Worthy Victor

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When a championship series comes to a close, the customary sequel is a victory celebration, with slaps on the back for the champion, congratulatory hand shaking, autograph seeking and the popping of champagne corks. Alas, when the 1986 World Rally Championship ended with December’s Olympus Rally in the USA, the champagne was decidedly flat, for even though all thirteen events had been run, no-one really knew who was the new World Rally Champion.

The Olympus Rally itself was won by Markku Alen in a Lancia Delta S4, and won very convincingly too. and in the provisional tally of championship points he came marginally ahead of his great rival of the season, Juha Kankkunen.

Lancia was cock-a-hoop and dived immediately into a celebration, even sending out a press release announcing that Alen had won the world drivers’ crown for Lancia.

That, of course, was a bit premature, even if the announcement did state that the results were subiect to confirmation, for the Sanremo affair had not been resolved, and when Alen won the Olympus Rally it was not known whether points scored in the Italian qualifying event would be allowed to stand, be cancelled, or be modified in some way.

You will recall that during the Sanremo Rally a great rumpus blew up when scrutineers declared that longitudinal flanges fitted to the undersides of the factory Peugeot 205 Turbo 16s were effectively “skirts” producing an advantageous aerodynamic effect. The stewards upheld this, declared that the cars were therefore contravening regulations, and promptly excluded them.

Peugeot protested, but to no avail, and although the French team gave notice of appeal, its cars were not allowed to continue in the rally. That, in itself, was a total disregard for the established and accepted legal principle that an alleged offender is allowed to take his case from a lower hearing to one much higher, before guilt (or otherwise) is finally declared and punishment pronounced. The action was aggravated by the fact that although neither Alen nor Kankkunen was leading at the time, was in a position to win and score valuable championship points.

Peugeot went ahead with the appeal confident that the allegedly offending flanges, there merely to deflect flying stones and prevent them causing damage, had no beneficial aerodynamic effect whatsoever. If they lost that appeal, the Sanremo results would remain as declared at the end of the event. But what would happen if they won? Their cars had been prevented from completing the rally, and could certainly not be given hypothetical times in order to reinstated.

Much more important was the World Championship situation. Prior to Sanremo Kankkunen had a good lead, but his exclusion, coupled with Lancia’s team orders to allow Alen to move up from third place to take a contrived win on a plate, brought Alen to within just two points of his rival.

The decision on the Sanremo affair was therefore almost certain to affect the outcome of the World Championship. With two rounds of the series left — the RAC rally and the Olympus — one would have expected FISA to act quickly, by calling an extraordinary meeting of its executive and announcing its decision before those two events.

To their shame, and to the profound detriment of what is supposed to be the world’s leading series, they did not do that. Worse, they declared that a decision was not be taken until December 18, after all the qualifying events were over. It was grossly unfair of FISA (to put it very miIdly), not only to the two main protagonists and their teams, but to the entire sport, that they allowed the series to continue when no-one really knew where they stood.

On the RAC Rally; Alen scored three more points than Kankkunen, and therefore moved into a one point lead in the series. The situation was now very tense indeed. Alen’s position had been made possible only by the Sanremo disqualifications, but on paper even if only provisionally, he was leading the series.

In the United States he drove brilliantly to take a very close win from Kankkunen, extending his provisional championship lead to six points. He spoke and behaved as though he were World Champion, but his celebrations were quite premature, for the final round was still to come, in the cornmittee rooms of Place de la Concorde.

The FISA executive committee declared on December 18, eleven days after the Olympus Rally had finished and almost nine weeks after the Sanremo Rally, that there was no proof that Peugeot had contravened regulations, that the stewards had been wrong to exclude their cars, and that they had thereby distorted both the rally and the World Championship. They went further to declare that timekeeping errors during the rally had destroyed the credibility of the classification.

Their decision was to exclude the Sanremo me Rally and its results from the 1986 World Championship. All points scored in Sanremo were therefore cancelled, reducing Alen’s total by 20 and establishing Kankkunen as World Champion.

Many will say, and they could be forgiven for so doing, that Alen had his title taken from him by a committee decision. Indeed, Alen himself said that he became champion in the USA and was later removed from that position by a political decision. Casual followers of the sport will no doubt agree with him assuming that his laurels were taken from him by FISA and given to Kankkunen. On the other hand, those with more insight will appreciate that it was Kankkunen, in the first place, who had suffered an injustice by being denied the right to continue in the Sanremo Rally, scoring no points and allowing his rival to score the maximum of 20.

It was also pronounced by the FISA executive that the rally organisers, the Automobile Club of Sanremo, should be fined $20,000 US, and its clerk of the course and stewards suspended from officiating for six months.

That might seem harsh, but it was during the event, after all, that the whole thing started. Our opinion is that the disqualifications should never have been imposed, for we have not heard of any proof that those Peugeot flanges broke the rules. Furthermore, Peugeot’s notice of appeal should have been enough to allow the cars to continue in the rally pending that appeal, whether the flanges were illegal or not.

The outcome is a sad reflection on how a hotly contested series followed by millions of enthusiasts worldwide into which teams have invested fortunes and which should stand as the pinnacle of competitive and organisational perfection, can be ripped apart by administrators. The general feeling, and our opinion too, is that the Italian scrutineers were out of their depth in determining the aerodynamic effect of a flange just by looking at it, and that the stewards were equally wrong to accept their opinions and to deny Peugeot its right to continue in the rally.

That was the first injustice, and FISA was quite right to condemn it. The second was the unforgivable procrastination of those responsible for hearing the various appeals. Without doubt they compounded the felony by not taking swift action to salvage the integrity of the World Championship, and by keeping everyone in the dark until the series had finished.

Now the dust has settled, how do Kankkunen and Alen feel about it all? The two are at opposite dispositions, and a situation which will aggravate one will be taken by the other in his stride.

Alen, though not exactly circumspect, tends to take his rallying very seriously and is prone to make weighty statements rather hastily. He certainly feels that he is the injured party and there must be many who, perhaps without knowing all the circumstances, are in sympathy with him.

Kankkunen is a much more relaxed character, as determined to succeed as Alen, but able to shrug off unpleasantries and accept situations far more readily than his compatriot. He too feels aggrieved, for he has been made to look like a paper champion handed a title on a platter by a committee sitting behind closed doors. But he is less outspoken than Alen and is probably now quite unruffled.

Peugeot has no rallying programme this year, for the days of purpose-built Group B cars ended with 1986. As soon as it became clear earlier in the year that the French team would withdraw after the Olympus Rally, Kankkunen was quickly signed up by Lancia. This could have created a somewhat delicate situation, for Alen has been top man in the Turin team for some years, but Cesare Fiorio is skilled at handling even the most bowstrung drivers and will have eased whatever tension there might have been.

First event of the year is the Monte Carlo Rally, which will be over by the time this issue of MOTOR SPORT appears. Alen has been spared the tedium of the long practice sessions which are necessary for this event, and his first outing of the year will be on the Swedish Rally in February.

What of the Olympus Rally itself? This was the first time an event in the USA had appeared in the World Championship since a three-year run of Press-on-Regardless Rallies in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula ended in 1974, when organisational problems soured FISA observers and they took the rally out of the series.

It should be said, of course, that the organisers were inexperienced at dealing with hard-bitten professionals, some of whom took advantage of that situation, much in the same way as some of the works people attempted to fool the organisers of the New Zealand Rally in 1977, when that rally was also taken out of the world series for the following year.

But the Olympus Rally seemed to have been received very well by FISA, for at that December 18 meeting they declared that in 1987 it would be a qualifier not just in the Drivers’ Championship, as in 1986, but in the Manufacturers’ Championship too. This been done at the expense of the New Zealand Rally, which will only be a Drivers’ qualifier this year.

Unlike the sandy roads of the Michigan forests, those of the State of Washington are much firmer, although in early December they were wet, slippery, sometimes gravelly and sometimes muddy. The visiting drivers seemed to enjoy them, declaring then to something of a mixture of England, N Zealand and Wales. What a cosmopolitan concoction!

Entry lists have always been difficult to fill in the USA, especially when regulations demand homologated cars. American manufactuters have never seemed keen homologating their cars, and we recall the CSI (as FISA was then called) making an exception for cars made in the USA taking part the Press-on-Regardless Rally, when it was first admitted to the World Championship.

The Olympus Rally had the same difficulty, although the magic minimum of 50 starters was eventually exceeded by one! Among them, the drivers attracting greatest attention were Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alen, for the prospect of a furious tussle between them was the most exciting aspect of the rally.

Peugeot and Lancia had each brought one car for the duellists, Lancia backing theirs up with a privately-entered ex-works car for Paolo Alessandrini. As the rally was sponsored by the Toyota importers, it was natural that Toyota Team Europe should be there; they had three Celicas for Waldegard, Torph, and New Zealander Steve Millen, whose first outing for the team had been in a chase at during last year’s Ivory Coast Rally.

Entries from the USA by importers and privateers included an ex-works Audi Quattro driven by John Buffum and two 4WD Mazda 323s by New Zealanders Rod Millen and Neil Allport. The USA seems to have been a popular haven for New Zealanders since Rod Millen went to live in California some years ago, and there was even a fourth entry from that country, a Subaru RX driven by “Possum” Bourne.

It was hardly surprising that, between them, Kankkunen and Alen took all the fastest times. They were very closely matched, and each seemed to move ahead only when the other had some small problem.

After the first group of five stages, Kankkunen led by just 11 seconds, but at the end of the first leg Alen had moved ahead by 38 seconds. Kankkunen had meanwhile collected a one minute road penalty, having a very necessary battery change during a short road section in which there was hardly any opportunity for a service stop.

Alen seemed to have the edge on Kankkunen during the second leg, but he collected a puncture, so things were again evened out. Both cars needed attention quite often, for they were being driven very hard indeed, but Kankkunen lost some 40 seconds after a puncture and the margin between them after the second leg increased to a minute and a half.

The opening stage of the third leg narrowed that gap to less than a minute, but thereafter Alen took the bit between his teeth and resolutely stayed ahead of his rival. He eventually took a richly deserved victory, on the event which provided the now obsolete Group B cars with their swansong.

The Championship itself was quite another matter. As we have explained, the world’s leading series was brought to a highly unsatisfactory close by the procrastination of the very administrators who should be doing all they can to support it. GP

RESULTS Olympus Rally, December 5-8 1.t: M. Alen (SF) / I. Kivisnaki (SF). Lancia Delta S4. Gp B . 5hr 28rn lOs

1986 WORLD CHAMPIONS Drivers (12 rounds)

Manufacturers (10 rounds) . 37