Prospects for 1990
BY THE time this issue of MOTOR SPORT appears, the Monte Carlo Rally, first round of the 1990 World Rally Championship, will be over, and an indication given as to which crews and cars are likely to be the best performers during the year.
Already from 1989 we have Lancia, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Mazda, whilst coming soon in 1990 will be a biggerengined Mazda, a 4WD Ford Sierra Cosworth, a 4WD Volkswagen Golf, the Subaru Legacy RS and, when it is ready, Nissan’s new 4WD car. The Subaru Legacy is expected to make its first competition appearance on the Safari, no less than six of them being made ready, to appear in two teams of three.
Some teams are planning comprehensive World Championship programmes during the year, but most will be entering selected rallies only. Over the years, some driver/team combinations have become long established, almost historical, but changes took place at the end of 1989. Lancia lost Alen to Subaru, after many years with both Fiat and Lancia, but has gained Kankkunen who surprisingly decided to return to the team with which he was not particularly happy in 1987, when team orders resulted in his not winning as often as he most certainly deserved. Lancia’s three works drivers are Massimo Biasion, Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen. Dario Cerrato will drive for the Jolly Club, and Alessandro Fiorio will alternate between the two teams.
Toyota’s three drivers are Carlos Sainz, Mikael Ericsson and Armin Schwarz, to be joined by Jorge Recalde for the Safari. Mazda will have limo Salonen, Hannu Mikkola, Ingvar Carlsson and, until he has to leave to join Subaru when the new Legacy is ready, Gregoire De Mevius from Belgium. Mitsubishi, planning six rallies during the year, will have An Vatanen and Kenneth Eriksson, and it is somewhat strange that the team will not have the services of the two drivers who won World Championship rounds for the make in 1989, Mikael . Ericsson and Pentti Airikkala, the former having signed with Toyota and the latter with Ford.
The Boreham team will have Malcolm Wilson, Gwyndaf Evans, Franco Cunico and Pentti Airikkala, although the latter will also drive for the UK Mitsubishi importers in the British Championship, at least during those parts of 1990 which do not clash with conflicting World Championship events in which Ford is planning to participate. Initially, the 2WD Sierra Cosworth will be used, the 4W0 car taking over when ready. Former Ford driver Stig Blomqvist has been working on the Nissan 4WD test programme and will presumably drive that car when it is ready.
Erwin Weber will be driving for Volkswagen, whilst GM’s efforts seem to be mainly directed towards getting Louise Aitken-Walker to win the Ladies Cup of the World Rally Championship. Just like the other Japanese teams, Subaru has its competition activities
centred in Europe, and it is expected that three cars from Britain’s Prodrive will take part in the Safari, driven by Markku Alen, Francois Chatriot and Gregoire de Mevius. Three others, prepared in Japan, will be driven by Mike Kirkland, Ian Duncan and Peter Bourne, but whether these drivers compete in other events during the year remains to be seen.
Long after the Monte Carlo Rally’s concentration runs from various starting points ceased to be competitive, they continued as somewhat boring preludes to the competition itself, which did not begin until the morning after the first night stop in Monaco. In the Seventies, many journalists (who seem to consider that they have some muscle) began to complain that when cars reached the Principality for the first time they (the journalists) had very little to write about because there had been no competition to provide a classification.
Special stages were then introduced to the tail end of the concentration run, to be tackled after the various routes had all converged at some convenient place in the Alps. Later, the concentration runs were ended at some distant town, and the first arrival day in Monaco became Wednesday rather than Monday. This could not have been welcomed by the hoteliers and restaurateurs of Monaco
who found themselves losing a substantial part of their regular winter income. However, this was not the reason for the 1990 change back to the old system of taking everyone to Monaco before the competitive sections started. It was done to help the organisers promote the centenary celebrations of the Automobile Club de Monaco, an organisation which, like several others, owes its origins to musclepowered travel — in this case the bicycle!
We must say that, although the original challenge of the Monte Carlo Rally was largely getting there in the first place, it does seem more appropriate that Monaco should nowadays host both the start and the finish. A competitive start at Gap, Grenoble, Aubenas or wherever, does tend to detract from the importance and significance of the Principality itself, and we trust that future Monte cavalcades will set off from the Monaco quayside itself, rather than from some convenient French town, then to be flagged away from the ramp erected in Casino Square.
This year, the Concentration Legs ran from Friday to Saturday, the Classification Leg during the Sunday from Monaco to Aubenas, the Common Leg from Monday to Tuesday with a night stop at Gap, and the Final Leg (Monaco to Monaco) during the Wednesday night, ending at 9.30 am on the Thursday, some 23 hours earlier than the old finish, when BBC Radio, courtesy of Arthur Phillips, Robin Richards and Eric Tobitt, invariably broadcast live from the quayside.
Would that modern Monte coverage, with all its computerised sophistication, provided such instant news straight from the horses’ mouths which those chaps managed to bring daily to Britain more than twenty five years ago. There was even Polish, Norwegian and Welsh language coverage, all live, and we will not enlarge upon the latter on the grounds that it may increase our hat size!
A SOFTENED SAFARI?
Another rally to have introduced changes for 1990 is the Marlboro Safari Rally which, despite more dithering in Paris over its dates, will again take place during the traditional Easter weekend, from Thursday to Monday.
However, a preliminary crowd-pulling stage has been arranged for the Wednesday, and this will be laid out on the grass and murram infield of Nairobi’s long established horse racing track on the Ngong Road, a few miles eastward of the city centre. No doubt this has been arranged to meet FISA’s demand that every World Championship rally should have a “superspecial stage”, which certainly has no place in a competition based on five days’ arduous driving through the bush and over tortuous escarpments and mountain ranges. But at least there may just be one good thing emerging from it; the organisers could earn a little income from spectator attendance, if they are allowed to charge a reasonable admission fee, which is doubtful. Networked television may also bring in something, but local TV coverage by the Voice of Kenya (VOK) will probably have to be gratis, as usual.
This year the rally will be divided into five distinct parts, each separated by a night stop. The first, from 10.00 am to 9.00 pm on Thursday, April 12, will head southwards via Kitui to the Taita Hills, Loitokitok near the Tanzania border and overlooked by Kilimanjaro, and the Chyulu Hills before returning to Nairobi. It was near Kitui in 1976 that sudden rain brought up rivers and stopped more than half the field on their first leg journey down to Mombasa. Clerk of the Course Mike Doughty says that this year, 14 years later, things have changed and the risks of stoppage are far less. However, in Africa nothing can really be regarded as a certainty, and even the main highway through Nairobi has occasionally become impassable due to flooding. Anyway, we agree with Doughty’s philosophy. If they wanted to be 100% sure of every single piece of road, whatever the weather, they wouldn’t have a Safari at all. The second leg will be held during the Friday, and will consist of a journey up to Embu (North-East of Mount Kenya) and back, so gone are the rest stops at Nanyuki and the sections northwards to the desolate areas around Wamba. The third will start from Nairobi at 4.00 am on the Saturday and go northwards via a short stop at Eldoret to a night section through
the Cherangani Hills, which will at least put the cat among the daylight pigeons! The leg ends when cars return to Eldoret from 2.00 am onwards.
The fourth part of the rally starts at 10.00 am on the Sunday and ends at Nakuru (not at Nairobi) at 3.00 pm the same day. There will be a long rest stop extending to all of fifteen hours at Nakuru, after which thelinal sections will begin at 6.00 am on the Monday, leading the rally back to Nairobi (presumably via roads around the Mau Escarpment, Narok, and the Kedong Valley) for the finish from 11.00 am onwards on Easter Monday.
We can’t see the long stop at Nakuru being popular, and we feel sure that everyone, competitors and officials, would prefer the rally either to return to Nairobi for the Sunday night or to continue for a longer distance that day. A common comment made by no end of Safari stalwarts is that “the Safari has gone soft because it goes to bed every night”. But we have to grant that, bombarded by FISA demands, the organisers have their hands tied by stupid, blanket rules and are obliged not to allow the overall distance to be increased beyond that which Paris considers to be an appropriate level. Interference in the manner in which individual rallies are run is quite outside the terms of reference of an international co-ordinating authority. Such a body is there to govern democratically, not to dictate and oppress. It should blend and harmonise according to the requirements of member countries and national clubs, not force them into a conformity which their countries are not geographically, or
even culturally, able to accept. But these basic objectives have been ignored for years by FISA. Democracy and harmony are words which have vanished from its vocabulary and certainly do not exist in Balestre’s.
FISA has no business whatsoever poking its bungling, meddling fingers into the strictly local affairs of member countries, and even less right to elevate itself to the nauseating level of an oppressive tyranny. How long will this destructive interference by insignificant, tin-pot yes-men scared out of their wits of offending their domineering but craftily crumb-throwing master be allowed to continue? There can be no doubt that many organisers, competitors and team managers (even some of the blue-blazer minions themselves) would dance gleefully at his demise. But why in Heaven’s name doesn’t any of them have the old fashioned guts to do something about it? NOW! In the past several years, world motorsport co-ordination has become ineffective, sick and rotten. The whole sack of apples needs to be thrown out and replaced, and the sooner the better. Please give us your views about it. Let your hair down, and don’t worry about recriminations because there will be no identification in print. Whether you are a competitor, organiser, team official, a writer for another journal or even just an enthusiastic spectator, we’ll be glad to have your opinions. All requests for anonymity will be respected, but you must identify yourselves in your letters, just between ourselves, otherwise we can do nothing. GP