Rally Review - Morocco Rally Revived
Back in the early Seventies, when the East African Safari did not stick to all-weather roads, when the Acropolis was an absolute road race and when the first leg of the RAC Rally ran for three days and two nights without a major rest stop, there was an event in the International Rally Championship called the Morocco Rally.
It ran through both mountains and desert, but the desert going was by no means a compass-bearing trek across featureless sand flats. Competitors had to work really hard all the time, for the desert tracks were rough, rocky, often twisty and crossed many boulder-strewn dry river beds. In the mountains of the High Atlas the roads twisted mercilessly around unguarded drops, and at the end of a 40 mile stage co-drivers were hoarse from the sheer volume of notes they had to read and drivers limp with perspiration and aching arms and shoulders.
It was not a road rally, but the stages were so long (the longest was 500 miles!) that seconds were of no significance whatsoever and even minutes were not all that important. Fuel and tyres were left in dumps in the long stages, Peugeot once resorted to dropping spares by parachute in terrain where a fixed-wing aircraft could not land, and Fiat started a ball rolling by hiring a helicopter of the Royal Bodyguard Flight for service support.
In those days the event was not the exclusive preserve of professionals and local drivers, although a works crew usually won, and we well remember the exploits of British privateers like Philip Cooper who braved the dangers of the desert in a Mini and Richard Martin-Hurst who used an Escort into which a 3.5-litre Rover V8 engine had been squeezed.
Alas, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a falling off of financial backing, the event was held for the last time in 1976 and the Championship, which by then had been accorded the respectability of "World", lost a qualifier of unique character
But in the Eighties negotiations began to revive the rally and in 1985, with backing from Marlboro, Royal Air Maroc and others, it was held again after a gap of nine years. Originally planned for September, it was postponed until December and the limited planning time meant that it only attracted 20 starters. Furthermore, snow in the High Atlas resulted in the cancellation of some stages, and the outcome was an event which was a mere shadow of what it might have been.
There were other shortcomings too, notably with route and timetable planning, whilst the roadbook was anything but precise in places, but with careful polishing the rally could well return to its former level of popularity and become a candidate for. As expected, the majority of competitors were French privateers, although there were five from Morocco itself. Favourites were Shekhar and Yvonne Mehta in a Blydenstein-built Nissan 240 RS attended by British mechanics and managed by Bob Freeborough, whilst a similar, but not identical, car was driven by Paul-Marc Meylan from Switzerland
Two small but tractable 4-w-d Citroen Visas were brought by French drivers Olivier Tabatoni and Eric Chantnaux, whilst Paul Hadley. who has several of the old Morocco Rallies under his belt, was the only British privateer, with Philip Bird in an Opel Manta.
Starting and finishing at Casablanca, this 20th edition of the Morocco Rally had an original route of 5,172 km, divided into five legs and stretched between 8 am Monday, December 91h, to 3 pm on the Saturday. In that period there were some 86 hours (plus lateness) of actual running time and some 47 hours (minus lateness) of rest. Had the timetable been re-organised, the rest stops rearranged and road sections shortened, it would have been far more compact (but still vast compared with European events) and much improved — which we understand is the plan for 1986.
The first leg of 300 km ran as a loop from Casablanca on the Monday morning, with one stage of 108 km. The second went overnight north-eastwards to Fez, with four stages making 389 km in the total distance of 1,110 km. The third ran for 1,143 km down to Marrakesh, via three stages totalling 445 km, and the fourth looped for 963 km around Marrakesh, with four stages making 450 km. The final leg went firstly to the far South, then returned to Casablanca, via five stages making 962 km out of 1.656 km.
Practice, for the few who indulged in it, was decidedly tricky, partly due to slow going on the very, very rough roads, partly because of car breakages — the Mehtas, for instance, were stuck for 28 hours with a broken gearbox — and partly due to the inconsistency of the roadbook and its many ambiguities. On some stages, therefore, the front runners had notes, on others they didn't, and the difference was noticeable.
There had been much rain on the eve of the start, and several dry wadis in the first stage had considerable water flowing in them. Much of it was very slippery, too, but it was nevertheless Mehta who made best time, more than eight minutes ahead of the 4-w-d Visas of Tabatoni who had two rear punctures, and Chantnaux for whom this was the first major rally on dirt roads. Meylan was fourth fastest in the other Nissan. A Peugeot 504 Pick-up (the Kenya practice is becoming widespead) lost half an hour off the road, and veteran Frenchman Georges Houel plugged his Renault Fuego's leaking differential with a roll of toilet paper! Hadley and Bird stopped soon after the stage, their Manta's engine broken.
Of the four second leg stages, the second, at Oulmes, was extremely tricky, and many found the roadbook almost impossible to follow and took wrong roads in the darkness. Indeed, Tabatoni lost 35 minutes on Mehta, Chantriaux another 18, whilst the others were much further behind. At the end of that leg, Mehta had extended his lead over Tabatoni to 50 minutes, whilst Chantnaux was another 50 minutes behind.
After Fez, the first real desert stage was that old classic leading southwards from Missour via Talsinnt to Gourrama, and here again, navigation along the 137 km stage was difficult if you were using the roadbook rather than your own notes. Mehta was again fastest, beating Tabatoni by nearly an hour Chantriaux took the wrong track and lost the best part of two hours, but he nevertheless kept his third place.
Due to snow on the high pass of Tizi'n Isli,. the second stage of the leg, from the famous river crossing at Rich, alas now by-passed, was cancelled. The third, beginning in the gorge at Ouaouizarht, just South of Beni Mellal where the little airstrip served as a refuelling stop in the old days, had also been cancelled, and it turned out that the Missour stage was the only one in a leg of 1,143 km. This gave everyone plenty of service opportunity during the long journey to Marrakesh, so most cars had been rebuilt before they got to the closed park.
The fourth leg began with a crossing of that unbelieveable High Atlas pass. Tizi'n Test, now mostly covered in spoilsport tarmac but nevertheless a frightening spectacle for those unaccustomed to roads along narrow ledges overlooking huge, unguarded drops. Afterwards, there was a completely superfluous road section to Tazenakht where, after a short stop the rally retraced its path to a second crossing of Tizi'n Test, in the opposite direction — but at least it gave mechanics time for excellent sustenance at the inn called Au Sanglier qui Fume (the smoking piglet) at the northern foot of the pass.
The return to Marrakesh via another stage through Amizmiz, brought more pleasant temperatures to the seven survivors after the bitter cold and the biting winds of the High Atlas. The second trip over Tizi'n Test gave Chantriaux best time, whilst Tabatoni lost five minutes with a puncture. The descent of the northern side was this time a road section rather than a stage, and some didn't relish its tightness. Only Mehta cleaned it after making sure that his service stop was as rapid as possible. Going fast downhill is not to everyone's liking!
At Marrakesh, Mehta's lead over Tabatoni was about an hour. whilst Chantriaux was more than another hour behind. The gaps were indeed substantial, and Meylan at seventh place was nearly 10 hours behind the leader after much trouble with his car.
More cancellations reduced the stage distance of the final leg but at least one of the famous "Transmarocaine" tracks, from Foum Zguid to Zagora and on via Tazzarine to Rissani, was kept. Concerned that they would take wrong roads and become hopelessly lost in the dark (none had notes for this one), competitors agreed in advance to meet after 20 km and continue in convoy. The precaution paid off, although only four of them came through together, two stragglers later making it through on their own. The 504 pick-up of Roland Streit and Valerie Dubaut had holed its radiator and broken its suspension in a very rough drift, whilst Gilbert Mazoyer, just after Rissani, went of the road in his Visa and co-driver Jean-Louis Ranc went through the windscreen. Fortunately, a military helicopter soon took him all the way to hospital at Casablanca where his injuries were found not to be serious.
On the way to Casablanca the two Citroen crews playfully ambushed the Mehtas with snowballs, such was the feeling of relief among those who had survived the rigours of this arduous rally and were approaching its end. The event had many shortcomings, as we have explained, but it would take very little to put these right and produce a competition which would be an asset to the World Championship.
One thing we haven't mentioned is the overwhelming hospitality of the country people. Policemen will give you packets of almonds whilst mint tea and excellent Moroccan bread seems to be produced at a moment's notice, without any thought of payment. It is indeed a fine country in which to go rallying. with a strong car of course! G.P.
Just as good forests can never develop from stunted trees, so rally championships, whether spanning the world or confined to a county, can only be successful and popular if their qualifying rounds are each of the highest quality. To procure and encourage this, championship organisers should adopt a general policy of non-interference and within a very broad band of uniformity, allow rally organisers freedom and licence to run their events as they wish.
Alas, FISA has made so many needless demands upon World Championship events in the past several years that organisers spend more time ensuring conformity to the rule book than getting on with the job of running first class rallies. Fortunately, despite the pressures of Paris, they have usually succeeded in producing rallies of continuing high calibre.
However, a dilution of toughness has become apparent, and a limit on overall distance will certainly affect such rallies as the Safari, which has been obliged to reduce its length of 5,000-plus kilometres merely to satisfy a FISA whim. It may be in order to Iimit the distance of some (but not all) European, rallies which use high traffic-density public roads as link sections but there is absolutely no need for this to include the plains and bushlands of Africa. Indeed, such an attempt to further Europeanise the Safari is more than just meddling with its make up, it is criminal and its organisers would have done better to resist than to conform.
The flat insistence on conformity may, of course, be the result of pandering to manufacturers who fear for the limited endurance of their sophisticated machinery. After all, it would not look at all good if such cars were beaten by simpler ones just because they are more reliable over long distances, witness Toyota's two successive victories in the Safari!
Another blanket demand by FISA has been insistence that there should be at least three weeks between one World Championship event and the next. In principle this is reasonable for teams need time in which to prepare, but to insist on changes which make impossible demands on organisers resources is downright dictatorial, helps no one, and could even lead to a reduction in the overall quality of the championship.
Several events have moved their dates including the Rally of the Thousand Lakes which has shifted by a week, out of August into September, and at Central Finland's latitude the change in climatic conditions could be quite noticeable.
Of far more significance, however, was FISA 's requirement that the Marlboro Safer Rally should move away from its traditional Easter weekend. One might have appreciated a request for a change amounting to a week, but FISA seems to be insisting that just two days would be enough to conform to the new rule. Such a small change would produce a negligible advantage for competing teams, but the serious difficulties created for the organisers are tremendous.
The whole of Kenya makes way for the Safari, such is its immense national as well as international importance, and it is vital that it should take place during a national holiday when working traffic is minimal and the thousands of officials are free to offer their services. Normally it runs from Thursday to Easter Monday and a ridiculous two day postponement, which wouldn't be noticed by works teams, would do no more than create needless local hardship.
At the time of writing there is still some doubt concerning the actual start and finish dates of the Safari, and even its overall distance (which FISA wanted to reduce from 5,000 to 4.000 kilometres) but we sincerely hope that the organisers will resist FISA's attempts at meddling with one of the finest, if not the finest, classic endurance rallies in the world, one of which they know very little and appreciate nothing. It is worth comparing, incidentally, the intervals between the first four events in the 1986 World Championship. Just check the accompanying calendar and you will see what we mean.
FISA seems to be concerning itself a great deal with easing the paths of professional teams, in certain ways at least, and one sometimes wonders whether there is a long term plan to transform rallying at its World Championshp level into something like the circus of Formula One racing, with all its attendant business deals and closed shop restrictions, and so gradually squeeze out all but the most well heeled of private entrants.
However, negotiating with a F1 team, which has no actual sales figures to consider, is one thing: dealing with a car manufacturer whose business it is to sell motor cars and make a profit for itself and its shareholders, to whom rallying is really no more than a sales-promoting publicity tool, and whose competitions managers have no real boardroom voices, is quite another. They could, one supposes, expand on the present methods of some privately sponsored teams and turn rallying into a profit-generating activity in its own right. Perish the thought!
In the accompanying list, all 13 events are qualifying rounds of the World Championship for Drivers, and the best eight scores will be taken into account at the end of the year. Only 11 of them (all except Ivory Coast and Olympus) are qualifying rounds of the World Rally Championship for Makes, and in this series only the best seven scores will be counted.
WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 1986
RALLY 1986 Monte-Carlo Rally (MC) January 18-25
Swedish Rally (S) . . February 14-16
Portuguese Rally (P) March 4-9
Marlboro Safari Rally (EAK) March 30-April 3
Tour of Corsica (F) May 1-4
Acropolis Rally (GR) June 1-5
Clarion New Zealand Rally (NZ) ... July 3-9
Argentina Rally (RA) August 3-10
Rally of the Thousand Lakes (SF) September 4-7
Ivory Coast Rally (CI) (Drivers Only) September 23-27
Sanremo Rally (I) .. October 12-18
Lombard RAC Rally (GB) . November 16-20
Olympus Rally USA (Drivers Only) December 5-8
The European Rally Championship continues to be as unwieldy as ever, and one gets the impression that its numbers may be swelled by those events which aspire to World Championship status but fail to achieve it, then being cast the European crumb by way of compensation.
There are no less than 48 qualifying events, in four groups of descending importance of eight, eight. 22 and 10. Each group has a coefficient, from four to one, by which points scored are multiplied before being taken into account.
Nineteen countries are represented in the list, the number of events in each being as follows: Italy six: France, Belgium, Spain five; Germany four, Bulgaria, Portugal, Great Britain three; Finland, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia two, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, Sweden, Turkey, Poland, Switzerland, San Marino one.
The Championship of the Continent of Africa continues to be administered by FISA and the list contains nine events for 1986.
Among them is Southern Africa's Castrol Rally which starts in South Africa and finishes in Swaziland, but we have occasionally noticed that points totals published by the organisers of some other events in the series sometimes conveniently ignore the Castrol Rally, presumably for political reasons, which is a great shame, as its a fine event using excellent forest stages.
Two late additions to the series are the Namibia Rally and the Morocco Rally, the latter event, after its revival in December after a gap of nine years, being a contender for eventual return to the World Championship series.
Another regional Championship is that of the Middle East, although it attracts competitors in comparatively low numbers. This year there are but four qualifying events listed, the Qatar Rally (February 20-21), the Jordan Rally (April 23-25), the Oman Rally (October 29-31) and the Dubai Rally (December 4-5).
Among the end-of-year edicts announced by FISA is one which smacks very strongly of "if you won't let me run your game. I'll take the ball away". In December there was a single-venue event in Italy in memory of Attilo Bettege who was killed in the 1985 Tour of Corsica. It was for invited drivers, was well televised and was run on lines similar to those of the rallysprints which appear on British television.
It turned out to be highly popular and was well supported by works teams and their drivers, but for some unaccountable reason it did not receive FISA's blessing Indeed, the Fiat group, which was backing the competition, sent a private aircraft to Paris to collect FISA officials only to have it ignored completely.
The extraordinarily pompous pronouncement by FISA declared that A and B seeded drivers, and those who held super-licences, would be prohibited from taking part in such events, unless an application for exemption had been approved by FISA following a written application by the driver's national club, accompanied by an "explanatory dossier".
It went on . . . "The FISA executive committee condemns the organisation of events and series of events which are entered on the off-road calendar and which accept cars and drivers from the World Rally Championship, such as, for example, the event organised by the Formula Rally Organisation, which cannot fail to harm the World Rally Championship. These events will not be entered on the international calendar". What possible harm such an event, supported in this case by drivers who were friends of Attilio Bettega, can do the World Championship. is beyond our comprehension. The harm is more FISA's doing than that of event organisers, for the so-called governing body is penalising drivers success by curbing the scope of those who climb the ladder and achieve an A or a B seeding.
Incidentally, a new rule for this year declares that points in World Championship rallies can only be scored by holders of super-licences. We all know that in some events points are scored by local competitors who stand no chance of improving their scores outside their own countries, but nevertheless the rule is unfair on the privateer who may do very well indeed to get into a first ten, and then be denied points simply because he only has an ordinary international licence.
Another new rule for 1986 is one which places a ban on all aerial movement of mechanics (or equivalent personnel), spare parts or tyres during the running of special stages of any rally of any FISA championship. Rallies without special stages will not be included in this rule, and, presumably, although it does not say so, the use of aircraft as aerial radio relay stations is not prohibited.
FISA has often said that it is desirable for organisers to have helicopters standing by to provide medical assistance or rapid casualty evacuation, but some organisers do not have the finance to provide such aircraft, and in such cases it has been left to the good offices of works team to divert helicopters from their service plans to evacuate an injured person — as happened during last year's Safari when Peugeot sent their service helicopter to take an injured privateer to hospital.
A strange sentence in the air assistance rule states that "The manufacturers will have to collaborate with the officials so that, at the start of the special stages, all the crews may be informed of the state of the road". Does this really refer to information gained by works teams as a result of aerial recce of a section (rather than a special stage), or does it refer to data collected by ground personnel such as ice-note crews or those in mud cars? In either case, it is an impertinence to expect hard-earned and costly reconnaissance information to be handed over on a plate.
Finally, we would like to mention another dictatorial rule by which FISA attempts to interfere where it has no right to do so — in national rallies. They say that if the organisers of a national event obtains the approval and co-operation of a neighbouring country to run part of their route through that country, it will be necessary first to obtain FISA approval even though the event only has national status.
Where does this leave South Africa, we wonder, where the co-operation is such that national events frequently cross the border into Swaziland? What if a weekend event organised from Luxembourg is able to run some of its stages in neighbouring Belgium? In such cases, interference by FISA is unwarranted, and co-operating clubs such as these should be free to run their events where they wish. — G.P.