Rally review - Why not a World Rally Championship for drivers?, February 1978

In December’s Motor Sport, when writing of the Tour of Corsica, we mentioned briefly the result of the World Rally Championship for Makes, and the events leading up to Fiat’s taking the laurels after a stirring fight with Ford. This issue appears just after the first of the 1978 qualifiers, the Monte-Carlo Rally, takes place, but it is still worth reflecting again on the 1977 series.

How would tennis fans react, we wonder, if the Wimbledon final were billed as a con test between Dunlop and Slazenger? Or the nation’s football followers to a Cup Final between boot manufacturers? Just as non sensical to rally enthusiasts is a World Rally Championship which has no Champion. True that points are given to car makers, but the drivers get nothing and the sport is left with out a figurehead. Even the non-enthusiast public knows who is the Champion Grand Prix Driver each year, but there is no such person as a Champion Rally Driver for them to get to know.

Instead, the laurels are stretched to the limit over the shoulders of an inanimate company. No one will deny Fiat any of its spoils of victory after the hardest-fought championship since the series began, but you can’t shake hands with a motor car, nor interview it on television. Time after time representations have been made to the CSI to set up a proper World Rally Championship for Drivers but they steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, some of their mem bers remarking privately that the manufac turers are against it. Some of them may be, on the grounds that publicity for a driver would detract from publicity for a car, but we know that others are not. Among the latter are the sensible ones who realise that acclaim for a driver would certainly rub off on the car that he drives.

No one wants the Manufacturers Championship to be dropped, for it would be a ridiculously easy job to run two series based on the same string of qualifying events, as It is done in Grand Prix racing. It would take no more effort than merely to keep track of an extra set of simple scores, even simpler, in fact, than the present manufacturers series which combines overall points with group Points.

For 1977, the CSI threw a few crumbs to those who saw that rallying had a vast hole in its side by not having a champion driver, in the form of a trophy called the FIA Cup for Rally Drivers. It was based on a ridiculously complicated series of rallies, including all the qualifiers of the World Championship, all the qualifiers of the European Championship and four other extra events making a total of 55 rallies in all.’ Such a top-heavy list was stupidly ponderous, and hardly anyone took any interest in it save for the Italians when it was learned that Sandy° Munari would be having a serious attempt at winning it. He had no challengers and he won it comfortably. But he was not called World Champion, a title which the CSI had the bad grace to refrain from using.

In the absence of a proper World Championship for Drivers, our weekly sister journal Motoring News some years ago announced one of its own, basing the points scoring system on that of the manufacturers series and using the same events. Encouragingly, other publications took it up, even overseas, but not a flicker of interest manifested itself outside the ivory tower of the CSI.

Although it was Fiat which won the World Championship for Makes, it was not a Fiat driver who became unofficial World Rally Champion, for Fiat’s five wins in the series were accomplished with five different drivers. In fact, the only driver to have won more than one event in the series was Bjorn Waldegard who took first the Safari Rally, then the Acropolis Rally and finally the RAC Rally. In all three events he was driving a Ford Escort with his regular partner Hans Thorszelius, and together they are unquestionably World Rally Champions of 1977 in their own categories.

As significant as Waldegard and Thorszelius coming out on top with thre,e outright wins was the second place of Simo Lampinen and Salve Andreasson without a single win at all. They indulged in no win-or-bust tactics during the year and showed that reliability can achieve results as well as performance pressed into the floorboards. With team-mates striving all the time for wins, their dependability was a valuable asset to the Fiat team.

Whilst the World Championship was for manufacturers, at least the European Championship was for drivers, but the series was overburdened as usual by no less than forty rallies, each graded at one of four different coefficients. Overlapping, especially of the pre-rally practice periods, would have caused headaches for anyone determined to tackle as many as possible, but the few drivers who did take it seriously were selective and only chose those rallies in which they had the best chances of success and which had the highest coefficients to give them the greatest number of points.

The most successful driver in the series, both at winning and at selecting the right events, was Frenchman Bernard Darniche who, with his co-driver Alain Mahe, drove a Lancia Stratos prepared and entered by the French importer, Andre Chardonnet. They won the total comfortably, but it must also be mentioned that runners-up were French girls Michele Mouton and Francoise Conconi who put up a most impressive performance.

For 1978 the CSI’s Championships remain largely unchanged, although that FIA Cup for Drivers seems to have been dropped. The World Championship for Makes keeps the same list of qualifying events and the long string of European Championship qualifiers keeps its coefficient system. As we have said, there is to be no official World Rally Champion Driver yet again.

The complete list of World Championship qualifiers is as follows:

1 Monte-Carlo Rally Jan. 21/27

2 Swedish Rally Feb. 10/12

3 Safari Rally Mar. 23/27

4 Portuguese Rally April 18/23

5 Acropolis Rally. May 28/June 2

6 New Zealand Rally July 31/Aug. 5

7 Rally of 1,000 Lakes Aug. 25/27

8 Criterium du Quebec Sept. 14/17

9 Sanremo Rally Oct. 4/7

10 Tour of Corsica Nov. 4/5

11 RAC Rally Nov. 19/23

The first of those rallies has just taken place, but it will not be until our next issue that we can feature it in Motor Sport.