It is about this time of the year, with the R.A.C. Rally over and done with, that thoughts begin to turn to what 1969 has to offer, what changes the F.I.A. has made in its calendar and in its regulations, and what the various clubs throughout Europe and beyond have done to improve their rallies.
Although December 1968 is unique inasmuch as a lot of minds are concentrating hard on getting to Sydney rather than planning next year’s programme, there are plenty of things to occupy those who are not directly concerned with the Marathon.
The 1969 Calendar, for instance, has been announced by the F.I.A., although we prefer to look upon it as a provisional calendar since in past years there have been two, or even three, versions before the final one.
First of all, the Swedish Rally has reverted to its customary dates in mid-February, leaving the Monte Carlo Rally as the first European Championship event of the year on January 18/25th. At the beginning of 1968 the Royal Swedish Automobile Club was obliged to run the Swedish Rally in the first week of January in order not to compete with the Winter Olympics for television and newspaper publicity, but next year things are back to normal and everyone hopes for temperatures a little higher than the shattering minus forty, but not as high as to melt the lake and river ice which provides such exciting special stages.
Of course, despite what enthusiasts might think about it, the Monte Carlo Rally remains as the biggest publicity catcher of them all. For this reason, it also tends to be the biggest generator of rumours, and each year when it ends the rally is a well-riddled target for speculation about changes which the A.C. de Monaco are likely to make before the next journey through the snow to winter sunshine on the Mediterranean.
I remember that, earlier in the year, some of these rumours concerned what competitors call the “run-down”; the easy but tedious journey from the various starting points to Monte Carlo before the rally proper begins. There were suggestions that the run-down sections might be held without controls, and without competition numbers on the cars, but this would certainly not have appealed to publicity-conscious teams who are anxious that not only should the rally be done, but that it should manifestly appear to be done. There was even a hint that the run-down would be cancelled altogether.
But these things are not to be, and the rally will be held in January with all the pomp and excitement which it causes in the towns through which it passes en route to the Principality.
Nevertheless, there are to be changes—one in particular—which are worth mentioning. Following the trend set by other organisers, the Monaco Club has decided to allow the highly modified cars of Groups 4, 5 and 6 to enter the rally. But it has not taken the same course as the Alpine Rally, which was to opt out of the European Championship altogether—you will remember that the F.I.A. allows cars of only Groups 1, 2 and 3 to enter its Championship events, Instead, it has followed the example of the R.A.C. Rally to run a separate rally within the main event.
Running as part and parcel of the Monte Carlo Rally, using the same route, regulations, entry fees and time schedules, will be the Rallye Méditerranée. This will have a final classification separate front the main rally, and separate awards, and Groups 4, 5 and 6 will be joined to form two capacity classes divided by 1,600 c.c.
That the trend towards allowing prototypes to take part in rallies has anything to do with the general swing towards permissiveness is doubtful, but it creates the same sort of highbrow arguments, for and against. “Hoodwinking the public” is one phrase which I have often seen used to describe manufacturers’ advertising based on success by highly modified cars having little resemblance to those which leave the production lines. This may be the case, but one can hardly blame rally organisers for this sort of advertising practice. After all, they are mainly interested in swelling their entry lists, and the wider the scope of the admissible classes, the greater the entry potential—in theory at least.
Another change in the Monte regulations is the introduction of a clause permitting advertising on competing cars, but only within certain boundaries, of certain sizes, if “non-luminescent” and if not “licentious, offensive or political”.
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To leave Europe for a moment, and to look further into 1969 than its initial months, let us consider briefly what is probably the best-known International rally outside Europe—the East African Safari.
Since its inception, the Safari has been held over a route which has taken in all three countries which go to make up East Africa—Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania—but its base has always been at Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
The authorities of both Uganda and Tanzania have always been co-operative, and quite happy to have the rally pass through their territories. But in latter years the view has been expressed that the starting point for the event should be changed from year to year to include, on a rota basis, Nairobi, Kampala and Dar-es-Salaam, they being the capitals of the three countries.
This idea has never really found favour with the organisers who, and rightly, feel that the Safari’s home should be at Nairobi. But the situation has this year become more serious. A request by the Tanzanian authorities to have the 1969 Safari start and finish at Dar-es-Salaam was turned down and the result was an ultimatum that either the rally would be based at Dar or permission would be refused for the rally to enter Tanzania.
It is all very unfortunate that such an issue should have affected a world-known sporting event in this way, but although the Tanzanian request was turned down and plans made to increase the distance within the other two countries, it is by no means over and done with. Negotiations are still going on and it is to be hoped that the result will be an amicable agreement permitting the route planners to use Tanzania after all. Needless to say, the Safari would not be quite the same unless it used some of the famous Southern Leg regions such as Korogwe, Umba River and the Usumbara Mountains.
Impossibly high average speeds were set in this year’s Safari (they were based on dry conditions and it turned out to be the wettest year on record), and it has been said that these will be more realistic in 1969, with all the “impossible”, sticky, mud roads which demand strength rather than skill removed.
This, I feel, will contribute towards a greatly improved rally without affecting its unique style at all. It does not have special stages, for it needs no such artificial aids which we have to employ in Europe, and there is no talk of introducing them I am happy to say. The great pity is that East Africa is so far from Europe, otherwise we might all be able to visit that magnificent part of the World oftener and sample the superb road sections which the organisers are able to produce with the absolute minimum of legal requirements.—G. P.