Rally review: FISA General Assembly, December 1988

The Paris Register

During October 10-12, FISA held its annual general meeting in Paris. Formerly called the Annual Plenary Conference, it now has the title General Assembly and World Council, but AGM is much simpler.

World Championship rallies were reduced in number from 13 to 12 for 1989 (the Olympus Rally being axed) but there is a possibility that one will be added: the Australia Rally which was being held for the first time this November. The number of events in the Makes Championship has been reduced, for the Swedish Rally has joined New Zealand and the Ivory Coast in the list for the Drivers’ Championship only, leaving the Makes Championship without a real snow rally, which is a shameful omission.

The Safari has been given a Saturday start-date, which, as it will then run on until the Wednesday after Easter, will create untold problems for the organisers who rely on volunteers using their holiday to man the controls. This has happened before, FISA insisting on a minimum period between qualifying events. What difference will two days make? It seems that FISA cares more about enforcing its regulations than helping organisers run their events as efficiently and smoothly as possible. On the previous occasion the start was switched at the last moment back to the traditional Thursday. Hopefully, this will happen in 1989, although an earlier announcement would be better for all concerned.

It is ludicrous that a committee in Paris is allowed to dictate bombastic and obstructive rules which create difficulties for people striving to produce honest-to-goodness rallies in other continents—quite the opposite of what FISA is supposed to do for the sport. At the time of writing, nine of the twelve rallies are in the Makes Championship, but if the Western Australia event is added, the figures will be increased to ten and thirteen respectively.

In the European Championship, some opportunity for sensible planning was given to competitors at the start of this year when the four-coefficient system was changed from 4-3-2-1 to 20-3-2-1, thus making it quite clear which events were essential for those intending to go for the title. But that has now been changed again to 20-10-5-2. Eleven events will have coefficient 20, nine coefficient 10, twenty coefficient 5 and seven coefficient 2.

The Paris-Dakar Rally came under fire at the AGM, following the organiser’s’ decision last January to allow Ari Vatanen to continue in the event after he turned up at a morning restart beyond his maximum lateness when his car had been mysteriously stolen from the overnight closed park. FISA later insisted that rally-leader Vatanen be excluded, saying that the organisers had no right to change their own regulations.

FISA directed the organising Thierry Sabine Organisation to supply, by November 1 at the latest, a complete list of officials (who must be licensed by the French Automobile Sport Federation and approved by FISA), a detailed safety plan and a bank deposit of 600,000 Francs, the amount of the fine imposed by FISA in June for the January transgression. If these requirements are not met, the Paris-Dakar Rally will be struck off the calendar and all licensed competitors and officials banned from taking part. And they call it sport!

These long distance endurance events meet a real demand, for they provided an escape from the burden of the ponderous regulations governing other rallies, but FISA has assumed the right to create a string of rules even for these. The latest under consideration include the establishment of a FISA list of graded drivers for long, overland rallies, and the creation of “Bajas and Sprints” within such marathons. Have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous than having, say, a two-mile mickey-mouse stage in a weeks-long slog spanning not counties but continents? Ah, but it may be that some kind of marathon championship is planned by FISA, in which case the contents of the next paragraph might offer an insidious explanation:

“In order to be part of an FIA championship, promoters must recognise that the FIA is entitled to exercise its rights over all its championships, present or future.” It sounds almost reasonable, until you realise how sweeping it is. The title of the paragraph gives the game away: “Ownership of Television Rights”. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

From January 1, 1990, all supercharged engines in rally cars must be fitted with 40mm air-restrictors positioned about 50mm (to be decided by FISA) from the compressor blades. Unblown engines having two valves per cylinder will be limited to 3000cc and those having more than two valves per cylinder to 2500cc. We wonder what will happen if Wartburg produces a 4-litre engine; its power-units don’t have any valves at all!

It seems that in future an international competition licence will not be identification enough for drivers and entrants. All are to be issued with a document called an International Sporting Passport, bearing details of past records, including any decisions by officials — a kind of combination biography and criminal record!

Perhaps the most unjustifiable action of all at the FISA AGM was the removal from the Rally Committee of its Finnish delegate. Not all countries are represented on that committee, but Finland has provided drivers who collectively have been more successful in World Championship rallies than the rest of the world’s drivers put together. The country also runs what is easily the best-organised rally in the World Championship, and has an outstandingly better claim to be represented on this committee than any other country.

Could it be that the delegate from Finland was too forthright? Was he unbending and immune to the scheming pressures of intrigue? Was he unresponsive when he was expected to conform? Did he fail to toe the Jean-Marie Balestre political line? All these are the marks of integrity, a quality perhaps not appreciated in the corridors of 8 Place de la Concorde.

The ending of Finland’s representation on the FISA Rally Committee is not only scandalous and illogical but downright disgraceful. GP