The Monte Carlo Rally last month was the first of ten qualifiers in the International Rally Championship for Makes, as it is officially called by the FIA. The major championship for drivers is confined to Europe and is based on a whole string of 28 events. The two series are quite separate, but whereas the ten are well spaced the twenty-eight are plagued by many date clashes.
The constructors’ series is regarded as the major championship, with the result that drivers with contractual obligations to any car manufacturer (and that includes the world’s best) are bound to compete in that series. With so much of their time taken up by these events, and the long practice sessions which are necessary in most cases, the leading drivers are largely unable to take part properly in the series which would give them, not their teams, a title.
Thus the sport of rallying is without a World Champion. With all due respect to Sobieslaw Zasada, the Polish driver who was European Rally Champion in 1971, he can hardly be considered to have had a more successful year than Ove Andersson or Stig Blomqvist.
Manufacturers obviously want publicity for their cars rather than those who drive them, but some have now realised that it is often better to create a personal figurehead than to rely on continued exposure for the cars. Drivers can be interviewed on television, can sign autographs, can give press conferences and can be seen being kissed by Miss World; cars can not, and the value of having a live person on which to base one’s publicity rather than an inanimate machine is being realised at last.
In Sweden they realised it a long time ago, and when Stig Blomqvist went home in November from his RAC Rally victory the Swedish newspapers were carrying more pictures of him than the car he drove—and that includes Saab’s own advertising. The Saab people realise full well that Blomqvist’s name is linked with the car, and whatever publicity is accorded Blomqvist rubs off generously on to the 96 V4. Furthermore, the image lasts longer, which is an important consideration. It is the same reason which prompts Esso to feature Graham Hill in its Unifio advertisements and which has caused Oxo to promote the characters in its television advertisement sequences as much as the product itself.
For quite some time representations have been made to the CSI of the FIA to reshuffle its championship series, but some delegates on the committee have been opposed to this. What is needed is a World Championship series for both drivers and constructors—the same series. Some ten, or perhaps a dozen, events could be included and points could be awarded on the same basis to both drivers and makes. Thus at the end of the year there would not be the quaint situation of car and driver laurels going in opposite directions. It would also mean that a genuine champion could be named.
Europe has always been the world’s rallying centre, and it was only a few years ago that the series for makes changed from European to International when the East African Safari was included for the first time. The Morocco Rally was put into the list and now in 1972 there is also an American event for the first time, Michigan’s Press-on-Regardless Rally. I will hasten to assure you here that the latter is by no means a mathematical brain-teaser on wheels as the majority of American rallies are, but a genuine speed event using unmade roads and proper special stages. The first Britisher to tackle this event was Colin Malkin, one of the three-man crew which won the London-Sydney Marathon in 1968 in a Hillman Hunter. He drove in last November’s Press-on-Regardless Rally. He didn’t finish, but he came back full of praise for this demanding event which appears to have earned its place in the 1972 championship.
The time has come to drop the words European and International. For 1973 the CSI should cease regarding rallying as a poor relation, which it appears to have done (with the exception of French events perhaps) hitherto. The formula is simple; twelve of the World’s major rallies qualifying for points for both drivers and cars. In this respect, the winds of change are blowing their first breezes and there are signs that a proper World Championship will come into being next year.
International Rally Championship for Makes 1972 qualifying events
January 21st/28th .. Monte Carlo Rally
February 16/20th .. Swedish Rally
March 30th/April 3rd .. East African Safari
April 27/30th .. Morocco Rally
May 25/29th .. Acropolis Rally
June 10/24th .. French Alpine Rally
September 6/10th .. Austrian Alpine Rally
October 19th/22nd .. Sanremo Rally
November 2nd/5th .. Press-on-Regardless Rally
Date to be fixed .. Rally of Great Britain