Press on regardless

Rally Review

General Classification:
1st: W. Boyce/D. Woods (Toyota Corolla) 418.47 min.
2nd: J. Walker/T. Palmer (Volvo 142S) 439.96 min.
3rd: J. Smiskol/C. Smiskol (Datsun 240Z) 453.60 min.
4th: J. Buffum/W. Zitkus (Ford Escort) 459.03 min.
5th: J. Rodgers/E. Brooks (Datsun 510) 465.01 min.
6th: R. Mucha/R. Zyszkowski (Polski Fiat 125P) 477.51 min.
7th: W. Dodd/R. Kren (Ford Capri 2600) 484.91 min.
8th: J. Callon/G. Hays (Datsun 510) 488.20 min.
9th: S. Dorr/R. Andersson (Datsun 510) 489.47 min.
10th: C. lvScLaren/D. Leverton (Datsun 510) 496.21 min.

58 starters — 23 finishers

The first qualifying event to be introduced to the World Rally Championship from outside the continents of Europe and Africa was the USA’s Press on Regardless Rally which was adopted for the series in 1972 after a CSI observer’s report of the 1971 event. Some may say that it is not for Motor Sport to comment upon the findings of that observer, but we find ourselves unable to do otherwise for we feel that the rally has not yet attained the maturity that such events require, and that must have been apparent in 1971.

In the United States there has been a strong movement in the past few years to create “proper” rallies and to separate them from the complex navigation exercises which have been, and still are, gathered within the same collective title. American rallies are largely tests of mental agility rather than trials of motoring skill, and it is this image which supporters of real rallying are anxious to shake off. The organisers of the Press on Regardless Rally are such people, fanatically keen on the sport and avid gatherers of as much information and knowledge of how it is practised in Europe. However, all the theory in the world is no substitute for honest-to-goodness practice, and until the mistakes have been made and the lessons learned the POR Rally must be regarded as still in the development stage.

American readers might consider these words to be those of a pompous European only too pleased to criticise the POR in order that world class rallying might remain in the hands of a clique. Nothing could be further from the truth, for rally people in Europe are delighted that their brand of the sport should be gathering momentum in the USA. It is really a pity that the POR was drawn into the World Championship when it was, for it was forced into a gallop when really it was only at the trotting stage. Had it been allowed to progress in its own way, it might have been better for it.

For several years the POR was sponsored by Leonard Refineries and then by Total, the petrol company with which the refinery is now associated. But sponsorship doesn’t mean vast dollar reserves, as some Europeans suppose is the case with all forms of publicity-seeking backing in the USA. Indeed, the support has been quite limited, and this year was withdrawn altogether leaving the Detroit Region of the SCCA in quite a financial predicament. There they were with a World Championship event and no money with which to run it. They decided to run it with the income from entry fees only, hardly enough to pay a fraction of the bills, and were then helped by the Cooper Tyre Company, the American associate of Kleber. Even so, the kitty wasn’t a very big one and the organisers had to tread very carefully lest they should sink into debt.

In Europe the sport of rallying has at last been recognised for what it is – a crowd puller of tremendous potential – and has attracted the attentions of all manner of publicity-hungry companies with money to spend on promotions. But in the United States it’s not at all like that. To most Americans a rally is still a crossword puzzle on wheels, and very few backers are interested in the publicity they would get from supporting that sort of thing. Furthermore rallying attracts little public attention and the special stages in the Michigan forests were quite deserted when the POR Rally passed through.

Indeed, there seemed to be a distinct apathy among the American public to the passage of the rally; special stages arranged near towns especially for spectators seemed to attract only people connected with the event, and when a parade of cars was held behind a band through the streets of Alma it was watched only by casual downtown shoppers and the occupants of cars held up for the parade to pass. Indeed, we have seen more enthusiasm among the reindeer herdsmen of Lapland, the oasis dwellers of Morocco and the tribesmen of East Africa than we saw in Michigan during the rally. Promotion depends a great deal on sufficient public interest, whereas the latter is quite frequently aroused by diligent application of the former. Somewhere there is a means of using each to help the other.

Despite World Championship status, the POR attracted none of the teams regularly seen on other qualifying rounds. Restricted budgets and shortage of time and manpower were the two most quoted reasons, but there is another which is perhaps more pertinent. The championship hasn’t really been tackled properly by many teams and we feel that most people take part in the individual events for their own sakes and not for the series of which they form parts. Keeping the championship for cars and not their drivers is a big mistake, as we’ve said before, so the main consideration these days seems to be the value of an event in its own right and not as part of the championship. Since the POR has not yet become established as a publicity catcher, there was none of the attraction of the Monte, the Safari or the RAC. True Fiat did enter two cars, but they were withdrawn and the team cancelled its travel arrangements a matter of days before the drivers were due to leave for Detroit.

The only team from Europe was that of Polski-Fiat, not championship points chasers by any means. They sent three cars, backed them with advertising from all manner of things Polish from air and shipping lines to bicycles, and did a line job of stirring nostalgic enthusiasm among Detroit’s various generations of Polish expatriates. All three cars finished, though not exactly highly, and they took the Manufacturers’ Team Prize with ease, for theirs was the only such team taking part. Among the individual foreigners were one from Finland, one from Kenya and one from Wales.

The remaining entries were those of American and Canadian privateers, both sponsored and otherwise, importers and semi-official competition concerns such as Competition Limited which undertakes the Jeep programme for American Motors. Last year there were long faces when a Jeep Wagoneer won the event, for the rally people felt that their sport was hard enough to promote anyway, without such a result creating the image of an “off-road race”. This year two Jeeps were entered again, but this time their engines were tuned and the result was an increase in power at the expense of reliability and both retired early with what was thought to be piston failure.

It was surprising that the Japanese manufacturers took no interest in the POR, for the USA represents a tremendous market for their cars. They were well represented in the entry list, and it was eventually a Toyota Corolla 1600 Coupe which won, driven by two Canadians, Walter Boyce and Doug Woods. New names among rally prizewinners are always regarded with just a slight touch of disdain if they are not Finns or Swedes, for few other countries can match the champion-producing record of Scandinavia, but Boyce is no big fish in a small pond; he is a smooth, tidy, fast driver who ought to do very well indeed if given the opportunity to broaden his horizons and pit his ability against that of European professionals.

The Rally itself was devised in a manner similar to European events, with some eighty special stages spread over three legs between Thursday morning and mid-day Sunday. The roads used were the sandy-surfaced tracks through the State Forests of both Lower Michigan and its Upper Peninsula. Unfortunately they tended to cut up very easily, whether wet or dry, and after the passage of a dozen or so cars there were deep ruts to catch the unwary. Some stages were used twice, and during the second passage the early runners got a taste of what the later crews had to put up with throughout the event. There was so much loose sand on some corners that many cars found their power being totally consumed, like the lone Alpine-Renault which was provided on loan for the crew of an American dealer. The low car simply bottomed its skid plate on the sand and stuck fast.

The competition itself was well contrived, but its operation was a little slack. Marshalling was particularly poor, though we would add readily that experience was the only missing ingredient among the officials. Too few people were doing too many jobs and the countdown procedure at stage starts was so haphazard that some drivers were adding seconds to their times whilst others were quick to take advantage and were jumping the starts.

At present the Press on Regardless Rally doesn’t quite come up to the accepted organisational standards of the World Championship, but experience is all that is needed to put matters right. After all, European-style rallying is still in its relative infancy in the United States and it only needs encouragement of the right kind to level the transatlantic balance. Next year there could be a vast improvement, for the POR and Canada’s Rally of the Rideau Lakes are to run just a few weeks apart to encourage Europeans to tackle both events in one trip. Furthermore, people from both countries have this year spent some time competing in European events and by next year it’s likely that their experience will have been passed on to their colleagues.