An undeserving case
When Jean-Claude Bertrand launched the Bandama Rally it did not take the French long to figure that this could be their answer to the Safari. The East African event had achieved enormous world acclaim, and why could the Ivory Coast event, in French-speaking West Africa, not do likewise?
But the achievement has never been realised. Mediocre organisation has always marred the event and it has never gained anything like the popularity of the Safari. Indeed, in one year the timing was so tight that there were no finishers at all and the organisers became highly unpopular when they unashamedly held on to the prize money.
Its survival has been due in no small measure to the financial backing of Marlboro, but when that ceased a couple of years ago the organisers were left with precious little funds in order to run the event. This was the case this year, when even such a basic item as paper was in such short supply that no control-by-control penalty lists were produced. Even the travelling press officer, brought in from Belgium, was without transport and had to beg a lift to get to her destination, where she found a room with a few tables and chairs, and a photocopier that didn’t work. Not even a telephone!
With such administrational shortcomings, it was not surprising that the operational side was lacking too, and penny-pinching showed up everywhere. Entries were down to 37, despite the event’s inclusion in both world and African championships. Neither Kankkunen nor Sainz felt inclined to go, and their teams agreed, whilst contestants in the African series kept away after Satwant Singh clinched the title when Billy Rautenbach put his Celica off the road on the previous round.
The only factory-supported car of any kind was the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 of Kenjiro Shinozuka and John Meadows and Shinozuka earned the distinction of being the first Japanese driver ever to win a round of the World Rally Championship, an achievement he thoroughly deserves as he has been around for a long time and has competed in a whole variety of rallies, both in and out of the championship.
Another foreign visitor was that erstwhile Austrian adventurer Rudolf Stohl who drove his Audi 90 Quattro with Reinhard Kaufmann. Stohl’s son Manfred was at the wheel of a chase car which had been entered in the event and he was overjoyed to find himself in third place after the opening ‘superspecial’ stage.
The initial lead went to Rudolf himself, ahead of local man Patrick Tauziac in a Galant VR-4, but when the real rallying started, on sections timed in minutes, not seconds, the Austrian dropped to third place, behind Tauziac and Shinozuka.
The Japanese driver took the lead when Tauziac dropped right out of the top 10, partly due to slowing in order to lessen the effects of overheating and partly because his mechanics seemed to have difficulty changing his fan.
Local man Patrick Copetti had been expected to do well but he dropped out when the engine of his Audi 90 gave up, whilst another Abidjan resident, Samir Assef, who came to the Ivory Coast from Lebanon many years ago, stopped in a cloud of smoke when the engine of his Celica also cried enough.
Manfred Stohl had the misfortune to hit a tree stump when he yanked the wheel around to avoid a cow, this ripping off a front wheel and putting his Audi out of the rally. After fettling, he continued as a chase car driver to aid his father. Father, on the other hand, had been slowed by the dust of other chase cars. At the end of the first leg, back at Abidjan, Shinozuka was in the lead by some 20 minutes, whilst going well at this time were Hiroshi Nishiyama, who had brought a Nissan Pulsar, and Frenchman Jean-Marc Dionneau in a Celica.
Early in the second leg, initially identical to the first, there was some confusion when a passage control appeared some five miles off-plot, its marshals having presumably failed to identify the correct location. Jean-Pierre van der Wauwer, the Belgian who came close to winning last year, made a spectacular exit from the rally when he hit a mud hole very hard and flew off the road into a river, fortunately without injury.
Servant lost considerable time after searching for the cause of an electrical failure, whilst Tauziac wasted almost as much time exploring a ditch. As is the custom on this event, traditional tribal dancers greet competitors at ever major town or village, and John Meadows considerably enhanced the reputation of the British when he joined in at Bouake. By this time, Stohl’s clutch was slipping badly, probably due to water and mud, and he resorted to the traditional and usually very effective cure of Coca-Cola injections. No doubt Vim was not available as an additive!
Before Yamoussoukro, birthplace of the country’s president and its political capital, Shinozuka had a precautionary change of gearbox and front differential, removing just eight minutes from his lead, whilst Stohl had overshot a junction in the town approaches, letting Tauziac into second place. Servant lost a huge chunk of time in search of the electrical failure which slowed him earlier, finally tracing it to a broken wire in the depths of a complex loom.
The stops at Yamoussoukro have always been in the vast and somewhat superfluous Hotel President, the mushroom-shaped tower of which overshadows the city (village!) approaches. Even the entire entourage of the rally can never fill this place, but this year the presence of an African leaders’ conference reduced the space considerably as each delegation required a complete floor.
The next leg, after going initially to the north-west as far as Seguela, turned left towards Daloa and Gagnoa, traditional passage points of the Bandama Rally. Stohl was in trouble just as he left the Seguela closed park, hitting a low wall with a front wheel and breaking the wishbone. Nishiyama did the same thing, breaking a wheel and puncturing two tyres. Both cars needed immediate attention, and this must have disrupted service arrangements for what was going to be a tough night.
Of the 37 starters, only 18 restarted from the short stop at Seguela, and by the time the rally reached Gagnoa only nine were left. Already out were Italian driver Bedini who had destroyed the shock absorbers of his Golf and Frenchman Pierre Bos who hit a hole so hard that his front wheels were at right angles to each other. Nishiyama did something similar, losing both a wheel and its halfshaft.
Before the finish, after a welcome stop on the splendid coast at Grand Berebi, Stohl lost some more time when his rear differential failed, whilst Servant’s clutch began to slip so badly towards the end that he couldn’t even climb the finish ramp!
It’s a shame that the Bandama Rally has failed to achieve the status it might have deserved. The terrain certainly lends itself to exciting and adventurous rallying in the best African style, but the country’s infrastructure and a distinct lack of appreciation of the needs of World Championship competition has resulted in its never making the grade. On current form, it doesn’t deserve consideration for next year. — GP
(For results summary see table following the Sanremo Rally report.)