First is not enough

Francois Delecour needed to win. What he didn’t need was for Juha Kankkunen to fare so well…

There are two ways of looking at the situation which arises when a championship is settled before it reaches its final round. The first involves disappointment that the series has not lasted its full term, and that the last qualifier will not be as fiercely contested as it might. Second, it could be argued that the concluding event will provide even hotter personal competition because the importance of championship points and the likelihood that teams will indulge in tactical play have both been removed.

Each sentiment has been expressed by the RACMSA from time to time, depending on the World Championship points situation prior to the RAC Rally, final round of the series. We can appreciate the reason. To say that the rally had lost its edge as climax of the series would tend to detract from its appeal, and no one can blame the RACMSA for seeking advance publicity from either situation.

Our own view, which has been expressed many times, is that any worthwhile rally needs no championship prop for support. The RAC Rally is a difficult, strenuous event which has been immensely popular for as long as we can remember, and we like to think that this will continue no matter what the championship situation.

We recall the time when the only international championship was that of Europe, when MOTOR SPORT led the campaign for the institution of a world series. Eventually it came, after the FIA finally accepted that rallying had such an enormous following that they had no choice but to elevate it from its second class ranking and give it the ‘respectability’ of world championship status. The crude, dirty, nocturnal, uncivilised image (in FIA eyes) of rallying was gradually replaced by one that was decent and tolerable. Was it acceptance? Or was it realisation of a profit possibility?

Since then, the World Rally Championship has been glorified almost beyond belief, manipulated mercilessly, its dramatic personae subjected to systematic brainwashing and its entire sporting concept turned into an F1-style money-spinner. Manufacturers have been wooed; film makers encouraged, cultivated then hit with huge financial demands. Works teams contesting the World Championship now have little time or resources for anything else, unless they are exceptionally well backed by wealthy sponsors.

Public awareness of the sport has been diminished by less television coverage (who wants to watch TV in Britain at 2.30 am?) and a situation has arisen in which a number of experienced, knowledgeable and extremely competent film makers have been forced away from the sport by tyrannical financial demands for so-called ‘world rights’ which would almost certainly be difficult to keep afloat in the sea of legal process. Does a British company which is an offshoot of a Paris-centred international sporting administrator really have the right to demand lucrative filming rights in the countryside of, for instance, Africa, Finland, Australia and elsewhere? It’s questionable, and it’s about time it was put to the test.

The FIA has contrived to create a moneyspinning situation in which the forest has become more important than its trees, making World Championship inclusion conditional upon event organisers signing over the television rights of their events to the FIA agency. If this continues, the trees could wither and the forest could become a desert. What will happen then? Some excuse will no doubt be put forward from Place de la Concorde, but the time to avoid such a happening is right now. Like pennies and pounds, if the the trees are looked after, the forests will look after themselves. The glorification of the World Rally Championship, to the detriment of its qualifying events, is to be deplored. We wonder where the money gained from these film charges goes? Are accounts of this near-moonlighting activity presented to the people whose contributions fund the FIA?

In Spain, the Cataluna Rally held at the beginning of November was the 12th of 1993’s 13 World Championship qualifiers, and it was there that Francois Delecour, the only driver capable of ousting championship leader Juha Kankkunen from his perch, won the rally in a works Ford Escort Cosworth. But Kankkunen finished third in his works Toyota Celica, just high enough to gain the minimum points he needed to take the title. Even if Kankkunen fails to score in the RAC Rally, which will just have finished when this edition of MOTOR SPORT appears, and Delecour wins, the Finn will still have clinched the championship by a single point from the Frenchman.

In Spain, where the all-tarmac route was often as wet as it was in Sanremo the month before, the only entries nominated in advance for makes’ championship points eligibility were those of Ford and Lancia, the latter actually entered by the Jolly Club.

Toyota, having already clinched the makes’ title, made no such nomination in order to remain within the ‘maximum participation’ rule imposed by the FIA, a regulation as ridiculous as the one which insists on advance nominations.

Delecour, with his regular partner Daniel Grataloup, drove one of the two works Escorts, the other being in the hands of Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero. Two Jolly Club Lancia Delta integrales were driven by Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and Gustavo TreIles/Jorge de Buono. The non-nominated Toyota line-up, there only to back Kankkunen’s title bid, consisted of two Celicas for Kankkunen and Nicky Grist, to be a regular partnership for 1994, and Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli. Both cars were using electronic traction control systems which rendered them more stable but less spectacular on corners and made them spit flame every time power was applied after lift-off.

Italy’s Astra team had a Delta integrale for Alessandro Fiorio/Vittorio Brambilla, whilst Alessandro Fassina/Luigi Pirollo drove a Group N 323 GTX for the Italian Mazda Rally Team. From the United Arab Emirates came Mohammed Bin Sulayem, in a Group N Ford Escort Cosworth with Ronan Morgan, whilst the two-wheel-drive (Formula 2 is such a confusing title) brigade was led by Belgians Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot in their Opel Astra GSi built by Tim Ashton.

The rally was run in three legs, each starting and finishing at Lloret de Mar and divided by the now customary night stop. The 1088-mile route included a total of 29 special stages comprising 319 miles. Two stages were tackled twice, six of them three times.

The first stage ran over a twisty road overlooking the sea, the steep drops drawing complaints from some competitors that it was too dangerous. The loudest complainant was Delecour, but he nevertheless set equal best time and, by setting the pace on the second stage, he went into a lead which he never lost.

The surfaces were wet and slippery and low cloud resulted in very poor visibility indeed, putting accurate and trustworthy pace notes at a premium. Auriol had brake problems during these early stages, but he was fastest on the third and moved up to second place. Sainz, the local hero troubled by undecided plans for 1994, dropped to seventh place after a puncture which resulted in a broken rear halfshaft.

Josep-Maria Bardolet put his Opel Astra off the road briefly, whilst Irishman Kenny McKinstry spent a frustrating quarter of an hour after the engine of his Kaliber-backed Subaru Legacy stopped and refused to restart. Not long afterwards, he retired.

Another to go go out was Bin Sulayem whose Escort Cosworth ran over a rock thrown up by an earlier competitor and lost all the oil from its rear differential after its casing cracked. Sainz was another to go. His engine stopped in the middle of the 10th of the first day’s 12 stages. Try as they might, they could not trace the fault (not an uncommon experience, now that mechanical devices are almost entirely governed by electronic chips), but after some 40 minutes the engine fired up again and they moved off, alas beyond their maximum lateness.

It was a sad end to an even sadder year for world champion Sainz, disenchanted with the Jolly Club’s Lancias and his power of negotiation for a 1994 drive now diminished. His personal contract with Spanish oil company Repsol complicates possible ties with Ford (Mobil-backed) and Toyota (linked with Castrol), whilst a deal with Subaru seems also to be less than straightforward. By the time this issue appears in print, his future may have been settled.

At the end of the day Delecour led by 39s from Auriol, who was in turn 35s ahead of Biasion. The latter’s day was somewhat troubled until his shock absorber settings were changed back at Lloret de Mar. Kankkunen was down in fourth place, just 4s behind Biasion, followed by Trelles and Florio.

On the second day the mist was confined to the valleys, whilst the sun was gradually penetrating the thin cloud over high ground. Delecour, having moved up from number three to be first on the road, expressed his dislike of not having the tyre marks of others to guide him. Nevertheless, he coped well and stayed resolutely in front.

On the second stage of the day Kankkunen lost almost a minute and a half when he clipped a rock and caused a puncture. He continued without changing the wheel, but even the foam filling of the Michelin ATS tyre could not cope with the brutal damage and when the car got to the end of the stage the tyre was destroyed. The championship leader was then down in fourth place, behind Biasion, and still with the nagging thought that Delecour could snatch the title from him before the end of the year.

Kankkunen gradually reduced the gap, second by second, but it was not until the last stage of the day that he felt that things were going his way. In the dark, he spotted tail lights ahead and he was amazed to find that he had overhauled Biasion. The latter’s Escort had broken its turbocharger wastegate control mechanism and, without any pressure, the car had slowed right down. Nearly three minutes were lost and at the end of the day Biasion was in fourth place, 2m 19s behind Kankkunen. Delecour still led by 35s from Auriol who was 2m 17s ahead of Kankkunen. Behind came Fiorio, Trelles and Thiry, the latter putting up his usual stirring performance with just two driven wheels.

After the signs of sunshine of the second day, the drizzle returned for the third, but there were no heroics. Penalty differences were such that no one had any thoughts of changing position in the final six stages of the rally. Biasion could not even hope of catching Kankkunen in order that his Ford team-mate could have a chance of taking the title on the RAC Rally, and even Kankkunen himself slowed a little in order not to risk losing his all-important third place.

At post-event scrutiny there was more than one fracas when the technical men took cars apart. The works cars survived all the checks, but poor Antonio Coutinho, who had finished in 11th place, winning the Group N category, was displaced when it was found that a front anti-roll bar was not of the type specified on the homologation papers, fitted as the result of a genuine error. A Peugeot 309 was thrown out when it was found that a seat was too light, and one wonders at the justice of a system which penalises privateers on trivialities but which is unable to police major rules such as those governing, for instance, power outputs and fuel chemistry. Is the 300 bhp limit being observed? It’s doubtful, to say the least. And is it true that a Lancia was observed by a Ford man having its fuel tank emptied, flushed and refilled just before a fuel sampling check during the Sanremo Rally?

These things apart, the main issues from the Cataluna Rally was a thoroughly deserved win by Delecour in his works Escort and a somewhat fortuitous third place by Kankkunen to give him the world champion’s crown for the third time.