Rally Review, December 1979

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New Rules

From January 1st new rules will govern the sport of rallying in Britain, rules aimed more at what has come to be called road rallying than those events which are largely on closed private roads.

Practices which, though not compulsory, have been regarded as essential by all organisers worth their salt for many years have been made mandatory by these new regulations and one can only assume that the intention is to shrink the mesh of the net in order to hang on to the one which formerly got away.

However, there is a distinct feeling of resentment among the organisers of Britain’s best road rallies. They dislike the implication that things were not already being done as they should and many of them feel that to people outside the sport it might appear as a clean-up measure whereas things were pretty clean in the first place.

Before the coming of special stages some two decades ago, all rallying in Britain was on open public roads. That kind of rallying still exists and is extrernely popular, and there are rules, of course, to prevent nuisance and to ensure safety. But when international events went over to special stages, road rallying slowly became rather less than respectable in official eyes and today although the RAC continues to sanction it, it seems that it is tolerated more than encouraged.

Among the self-styled “big noises” of rallying’s administrators, road rallying is very much a poor relation. More prestige, it seems, attaches to special stage rallies and the prospect of bathing in a brighter glow of eminence has had much to do with people preferring to be associated with stage events than with those on the road.

The same applied to sponsors and publicists; slowly they were wooed away from road events, to be joined in backing stage events by others of their kind. The RAC introduced a rule forbidding the commercial sponsorship of any country-wide championship based on road events, and this at a time when there was only one such championship left; all the others were either regional series or ones run by clubs for their own members.

That championship, run by the weekly newspaper Motoring News, still exists — indeed, it will soon be in its twentieth year — and despite the complete absence of any championship prize money it enjoys an unbelievable following by competitors and tremendous support by spectators. Even when it did have prize money it was of mere token proportions and certainly didn’t get near compensating leading competitors for the efforts, financial and otherwise, which they had put into tackling the series throughout a year.

The series is based on fifteen rallies, chosen very carefully after consultations with competitors. They are among the best the country can offer, but even so they are considerably cheaper, both for organisers and for competitors, than any special stage event.

This kind of rallying is the very basis on which the whole sport is founded. Smaller road events attract beginners who haven’t the finances to tackle special stage events which have much, much higher entry and insurance fees, require cars which are far more expensive to build and which can cost a fortune to maintain. Furthermore, the risk of damage is much greater, and many an aspiring driver has been forced out of the sport simply because he could not afford the cost of a comprehensive rebuild.

Rallies are graded from Closed (members of organising club only) to Restricted (members of invited clubs), National open to all holders of appropriate RAC licence and International. Until now, a club could organise a small rally for its own members who would not need to be licensed by the RAC in order to take part. But from 1980 licences will be necessary, and many club competitors look upon this as a totally unjustified means of gaining extra revenue.

Those who compete in the lowest grade of event usually have limited resources, and this additional levy may mean that fewer people will be attracted to the sport.

The rules go further by bringing within the licence and permit requirement rallies which are only for up to twelve cars. Until now, such events were exempt from many of the formalities surrounding bigger events, but from January 1st that will not be the case any more, and this is another reason for some pretty strong feeling among the many clubs which have made a practice of running twelve-car events in order to introduce novices to the sport.

The popularity of road events is something which the RAC has never spoken much about, almost as though they prefer it to be thought that stage events are far better supported. Perhaps it is for that reason that the document which lists the number of rally organising permits issued in any year is stamped “Confidential” by the RAC. We can think of no other reason why they should attempt to make a secret of the number of rallies of various kinds held each year in the UK.

The truth is that road events are far more popular than stage events, and twelve-car rallies even more so.

In 1977, for instance, permits were issued for 170 special stage rallies, from small, single-venue events up to internationals. In the same year, no less than 370 road rally permits were issued. That alone positively indicates where popularity is most centred. And lower down the scale an amazing 1,084 permits for twelve-car events were issued in 1977. We hardly think that the same number will be run in 1980, but there will nevertheless be an increase in revenue for the RAC.

A prominent British rally driver, one who is acclaimed as one of the country’s best and has been very successful in top grade special stage events, recently told us that without road rallying all British rallying would be dead, and we are inclined to agree with him.

Special stage events are far costlier than road events, but could it be that revenue from the latter is used to subsidise the running of the former? And could it also be that the RAC is not at all keen on statistical comparisons between the two becoming public?

Large scale events are invariably financially backed nowadays and can afford to pay the various fees — apart from the grossly unfair Forestry Commission charge for the use of forest roads — but bottom grade events do not enjoy such affluence. To tax them in this way, and to tax those who take part in them, is to strike at the roots of the sport, and that’s something which might be regretted in years to come. – G.P.

A disguised factory Ford?

Looking confident with two rounds of the world championship to go, Bjorn Waldegard told London journalists in November that he would not necessarily be the 1979 and first official rally champion driver. “The way that Mikkola drives, anything can happen.” he told journalists in a central London preview of the Lombard sponsored RAC event.

It turned out that the cigarette manufacturers had three things to say. First they wanted to show us how tough it was for Waldegard to win the 1979 Acropolis Rally. And it was a very hard job indeed owing to Monsieur Bernard Darniche in his Chardonnet Lancia Stratos.

To see Waldegard rubbing his eyes and appearing before the camera with sparse blond hair standing on end showed that this apparently stolid Swede did have to fight in order to win.

Rothmans money will make it possible for Ari Vatanen to contest the entire five round British home international series next year (sponsored by Sedan though Rothmans will take over from 1981 for the subsequent four years) and to act as team-mate to Hannu Mikkola in World Championship events for the David Sutton/Rothmans, Ford Escort/Finnish drivers business deal.

Rothmans introduced the sporting programme to the public by showing a film made by the man dubbed the world’s number one in rally film makers, Barry Hinchliffe. We could find no quarrel with that statement for the latest film in a series that numbers over 50 made by Hinchliffe, “The Acropolis Experience” is a worthwhile experience for any sporting motorist. Slow motion is fashionably in evidence, but that does not matter when you see the amount of opposite lock motoring that is packed within 25 minutes. The film will eventually be available from Rothmans at: International Promotions Department, Carreras Rothmans Ltd., PO Box 100, Oxford Road, Aylesbury. Bucks, on an FOC basis to accredited motor clubs.

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