Very few motor sporting events nowadays are capable of proving a point even before they take place. One of them was the 1968 International Swedish Rally.
The point in this case was the increasing importance that organising clubs are placing on publicity. Until just a few years ago, rallying, even at international level, was reasonably free from the attentions of eager P.R. men, but this branch of the sport is now catching up with racing in the struggle to get into the public eye.
From the time it switched from summer to winter and gave up its title Rally to the Midnight Sun, the Swedish Rally has always taken place in February, a few weeks after the Monte Carlo Rally. This year it jumped ahead to January 4th, frustrating some factory teams who could not afford to interrupt important practice sessions for the Monte in order to transport their cars, drivers and service teams to Scandinavia.
This change of plan, although announced in good time, was not well received by international drivers, both private and professional, but the organisers had to cater for the publicity needs of their various sponsors, even at the expense of breaking with tradition. The only reason for the move was the presence in February of the Winter Olympics at Grenoble. Sweden is sending a strong team to Grenoble and the Swedish Automobile Club realised full well that the rally would not get its full quota of column inches and television time if it took place in the same month.
It ought to be stressed that the Swedish Automobile Club had no thoughts of beating the Monte to the punch and getting their rally in as the first on the international calendar, but this is what did happen. Furthermore, it was the first qualifier for the newly created European Constructors’ Championship. This was devised last year when a certain amount of “no confidence” was expressed in the way the European Rally Championship was being run. This year, nine events are qualifiers for a Drivers’ Championship and eight others for a Constructors’ Championship.
Strangely enough, particularly as they have two Finns in their team, B.M.C. did not send any factory cars to Sweden, and one can only assume that they preferred to put all their efforts into a large scale attack on the Monte, to which they are sending five cars. Ford, on the other hand, sent three works cars to the Swedish Rally, two driven by Swedish crews and the third by Roger Clark and Jim Porter.
It has been said by some people that, as Ford did not have works cars on the Monte, some kind of agreement has been made between Abingdon and Boreham so that B.M.C. contests the drivers’ championship and Ford the Constructors’, but it is a gullible man indeed who would believe this. Both manufacturers have full programmes planned, in which rallies from both parts of the championship will figure.
So popular is rallying in Sweden that the country’s premier event gets support from all quarters. The privately owned forestry companies allow the organisers to use their roads and the result is a rally which has over half its mileage on special stages. These high speed sections (on which there are no target times—it’s a simple case of fastest man wins) contained a high proportion of straights, a fact which led most people to predict that one of the two Porsches entered by their Swedish importers, Sonia Vabis, would win.
Normally, snow and ice are not conditions which favour the high power of a Porsche 911. Indeed, on last year’s Monte Carlo Rally Aaltonen’s victory in a Mini Cooper S was due in no small way to a heavy snowfall on the last night, causing Effort to slow down slightly in his Porsche. The inference then was that Porsches were of little use on snow, but the long straights of the Swedish Rally proved otherwise, even though it demands a particular kind of courage to drive at speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h. on sheet ice and frozen snow.
The drivers of the two Scania Vabis Porsches were Björn Idegard and Ake Andersson, the latter a former Saab team driver who won the International London Rally in 1966. Waldegard has been driving for Scania Vabis for several years, but until 1967 his team was using Volkswagens.
Waldegard is one of the few drivers who is both fast and reliable, a pair of qualities which are rarely found in the same man. Average ability usually results in bursts of inspired driving followed by a close inspection of a roadside ditch.
Waldegard demonstrated his abilities in his Volkswagen days. Rarely did he complete a rally with a car which bore even the slightest scratch and it was clear that all he needed was a considerably faster motor car in order to make an impact outside Scandinavia. Now that he has such a car he will undoubtedly follow up his runaway win on the Swedish Rally by making his presence felt in the other European International rallies.
Ake Andersson, although he has shown that he can be as fast as Waldegard, is not quite as consistently sure-footed and his second crash caused a steering derangement and immediate retirement.
Since only one of the factory Fords is shown above in the leading 10, we think we ought to say why the other two are not. Roger Clark only got as far as the half-way stop when he had to retire shivering to bed with a severe attack of influenza, whilst Ove Andersson’s Cortina Lotus succumbed to the intense cold (30 degrees of frost at its coldest) when its throttle linkages froze and pressure on the pedal caused a rod to snap off its pivot.
Another car which made its presence felt was the 1.9-litre Opel Rallye Kaden, four of which were entered by the General Motors dealer network in Sweden. Easily the fastest was that driven by Ove Eriksson, who stayed in second place for quite some time until he crashed into the trees and could not recover the road. Eriksson, again, is a fine driver who becomes just a little too enthusiastic at times.
Volvo had not entered any cars in the rally. Indeed, they have entered none since the unfortunate accident on the Acropolis in 1966 when two of their mechanics were killed. However, Carl Magnus-Skogh, a former Acropolis winner and twice winner of the Swedish, was enjoying himself co-driving in a Volvo 142. Saab, on the other hand, were well represented with three factory cars and a swarm of privately entered ones. From these, they won the Marque Team Award, with Tom Trana (who has twice won the R.A.C. Rally for Volvo) in second place just ahead of the private driver, Hakan Lindberg.
On snow and ice, the right choice of tyres is no less vital than it is on the smooth asphalt of a Grand Prix circuit. In fact, it is probably more so. For this reason, Porsche had forsaken their Dunlops and Ford their Goodyears in order to use the narrower-treaded BF Goodrich tyres which are made in Sweden. Saab, too, were using these well-studded tyres in order that ground pressure per unit area of contact surface might be at its highest to give maximum grip.
Predictions are always dangerous; if they are right no-one seems to remember them, but just let them be wrong and the post bag is filled. Nevertheless, I am going to take the risk. Porsche are already off to a good start in the European Rally Championship for Constructors. If Vic Elford, who drives for the Stuttgart factory, repeats. his 1967 performances, backed by the Scania Vabis effort they should do exceptionally well this year.
The following is a list of qualifying events in the 06.8 European Rally Championship divided into their Driver and Manufacturer categories.
20th/27th Jan. .. Monte Carlo Rally
4th/7th April .. East German Rally
2nd/5th May .. West German Rally
3rd May/4th June .. Acropolis Rally (Greece)
27th/30th June .. Geneva Rally (Switzerland)
17th/20th July .. Danube Rally (Rumania)
16th/18th Aug. .. Rally of 1,000 Lakes (Finland)
2nd/8th Sept. .. Coupe des Alpes (France)
10th/13th Oct. .. R.A.C.E. Rally (Spain)
4th/7th Jan. .. Swedish Rally
6th/10th Mar. .. Rally of the Flowers (Italy)
22nd/27th April .. Tulip Rally (Holland)
15th/19th May .. Alpine Rally (Austria)
5th/7th July .. Czechoslovakian Rally
1st/4th Aug. .. Polish Rally