It used to be called the Rally of the Flowers, from the sunny Riviera which lies between the Mediterranean and the mountain region in which the event was held. Then it was renamed Sanremo Rally, and for the past two years has been combined with that other Italian event, the Sestrière Rally. But the amalgamation was not at all a popular one, and both competitors and organisers were quite pleased when the event reverted to its original style this year, with start, half way stop and finish at Sanremo.
It was natural that both Lancia and Fiat should put maximum effort into their country's premier event, Lancia in particular for they were making a big splash with six red and white cars to mark the announcement of their association with Marlboro for the coming year. Fiat had four works cars, and both Italian companies had vast service arrangements to support their entries, both teams running on Pirelli tyres of course.
The only foreign opposition came from two factory Alpines, the remainder of the field being made up by Italian amateurs and privately-sponsored crews. In all, 69 cars started of which just 13 finished the entire route.
The structure of the rally was distinctly similar to that of the Monte Carlo Rally's Parcours Commun and Epreuve Complémentaire in that the first leg was much longer than the second, and the second much more tightly timed on the road than the first. But unlike the Monte, road timing was to the nearest second, the Italians taking the view that it is unfair to time to the preceding minute so that a crew 59 seconds late gets zero penalty and another just 61 seconds late collects a minute's penalty.
In the early stages, Ove Andersson's Alpine (he won in 1971) went into the lead, but gearbox failure stopped the car on the fourth of the 26 special stages. Then team-mate Jean-Luc Thérier took over the lead and when he held it until the mid-way stop and beyond, the Italian teams became more than a little serious faced. But they need not have worried; as the French team manager sat down to an evening meal with mechanics at Ristorante Adolfo, a mountain hostelry near Pigna much favoured by rally people, the news came through on the telephone that Thérier had also succumbed to gearbox failure.
This put the Lancia outfit into higher spirits, but although the Fulvias were far more reliable in the first leg than the Fiats, the position was reversed in the second. Munari went out with a broken limited slip differential, Källström with a shattered rear brake caliper and Ragnotti with a broken drive shaft. Coupled with Lampinen's retirement in the first leg when an oil filter gasket burst, this left Lancia with just two runners, but they finished in first and second places.
Although they had been troubled by grumbling gearboxes and differentials in the first leg, not to mention severe brake fade, the Flat 124 Spiders went well in the second leg, finishing third, fourth and fifth.
Lancia stengthened its position at the head of the Constructors' Championship table and Fiat moved ahead of Porsche into second place. Since none of these makes scored points in America, Lancia will start the RAC Rally as unbeatable champions for 1972.
"America's oldest, richest, longest, meanest car rally." Thus did advance publicity describe the Press-On-Regardless-Rally, the first event in the United States to be recognised in Europe as a rally in the true sense of the word and the first American qualifier for the International Rally Championship for Makes. Oldest it must surely be, for it has been running for about a quarter of a century; perhaps not the richest since American sponsoring concerns haven't yet realised the potential of rallying as their European counterparts have; longest it must be, for it runs over a period of three complete nights; whether it is the meanest depends on what is available for comparison purposes, and since there is nothing in the USA of a similar nature then perhaps the organisers are right.
Last year the new-style POR, as it is called, was observed on behalf of the FIA and the observer's report was enough to convince the international body that the event was worthy of inclusion in the 1972 Constructors' Championship. It certainly was a proper rally, running mainly at night from Thursday morning until noon on Sunday with two day-time stopovers. The start was at Detroit, beginning with a special stage on the public roads of Belle Isle, a recreational area on an island in Detroit River. The stopovers were at St. lgnace, the township just north of the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Thus the first leg was made up of the journey north, the second of a tour of the logging roads of the Upper Peninsula and the third of the journey south to Alma, location of the Total-Leonard refinery which was sponsoring the event.
Compared with European events in the same series, the atmosphere of the POR was lacking in a vital something, but one should remember that the Americans were doing something as relative newcomers which Europeans have been doing for many years.
Neatly sandwiched between Sanremo Rally and the Tour of Corsica, the POR seemed unlikely to attract many European entries. The most likely candidate was Lancia, since that company was leading the International Championship for Makes. But Lancia was also heavily committed both in Sanremo and in Corsica, the latter event being the occasion for the first competitive appearance of the Stratos, the company's Ferrari V6 mid-engined car. As it happened, neither the Stratos nor the Ford GT 70 lasted very long in Corsica.
However, Lancia managed to divide its battalions and Harry Källström and John Davenport were despatched to the USA along with a Fulvia and two mechanics. In the early stages of the rally, John Buffum, an American who rallied a Porsche 911S in Europe whilst based in Germany with the US Air Force, took the lead in his 1.8-litre Escort BDA. But Källström was merely playing himself in, and when he did decide that the preliminaries were over he very soon pulled out a commanding lead, particularly when Buffum had a misfortune and retired.
The special stages were along the very sandy roads which abound in the Michigan Forests, trails which were presumably used in the past by Mohicans and Hurons. Much softer than British forest roads, they cut up very badly by the passage of cars at speed and this, combined with the heavy rains of the previous weeks, produced conditions which proved extremely favourable to the vehicle which eventually won—a four wheel-drive Jeep Wagoneer!
Purists will regard the victory by a Jeep as evidence that the event was no more than a mud-plug combined with an off-road race, but this was certainly not the case. Until Källström retired (he rolled the Lancia after a brake pipe was worn through by sand collecting and hardening on the inner rim of the right rear wheel) he was making it quite evident that experience counts, but his departure let the Jeep through into the lead.
Since American manufacturers have concerned themselves very little with matters such as homologation, the FlA decided that the event could accept non-homologated cars of American manufacture. American Motors took advantage of this to put in two Jeeps, both with 5.9-litre engines and with a new-type of four-wheel-drive system called Quadra-Trac. It has one differential in each axle (both free) and another (limited slip) between the two. Thus, as winner Gene Henderson remarked, "Sometimes it's four-wheel-drive, sometimes front-wheel-drive and sometimes rear-wheel-drive. You just gotta be versatile to drive it hard."
With a few organisational rough edges smoothed off, the POR will be on a par with European counterparts, though distance is likely to put it as far out of reach of private drivers as the Safari.
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On Saturday, December 2nd, the world's most popular rally will start from the racecourse at York. The RAC International Rally of Great Britain attracts a field of competitors such as no other event can muster, including crews from nearly every country in Europe and Scandinavia, South and East Africa, Turkey and New Zealand, and there are even entries from two major motor manufacturers in Japan. The popularity of the event stems directly from the nature of the special stages, the majority of which will be run on the unmetalled roads through Britain's State Forests. Indeed, well over 300 applications were received for the 180 places, and the provisional entry list runs to 200 pairs of names.
Motor manufacturers directly represented by their own works cars include Saab, Lancia, Fiat, Ford, Datsun, Toyota, Wartburg, and British Leyland, and there are strong dealer or concessionaire entries representing Opel (Sweden and Finland), Volvo (Finland), Vauxhall, BMW, Citroën (Austria), Skoda, Moskvich and Chrysler UK. Furthermore, these are backed by the best of Britain's amateur or privately sponsored drivers, and the whole entourage, with their various support vehicles will be a spectacle worth seeing as it moves around the country between Saturday and Tuesday.
In the past Motor Sport has been unable to provide a detailed guide to this, the biggest international sporting event to take place in Britain, mainly because specific details of the itinerary are always kept secret until shortly before the day of the start. However, this year the event has been moved from the middle of November to the beginning of December, and we are thus able to provide details of at least those controls and special stages where provision will be made for parking.
In each case, spectators should follow the directions of rally officials. In the case of forest stages, spectators will only be allowed to enter the stages on foot. They are asked not to bring very small children or dogs, to take their litter home with them, to stand well up on the banks clear of the road and of places where a car might be expected to land if it left the road, to keep well away from trackside log piles, not to smoke and to respect the property of the Forestry Commission.
On December 1st, York Racecourse will be the scene of considerable activity as competitors and their supporters assemble for documentation and scrutineering. The rally itself begins the following morning with the first leg through North Wales, South Wales. the Forest of Dean and returning to York via the Midlands on Sunday evening. The second leg, from Monday morning to early Tuesday evening, takes in the forests of Yorkshire,. Northumberland, the South of Scotland and the Lake District.
The RAC Rally is a qualifying event in the International Championship for Makes, but deciding points are not really at stake on this occasion for Lancia has already clinched the series, first by winning the Sanremo Rally in October and secondly because its immediate rivals scored no points in America's Press-on-Regardless Rally in November. — G. P.