route very compact, straightforward to practise and all within easy striking distance of the city centre. The first leg consisted of two loops totalling 140 miles through a cluster of seven stages. one of which was cancelled. This was on the West side of the Bosphorus, to which the Turks refer as the European side of their country. The second, totalling 256 miles, crossed that busy international waterway, by the enormous span of the rather spindlylooking Bosphorus Bridge. to another eleven stages in what is called the Asian side, whilst the third leg was a repeat of the first. One stage in the first leg was cancelled and, since this was to have been tackled four times, it reduced the number of stages from 39 to 35.

Maps of any reasonable scale are hard to come by in Turkey, and since the organisers’ map was a black and white affair of 1:245,000, one could get very little impression of the area covered by the rally. It looked substantial on the crude official map, but intact was a tiny corner compared to the vastness of the whole country. It was confined to a small area around Istanbul, all no more than an hour’s drive from the city centre, and very easy to practise since the 24 stages of the first and third legs were really just six, each tackled four times. Service planning was also facilitated by the use of dirt road stages for the first and third legs, and tarmac only for the second.

Although Rally Headquarters and the closed park after the first and second legs were in the grounds of the Hotel Demirkoy, the start and finish were in the city centre. overshadowed by the minarets and domes of the mosques around Saint Sophia Museum Square, and attended by crowds which would have done justice to any popular event in western European countries.

During practice the weather was hot and dry, but two days before the start clouds appeared, the temperature went down and the humidity went up. There was a distinct possibility of rain and tyre choice became something of a talking point, but since most people had a somewhat limited selection available one could only take these knowledgable conversations with a pinch of salt.

The entry list was indeed respectable, but it included several cars which failed to turn up for scrutineering, and one got the impression that this was perhaps an insurance against failure to make the required minimum. However, it was by no means as blatant as the number-boosting of the Ivory Coast Rally, in which bogus entries almost outnumber the serious ones. As it happened, the unchecked cars were removed from the list and the rally eventually had 61 respectable starters.

Prominent among the visitors were last year’s winners Kalevi Aho and limo Hakala from Finland. They were to have driven an Opel Manta, but when this was seriously damaged during a rally in Germany only a week or so before, the two Finns, backed by their country’s Okobank, were faced with the prospect of having to withdraw. With such a prominent sponsor. they were determined to find a car somewhere and eventually a telephone call to David Sutton in England proved fruitful. Even though Sutton’s organisation was heavily committed to Belgium’s Ypres 24 Hours Rally the same weekend, an Audi Quattro was hastily made ready and despatched on a trailer for the overland iourney to Istanbul, the tow van containing as many spares as the two mechanics could muster at such short notice.

Scrutiny took place during the morning and afternoon ot the Friday, and by the time it was over there was still no sign of the Audi. But there had been a plan for telephone messages during the trip, and when it was heard that the van and trailer had passed through the border from from Greece (there had been no time to get Bulgarian visas), off went Aho to meet it. Meanwhile, permission had been granted for late scrutiny, but one of the stewards insisted that this could not be an open ticket for inspection at whatever time the car arrived, a time had to be stated, and adhered to.

 Aho and his Quattro finally got together that Friday evening about 100 miles West of Istanbul, where the car was quickly unloaded from the trailer so that he could take it as quickly as possible to Istanbul, leaving the tow van and trailer to continue more leisurely. Not only did Aho meet the scrutiny deadline, but he also gave himself some useful familiarisation with the car, for he had never before rallied a Quattro, nor any four-wheel-drive car tar that matter. It was a very close thing, and a tribute to all those concerned. but subsequent events showed that in the haste of last-minute preparation it’s all too easy to forget something.

One of Marlboro’s sponsored drivers is Muhammed Bin Sulayem from Dubai, whose experience of rallies other than on dry, dusty roads is limited. Turkey would probably be dry, so it was natural that he should be sent there, along with his Swedish co-driver Solve Andreasson in a Celica Turbo of Toyota Team Middle East, an outfit closely linked with IT Europe in Cologne.

From Bulgaria came veteran driver Ilya Tchoubrikov in a Peugeot 205 T16, whilst an MG Metro 6R4 was sent from Britain’s Rothmans team for local driver Ali Keracan. Another British presence was that of the Essex-based Mitsubishi team, or rally Art, as the Japanese have so quaintly dubbed it. They were looking alter the Group A Starion ot local man and former winner Reng Kogibey, and at the same time servicing two other Mitsubishis entered by Kogibey and sponsored by Marlboro.

Yet another British presence was a Peugeot 205 GTI from Coventry driven by Jenny Birrell and Colin Wilson, whilst a British-registered Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, bearing the stickers of Skip Brown Engines, was driven by Turkish pair Lockman and Celen.

Skoda sent its works team from Czechoslovakia, with two 130 LRs for Czech pair Krecek/Moll, and Gerhard Kalnay and Gunter Tazreiter from Austria, a pair who were not only delighted beyond words but very surprised indeed totted themselves the outright winners with only 120 bhp at their disposal.

From the start, Kalevi Aho made it quite clear that he intended to make his last minute rush completely worthwhile, and on that first day his stage times were by far the best Alas, whilst driving through the cancelled third stage, relegated to use as a road section, two sets of circumstances combined to lead him astray. Firstly, his tripmeter had stopped working, and co-driver Hakala could do no more than calculate the distances that were covering from his estimate of their average speed and from the readings of the stopwatch. Secondly, a road junction appeared which was not as indicated in the roadbook, and off they went in the wrong direction.

They eventually discovered their mistake and turned back, but at a cost of eight minutes on the road. What is more, they were also troubled by a persistent leak trow an oil pump seal, and this eventually led to more delays.

Bin Sulayem also lost a minute having a broken shock absorber replaced, and it did seem that road sections on this first leg were a little tight. However, the stages were pretty close together, and this always results in a scarcity of time for servicng. Indeed, in the middle of the leg, between the two loops, half an hour was set apart for servicing in an official area on the West bank of the Bosphorus, a most picturesque spot even though enormous Russian cargo ships and tankers were passing by regularly at close quarters.

Early in the first leg Karacan was driving his Metro 6R4 rather gingerly, and one of his mechinanics even quipped that “He’s not going fast enough to break anything”. But he must have gained confidence as the day progressed, for he ended that first leg in second place, 29 seconds behind Bin Sulayem Tchoubrikov’s Peugeot gave trouble right from the start, his rear shock absorbers firstly going soft and then breaking altogether. Usable to find time to have them replaced, he drove for six stages with the car in that state, losing six road minutes into the bargain.

Kogibey, regarded as the local favourite in his Mitsubishi Stanon was worried by strange vibrating noises from his rear axle and spent his half hour service period having it checked. However, a loose cross member was discovered, the vibration put down to this and the same axle refitted. But soon afterwards the same noises were heard, and eventually the car stopped with no drive, and a wheel and drive shaft making the first motions of parting company with the car. Subsequently it was discovered that the inner cap of a drive shaft spline had broken off, and Kopibey must have been kicking himself, for had he forced that wheel and shaft back into position he would have at least been able to limp all the stage and have the parts replaced by his mechanics.

Another to retire in the first leg was Jenny Birrell, whose Peugeoi 205 GTI stopped when its rotor arm broke. They carried no spare, and although a makeshift repair got them going sporadically for a while, the engine soon stopped altogether and that was that.

Surprise of the first leg was Kalnay’s performance His Skoda seemed to be running perfectly and, even thought it lacked power, its reliability had brought it up to third place.

The second leg was held at night, on predominantly tarmac roads, and when the rain started the stages became very slippery indeed and caused many changed in positions. Bin Sulayem, facing all the conditions which he doesn’t like rain, slippery tarmac and the fatigue of night driving slowed considerably, and Kalnay moved up into the lead, his Skoda suffering no greater mishap than a broken electric fan which, although the engine overheated, was repaired in time to prevent cylinder head gasket failure.

Not so lucky was Kalnay’s Czech teammate Krecek who stopped noisily when his engine blew up Karacan dropped from second to third during the night, obviously having slowed on the wet, slippery tarmac, whilst Aho spent a frustrating time coping with a continuing leak from his oil pump. In the haste to prepare for the journey from England, no spare pump had been packed, and there was no way of replacing the seal. They used 60 litres of oil during the night, even having to stop on one special stage to top up, and several other times to extinguish minor fires caused by oil spraying on to the hot turbocharger. Gradually, his mechanics built a shield to prevent the escaping oil from reaching hot engine parts.

A simple pump change would have resolved Aho’s problems, but under the circumstances it was quite remarkable that he should have continued with the car in that condition.

Among the Mitsubishis, the Starion of Atila Merter also retired when it lost a wheel This locally prepared car was fitted with nonstandard Minilite wheels, and to accomodate them home-made wheel studs had been fitted, obviously manufactured from metal too soft for the job. The studs began to fail, and the loss of a wheel persuaded Merter that he should call it a day.

The final leg, a repeat of the first, saw only 21 cars leave the closed park, among them Bin Sulayem eager to get back into the lead on the dirt roads. Unluckily for him it rained again, and on the slippery forest roads he slid off and MI a wall, ripping off the front right wheel and sending such a shock through the steering mechanism that the wheel itself was bent in the driver’s hands. Unable to move, they waited until mechanics ran about half a mile to their aid, and all this meant a road penalty of 28 minutes, dropping them to eighth place.

It has to be said that stage security was not as tight as it should have been, and there was at least one case of a stray car getting on to a stage, a problem which has affected the rally in the past. Allowing this to happen is a cardinal organisational sin, and if the rally is to progress to a higher coefficient the organisers must make absolutely sure that stages are clinically sealed from all other traffic.

Again Kalnay’s problems were minor ones, although it must have appeared to the casual observer that a complete change of inlet manifold and twin carburetter unit, include filters, indicated some serious difficulty. But it was no more than routine. The Skoda engine has always been susceptible to dust ingression, and this replacement was just a precautionary measure.

Karacan’s Metro also developed an oil leak, this time from the camshaft seal, and when he finished the rally the car was dripping oil, misfiring, rattling, and laying a dense cloud of smoke, its engine completely finished.

19 cars managed to make it to the finish of a rally which, although in need of polishing. shows remarkable promise in a country where fine special stages abound. – G.P