Rally Review, February 1979

The 1979 International Calendar

By the time this issue of Motor Sport appears five international rallies will have been held in 1979, including the first qualifier of the World Championship, the Monte-Carlo Rally, in which Ford will have given rallying Fiestas their debut, one driven by Ari Vatanen and the other by Roger Clark MBE who most fittingly and deservedly was honoured in the New Year List for his fine achievements in the sport of rallying. Clark will have started from London, as will 1978 RAC Rally winner Hannu Mikkola in an Escort, but only one other car will have begun its rally with the short run from London to Dover, and that’s a far cry from the convoys which used to leave from Glasgow.

The 1979 calendar contains all of 254 rallies of international status and it is interesting to note how they are spread, both geographically and throughout the months. Central Europe has by far the most events with 169, far more than the rest of the world put together some two-thirds of the world’s total in fact. Since rallying is more popular in Europe than elsewhere it naturally follows that the figures should reflect this, but they are artificially swollen by the tendency in some countries to seek international status for just about everything. France, for instance, has 43, Germany 33, Belgium and Italy 16 each and Spain 14, and that doesn’t include rallies in overseas territories such as New Caledonia and the Canary Islands.

Great Britain has just seven international rallies (plus the Economy Run which falls within the definition of a rally) and that’s rather odd for a country which organises the most popular rally in the world. However, perhaps these populated islands could not stretch to containing any more internationals than are presently held, and perhaps other countries seek to make up in quantity what they might lack in popularity.

Even stranger is the fact that the region which has produced more of the world’s finest drivers than any other has no more than eight rallies spread over three countries. Sweden has only four, Finland three and Denmark just one. Norway has had no rallying for some years, of course, and the enthusiasts there often run small events across the border in Sweden with the cooperation of Swedish clubs.

In the Americas there are 21 rallies, but that figure has been achieved largely because Canada has elevated to international status practically all her national championship qualifiers and now has 14 rallies in the CSI calendar. Strangely enough, the USA has none, but enthusiasts there are very scattered indeed and the thin rallying population is made thinner by the fact that there are two national sanctioning bodies, not one as in other countries, both running their own series of events. What is more, they rarely see eye to eye the rallying although the States themselves are united, rallying is not. Mexico runs three international events, whilst there is one each in Brasil, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador, though the dozen or so rallies listed for Chile last year are no longer in the calendar.

Greece is another country which has elevated many of its national rallies to international and there are now 12 Greek events in the calendar. Also in the Eastern Mediterranean there is a fine international rally in Cyprus worthy of more than its European Championship status, whilst further East there are two in Turkey and one in each of four Gulf states.

In the Pacific region several countries’ rallies seem to have fallen by the wayside, or lost their international status, and the only rallies now remaining are six in Australia, including the Southern Cross Rally and the two-week Repco Reliability Trial, one in New Caledonia and the Motogard Rally in New Zealand, now back in the World Championship where it belongs. Japan continues to be without international events, which is odd for a country producing so many motor cars.

Africa has 13 international events on the continental mainland, and two more off the north-west coast in the Canary Islands. Kenya has just its Safari Rally and the Ivory Coast its Bandama Rally, both in the World Championship, whilst both Senegal and Zaire have scheduled one each this year. South Africa has increased its total to six, whilst the two events in Lesotho and the Trans-Kalahari Endurance Race in Botswana are all organised with the help and co-operation of clubs within South Africa.

There is still just one international event within the Soviet Union, the Russian Winter Rally, whilst Eastern European events add another 16 spread through seven countries, providing enough competition to run the Eastern European Championship, or the “Peace and Friendship Cup” as it is called.

Across the calendar it’s very easy to see which are the popular months and which tend to be avoided. Spring and autumn are the periods of greatest activity, for organisers in populated countries (and they are the most numerous) have to avoid the months of greatest tourist traffic and the months in which snow can cause problems. March, September and October have the most events, 32, 30 and 30 respectively, whilst the months with the least events are January, July, August and December with five, 2, 17 and eight. All the other months have totals in the twenties.

Exceptions to this general rule are those events which run in countries with little or no traffic problem, or whose authorities tend to regard the excitement and popularity of rallies as considerations which far outweigh all others. Kenya, for instance, lifts her overall speed limit for cars competing on the Safari Rally, French local authorities will sometimes turn a blind eye to service crews taking over a complete village square and turning it into an open-air workshop, whilst in New Zealand the entire main streets of towns are often closed to all other traffic so that they can be used for arrival/departure controls and competitors’ parking areas.

The World Championship this year consists of 12 events, one per month with the exception of June which has none and November which has two. They are run in Monaco, Sweden, Portugal, Kenya, Greece, New Zealand, Finland, Canada, Italy, Corsica, Britain and the Ivory Coast. It’s a reasonably balanced series, although there are some who consider that it has too many events and some who feel that it has too few. But it is far more rationalised than the European Championship which continues to be top-heavy with all of 48 rallies spread over 22 countries.

But the European series is complicated by a coefficient system which divides the whole lot into four groups, each with a multiplication factor (1, 2, 3 or 4) determining how many points are scored by a place. Furthermore, many of the events overlap, and it’s not unusual to find two, three, or even four qualifying events taking place during the same weekend.

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Last month in Motor Sport a table was published showing how the ten best placed teams scored their points in the World Rally Championship for Makes. That table was correct but one omission and one small error crept into the list below it of other makes to score points. We omitted to record that Vauxhall scored 14 points, a total achieved solely front Pentti Airikkala’s third place in the Rally of the Thousand Lakes. The error was in the total scored by Mitsubishi; they gained 16 points, not 17.