Auriol at last
Since the tortuous dirt roads in the mountains above the Riviera of the Flowers were all covered in spoilsport tarmac, the Sanremo Rally has never been an easy event for anyone. The rally has stages on both tarmac and dirt, which means that stocks of tyres, transmissions and suspensions all have to be doubled to cater for both surfaces, whilst test sessions also have to be duplicated. During the weeks before the event the weather was largely fine and dry, and testing resulted in cars which were set up for those conditions and tyre stocks made up largely of the appropriate types. However, the weather changed, heavy rain made the special stages very slippery indeed and, although any team would be foolish to be caught without the correct equipment, there must have been several managers who wished that space in their service vans was not taken up by items which stood little chance of being required.
As a result of the sudden change of weather, handling, traction, gearing and even braking efficiency all gave cause for concern during the rally and various combinations were still being tried out long after it had started, causing tension and dissatisfaction in many quarters as optimum settings proved to be elusive.
Unlike some World Championship events, the Sanremo Rally still has night sections. There is plenty of rest, of course, but the timetable was such that both first and final nights were spent on the road. After a morning ‘superspecial’ stage, the rally started properly on the Sunday evening with two tarmac stages close to Sanremo, then another five to the east. An early morning break of two and a half hours preceded a group of three dirt road stages, after which came the first rest stop at Arezzo, from 1.15 pm on the Monday to 6 am on the Tuesday.
There were nine stages on the Tuesday, divided by two stops of an hour and half an hour respectively, whilst Wednesday began at 5.30 am with three dirt road stages before the long motorway run back to Sanremo where the first car arrived at 3 pm. The final leg began at midnight and looped through eight tarmac stages before finishing at Sanremo just before 9.30 am on the Thursday.
No one can complain about the special stages, nor of the mixture of tarmac and dirt, but their widely spread locations and the resulting long, tedious road sections have always been unpopular, especially this year when the rally timetable aggravated the tiring monotony of hundreds of miles of motorway driving.
As it has been throughout the year the main contestants were Lancia and Toyota, both teams eager to win both drivers and manufacturers’ sections of the World Rally Championship. The Lancia Martini team consisted of two Delta Integrales for Kankkunen/ Piironen and Biasion/Siviero, but three others from the factory, finished in Fina colours, were entered by the Jolly Club for Auriol/Occelli, Cerrato/Cerri and Aghini/ Farnocchia. Taken as a whole, it was a formidable line-up, its purpose not only to get Kankkunen to the winners’ rostrum but to keep rivals Toyota out of the top points scoring positions. Toyota fielded just two Celica GT-4s for Sainz/Moya and Schwarz/Hertz. Like the Lancias, they had turbocharged engines giving 300 bhp, six-speed gearboxes, 16-inch wheels for tarmac and 15-inch for dirt roads. Lancia used Michelin tyres and Toyota used Pirellis, both companies having developed new types of tyre, both in compound and in tread pattern, for this event.
Ford chose the Italian event to make a full team return to the World Championship and took three Sierra Cosworth 4x4s, all in Q8 livery, for Wilson/Grist, Fiorio/Pirollo and Delecour/Pauwels. Their 300 bhp engines were coupled to seven-speed gearboxes driving Pirelli-shod wheels which were one inch up on those of Toyota and Lancia; 17-inch for tarmac and 16-inch for dirt roads. Ford Italy entered a Sierra Cosworth 4×4 for former Q8 Ford crew Cunico/Evengelisti and a Group N version for Bentivogli/Gullino
Minna Sillankorva came from Finland to make a token appearance in a Lancia of the Astra Team, but after satisfying the rules of the ladies section of the World Championship by starting the rally, she promptly retired, more or less assured of the title.
There was a works Skoda from Czechoslovakia driven by Sibera/Gross, another from Finland driven by Aho/Wolff, Sierra Cosworth 4x4s driven by Italian veteran from Monaco ‘Tchine’ and Peacock/Davies from Great Britain and even a privately entered Vaz Samara 21083 driven by Nikityuk/Volodko from somewhere in what used to be the Soviet Union.
From the start, the running for the lead was expected to be made by Sainz and Kankkunen, but this duel did not get under way at all. On the first proper special stage during the Sunday evening Kankkunen hit a rock and, although he was able to struggle to the end of the stage, the combination of delay and damage was such that he was unable to continue.
This put the ball in Sainz’ court, but for the first time in the whole year the Spaniard was thwarted by mechanical trouble and was unable to demonstrate his true mettle. In any case, he was in considerable discomfort and had to wear a neck support following his accidents in Australia.
Even at this early juncture, the Fords were suffering from brake failure on long stages (the first ran for 20 miles) and it seemed that when their pads got really hot they weren’t lasting the distance. Wilson had the additional handicap of ‘flu.
Ford was not the only team to experience brake problems. The Toyotas’ brakes were also fading very badly on long stages, and this was put down to the new pad material. They were even disintegrating after a while.
The fourth stage, where Auriol hit something, flattened his front right tyre and dropped from first to second place, had to be stopped after car 45 had passed because spectators began driving out of the stage along the route itself. The next stage did not even take place at all. The crew of a course car decided that spectators were present in such numbers that it would be dangerous to run it.
After the second group of tarmac stages came a two-hour stop at Il Ciocco and enough service time to enable mechanics to transform cars from tarmac to dirt road specification. Fog became a problem in the morning, though it was probably low cloud, and Sainz side-swiped a tree with his left rear, though he still made best time on that stage. Biasion spun twice, whilst Delecour nearly lost a wheel on a road section due to a front hub which had loosened.
Both Sainz and Schwarz broke front strut top mounts, Delecour had a front left puncture and Wilson lost time by going off the road into a ploughed field. The Sierras were certainly not handling as their drivers wanted and, whenever there was time, various remedies were being tried.
At the Arezzo halt on the Monday, Auriol led by just 22 seconds from Sainz, followed by Biasion, Cerrato, Schwarz and Delecour. With Kankkunen out of the way, Sainz was content to play a waiting game rather than risk everything on the very slippery roads. In any case, his neck was troubling him just as much as his fading brakes.
On the first of Tuesday’s stages, Cunico spun in the fog and hit a bank very hard, bursting both water and oil radiators. The car was blocking the stage, so the crew ran back to warn others and, when enough manpower had assembled, the car was pushed to the side of the road. Following cars were at first credited with Delecour’s time (14m 21s), the slowest driver to have completed the stage, but later this was declared by the stewards not to be representative and Cerrato’s time (13m 56s) was substituted.
Later, Wilson’s rear brakes failed and he had to hold his gear lever whenever he selected third or fourth, whilst Fiorio was left with just rear-wheel-drive after front differential failure. Biasion lost half a minute after going off the road backwards and gave second place back to Sainz. Meanwhile, Sainz, who said that his traction was not as good as it should have been, was not trying to catch Auriol. Being certain of championship points was far too important to risk everything for a win.
In the afternoon, Fiorio had a broken turbocharger replaced and Delecour was given a new gearbox. The replacement had lower ratios and he liked them so much that Wilson also had his changed, he too noticing an immediate improvement.
Sainz’ serious problems began when noisy transmission resulted in his gear cluster being changed, an operation which cost him a minute on the road. But the noise persisted, and when engineers deduced that a gearbox main shaft bearing had failed the reigning World Champion was not expected to finish the next stage. But finish it he did, after which there was no alternative to having the gearbox replaced. This added another 6m 30s to his tally of road penalties, dropping him to 10th place. When his front differential and power steering later failed, there seemed no chance that he would be able to take advantage of Kankkunen’s early retirement to move substantially further ahead in the World Championship stakes.
Aghini, in one of the Jolly Club Lancias, had been penalised 30 seconds for pushing his car into the closed park at one of the day’s regrouping controls, but when this penalty was removed for some odd reason, the Toyota team queried the change and the penalty was restored. Such inexplicable alterations hardly inspired confidence in the accuracy of the results system and teams were paying more attention than usual to their own calculations, based as usual on observations at special stages and time controls.
At Arezzo that evening Auriol’s lead over Biasion had increased to 2m 29s. Schwarz was up to third, whilst Sainz was down in 10th. Cerrato, Delecour, Aghini, Wilson, Liatti and Fiorio filled the places from fourth to ninth.
On the Wednesday, a 5.30 am start led to just three dirt road stages before the motorway run back to Sanremo. By this time, the Lancias were slacking their pace to reduce risks and Sainz was setting best times, moving ahead of Fiorio into ninth place. Wilson also moved up from seventh to sixth, but this was not to be for long, a badly miscalculated service stop costing the British driver a considerable road penalty.
In order to reduce engine and transmission stress on the motorway run, the Fords were to have transmission changes after the last of the dirt road stages, but instead of doing this after the Livorno time control which preceded the long road section, for some unaccountable reason it was done before it, when time was limited. Wilson’s propshaft proved stubborn to replace, and the operation took longer than expected. The result was seven minutes’ lateness at the time control (3m 30s penalty).
Back at Sanremo, Auriol’s lead was 2m 37s, whilst Schwarz was just 1m 31s behind Biasion. The Toyota people were not particularly happy, having lost pretty well all their chances of taking the World Championship for Makes and having Sainz in a position which was not going to give him many points in the drivers’ series. Even Schwarz’ third place was not going to help.
For the final night, having put up with front brake pad failure on most of the long stages, Toyota managed to get hold of the more enduring pad type which they used in Corsica. These were fitted for the long stages, but removed for the shorter ones in order that they would not wear out before the end of the rally.
There was concern in the second part of the night when Schwarz lost second gear, but a replacement was carried out without loss of time. Sainz was still trying to gain a place or two to increase his points tally, and indeed moved up one when Liatti’s rear differential broke on a start line. But what happened next came as a surprise for nearly everyone, including Schwarz.
On the direct instructions of team director Andersson, Schwarz drove into the time control before the final stage three minutes early, thus collecting a nine-minute road penalty and dropping from third place to eighth. It seemed a drastic move just to elevate Sainz by one place and give him two more championship points, but with just two events to go (neither Sainz nor Kankkunen went to the Ivory Coast) the decision did have a valid reason, particularly as Kankkunen had eight scores to his credit and Sainz seven. The maximum to be taken into account is nine.
Schwarz did not hide his disappointment at being told to give up his well-deserved third place, but he carried out the instructions without question, saying afterwards that he hoped the two points thus gained by Sainz would turn out to be vital.
Auriol’s result pleased him no end, although it was poor recompense for a year filled with disaster and failure after failure. Indeed, in a year of intense activity with the object of the world title in mind, it was his first win since the corresponding event in 1990.
The drivers’ title is still to be settled in Spain and the RAC, but the makes’ series has now gone to Lancia. In the one remaining event (Spain is only a drivers’ qualifier), even if Toyota wins and Lancia scores nothing, the best that Toyota can do is to equal Lancia’s score, when the tie decider will come into effect, based on the number of wins followed by the number of second places etc. On that basis, Lancia gets the title by a whisker.
However, although the makes’ series is the more important to Lancia, it is the drivers’ contest which attracts greatest attention and it does seem that this duel will not be decided until the final round of the year, which will be just over by the time this issue of Motor Sport is published. — GP
Results (top five), Sanremo Rally (Italy), 13-17 October, 1991
1. Didier Auriol (F)/Bernard Occelli (F) — Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A — 6h 34m 26s
2. Massimo Biasion (I)/Tiziano Silviero (I) — Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A — 6h 37m 16s
3. Dario Cerrato (I)/Giuseppi Cerri (I) — Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A — 6h 41m 07s
4. François Delecour (F)/Anne-Chantal Pauwels (F) — Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, Gp A — 6h 44m 41s
5. Andrea Aghini (I)/ Sauro Farnocchia (I) — Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A — 6h 47m 12s
87 starters, 40 finishers
Results (top five) Bandama Rally (Ivory Coast), 27-31 October, 1991
1. Kenjiro Shinozuka (J)/John Meadows (GB) — Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Gp A — 3h 30m 16s
2. Patrick Tauziak (F)/Claude Papin (F), Gp A — 5h 39m 04s
3. Rudolf Stohl (A)/ Reinhard Kaufmann (A) — Audi 90 Quattro, Gp A — 8h 08m 01s
4. Patrice Servant (F)/Thierry Pansolin (F) — Audi 90 Quattro, Gp A — 9h 29m 19s
5. Adolphe Choteau (CI)/Jean-Pierre Claverie (F) — Toyota Corolla 16S, Gp A — 9h 47 m 26s
37 starters, 9 finishers
World Rally Championship Situation
Drivers (top five) after 12 of 14 rounds: Carlos Saintz (E) 131 pts, Juha Kankkunen (SF) 123 pts, Didier Auriol (F) 101 pts, Massimo Biassion (I) 69 pts, Kenneth Eriksson (S) 51 pts
Makes (top five) after 9 of 10 rounds: Lancia 134 pts, Toyota 128 pts, Ford 46 pts, Mitsubishi 45 pts, Mazda 38 pts