Canada and the USA
In the space of one month the World Rally Championship has become more than a simple international series contested by various manufacturers; it has developed very quickly into a point of Italian national pride, not because of any international rivalry but due entirely to the fiercest of internal struggles the series has ever known. Until the Sanremo Rally, early in October, Fiat was the only manufacturer seriously contesting every event in the series. On that event, only one of the team's seven cars finished and Lancia took twenty points from a win by Munari in a Stratos. Suddenly Lancia was in a position to challenge for the lead in the championship, the whole face of which suddenly changed. To Fiat, Lancia was no longer just "the other lot across the street" but a deadly enemy sprung from nowhere and presenting itself as a serious threat to the championship laurels which the Fiat people had already begun considering their own. It was a duel not without irony, for Lancia is a division, if it can be called such, of Fiat.
Fiat had, long before Sanremo, made plans to tackle both the Rally of the Rideau Lakes in Canada and the Press on Regardless Rally in the USA. Lancia, on the other hand, had merely put in token entries and had left the final decision until the finish of the Italian event. That result left them with no doubts as to what they should do; immediately one Stratos and two Beta coupés were flown to Canada. The war of the Turin camps was beginning to warm up.
The event itself was technically excellent, with enthusiastic organisers dipping into their own pockets to make up for what they lacked in financial backing. Running a World Championship event on a shoestring is not easy, but the Canadians managed it very well with an administration which only just had the stamp of barrel-scraping about it.
For Fiat it was a disaster. In the first leg all three of their cars retired, leaving the Stratos of Munari and the Beta coupe of Lampinen (Pregliasco's Beta had also retired with a broken engine) to romp home in comfortable first and second places. Their dominance was almost an embarrassment, for both Lancia drivers had been told quite firmly by their team manager that there was to be no in-fighting. They simply had to hold the position to the end and that was that. Both drivers completed the second leg at half-cock, Munari slowing down so much that Lampinen once had to stop in order to let his team mate get ahead again. This confused the Canadian drivers who were not used to such team tactics, particularly the gentleman whose ego was suddenly given a mighty boost when the tail end of Lampinen's Beta came into view ahead.
Lancia's second win in succession put the make into a four-point lead in the championship and it was with considerable elation that they loaded their three cars on a rented flatbacked lorry and set out on the 24-hour journey to Marquette, the Lake Superior port in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where the rally was based. Fiat, on the other hand, was a very depressed outfit, for they seemed to have taken the view that the championship was already theirs since theirs was the only team to have tackled every event so far.
Northern Michigan had seen a few POR rallies before, but this was the first time that a group of foreign teams with all their staff had set up camp there for a period of three weeks. The interest was incredible. Marquette's Holiday Inn bent over backwards to make the teams' stay a pleasant one, TV companies filmed and interviewed as if they would never stop and local organisations such as Rotary International asked visitors to address them. Old ladies addressed foreigners by name and Northern Michigan University put its Engineering Faculty at the disposal of the Renault team for use as a workshop. It was an incredible degree of co-operation and hospitality and there can be no doubt that the visitors will want to return just as much as local people will want to see them back.
So much for the atmosphere; now for the rally. This time Lancia fortunes were not so good, for the Fiat of Finnish driver Markku Alen dominated the event, followed by the Renault 17 Gordinis of Therier and Nicolas. Lampinen's Beta took third place, but the Stratos retired when a rear shock absorber broke, flailed around and smashed the distributor. Technically the event was first class, for the stages were well run and competitive, but the organisers were inexperienced and when things began to go wrong they were not capable of righting them as speedily as most European organisers. True the police took a hand in matters, but they were not entirely to blame. Part of the rally was scrubbed, another part cancelled because all the discussions took so long that there was not time to run it and another in the last part of the rally because torrential rain had caused a bridge to be washed away. That was a great pity, for it caused the cancellation of a superbly difficult 50-mile special stage, just across the border in Canada, which could well have caused serious problems for the weaker cars.
The cancellation brought a crop of protests at the end, mainly over the matter of where the cancelled portion of the route should begin, since this would have a bearing on the result. Furthermore there were allegations that Fiat had indulged in a little car-swopping in order to make time for vital service during a parc fermé period. This and other unresolved protests have gone forward to appeal so the results are presently merely provisional. It was a most unsatisfactory end to an otherwise eminently enjoyable event, but not one which should be taken as typical of the rest of the World Championship series. It resulted from inexperience and lack of financial backing, both of which should be more in evidence when the event takes place next year. —G.P.
Results (top five):
Rally Of The Rideau Lakes - General Classification:
1st: S. Munari / M. Mannucci (Lancia Stratos) ...................294.53 min.
2nd: S. Lampinen / J.Davenport (Lancia Beta Coupé).......296.84 min.
3rd: W. Boyce / S. Gray (Toyota Celica)............................307.77 min.
4th: K. Billows / J. Campbell (Ford Escort RS)...................316.84 min.
5th: E.Jones / Hathaway (Datsun 510)...............................321.17 min.
Press On Regardless Rally -- Provisional General Classification:
1st: J-L. Therier / C. Delferrier (Renault 17 Gordini)..........19,787 sec.
2nd: M. Alén / A. Aho (Fiat 124 Abarth).............................20,110 sec.
3rd: G. Chasseuil / J-P. Nicolas (Renault 17 Gordini)........20,149 sec.
4th: S. Lampinen / J. Davenport (Lancia Beta Coupé).......21,405 sec.
5th: G. Chasseuil / J-P. Rouget (Alpine Renault)...............21,405 sec.