When one has been competing in rallies for some time, one develops preferences in much the same way as more vaunted reporters get to like—or dislike—Grand Prix venues. During the season, the Acropolis rates fairly high as it takes you to Greece in late May when there are not too many tourists and the weather is usually marvellous while, for the same sort of reason, you are normally pretty dedicated if you go regularly to the Swedish Rally which specialises in sub-zero temperatures and long waits in the middle of frozen lakes for the next test to start. Physical pleasures aside, there are a few events in the calendar which appeal for reasons which are less easy to appreciate. Such an event is the Tour de Corse which on paper does not seem all that appealing but has an effect similar to that of heroin—I am told—in that once sampled it is impossible to give up.
The usual expression is that Corsica is the ideal setting for a rally which it is not. There are many areas of the inhabited world which would be suitable for running a better rally but the simple reason is that Corsica lends itself to the organisation of a rally rather well simply because it is an island and, what is more, an island that is not overinhabited. As a result, a 23-hour event covering about 840 miles is sufficient reason for closing practically every road on the island and turning over all the facilities of trains, airfields, hospitals, telephones etc. to the organisers of the rally. Naturally, this alone does not a rally make and the Corsican roads and weather play a large part in making this the true rallyman’s event.
Corsican roads, though for the most part possessing a fair tarmac surface, are among the most tortuous and difficult to be found on any event run in Europe. This may seem contrary to my earlier statement that there were more suitable areas for running rallies, but in fact the Corsican roads are so tortuous that they are a very special type of problem and do not represent classic rally terrain. In other words, if one was setting down a specification for the ideal rally, it would not necessarily be on Corsican roads. The average speeds set on the event are only a fraction over 37 miles an hour which all but a very few driver/car combinations find impossible to achieve. Compared with events like the Targa Florio and Mugello whose curves can make the top racing drivers start thinking of the Nurburgring as an aerodrome, Corsica is a nightmare of continuous corners most of them slow and with the connecting straights never more than fifty yards long. At the end of October, the weather on the coasts can be very pleasant as was the case this year but in the lofty mountain interior when it abstains from raining, the damp constantly rises in the forests and the roads are always slippery. Also, this period sees the dreaded Corsican road workers out in full force with their tar and gravel after a summer of working in hotels and bars for the benefit of the tourist trade. On top of the gravel is deposited a layer of Spanish chestnuts and their shells which when crushed and dampened add another hazard which is not normally encountered.
This year’s event was the twelfth international Tour de Corse but until this year it has been almost exclusively a French event for apart for a Porsche win for Linge/Strahle, the only time that a French car has not won was when Roger de Lageneste and Henri Greder won in an Alfa Romeo. The participation has always been predominantly French although there have always been some Italian entries—on a clear day you can see Italy from the Cap Corse which is more than you can say for the shores of France—while on one occasion B.M.C. took a Healey 3000 for Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom. On last year’s event, Lancia came over with six factory cars and had the distinction of leading the rally with Leo Cella/Luciano Lombardini until one third distance when they crashed. No other Lancia finished except one private entry for one of the many relations of Carlo Facetti. In the face of such a debacle, many teams would have written it off to experience and gone back trying to win the Monte Carlo which does at least attract a vast amount of publicity for the Tour de Corse is still rather unknown outside France. Instead, Lancia returned this year with six cars and got three of them to the finish in first, second and sixth positions. With Porsche taking third place and with Italian, Finnish and British crews in the first three cars, French dominance took a real beating and the blue cars had to content themselves with fourth and fifth places occupied by two Renault Alpines and seventh place and first Group 2 car by a Renault Gordini.
The Corsican rally is open to Group 6 cars of which anyone who has read this column will have gathered I am not entirely in favour when accepting entries in international rallying. The first six cars home were all prototypes which is scarcely surprising when it is pointed out that all the road sections and even the tests are run on a pure scratch basis with all cars, whether Group 1 or Group 6, having identical times.
Consequently all the factories entered prototypes and even stately Citroën joined in the fun and stripped off a few mudguards and produced some paper thin bodies to have two DS21s in that category for Jean-Claude Ogier/Lucette Pointet and Guy Verrier. Surprisingly neither of these cars finished because of mechanical defects and it was the lone Group 1 DS21 of Robert Neyret/Jacques Terramoris that provided the only Citroen among the 14 finishers. The Renualt entries were concentrated on the very light Alpines of which two were prepared to Group 3 specification with 1,100-c.c. engines for Gerard Larrousse and Jean-Claude Andruet to drive and contest the Grand Touring category against Jean-Pierre Hanrioud’s factory Porsche 911S and the Group 3 Lancia Fulvias of Rene and Claudine Trautmann. The Alpines both broke quite early and though M. Trautmann then led the category he was soon out with a sheared distributor drive and Hanrioud crept slowly on to win the G.T. category.
The remainder of the Alpines had a variety of 1,440-c.c. and 1,600-c.c, pushrod and twin-cam Gordini engines but in the wet conditions, Alpine oversteer led to slow times when compared with the front-wheeldrive Lancias whose power-to-weight ratio was much less. The resulting frustration led to Jean-Francois Piot crashing while Mauro Bianchi, Roger de Lageneste and Jean Guichet all suffered mechanical ailments associated with trying too hard and retired before half-way had been reached. The remaining two works Alpines were both of 1,600 c.c. and were driven by past winners of the Tour de Corse, Jean Vinatier and the local hero, Pierre Orsini. Orsini is something of a legend in the annals of the Tour de Corse as he has won it three times and it is said that he either wins or breaks the car. This year he did neither, finishing in fourth place despite having a slightly sick engine over the middle part of the rally. Vinatier drove a good rally to finish fifth behind his team mate though the pace was beginning to tell in the last stages both on the car and the driver and he took some penalties which he might not otherwise have done.
As well as having Hanrioud in the Group 3 911S, Porsche’s main contender was a 911R in the prototype category for Vic Elford and David Stone. This car was in fact not a full 911R as it just had a good 911S engine in place of the Carrera Six motor which he had used on the Coupe des Alpes and at the Marathon de la Route at the Nurburgring. With 5 cwt. less due to the plastic body this proved to be an ideal car for Corsica and had there not been so much rain, it might well have proved too fleet for the Lancias and Renaults. As it was, Elford acquitted himself excellently in the car and would have undoubtedly finished second had not he suffered a minor excursion on the very last test and incurred a penalty where the leaders went unpenalised. Among the fourteen finishers, there was one other Porsche: a 911S driven by that spirited little Belgian, Jean-Pierre Gaban, who went very well indeed just to finish as he lost 20 min. on the very first test when he left the road and had to get help to get back on again.
Before discussing the Lancias, we must not forget B.M.C. who sent three cars to this event for the first time ever as a proper works team. Two cars were 1,275-c.c. Cooper Ss fitted with a single Weber carburetter and lightweight bodywork, similar in every way to the car that won the Coupe des Alpes. The drivers were Paddy Hopkirk/Ron Crellin and Rauno Aaltonen/Henry Liddon with Timo Makinen absent as he was renewing his acquaintance with Finland after a long sojourn in Australia. The other car was a prototype Austin-Healey Sprite as raced at Sebring and the Targa Florio with a five speed gearbox and Weberised 1,300-c.c. engine. Just how strong a challenge these cars could be on Corsican roads was never shown as the Sprite went out very early with drivers Clive Baker and Mike Wood almost as wet as the distributor and plugs, while the Coopers both suffered from slipping fan belts and consequent overheating and dim lights. Both cars had long stops to try to cure the problem but to no avail and they eventually ran out of time at about one third distance.
To turn finally to Lancias, the Turin firm had prepared four brand new Fulvias to prototype specification. The bodywork was not lightened but all surplus trim was removed and driver comforts cut to a minimum. The 1,300-c.c. HF engine had been bored out to 1,440 C.C. and in this form was developing a conservative 120 b.h.p. DIN which didn’t exactly convert the Fulvia into a Ferrari but with the same low axle that they had used on the Monte Carlo Rally, the sensation was a
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little more similar. ‘To drive these four came the regular teams of Leo Cella/Sergio Barbasio, Ove Andersson/John Davenport, Sandro Munari/Luciano Lombardini and Pauli Toivonen/Marti Tiukkanen. The Scandinavians opted for Dunlop racing tyres while the two Italians stuck out for Pirelli Cinturatos and it turned out that the latter was the better choice for while the racing tyres had the better grip in the wet it was at the expense of tread life and poor Andersson had his tyres go right through to the canvas within 100 miles of the start and hot time through punctures. By coincidence, Cella too lost time with a puncture and then had a minor crash while Anderson crashed only two hours from the end after losing his clutch when the gearbox oil fled through a ruptured seal. Still Lancia had two cars that ran without trouble and they finished first and second overall so that it being Lancias 60th anniversary year and it also being the time of the Turin Motor Show, the Italians had plenty of reason to be happy.
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As we go to Press we have lust learned of the decision .to cancel the R.A.C. Rally because of the widespread foot and mouth disease. The Rallies Authorisation Department of the R.A.C have withdrawn all authorisations until December 31st, while other events organisers must abide by the wishes of the police and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This decision does not apply to Eire or Northern Ireland.