Almost by tradition, RAC Rally time is when professional drivers and co-drivers are seen dining and otherwise hobnobbing with managers from opposing teams. As a new year approaches and thoughts are being given to the renewal of contracts and the making of new ones, the immense popularity of the RAC Rally has given rise to a sort of market place atmosphere. Nearly all Europe’s team managers come to the RAC and that is when they arc most wooed by professionals seeking new scats. It is also the time that the wooing is done in reverse, for managers always have an eye for fresh talent and are not slow to spot those who are on the market.
Of course, this sort of talent market is very much an under-the-counter affair and when talks are taking place they aren’t likely to be in a crowded bar, especially as there is considerable competition for professional drivers nowadays. More pertinent is the fact that exclusive contracts have become a rarity, for there are far fewer teams able to justify the cost of retaining a man for a whole year if he is to be kept idle for half that time. In any case, it does a driver no good at all to twiddle his thumbs even if he is being paid reasonably well to remain contractually loyal to one make. It is quite common for a driver to be signed up by one team for, say, three or four events in one year and to be free to accept work from other teams in the slack periods. This has meant that more people are looking for work. even those with drives already contracted. In the case of people like Saab (with Stig Blomqvist), Alpine-Renault (with Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Jean-Luc Thérier) and perhaps teams like Wartburg, their drivers have exclusive contracts which mean that they cannot -drive any other make of car without permission, which is rarely if ever given. These people set great store by associations and it would be somewhat damaging for a driver whose name is .almost synonymous with one make to be seen competing in the car of a rival manufacturer.
In Britain, Ford’s drivers are not exclusively tied to that make. Hannu Mikkola has been free to drive Volvos and Peugeots in the past, and now he has been released altogether to take up an offer from Fiat. Timo Mäkinen is still contracted to drive for Ford in those 1975 rallies for which Boreham wants his services, but between those events he is free to drive other makes. Indeed, at Christmas time he went to the Ivory Coast with Henry Liddon to drive a Peugeot in the Bandama Rally and they won.
On the one hand it could be said that Mäkinen’s appearance in a car other than a Ford would be detrimental to the association between man and machine built up over the years in the public eye. On the other, to keep Mäkinen idle as he waited for his Ford drives to come up would be almost a sin. He keeps his hand in, thus providing Ford with cost-free training and a feed-back of information both about the rally and about the cars of other teams. This isn’t any kind of espionage, for many professionals freely allow their rivals, who are very good friends after all, to drive their cars during practice trips.
As this is being written, the Monte-Carlo Rally has yet to take place. When you get to read it, the event will be over so there is little point in previewing what will be the first running of this classic in a period of two years. It suffered cancellation in 1974 during that period when all manner of hysterical (and ineffective) steps were being taken to save petrol, a commodity which turned out to be scarce only on paper. However, it is certainly worth mentioning how the event has illustrated the flow of talent from one team to another.
The Alpine-Renault team has always maintained a high degree of nationalism, utilising French crews nearly all the time. One of the few exceptions was the time when Swedish driver Ove Andersson provided them with four World Championship wins in one year. In 1974 the team had three contracted drivers, but at the end of the year Bernard Darniche left to join Fiat and drove for that make in both the Tour of Corsica in November and the Monte last month. With only two exclusively contracted drivers, others were, and will be, engaged by Alpine on an event-by-event basis. In the Monte, Thérier and Nicolas were joined by French drivers Piot and Ragnotti and by Achim Warmbold, the former BMW driver from Germany.
The Lancia camp showed even greater cosmopolitan thought, for their four Stratus and two Betas were driven in Monte-Carlo by Munari, Ballestrieri and Pinto (Italy), Lampinen (Finland), Andruet (France) and Eklund (Sweden). Pinto has changed sides simply by crossing the Turin street from Fiat, whereas Eklund is more usually seen in a Saab 96.
Fiat, a team with which its drivers were not very happy in 1974 owing to a tendency to keep crews in the dark as to which event they would be required to drive, had Italians Pianta and Bacchelli, Frenchman Darniche, Finns Mikkola and Alén (wild often drives professionally for Ford) and, if a sixth car was finally available, Swede Waldegárd. The regular team-swapping is even further illustrated by the fact that Waldegárd drove a Lancia Straws in Sweden’s Berglagsrally, a European Championship qualifier, a few weeks before the Monte.
The Opel dealer teams Or Germany and Britain, the Toyota dealer teams of Sweden and Britain, Volvo’s activities in and out of Sweden and various other European operations all combine to produce a complex situation in which it is very difficult to follow the fortunes of any particular driver. The little snowy-haired Swede Walfridsson, for instance, has driven a Volvo for several years and has often thrilled British spectators With his ability to propel such a heavy car so fast over forest roads. Recently he has been driving a Daf but it Seems very likely that he will soon be Seen in a Toyota. Furthermore, he has also been haying talks with the French.
Rallying has always been a Cosmopolitan sport. bringing into close sporting contact drivers, mechanics and others front all manner of countries. The new era of one-off contracts may well ‘shake the cocktail even more. It’s a pity that politicians cannot be persuaded to take up rallying; the world could well then become a more peaceful place in which to live.
The final events of the 1974 World Rally Championship were reviewed in last month’s MOTOR SPORT. but we were unable to publish a list of points scored. To complete the record, such a table appears this month. There is, of course, no World Championship for Drivers, a sad and rather stupid omission which the CSI perpetuates each year despite regular and vociferous criticism. However, if the existing series had been for drivers, not makes, the winner would have been Italy’s Sandro Munari and we have no hesitation in referring to him as the 1974 World Rally Champion. His points score would have been 64. well ahead of second man Markku Alén (Finland) with 39. Timo Mäkinen (Finland) with 35. Sinai Lampinen (Finland) 34, Jean Luc Thérier (France) 32. Jean-Pierre Nicolas (France). 27, Björn Wldegard (Sweden) 26 and Stig Blomqvist: 75. – G.P.