Tights and fights

The action in and around the San Remo Rally has had some emotional moments over the years, though one has to say that few of them emanated from the rally organisation itself.

As early as 1966, the winning Lotus Cortina of Vic Elford was excluded for having an illegal gearbox, thus allowing Cella to win. It was Ford’s fault because, while there was nothing physically wrong with the gearbox, its homologation form listed the wrong numbers of teeth!

When the Lancia versus Fiat battle was building up in 1970, and five works Fulvias were set against an armada of 125s and 124 Spyders, three of the Fulvias never made it to the first control. All three stopped with blocked fuel systems within a kilometre or so. Initially, the problem was ascribed to paint from inside Lancia petrol cans, but the nylon stockings later found inside the petrol tanks seemed to indicate a more malign influence. The same year, a car crashed on Monte Ceppo in the snow and the hundred or so private competitors blocked behind it were excluded for being out of time. They retaliated by felling a tree across a stage later on in the rally!

When Lancia’s Stratos arrived on the scene it started to make the San Remo its own with victories for Munari in 1974 and Bjorn Waldegard in ’75. The following year Lancia had its eye on the world championship and tried to keep its leading pair from fighting too hard. Munari and Waldegard thus played a game of trying to match each other perfectly. With two stages to go, the big Swede led by just four seconds. They did the same time on the penultimate test so Lancia decided to hold Waldegard for four seconds after the start of the last stage to put their drivers on an equal footing. A nervous Sandro went like a rocket. But Bjorn, slightly upset by all these manoeuvrings, went one better and equalled Munari’s time, thus winning the rally — and getting fired into the bargain.

The biggest controversy came in 1986 when there was a bare-knuckle fight between Lancia and Peugeot, with the formidable Delta S4 taking on the 205 T16. The French cars led after the early Tarmac stages, then two of them picked up slow times on a stage where the timing had failed. Lancia fought hard to keep that stage in the results, while Peugeot announced that it would get it removed. Suddenly, the FIA scrutineer discovered that all the Peugeots were fitted with illegal aerodynamic devices on their undertrays. Normal practice was to let cars that were thought to be illegal continue under appeal and then sort it all out at the finish. Not this time. Before you could say abracadabra, the stewards had ruled that there was fraudulent intent and the (French) felons were excluded before the final leg of the rally.

And it wasn’t over yet. Alen lost a minute during the last night and Miki Biasion had to stop on the last-but-one stage to allow him to win. Alen was thus the prime candidate for world champion, a title he would hold for 11 days in December. That was after he had won the final WRC round in the USA, and before Peugeot’s protest against its treatment in Italy was successful: the San Remo result was struck from the WRC record books.