It has always been very noticeable that car manufacturers and importers in Sweden and Finland attach great importance to the national rally championships of their own countries; far greater, in fact, than their counterparts in other countries. There are two ways in which this can be interpreted. It could be said, firstly, that the dealers have a shrewd and commercial eye on the publicity to be obtained by winning and, secondly, that they wish to perpetuate their association with rallying, thereby maintaining their own competitive image, and at the same time play their parts in keeping the sport healthy and active.
Of course, there are the reasons why any company goes rallying at all, whatever the level, but we will not deal with those here.
In the Nordic countries there are two car manufacturers, Saab and Volvo, both in Sweden. Saab runs a thriving competitions department, maintaining a service for private entrants and sending its own works team to rallies of all levels. Volvo ceased active participation some years ago, but it nevertheless continues to run a competitions department to cater for the needs of private entrants. Furthermore, there are several dealer-operated rally teams operating on a scale equal to those of manufacturers’ teams in other countries. They concentrate on their own national events, but sometimes venture abroad when they feel the benefits may be worthwhile. Good examples are the Porsches of Svenska-VW and the Opels of Svenska-GM. The latter team made a fine impression by running its cars almost faultlessly throughout the RAC Rally, taking the manufacturers’ team prize with ease.
In Britain things are different. Manufacturers have always been shy of probing too deeply into the sphere of British rallies of below international status, partly because they didn’t want to risk being classed as pot-hunters but mainly because of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders whose rules forbade publicising success on any event save those in a schedule published annually by the Society. That schedule was exclusively international.
The competition departments at Rootes and BMC were once as active as any in the world, but not long after those companies were swallowed by Chrysler and Leyland their own rally teams were disbanded and now their activities are confined to offering parts and tuning services to private drivers. As far as British importers of foreign cars are concerned, none is sufficiently rally-minded to operate its own team in Britain, though they invariably become involved whenever their root companies (Saab, Lancia, Datsun, Alpine-Renault, etc.) come over for the RAC Rally.
That leaves us with Ford, and here we come to the whole object of this discussion. Ford (and BMC and Rootes in their time) has always kept a watchful eye on British rallying and the company’s 1971 programme is such that it will become even more involved with home events.
The programme started before the year was a couple of days old; an established rally in the North of England, the Mini-Miglia, announced that it would accept only standard production cars—a departure from the usual rule in British non-international events which permit cars of any state of tune provided they comply with RAC vehicle regulations. Here was a chance to put the clubman’s car, the Escort Mexico, to the test. A standard one was fitted with a sumpshield and sent out in the hands of Roger Clark and Jim Porter. It won, and the point was made. No great publicity was made of it, but at least the word got around in rallying circles (and beyond) that a showroom Mexico could win a rally.
The rest of the year has been planned to include a programme of testing with the new Ford mid-engined V6 car, the GT70. The car is still very much a prototype; indeed, as this is written only the first one to be built has moved under its own power.
The car is destined for quantity production (exactly what sort of quantity is not yet clear), but before that comes about it will need considerable testing. One of the main arenas for these proving trials will be British rallying, and within a few weeks we shall probably see the first competition appearance of the GT70.
Even at club level, rallying has its practical uses and it is gratifying that a manufacturer of Ford’s magnitude should continue to regard the sport as something which can play a useful part in car development.
Internationally, the new car will only be entered in events which will cater for prototype cars, at least, until homologation becomes possible. That rules out the events in the Constructors’ Championship, but there are plenty of other events in the calendar which will not preclude the GT70. Development apart, it could be said that success with the GT70 would serve no useful publicity purpose until it becomes a production model, but the car’s designers have built into the car various components from the Escort, Capri, Taunus, Cortina, 17M/20M and Zephyr/Zodiac, so that the GT70 project will ultimately benefit each of these model ranges.
The Escort will continue to be used by the rally team, of course, and will appear first in snow rallies in Scandinavia (the Swedish Rally and perhaps Finland’s Arctic Rally), then the East African Safari and the various other classics which normally attract factory participation. For these events the two Finnish drivers, Timo Mäkinen and Hannu Mikkola, will drive the cars, with Roger Clark joining them for the Safari, the RAC Rally and some of the home internationals. But Clark will have another role to play, for much of the GT70 trials will be in his hands. His regular co-driver, Jim Porter, will be with him for the Scottish and RAC rallies and a few British nationals, but for the rest of the time he (Porter) will be based in Paris where he will be co-ordinating the competition activities of Ford France, particularly in the French National Rally Championship. Furthermore, he will be Jean-Francois Piot’s co-driver in up to eight major events in a Group 2 Escort RS 1600.
Without Porter, Clark will be appearing in various events throughout Britain, of all grades and over a variety of surfaces. On the first few occasions he will be using an Escort, but when a GT70 has been allocated and made ready, he will he using the new car.
Traditionally, the East African Safari Rally passes through the three East African countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. But for the past two years, due to various differences of opinion between the authorities of Tanzania and the rally organisers, it has used only Kenya and Uganda. During those years the need to confine the route to two countries forced the organisers to seek terrain hitherto unused. This they did, and the result was the use of roads in Western Uganda which were quite superb in that they rarely suffered from the sudden flooding to which roads in other parts of the country were subject.
Furthermore, they were sufficiently twisty and undulating to resemble European roads in character, save, of course, for the surface.
Now that the three countries have found an amicable solution to the problem of choosing the starting points year by year, Tanzania happily again figures in the route. But the journey into Tanzania would consume such a proportion of the intended overall distance that it would not be possible within the customary limits to venture into Western Uganda, which is that region between Lake Victoria and the Congo border.
It has therefore been decided to increase the overall distance of the rally from the usual 3,000 miles to close on 4,000 and to accommodate this increase an extra day has been added to the schedule. The start will be on April 8th, and the finish on the 12th.—G. P.