Rally Review, December 1986

Committee room victory for Lancia in Sanremo

Whatever opinions one may have concerning rules and their enforcement, when the results of a major international competition are influenced by the findings of committees following their interpretation of those rules, there is only one possible conclusion; that the rules themselves are bad and in need of urgent reform.

A regulation which is necessary, and supported by all who are affected by it, is nevertheless bad if it not absolutely precise and free from even the slightest ambiguity. A rule containing points which are vague and subject to more than one intepretation defeats its own purpose. Everyone affected by the rules on international rallying should know their meaning exactly, and the only way to achieve this is to have them written by people who have a thorough knowledge of the subject and are capable of precise writing to convey the exact intention, leaving no possible loophole to provide a subject for later discussion.

The rule makers should also desist from the confusing habit of using words or phrases whose meanings they think they know, but really do not. No doubt they seek to demonstrate their familiarity with such parlance, but all they are actually doing is displaying their lack of knowledge.

All too often, rules are written by administrators who have little practical experience and who are attempting to create legislature concerning subjects with which they are unfamiliar. The outcome can be disastrous, and many a sporting contest has been reduced to nothing more than a battle of words, the result hanging as much on stewards’ opinions as on competitors’ skills.

This is what happened in Sanremo where, during a rest stop at three-quarter distance, a series of discussions and inspections concerning the possible aerodynamic advantage of an underbody flange attached to three cars of the Peugeot team (one had already retired) led to the disqualification of the entire team, including a crew in a good position to win the event. There was an immediate appeal by Peugeot, but the stewards held that there were not grounds to allow the three Peugeots to continue pending the result of that appeal, and the rally restarted without them.

The World Rally Championship for manufacturers has already been won by Peugeot, but the drivers’ title remains to be settled between Peugeot’s Juha Kankkunen and Lancia’s Markku Alén, and there were dark hints in Sanremo that the Peugeot disqualification had been contrived in order that Alén could reduce Kankkunen’s lead and gain a better chance of snatching the title in the remaining two rounds, Britain’s Lombard RAC Rally and the Olympus Rally in the USA.

The possibility of Lancia-Peugeot rivalry being the instigating cause of the disqualifications was not the only whispered story being bandied about in the hotels, bars and restaurants of the city on the Riviera of the Flowers. It was also being said that Peugeot’s legal action against FISA, after the ban on Group B cars in World Championship events from 1987 left them with a huge investment in a car which would not longer be usable, created such a hostile atmosphere that FISA might have engineered the situation in retaliation.  A third story was that the organisers of another Italian rally, anxious to replace Sanremo as Italy’s contribution to the World Championship, dropped a subtle hint in order to start the ball rolling, hoping that the scandal thus caused would bring the rally into disrepute.

None of these rumoured possibilities has any foundation, but no matter how the rumpus began, the fact remains that it happened, and it is a sad reflection on the state of rallying, and on FISA’s supposed administration of it, and that it was at all possible for a sporting competition to degenerate into a needless haggle.

The exact sequence of events, from the moment it first occurred to (or was suggested to) an official that he should look under the Peugeots, will perhaps never be accurately documented, but it is known that the flanges, skirts or sill extensions —call them what you will — were noticed by Lancia team director Cesare Fiorio who pointed them out to officials and asked for confirmation that they were legal. His motive was perfectly understandable, if they were permissible, he planned to have similar devices fitted to his own cars.

The controversial flanges were some four inches wide, running along in a vertical plane beneath the sills from a point behind the front wheels to another in front ot the rear wheels. They were angled slightly in relation to each other, so that the distance between them at the front was a few inches greater than that between them at the rear, that is, they were tapering slightly inwards at the rear.

The scrutineer who inspected the cars as part of a routine check for dangerous damage and statutory illegalities formed the opinion that the flanges constituted a “skirt” designed to provide an aerodynamic advantage which motor sporting people have called “ground effect”.  In this context the term is a misnomer, for in aviation circles, where it originated, it refers to a phenomenon which provides an aircraft flying close to the ground with additional lift, not a downforce.

Such additions have been banned for some time, and it was on this basis that the cars were thrown out of the rally. Peugeot’s Jean Todt countered that the flanges were solely to provide the fuel tanks with added protection against flying stones, and indeed had been in position on the cars earlier in the year throughout rounds of the Italian Rally Championship, when no objections were raised.  However, this explanation was not accepted and the disqualification remained.

One wonders how the scrutineer or anyone else could determine, without the aid of a wind tunnel and accurate measuring devices, that the flanges provided aerodynamic benefit and therefore contravened the regulations. The conclusion is that non-expert opinion is all too often accepted as fact by other non-experts even in the absence of concrete evidence, or even in the face of firm evidence to the contrary.

We recall a similar occurrence in Sanremo twenty years ago when Vic Elford was disqualified from the rally, after winning fairly and squarely, when his Cortina Lotus was claimed by the scrutineers to have one tooth too many on one of its gearbox pinions. Elford used his engineering talent to prove conclusively that the number of teeth quoted on the homologation form was impossible, given the gear ratios quoted on the same form. However, the stewards were either not interested in such evidence or unable to understand it.  They were concerned only with the figure on the form, even though it was there as a result of a simple typing error, and Elford lost an outright victory (to Lancia’s Leo Cella) which was rightfully his.

Officials in Sanremo this year ignored the established principle that guilt should be neither assumed nor punished until after the accused party has been given the opportunity of a hearing before the highest authority. Peugeot’s appeal had no effect in this request, and they were not allowed to continue. The appeal subsequently succeeded, but how on earth will be the punishment of disqualification be removed?  There can be no fair way of assessing the likely results of the Peugeot team and reinstating them in the finishers’ list, so the only solution would appear to be the cancellation of the results of the rally and all World Championship points scored therefrom. This would undoubtedly upset those, who did finish, so no matter what happens, dissatisfaction at the organisers’ and stewards’ handling of the affair, not to mention the imprecise FISA rule, will never be entirely eliminated.

In a nutshell, the situation is a complete mess, brought about primarily by imprecise regulations, secondly by haphazard enforcement and thirdly by varying interpretations. A reform is vital, and FISA may do something about this particular regulation, but why do they always wait until the horse has bolted before locking the stable door? Can they not initiate something and get it right first time?

So much for the regrettable incidents which totally destroyed the sporting aspect of the Sanremo Rally, and converted what would undoubtedly have been a display of the closest possible competition in the final leg into an insignificant parade. Taking advantage of the fact that there were no longer any Peugeots to challenge the Lancias, Fiorio, quite naturally, issued orders and produced a contrived result. Whatever they thought about it personally, Markku Alén’s team-mates Massimo Biasion and Dario Cerrato followed instructions and allowed him to get ahead of them to win the rally and thereby score maximum points in the World Championship. The same instructions ensured that second place went to Cerrato in order to settle his bid for the Italian Rally Championship.

Since the relentless advance of tarmac “destroyed” the dirt roads in the mountains overlooking the Riviera of the Flowers, just along the coast from the French border at Menton, the rally organisers have been obliged to go further afield in search of unsurfaced roads. After a brief and unsuccessful amalgamation with the Sestriere Rally, the event was held largely on tarmac for a while, until the decision was made to take the route across the entire width of Northern Italy, through Tuscany and even to the Republic of San Marino, not far from the eastern resort of Rimini. The special stages which thus became available were (and still are) superb, but the disadvantage was a series of long, boring journeys along motorways, and there are still complaints that this feature of the event takes away much of its popularity and is too high a price to pay.

The rally no longer goes to San Marino, but it spends much of its time in Tuscany and still has those tiring, hypnotising motorway runs. Forty-one special stages were planned for this year’s event, split into four legs and grouped in such a way that there was no mixing of surfaces within the same group of stages. This, plus the ample time allowed for the long motorway sections, facilitated the suspension changes which cars underwent between groups of stages to transform them from tarmac racing cars to the more robust vehicles required for dirt roads. Indeed, there was so much time available during these service stops that cars could even be given precautionary refits of components.

The first leg began with four tarmac stages close to Sanremo, and ended after an intervening motorway trek with tour on dirt roads far away to the East of Livorno. After a night stop near Pisa, 17 more dirt stages took the event to Siena, where the closed park was in the huge square where the furious and highly dangerous mediaeval horse race around the cafe-lined pavements is still held today.

The third leg was mixed, beginning with four did stages in Tuscany and ending, after another motorway run, in three tarmac stages close to Sanremo. A long rest of some 25 hours followed  during which the atmosphere was shattered by the disqualification and all the announcements, press conferences and rumour-mongering which followed. What remained for the final night was merely a procession, as least as far as the leaders were concerned, through seven tarmac stages, looping and re-looping in the mountain region where the old Rally of the Flowers was held in its entirety.

Main combatants at Sanremo were the teams of Lancia and Peugeot, the former with two Martini-backed Delta S4s for Alén/Kivimäki and Biasion/Siviero and a third backed by the Jolly Club for Cerrato/Cerri. Peugeot had four 205 T16s for Salonen/Harjanne, Kankkunen/Piironen, Saby/Fauchille and Zanussi/Amati, the latter crew having all year contested the Italian Championship for Peugeot Italy, and a fifth to be used as a course car by Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman, the Finn making his first appearance behind the wheel during a rally since his dreadful accident in the 1985 Argentina Rally.  Harryman, however, has been busy partnering Michèle Mouton in the German Championship.

Lancia and Peugeot shared the same main object, of course, to secure the World Champion’s laurels, for Alén in Lancia’s case and for Kankkunen in Peugeot’s.

Austin Rover came along with three MG Metro 6R4s for Pond/Arthur, Wilson/Harris and Duez/Lux, whilst Volkswagen had just one Golf GTl to enable Erikkson/Diekmann to further their chances of the Group A Drivers Championship. Skoda had three 130LRs for Kalnay, Krecek and Kvaizer, and Renault a single R11 Turbo for Ragnotti/Thirmonier.  Fiat Uno Turbos were entered by Totip and the Jolly Club for Fiorio (Alessandro, son of Cesare), Del Zoppo and Rayneri, whilst Stohl brought his well-used Audi Coupé from Austria. Recalde brought a similar car from Argentina, along with a contingent of supporters, and Italian lady driver Anna Cambiaghi made something of a comeback in a Peugeot 205 GTI.  

The Peugeots took a marginal lead on the initial tarmac stages after leaving a seafront so enveloped in haze that foghorns could be heard sounding. Zanussi led from Saby, Biasion, Salonen, Cerrato, Kankkunen, Alén, Tabaton (in a private Lancia Delta S4) and Wilson, whilst both Alén and Pond had collected punctures.

Cars were transformed during the long journey eastwards in readiness for the dirt roads, on which Alén immediately began recording best times and making up for his loss due to the puncture. The lead changed hands a few times, Zanussi broke a suspension, and Salonen went off the road into an early retirement, at one of the few places where there were no spectators to provide a helping push. Wilson lost a road minute and had his steering rack changed, whilst Eriksson’s Volkswagen led the Group A category despite a broken driveshaft and a ditching episode which needed the help of the crowd. Ragnotti went out when his Renault’s engine blew up

Alén got up to second place, closely challenging leader Kankkunen, only to drop down again when another puncture cost him a great deal of time.  He put this one down to hitting a rock after being forced off his corner-cutting line by the unexpected presence of a photographer. He was also slowed somewhat by a troublesome centre differential, but when this was changed all was well again.

There was trouble on one stage after Biasion was given an incorrect time, Cerrato and Kankkunen, who followed, no times at all, and Zanussi first one, then another, incorrect time.

Initially, results for that stage were somehow retained, but protestations by Peugeot over Zanussi’s incorrect time led to their being cancelled though not without a fight by Lancia to have them kept, and not until long after cars had returned to Sanremo. Saby also benefited, for he had punctured in that stage and the wheel change had been prolonged by the car falling off the jack. Tony Pond lost much time having his Metro fettled after what was described as a ”collision with a house”, reminding us of Paganelli’s sudden visit to a farmhouse many years ago, surprising the farmer when he all but brought his car in through the front door.  Pond got back to Sanremo, but beyond his maximum lateness. At the end of the third leg, with just nine more tarmac stages left, Biasion was the leader but only 11 seconds ahead of Kankkunen, Cerra, Alén, Zanussi and Wilson were next, and the fact that less than a minute and a half separated first from fourth promised some lively action during the final night, especially as both Lancia and Peugeot would be sparing no efforts on behalf of Alén and Kankkunen respectively.

Alas, that tussle never even began. The disqualifications were announced, a great hullabaloo went up, protests and appeals were lodged, heated discussions took place and press conferences held.  But the stewards remained adamant that the Peugeots would not restart on the last leg.

Lancia then found itself with three cars in the first three places and no serious challengers. The strategy was obvious. Biasion and Cerrato would be told to slow down so that Alén could win and this is precisely what happened. The two had to lose even more time towards morning, for Alén had unwittingly booked in early at a time control, and they achieved this by doing likewise.

Krecek and Kvaizer found themselves unexpectedly but highly deservedly in the first ten, whilst Malcolm Wilson was a delighted fourth, ahead of Kenneth Eriksson’s Volkswagen. Young Fiorio looked all set to be sixth until his watchful father realised that this would produce a B-Seeding, thereby precluding him from driving Group N cars. Since he is set to drive Group N cars next year Fiorio Senior proposed a quick road penalty and his son then deliberately dropped a place so that his 1987 plans would not be affected.

Alén was grim faced at the finish, obviously not overjoyed by the manner of his victory, and liking even less the fact that it was open public knowledge. But at the end of the year memories of Sanremo will be overshadowed when the title of World Champion is won.

No matter what may have been the principles followed by officials and stewards when they disqualified the Peugeots and refused to allow them to continue, the whole sordid affair was highly unsatisfactory, and reflects the confused mess which rallying has become under the present dictorial control of FISA.  As a final point, we would mention again that the inspection of cars by scrutineers in the closed park at Sanremo was primarily to weed out those in a dangerous condition or in breach of traffic law.  That evening, we noticed two cars leaving the restart with no rear lights whatsoever, a condition which was certainly dangerous in those traffic ridden hills that night. Perhaps the scrutineers were not too concerned with their stated task after all. — G.P.


Results (top five) — Sanremo Rally, October 12-18:

1.  M. Alén (SF)/I. Kivimäki(SF) —  (Lancia Delta S4, GpB)   —  5hr 31min 35sec

2.  D. Cerrato (I)/G. Cerri (I) — (Lancia Delta S4, GpB)  —  5hr 32min 53sec

3.  M. Biasion (I)/T. Siviero (I)  — (Lancia Delta S4, GpB)  —  5hr 33min 17sec

4.  M. Wilson (GB)/N. Harris (GB)  — (MG Metro 6R4, GpB) — 5hr 38min 37sec

5.  K. Eriksson (S)/P.Diekmann (D) — (Volkswagen Golf GTI, GpA)  — 6hr 7min 28sec 

World Rally Championship points:

Drivers (top five after 11 rounds):

Juha Kankkunen (SF) —  91;  Markku Alén (SF)  — 89;  Massimo Biason (I)  — 59;  Timo Salonen (SF) — 43;  Björn Waldegård (S)  — 40

Manufacturers (after 10 rounds):

Peugeot  — 131*;  Lancia  — 125*;  Volkswagen  —  79;  Audi  —  29;  Toyota —  20;  Austin Rover — 16;  Ford  — 14;  Renault  — 14;  Subaru  — 134;  Citroën — 10;  Skoda  — 9

* denotes total of seven highest scores

Manufacturers (after 10 rounds) — Disregarding Nominated Driver Rule:

Peugeot  —  131*;  Lancia  —  125*;  Volkswagen  —  79;  Audi  —  64;  Renault  —  29;  Subaru — 21;  Toyota  —  20;  Austin Rover —  18;  Fiat  —  17;  Nissan  —  15;  Ford  —  14;  Porsche  —  12;  Opel  —  11;  Citroën  —  10;  Skoda  —  9;  Mazda  —  8.

* denotes total of seven highest scores


Poor entry in Morocco

When the Morocco Rally was revived in 1985 after an absence of nine years, all its former enthusiasts — and there are many — hoped that it would return to its former stature.  It was not particularly good last year, but this was put down to new faces and new problems, and it was confidently expected that in 1986 there would be a vast improvement, with much of the old adventure ingredient renewed.

 Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. The organisers followed the new FISA rules and as everyone knows, these are calculated to destroy initiative and individual characters rather than encourage them.  There were none of the very long stages of old, though longer than those of most European events, and there was a distinct reluctance on the part of the organisers to have the rally running late as if they didn t expect it.

Stages were cancelled merely to bring the rally back to its original schedule, and this could have been avoided by a more realistic set of section target times.  Furthermore, a better plan could have been drawn up to increase maximum permitted lateness when necessary.

Morocco is an ideal country for rallying, blessed with both civilisation and wilderness, with twisty mountain roads and rough rocky tracks across desert scrub.  It has a unique rugged beauty and its people are among the most friendly and hospitable that you will find anywhere.  

Sadly, the organisers made very little effort indeed to publicise the event in advance in order to attract entries, and at the start ramp in the square of Jemaa El F’Na in Marrakesh only nineteen cars were lined up. Had more people been aware of the tough, enjoyable nature of this North West African event, and told of the generous help given to visiting competitors the start list would have been doubled, even trebled.

Favourites among the handful of runners were Alain Ambrosino and Daniel Le Saux from the Ivory Coast in a Nissan 240RS backed by Marlboro and JVC. Their presence was due to their commanding lead in the African Rally Championship, and when they won this event with hours to spare, Ambrosino also clinched the African title.

Non-homologated cars were allowed in this non-championship rally, and there were such vehicles as four wheel drive BMW 325s and Alfa Romeo 33s, two such cars finishing second and third.  The 19 starters were whittled down to six finishers, partly due to the tough going and partly to competitors’ inexperience.

With a little more effort in pre event publicity next year, the rally could attract far greater support and we do not hesitate in recommending it to those who still prefer their rallying spiced with a generous helping of adventure. — G.P.