Chaos reigns in Spain

McRae is forced to let his team-mate win, but that quickly became the secondary talking point…

What a commotion was caused during and after Spain's qualifier in the World Rally Championship! It was nothing to do with the contest itself, which was organised efficiently, but secondary events were bizarre; disqualifications as a result of cheating; team orders affecting the overall winner; and, to cap it all, an FIA decision to ban one of the major world teams from participating in the series for a whole year, not to mention loss of all points for 1995.

Before speaking of these incidents, let's consider the make-up of the rally itself, the seventh of eight qualifiers for the 1995 World Championship.

Stages during the first and third leg were familiar to many crews from previous years, but those of the second were largely new, giving no particular disadvantage to those, such as Colin McRae, who were tackling the event for the first time.

Although the event followed the Sanremo Rally by just a week and a half, there was no clash as far as the major teams were concerned, because the Italian event had not been a qualifier for the main (four-wheel-drive) championship and the leading teams stayed away. But they turned up in strength in Spain, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru each fielding three cars and Ford two.

The two Escort RS Cosworths, entered by RAS, were driven by François Delecour/Cathérine François and Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot. The Toyota Castrol team took three Celica GT-Fours from Cologne for Didier Auriol/Denis Giraudet, Juha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist and Armin Schwarz/ Klaus Wicha.

Two Evolution Three Lancers were entered by Mitsubishi Ralliart for Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne and Andrea Aghini/Sauro Farnocchia, whilst the German arm of Ralhart entered Group N versions of the car for Rui Madeira/Nuno Silva, Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie and IsoIde Holderied/Tina Thörner. Madeira had been nominated to be able to score manufacturers' points, a fortuitous move as it would turn out.

Three Prodrive-built Impreza 555s were entered by Subaru for Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and Piero Liatti/Alessandro Alessandrini.

Some stages turned out to be damp while others were dry, so much depended on the advance note-making crews now engaged by the works teams for all events, with the full blessing of the FIA.

The rally got under way at 8am on the Monday and immediately there was trouble for some. Thiry stopped on the first stage when a front hub broke up so the Ford mechanics pulled Delecour's car in and replaced his hubs. It seems that the faulty hubs were from a bad batch, and the team was taking no chances.

Sainz had a badly vibrating wheel when the anti-deflation sealant insert became detached inside the Pirelli tyre. Aghini spun on this first stage and lost some 10s, pointing out later that he had not had the opportunity to drive competitively on tarmac for some months.

One stage later, Holderied crashed her Lancer out of the rally but she nevertheless keeps her place in the series and is assured of becoming Champion Lady Driver this year. Team-mate Recalde also went out following a wheel failure which put his car off the road.

Before the short stage at the Catalunya racing circuit there was a 15-minute regrouping stop, but prior to this there had been a wet stage where Schwarz spun, later experimenting with various shock absorber settings. Auriol was another who was trying out different settings, but when nothing seemed to improve matters it was concluded that the front differential was to blame. Due to the rule restricting transmission changes, this could not be changed until the end of the leg.

Meanwhile, Delecour was complaining bitterly about lack of power. He liked the handling and general feel of the car but had no good word at all to say about its engine. For a while the radio in his car would not work and he could not call up his crew to update his pace notes.

The last-but-one stage of the day was the longest of the rally, 22.5 miles. Sainz lost a handful of seconds when he spun here, but Mäkinen was in worse trouble. He hit a rock and broke a front suspension top mount. As there was no service after that stage, he had to tackle the last one of the day with the car unrepaired and he lost much time.

At the end of the day, Kankkunen, who is not known for his liking of tarmac, surprisingly held the lead, 22s ahead of Sainz. Schwarz was another 16s back and McRae a further three.

It was at service before the end of the leg that the turbochargers on the Toyotas of Auriol and Kankkunen were replaced. Schwarz was happy with his and did not require a replacement. FIA officials then impounded the two removed turbochargers, which had previously been sealed, in readiness for inspection the next day.

During that inspection it was discovered that the airflow restrictors fitted to the intakes were movable. The orifices conformed to the maximum size prescribed by the rules, but because the restrictor rings themselves could be moved, air could enter the turbocharger not only through the restrictor but around it.

This was the start of the series of events which brought about many harsh words when the rally was over, although the stewards' decision to exclude Auriol was not made until after the rally was over. This drew much criticism as Auriol had been allowed to continue, risking both crew and car for no useful purpose whatsoever.

As it happened, Kankkunen, whose removed turbocharger was also found to be illegal and who would also have been disqualified, retired after crashing badly on the last-but-one stage of the second day. Fortunately, neither he nor Grist was injured but if either had been hurt there would doubtless have been even harsher words about the lack of promptness in the exclusion decision. Of course, an appeal can be lodged against such an exclusion, in which case the crew concerned would have been allowed to continue pending hearing of the appeal. But in this case Toyota made it known that there would be no appeal.

Early on the second day Schwarz lost about a minute when a front halfshaft broke. On the next stage he hit a rock causing suspension damage which put him out of the rally. When Liatti's centre differential became faulty the unit was locked to keep him going, but this resulted in seriously degraded handling.

Delecour's clutch release bearing broke up and for a while he had to move off by starting the engine with a gear engaged, whilst Mäkinen came to the end of one stage with his engine off and all his fingers crossed. He was down to his last drop of fuel and was lucky indeed to have lasted the distance.

Two stages from the end, Kankkunen had his accident, the Toyota coming to a stop upside-down between a tree and a rock. He had misheard a note and had entered a corner much too fast. The crew had to kick out the windscreen in order to get out of the car and, with their usual tenacity, got the help of spectators to get the car back on its wheels and on the road. But much time had been lost and this, coupled with the severe damage, meant that they were out.

Subaru then found itself with first, second and fourth cars. Sainz led by eight seconds from McRae who was followed by Auriol's Toyota (58s adrift) and Liatti, another 26s behind.

That night there was some serious talking in the Subaru camp. Much publicity would be gained if Sainz scored a win on his home ground and a management decision was made to keep the two cars in their present positions. It was not at all to McRae's liking, for he knew that every single point would count in his bid to become Britain's first World Rally Champion, but team director David Richards was adamant that McRae would have to let Sainz win.

Delecour had to stop just after leaving service, at the start of the final leg, to refix a loose brake caliper, whilst Mäkinen’s rally came to an end when he went slightly off the road, spun on the gravel at the verge and hit an ambulance, fortunately without requiring its services.

All eyes were now on Auriol's position in relation to the Subarus. However, try as he might, the Frenchman could make no headway, especially as he had no power assistance for his steering for the last two stages, which allowed Liatti to move ahead of him.

Despite which, it seemed that McRae was not slowing down. Little by little he had been edging forward and, on the last stage of the event he crossed the flying finish line with an advantage of eight seconds over his team-mate.

Subaru management staff were dismayed. Indeed, some of them had been in that last stage, just before its finish, signalling McRae to slow down. But the Scot did not respond, saying afterwards that to slow down would have been to risk losing concentration, making a mistake and going off the road.

Much talking went on after that last stage, and there was not a smile on any Subaru face. It should have been a time for celebration, with the top three places, but it didn't seem that way at all. Then, at the time control before the finish ramp, McRae held back and deliberately clocked in one minute late, enough to give victory to Sainz.

Controversy always rages when a team manager decides before the finish of a rally which of his drivers should win. It has happened many times in the past and no doubt will again. Team managers argue that their drivers are paid to do as they are told but, equally vociferously, drivers, especially those who are told to slow down, say that merit should be the only deciding factor.

Then came the bombshell of Auriol's exclusion and the news that Toyota would not be appealing against it. For Subarus, there was a hidden drawback. Auriol's departure meant that the Gp N Mitsubishi of Rui Madeira moved up from 12th to 11th place, scoring 15 points rather than 13. Thus Mitsubishi goes to the final round of the series, Britain's Network RAC Rally with a two-point lead over Subaru.

Among the drivers, McRae and Sainz jointly lead, which suggests a stirring fight in the British forests. It's likely that Subaru officials will be as nervous of this situation as they were in Spain, for the rivalry between the Scot and the Spaniard could result in their pushing each other off the road. There could be even more team orders, of course, to allow McRae to win both the event and the series. The situation is made more complicated by the announcement by Sainz that he and Moya would not be renewing their contracts with Subaru for 1996. They had decided to return to the Toyota team. In such circumstances, Subaru management will certainly want McRae to be World Champion, not a man who is about to leave to join another team.

But if it does come down to team orders again, will Sainz follow instructions if they become necessary? By the time this appears, all will have been revealed.

As far as the Toyota situation was concerned, all was not over. Nine days after the rally finished, an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sports Council was convened in Paris and the decision was made to exclude the team from the 1995 World Championship, all points scored by the team and its drivers being annulled. Furthermore, the team's competition licence would not be renewed for 12 months.

It was indeed a harsh decision; one which even rival teams did not like. Due to the nomination system, only four teams have scored points this year. If it is reduced to three for next year, the whole series will lose much of its interest.

The Toyota Castrol Team has given notice of its intention to appeal against the severity of the sentence, "with particular regard to the 1996 season". How long this appeal will take remains to be seen. Toyota will not now be going to the RAC Rally.

A further result of the Spanish affair was the resignation of Dieter Bulling from his post as chief engineer of Toyota Team Europe. Complications like these the sport can well do without.

Rally of Catalunya – October 22 - 25 1995

1: Carlos Sainz / Luis Moya – Subaru Impreza 555, GpA
2: Colin McRae / Derek Ringer – Subaru Impreza 555, GpA
3: Piero Liatti / Alessandro Alessandrini – Subaru Impreza 555, GpA
4: François Delecour / Cathérine François – Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA
5: Andrea Aghini / Sauro Farnocchia – Mitsubishi Lancer RS Ev3, GpA