Rally review - The 1977 proposals, December 1976

When the CSI succumbed to outside pressures in the late ‘sixties and created what was then called the International Rally Championship (not until a few years later was the series given the added respectability and status of “World”) the choice of events was simple; one merely took the few established rallies of recognised toughness, calibre and popularity, and lumped them together into a series. Deciding which were worth including and which were not was an easy matter; their reputations took care of that.

But in the intervening years the selection process has become more complicated, for the CSI, through its Rally Working Group, has set up an inspection system which is guarded jealously since it affords the opportunity for members of the inspectors’ panel to visit rallies all over the world at the expense of their organisers.

Reputation among competitors, the main criterion for judgement on any rally, is ignored and the reports of two visiting CSI inspectors are taken as the only worthwhile evidence of the acceptability of an event as a World Championship qualifier. Not only is this practice an expensive one for organisers, who have to foot the entire bill for inspections, but it is dangerously single-tracked. With everything resting on the opinions of two men whose personal likes and dislikes can so easily colour their judgement, it can often happen that a subconscious bias against a country caused by ‘some unfortunate mischance at the airport of arrival (a lost suitcase, for instance) can, by sheer human failing, result in a less than favourable and perhaps unjustified report of the event being inspected.

Quite naturally, organisers are keen to have good reports and some of them do what they can to see that inspectors have red carpet treatment—the more affluent the organisers, the deeper the carpet pile. The attentions of the inspectors are directed towards the good points, whilst the bad ones are quietly kept as much in the shadowy background as possible. With inspectors chosen from among the more regular, experienced competitors, such selective tactics would not be possible, particularly if the competitor-inspectors were chosen at random. In Britain, the RAC sends report forms to competitors on British events, and their identities are not automatically revealed to organisers. Such a system works effectively, and we have every reason to believe that a wider range of opinion would lead to more reliable inspection reports less likely to be affected by bias, particularly as several members of the present panel of inspectors are themselves organisers of rallies in the World Championship.

Having thus disposed of how inspection reports are compiled, we now move to how they are finally dealt with. Selection is done by the Rally Working Group and this then goes to the CSI itself for ratification. That took place this year during the CSI’s annual October congress in Paris, attended by delegates from all over the world. A considerable amount of lobbying took place both for championship status and for votes for committee membership, and the charged atmosphere at the time was particularly noticeable. Finally, among the other products of the Congress, a list of qualifiers for the 1977 World Rally Championship for Makes was produced. We have no comment to make on its content, but there is certainly room for considerable (and manifest) improvement in the manner in which it is compiled.

Of the European Championship we can say little except that it remains a complicated and top-heavy series of no less than 43 events, again with a points syStem based on coefficients varying from one to four. The main point in its favour is that it is for drivers, not makes of car, which means that at least there can be a live person to receive the laurels at the end of the year.

There has been much lobbying over the years for the World Championship to be for drivers as well as cars, so that the sport would benefit from the public recognition of a World Champion. The CSI, perhaps under pressure from car manufacturers, have steadfastly turned this down, but for 1977 they have cast a sop in the direction of the campaigners for a World Championship for Rally Drivers by putting up what they have called “The FIA Cup for Rally Drivers”, a silly title if we have ever heard one. A champion should be called just that, not merely the recipient of yet another FIA cup. In any event, how many men in the street would know what the FIA is, we wonder?

To make matters worse, the cup will be awarded from results of rallies in the World Championship, the European Championship and a third series of just four events, various coefficients again being employed to further complicate matters. What ordinary enthusiast will be able to follow such a series without keeping complicated charts? Far better that a short, crisp series, with simple points allocation, be used to find a World Champion so that all may follow progress with ease.

For some years the weekly newspaper Motoring News has kept the score of points which might have been allocated in a World Championship for Drivers, based on the simple list of events in the world series for makes, and using the same coefficient-free points system. Thus they have arrived at a sort of unofficial World Champion. We have, in the past, expressed agreement with this and we were pleased to see, at the end of 1975, that publications in other countries followed suit. We trust that they will do likewise at the end of 1976, and successive years until the CSI agrees to make it possible for someone to become an official World Rally Champion.—G.P.