Rally Review, February 1980

The Bandama Rally

A title collected without any contest is hardly worth crowing about, but one earned the hard way, with a close rival snapping at one’s heels throughout the year, provides immeasurable satisfaction. It was therefore fitting that such a well-matched tussle should have taken place in the first year of official FISA recognition of the title World Rally Champion.

For many years the FISA has steadfastly refused to create an official world title for drivers, although such a series for manufacturers has existed for ten years. Unofficially, points tables have been kept for a hypothetical world series for drivers for some years, and each year Motor Sport has given prominence to these in the absence of recognition by the FISA that only drivers, not their machines, can be garlanded, held up as figureheads and interviewed on television.

In 1979 the official World Rally Championship for Drivers produced a year-long contest between two drivers who emerged as leading contenders for the title, far ahead of their nearest rivals, and it was most appropriate that in this first year the contest was not settled until the 12th and final round in December, the Bandama Rally.

Björn Waldegård from Sweden and Hannu Mikkola from Finland, both contracted to the Ford team, were the two who outshone all others during the year. They each drove in nine of the 12 rallies; seven each for Ford and two each for Mercedes-Benz, and the outcome was a slender one-point win by Waldegard with 112 points to Mikkola’s 111.

Throughout the year Waldegard was ahead of Mikkola for much of the time, but there were two occasions when they were exactly level, after Waldegård won the Acropolis and Mikkola New Zealand’s Motogard. It was only after Mikkola retired from the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in August and Waldegard won Canada’s Criterium du Quebec in September that they became separated by anything like a reasonable points difference.

Mikkola’s win on the RAC Rally, coupled with Waldegård’s failure to score points which could count (he was ninth), meant that when they both went to the Ivory Coast to drive 450SLCs in the Bandama Rally for the Mercedes team, Waldegard’s lead was very slender indeed.

The Mercedes factory team was present in even greater strength than it had been in the Safari, when observers did no more than laugh at attempts to deny official factory involvement. This time there were no such attempts, for who can hide an army in a single bell tent?

Four cars, a fleet of service vehicles of various kinds, aircraft and a huge stock of spares and equipment made up an operation vastly bigger than those of other teams, and it was hardly surprising that those four 450SLCs occupied the first four places among the eight finishers.

Peugeot were there, as usual, with V6-engined 504 Coupés, but their European professional drivers failed to make the finish and it was left to local resident Alain Ambrosino to take sixth place in the only Peugeot to finish.

Save for the regular activities of Toyota South Africa, there has never before been an official Toyota entry in a non-stage African event on open bush roads, and it is to the credit of Toyota Team Europe that Ove Andersson made fifth place in a Celica in the team’s first African sortie.

In the early stages it was Andrew Cowan who took the lead, followed by his team-mates, but when he forged ahead on the second leg, taking advantage of the dust-free run provided by his place as leader on the road, he was instructed by Mercedes team management to pull over and allow both Mikkola and Waldeågard to pass him. It must have been pretty daunting to be so instructed, but he did it and from then on occupied third place to the finish. Similarly, the two Scandinavians were instructed not to risk retirement by indulging in a personal duel, but whether they actually did this will perhaps never be really known.

Mikkola scored 20 points from his win and was able to count them all since he had only previously scored six times and seven scores were allowed to count. Waldegård scored 15 points, but already bad more than seven scores so had to drop a six. The nine points which he was therefore able to count was enough to keep him ahead of Mikkola by a single point.

The enormous effort by Mercedes didn’t really go down well with other competitors, but of course teams are entitled to use whatever resources and facilities they are able to afford, and the German team obviously feels that this kind of financial outlay is worthwhile. They are planning a similar programme in 1980, concentrating mainly on rallies in Africa, South America and perhaps the Motogard Rally in New Zealand.

The 1980 World Rally Championship

We would be less than honest if we were to suggest that the selection of qualifying events for the 1980 World Rally Championship was based on merit. On the other hand, the Statute Book rather prevents us saying what we would like to say, so you must draw your own conclusions.

In the eyes of the FISA the World Championship for Manufacturers is more important than the World Championship for Drivers, but happily most other people take the opposite view. When they dropped the Swedish Rally and the Rally of the Thousand Lakes from the manufacturers’ series they were snubbing two highly significant events held in the two countries which have produced more of the world’s leading rally drivers than the rest of the world put together. However, the FISA threw what they considered to be a few pacifying crumbs in the direction of these two events by including them in the drivers’ series which, ironically, is now considered the more important of the two series — and rightly so.

The World Championship situation, then, is a twelve-event series counting for drivers’ points and a ten-event series for manufacturers’ points, a list of which appears in these pages.

The international calendar as a whole contains 305 events spread through the territories of 45 countries. As usual, the most popular time for rallies is the Autumn, September and October containing 75 international rallies throughout the world. However, more interesting than a calendar division is the way these international events are divided between the various countries.

International status is costly, for FISA fees have to be paid, as well as higher insurance rates. Some countries are therefore content to run large programmes of national events, for it would be false economy to go for the prestige of international status if it is not likely that foreign competitors will be attracted.

In Kenya, for instance, the only international rally is the Safari, but there are many other events in the Kenya calendar which, by reciprocal arrangement, are open to competitors from neighbouring countries. Another is New Zealand, where the Motogard Rally stands out as the only international event in a series of nationals.

Occasionally one notices a change of policy by national clubs, and whereas a country may have only two or three internationals one year, it has a whole string of them the next. Sweden has gone the whole hog this year and has put no less than 59 rallies up to international status, whereas last year they only had a small handful. France comes next with 41, then Germany with 38, Italy with 22, Belgium with 18 and Spain with 16.

Britain, which probably has more rallies than most countries in the space of a year, only has seven registered with international status, whilst in Eire there are only two internationals even though there are plenty more nationals.

In the USA there used to be just one event at international status, for very few US-made cars have been homologated, and it would hardly be right to expect US competitors to use only imported cars in order to comply with the FISA’s homologation requirements. However, this year the number goes up to twelve, and there are twelve more in Canada, plca three in Mexico.

South Africa, where extremely good rallies are often contested by European professionals engaged to drive for local works teams, has five of its national championship events at international status, the Soviet Union still has one in the list, whilst a completely new one is the Himalaya Rally which India is organising in October. The latter offers some pretty exciting potential, for the terrain is extremely demanding and has never before been used for an international raIly, although a few of the trans-globe events passed through India on their way to distant destinations such as Sydney.

For the travelling rally man who prefers competing elsewhere than in his home country; the calendar offers events which can satisfy almost every taste, and a complete list was published a January 17 in our weekly stablemate Motoring News. — G.P.

All the events listed are qualifiers in the Drivers Championship, and all but the Swedish and the 1000 Lakes are qualifiers in the Manufacturers’ Championship.