Last year, in the months preceding Christmas, I found myself trekking round the upper and middle portions of the Italian “boot” mainly to look at the competition machinery that had brought Italy three World titles in 1975. Ferrari had the F1 titles securely back in Modena, after the marque had faced the barren seasons from the Surtees World Championship in 1964. Alfa Romeo had the World Sports Car Championship, for what that once proud title stood for in more competitive days, now makes commercial sense. Lancia had won the World Rally Championship for the second successive year with the Stratos, that appropriate mid-engine mongrel of Ferrari power train, Fiat Components and Lancia assembly, sales, and development. This year I went back for a two-day trip immediately before Christmas, and was struck forcibly by the changes in attitudes since the sunny ecstasy of the year before.
As the guests of Lancia one might have expected a rather narrow view of Italy’s sporting activities, but when the mother company discovered we were in Turin, there was plenty of instant activity that resulted in Luca di Montezemolo sitting down for an impromptu press conference about the Group’s plans and the unusual disclosure, for a motor manufacturer, ol” the annual budget for competitions. Moritezemolo disclosed that the Comitato di Coordinomento delle attivito sportive del Gruppo Fiat had decided to spend, “in excess of £3 million sterling this year on the races and rallies, but you must remember that there are sponsors too…!”
It is the first time I can recall a manufacturers’ representative putting forward a figuie of this size for release to the public, and it emphasises how the Italian attitude to motors port varies from our own. Montezemolo is now the head of Fiat Public Relations in Turin and he chairs the committee that apportions the sporting funds for Fiat, Ferrari and Lancia, constantly telling the press he thinks motorsports are, “one of the best vehicles for the publicity. You know we have to find new ways to sell our cars, and I think the races [meaning all sports—J.W.] are one of the ways to this.
“We have other ways now, apart from motorsports”. Montezemolo went on to list an Olympic diving silver medallist and others before returning to the theme of how Fiat could help privateers in motorsports too. He gesticulated over his shoulder at the familiar lanky profile of Daniele Audetto, the ex-Lancia co-driver who tried to replace Montezemelo at Ferrari this year. Montezemolo informed us, “Yes Daniele, he will look after Fiat racing and rallying team this year [basically a three-car team of 131s for all World Championship rounds, Lancia now concentrating on the new FIA title for Drivers and selected World Championship rounds]; Daniele, what countries will we give discount and cars to private teams who can put the car to good use ?”
Audetto smiles confidently, looking far more at ease with the assembled quota of British and German press than he ever did amidst the scarlet-jacketed pit personnel at Ferrari. “Obviously we help a lot in Italy, but also in South Africa, Finland and France.” Personally I was a little disappointed to hear this, as I had heard repeated British-sourced stories that Fiat would be interested in helping people over here. Certainly there was a great deal of talk about bringing in Abarth Fiat 131s at £18,000 apiece (including unspecified spares) and running them in the hands of privateers, but that seems to have faded into bar room boasting, induced by Motor Show press day.
So far as Fiat’s works Abarth team is concerned the three 131s for the World Rally Championship will be driven by Markku Alen, Fulvio Bachelli and Maurizio Verini, who has shown outstanding form in the closing events of 1976. Simo Lampinen will be having a busy year, completing five events for Fiat, as an additional team 131 runner, the Safari for Lancia and a busy home programme in the Finnish Championship with Finnish-built Saabs. Fellow countryman Timo Makinen will also drive a 131 this year, mainly in Finland, but also on the RAC against his old Ford team-mates. The Monte was the first event for this team, which will be trying so hard to bring Fiat the prestige of a World Rally Championship with a recognisable mass production car. The only announced British opposition will come from the Ford team, but they are only doing selected events, and they have already been made aware how competitive the 131 is during its 1976 “development year”. Rumours say that new Leyland Competition Manager John Davenport will take the TR7 into European rallying this year, but no announcement had been made when this was written.
For the rallying 131s the task for 1977 is clear, but for Lancia it is a bit more difficult to judge how their plans will materialise in 1977. I attended their prize-giving orgy in Turin and, apart from the obvious beneficiaries like Sandro Munari, and all the other team members, the highlight for me came 20 minutes from the close of the proceedings. We had enjoyed a tremendous film—though somewhat giddy from the number of hairpin cornering pictures of the victorious Stratiiwhen one gentleman on the imposing awards panel took, from the incredible 100 ft. of silverware laden upon the table for pots, medals and silverware, a smallish medallion and presented it—with due pomp and ceremony—to the man next to him! From this point on I found it hard to do more than observe that Lancia’s annual prize-giving makes a great deal of commercial sense—the privateers are recognised and properly rewarded by the top brass within the company— but to a cold Anglo-Saxon the spectacle has comic elements that are impolite to display before your hosts.
So far as Lancia were concerned their managing director Ing. Sguazzini made some interesting and serious points. So far as production of road-going vehicles was concerned he felt, “in 1975 we made 53,000 cars, in 1976 we produced 62,000 and half of those were for export”. It was made very clear that this Italian motor manufacturer felt its labour relations problems were at least the equal of those in Britain, and that a successful solution to those problems is obviously as vital as it is in the UK.
Discussing Lancia’s future plans Sguazzini pointed out that in the last five years the world rally championship, or the FIA series which effectively acted as a substitute for this title in the early 70s, had gone to Lancia four times. It was implied that with this kind of success there wasn’t a lot of point in Lancia continuing to contest the World Championship (besides which Fiat were putting lots of money in the 131, and in the current impecunious, by comparison with GP racing, rally world you expect a title for your efforts!) so they would pursue the CSI’s latest in complicated and obscure titles. Called the World Rally Drivers Cup this title is acquired primarily via contesting various events within the recognised Championship events (usually European or World Championship rounds) and there are also various co-efficients applied to vary the number of points scored toward the Drivers Cup. Even the experienced Geraint Phillips of this address admits that this series really is complicated, and for a navigator and journalist of Welsh origin to admit that much means the new series is totally beyond the general public’s comprehension! However, if does give Lancia something to advertise whilst also accruing publicity from contesting Monte Carlo and the East African Safari with three Stratos cars apiece. The factory also say they will contest the Tour of Italy and the same style of event in France, plus the Sanremo; other events are to be confirmed, so there will be the traditional “will-they-won’t-they ?” prelude for the RAC again.
During 1977 a new Lancia rally car will be developed, and it is expected to be based around the Monte Carlo with the ex-Fenall Dino V6 power unit, ready for 1978.
It will be the eleventh year that Lancia have employed Sandro Munari, and there was ,s good opportunity to hear the Italian ace s views over dinner, for during the past two years he has been going to night school to ‘call English. Like occasional team-mate Lainpinen, Munari viewed the loss of Bjorn Waldegard to Ford immediately prior to the RAC rally as “not surprising at all. Bjorn knows for a long time that Lancia must do less for next year (1977) and Cesaere (Florio, the man ultimately responsible for Lancia’s competition and car sales programmes) offers him the Fiat deal. Bjorn doesn’t want to do this so he leaves; it’s simple.” Lampinen felt that Waldegard went to Ford very quickly “on the rebound” from Lancia, which might explain why Waldegard (who is rated by many of those who should know as the best allround rally driver of today) didn’t negotiate at length with other teams, apart from Ford, who might have offered him more money.
Talking about the RAC Rally itself, and a Lancia performance that was slammed by most rally writers as at least uninspired, Munari just laughed and said, “we come on RAC to rally in England just once a year. To do well on this event you must rally several times a year in Britain; we don’t do this, and we don’t think we will do it in the future. No, I do not think all the other British drivers cheat and have notes, I don’t think this at all, but I still cannot do well unless I know a little more about where I go!”
I asked what his favourite event was and he said, “oh, I like very much to go on Safari … you look surprised, but I like this event very much and, of course, Sanremo. You know, I like to do things I know well, and I know rallying in Europe very much better than in England, so I enjoy the rallying in Europe, yes, very much!” It is possible to draw a parallel between Sandro Munari’s 11-year spell with Lancia and Roger Clark’s similar spell at Ford, but there is one important difference to my (biased) eyes. Clark has no mentor inside Ford, nobody carries a torch for Roger, whereas Sandro has had the considerable benefit of Fiorio’s constant support through thick and thin. There is also the tremendously effective Stratos to consider.
“Tremendously effective?” Well the specification sheet of the Gp. 4 Stratos in 24-valve trim has some interesting facts, especially when you have driven the road and competition version of the Stratos with normal 12-valve engine. Instead of just under 200 b.h.p. in road guise, a modest 270 b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. is claimed for the 24-valve competition motor, but it seems likely that power output is actually slightly in excess of 280 coupled to 188 lb. ft. torque at 6,500 r.p.m. All this to push 17.3 cwt. (that is not with the two 11-gallon tanks filled, one presumes!) results in a good potential for acceleration. That is emphasised when you translate the gear speeds normally realised at 8,000 r.p.m. on Pirelli racing covers (8 in. front rim width is allied to 12 in. at the rear) which are quoted as follows: first, 40.1 m.p.h.; second, 56.5 m.p.h.; third, 71.4 in.p.h.; fourth, 88,2 m.p.h. and fifth, 101.2 m.p.h. If the gearbox is still the same crash-it-through-and-see device, I have just lost any envy I might have had for the competition Straws driver confronted with hairpins and half-mile straights!
Lancia have also launched, with sponsorship from companies as varied as Marlboro to Britax, a 14-round rally championship for novices and amateur drivers using production Autobiachi AI 12s in Abarth 70 b.h.p. trim. These cars will be additionally equipped with a £187.50 kit of safety items (roll cage, seat harness, and so on) in a series that carries exceptional rewards in Italy. If you win a round of the Championship you receive around £281 at current exchange rates, while the overall Championship winner gets a Lancia Beta Coupe 1300: all three of the leading Championship men get a car as reward, and fourth man in the points standings at the close of the season gets £1,375… let’s hope the idea catches on with Leyland in Britain; a Rover 3500 as first prize and a buzzing horde of Mini Championship contenders to puzzle the Escorteers!
You may have gathered that I found our short trip interesting for its “snippet value”. There was a lot of talk from Montezemolo about the importance of the Ferrari team banding itself together as a cohesive unit with Niki Lauda fully recovered, good relations reestablished with Goodyear and Carlos Reute=um acting as a supporting team-mate to Lauda. Montezemolo is Lauda’s number one supporter inside the group; none of the listeners could have had any doubts as to the support Lauda will get inside the Fiat Group from Montezemolo. Suggestions that the Ferrari would have six wheels (the rear foursome, paired on the same axle) were discounted in stressing the importance of getting the team to work happily together. None of that really matters too much now, for the GP season will have begun by the time you are reading this, so readers will be able to judge for themselves the effectiveness of Ferrari in 1977.
As ever the Italians impress a sporting journalist with their enthusiasm , for competition of virtually any kind. Nowadays, though, they have become professionals intent on realising the utmost commercial benefit from their national enthusiasm.—J.W.