We are constantly being told that the days of road racing are over. All that, they tell us, passed away with the Mille Miglia and it is very unlikely to return, at least in the civilised parts of Europe. However, already this year we have seen the Circuit of Mugello held as a road race over public roads on the Italian mainland while on the island of Sicily, the Targa Florio Sails majestically on, supported and indeed encouraged by the local populace. It is not so long ago that Sardinia had its own road race and, having cleverly come from Sicily to Sardinia, the purpose of this article is to steam quietly on to Corsica.
On this island of Napoleon’s birth, the Automobile Club do not exactly hold a race but when you consider that well over 90% of the roads used on the Tour de Corse are closed to the normal circulation of traffic, you begin to see that this is a rally which is not far removed from our ideas of a road race. The only difference is that there are no laps, for the whole route is one great lap of the island, though at the Porto-Evisa hill-climb that was used on the Tour de France several years ago, the cars competing in the rally made a circuit and looped round to do it again. This was in memory of Francois Siciliano whose tireless energy had built the Tour de Corse and had done much to raise this rally in the estimation of French rally drivers: so much so in fact that its coefficient for the French championship is only one less than that for the Coupe des Alpes.
This rally was the tenth in the series and in the past nine events Regie Renault have built up a fantastic record of successes, and last year, with the advent of the Gordini, they swept the board, for when only eight cars finished from a field of 79, no less than five of those cars were Renaults. The outright winner then was Jean Vittatier as the local hero, Pierrot Orsini, had missed a passage control and was rendered hors course. This year, however, there was to be no such disillusionment for the cheering crowds in Ajaccio, for the first car in was Orsini in a 1,300-c.c. prototype Gordini and when the times were added up, he was also first in the rally. No fewer than 22 Gorclinis had started the rally—of which 17 were in the Touring category while all the others were prototype—and amongst the 18 finishers there were seven Gordinis.
Much more significant, as far as a grey-haired, over-excited gentleman by the name of Amedee Gordini was concerned, was the fact that the first five cars in the general classification were powered by Gordini-tuned Renault engines. At the finish, he could be seen looking up the exhaust pipes as the tired drivers revved up while their co-drivers clocked in at the last control, exclaiming as he did so that none of the engines was smoking in the slightest degree. In fact, the only Gordini retirement due to engine failure was a car driven by two ladies and that just got overrevved.
At the start of the rally Orsini had not been the hot favourite, for this was the Swedish driver, Berndt Jansson, who is now driving for Renault. He was the only driver who claimed to have driven all the sections within the time allowed during practice and on the rally he certainly proved that this was no empty boast for, when he crashed, he was the only driver to be without penalty. The reason for his crash is obscure but it is believed that a brake pipe unscrewed towards the end of a very tight section. Also well fancied before the rally were Vic Elford driving an Anglia and Jean Rolland in his Alfa Romeo GTZ. Both these drivers have performed well in the Alps and it was felt that they would go well in Corsica, but both retired near Cozzano after only 200 kilometres, the Alfa with no steering and the Anglia with bad oil pressure.
The two Frenchmen who were fighting for the Championship of France were both considered to have a chance and while Henri Greder was reckoned to be at a disadvantage in the Ford Mustang, Rene Trautmann was felt to have a better one with the Lancia Flavia Zagato with which he won the Coupe des Alpes this year. As things turned out. Greder won the Championship by default when Trautmann crashed early on, but this did not help Greder later in the rally when his front wishbone collapsed and he too retired. At the same time, there was another struggle going on for what is called the ” Challenge Shell Berre ” for which Fernand Masoero, Lucien Bianchi and Willy Mairesse (all driving Alfa Romeo GTAs on this event) as well as Mauro Bianchi and’ Jean-Pierre Hanrioud (both in Renault Alpines) were all contenders. In some ways, this was being taken much more seriously than the rally as there was much more money at stake. I am not quite sure of the final outcome of the Challenge Shell Berre since there is one event yet to be run, but by virtue of Hanrioud crashing and Willy Mairesse getting beaten by his brother Lucien, Mauro Bianchi took points or second overall and must now be well in the lead.
The Citroen concern, which has recently acquired the old-established firm of Panhard, had decided for publicity purposes to enter three Panhard 24CTs with two of their works drivers plus Serge Lelong, who had won the French economy run for them. They did not show up terribly well as this was their first rally and mechanical failures eliminated Lelong and Verrier, but the ever-cheerful Jean-Claude Ogier managed to get his to the finish line in 11th place. The firm of Daf had made an entry for four cars in the different categories but they were sadly lacking in what one might call steam and not one was classified as a finisher, though poor Claude Laurent very nearly made it and was only two minutes outside his time at the last control before the finish. Another small car firm is N.S.U, whose French distributor had made five entries and had the distinction of getting two of them to the finish with one in first place in the whole GT category as it was the only car to finish in that category. The other N .S. U. 1000 won its class and finished 15th overall.
Lastly a word for the most successful of the Ford equipes that came to the island: the Taunus team from Germany. They had entered some examples of both the Taunus 20M and the 12M and it was a tribute to their organisation, preparation and determination that they managed to get one of each to the finish. Some of the 20Ms were those that had been so successful on the German-organised Tour of Europe and certainly their performance in a rally which far from suited them could indicate that we will see much more of these cars in international rallies in the coming year.
Corsica is always a place of hard luck as the smallest thing can retire a car and as just one example of this, study the case of the two Swedish boys, Hans Lund and Bjorn Wahlgren, who came with their Saab all the way from Sweden without a skid plate as they understood the rally was not to be rough. It was on this rally then that they had the exhaust break away at the front and if only they had had a skid plate on the car, it would not have fallen away and they would have been able to finish.
C’est la Corse. – J.D.F.D