When an Arab bids you bore da outside an Istanbul hotel room, there can be no doubting the international nature of the occasion. Turkey’s Marlboro Gunaydin Rally was indeed far more cosmopolitan in character than most events (even though it is not part of the World Championship), and not merely because its route took in both sides of the Bosphorus, with stages in Europe and Asia.
No less than 16 nationalities were represented among the 53 starters, who came from Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Rumania, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — and not a factory team among them. All were privateers, though some were backed by importers, dealers or other sponsors.
The favourites were Kalevi Aho from Finland driving a Renault 11 Turbo, Mauro Pregliasco from Italy in a Group N Lancia Delta and Mohammad Bin Sulayam from Dubai in a Ford Sierra Cosworth prepared in Britain. Many others were nevertheless in with a chance, and it made a refreshing change to see a balanced field of amateurs with no heavyweight manufacturers tipping the scales in favour of professionals.
Based at Istanbul, where the Hotel Demirkoy provided convenient accommodation, ample parking space but the most unbelievably bad service, the route was divided into three parts, the first and last largely in a forest area on the West Bank just north of the city. and the second further to the east, on the Anatolian side of the waterway which provides access between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
On the first special stage, local favourite Rene Kosibay was put out of the rally when one of his Mitsubishi Starion’s wheels flew off, all its studs having sheared. Another to go at this early stage was the Rover 3500 of British pair Nick Edmond and Ken Cooper. The big car rolled, smashing the windscreen, breaking the engine mounts and splitting the clutch master cylinder in two. Another Rover 3500 was slowed when its clutch pedal pin fell out.
Bin Sulayam came to a stop on the third stage when the coupling between the gearbox and prop-shaft of his Sierra disintegrated. By the time his British mechanics had sprinted to his aid and fitted new parts, he had lost about half an hour on the stage and 27 minutes on the road, perilously close to the 30-minute maximum. Later, a broken differential was more than his slender remaining lateness could stand. Pregliasco was delayed when he hit two logs lying in the road, one of which flew up and punctured his Lancia’s radiator.
Aho, on the other hand, even though front-wheel drive and the Renault 11 were both new to him, experienced no delays and was able to take the lead and hold it — albeit with blistered hands, due to an uncomfortable driving position (his seat was incorrectly positioned) and the unfamiliar steering stiffness of the FWD car. Towards the end, he had a heart-stopping moment when he encountered a horse and cart coming towards him on a special stage. He just managed to squeeze through the gap with no more than a few small side-panel scars to show for it. Another drama came later when, on the way from the last special stage to the finish at Istanbul’s St Sophia Square, the Renault’s engine began misfiring and making very serious sounds indeed. The car just about made the finishing ramp, but the rally had ended not a moment too soon for the victorious Finnish pair.
There was a distinctly Nordic air about the celebrations afterwards, for not only were there representatives of Marlboro, the OKO Bank and Mobira radio telephones, but the Finnish Ambassador himself. We have noticed on many occasions that Finland’s diplomatic officers overseas invariably appear to support their country’s sportsmen, and it is a pity that Whitehall deems such gestures too unimportant to be considered.
The Gunaydin Rally may not have had the slickest organisation in the world, and it did not need a fastidious FISA man to pick holes in it, but its informality was a delight . We need more like it. GP