Rally Preview - The 1991 Season

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The World Series for 1991

Much has happened in world rallying circles in the past year, but no-one can argue that the most significant issue of 1990 was not the overthrow of Lancia drivers for whom the World title had been a preserve since Peugeot left the fray after 1986. Lancia did win the World Rally Championship for Makes last year, but the person, the real, flesh-and-blood driver himself who proved better than all the world’s top-rankers, was none other than Toyota driver from Spain, Carlos Sainz, and after his impeccable performance throughout the year we can think of no more worthy a holder of the title.

For some strange reason, FISA considers the Makes series to be the more prestigious of the two, and actively endeavours to attach more prominence to the car than its driver. We agree that, without a properly engineered works car with all its massive support and complicated attendant logistics, no driver could hope to achieve what Sainz and his forerunners have accomplished, but the fact remains that no collection of mechanical and electronic components can ever be a substitute for a live, speaking, thinking, interviewable human being.

It may be a huge team effort, from the scribbling board and computer screen to final, on-stage trials, but the two faces in the car are those which are remembered in the end, and there is probably no-one in Toyota Team Europe who would have it otherwise. They set out to get Sainz and his co-driver Luis Moya to the head of the championship table, and they succeeded. Moya, as the mere reader of notes, is not officially accorded the status of World Champion, but at least Halda, one of the oldest names in rally equipment manufacture, recognises that it takes two people to crew a car, and on the eve of the 1990 Lombard RAC Rally Moya was presented by Gunnar Palm with the Golden Halda Trophy, awarded annually to the co-driver of the year.

According to FISA’s philosophy, the World Championship for Drivers is the second grade of the world series. Each year, there is always competition for championship status, although rarely does the list of qualifiers change much. There have been exceptions, of course, and even the famed Monte Carlo Rally has proved not to be immune from the threat of relegation, and whether you connect that with a dispute between FISA and the Automobile Club of Monaco over matters concerning the Principality’s Formula One race is a matter for you.

The list of World Championship qualifiers usually numbers twelve or thirteen, but normally some three of those count only for the drivers’ series, not for makes. The reason for this distinction is one of the incomprehensible mysteries of the strange logic of Place de la Concorde, unless it be a way of tossing a few compensatory crumbs to those events which fail to gain the Paris blessing, much in the same way that European Championship rounds are graded by coefficients.

It would be so much simpler if both series of the World Championship contained exactly the same qualifying rounds, an opinion which is shared by members of the International Association of Professional Rally Drivers, the group of drivers and co-drivers which was revived last October after the former Rally Pilots Association faded away in the Seventies.

Once every four weeks has been the average frequency of World Championship rallies. Some consider that to be too many; others that it’s not enough. It certainly presents teams tackling the series as a whole with an endless workload covering an enormous variety of tasks, and competitors with the prospect of jumping directly from one rally to the next with hardly any opportunity for a break at home.

To increase the number would certainly over-complicate the series and turn it into a planning contest much in the same way as the hopelessly top-heavy European Championship has become.

The members of the lAPRAD suggested that eight qualifying rounds would be the ideal number for the World Championship, the same eight counting for both Drivers’ and Makes’ series. That sounds just about right on both counts, although whittling the list down to eight is certain to ruffle the organisers of events which are dropped, especially those who consider their rallies to be part of the untouchable establishment.

FISA itself has declared that it is working towards a reduction in the number of qualifying events, and the chairman of its rally committee said at Sanremo in October that the aim is to have twelve qualifiers for both drivers and makes in 1992, although nothing was said whether both series would be based on the same twelve.

He also said that the 1991 series would be based on ten rounds for makes, and the same ten plus four more for drivers. A new round was introduced to the Drivers’ Championship in the form of the Spanish Rally, an amalgam taking the place of the Costa Brava Rally. Its organisers have been lobbying for World Championship status for some time, eager to have it included at least by the time of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Another event to reach the short list for the drivers’ series was Germany’s ADAC Rally, but in October all FISA would say was that two events would be chosen from the ADAC Rally, the Ivory Coast Rally and the New Zealand Rally. The popularity of the latter cannot be denied, although FISA continues to regard it as a second string event. The ADAC Rally, although very well organised in 1990, takes place entirely on very smooth, very fast, tarmac roads in the Niürburgring area, whilst the Ivory Coast Rally attracted a very poor entry last year and, although rather better organised than it has been in the past, was certainly not in the same league as the Safari.

The final list announced in December revealed that the unlucky one of the three was the ADAC Rally, leaving Sweden, Spain, New Zealand and the Ivory Coast to be the countries which will host the four non-Makes rounds of the World Championship this year. Last year the Swedish Rally was regrettably cancelled due to the absence of snow in Värmland and to the soft, vulnerable state of the forest roads. This year the organisers are going more to the North, and have a contingency plan to go even further northwards if snow still remains scarce.

The complete list of World Championship qualifiers for 1991 is as follows. Those marked D qualify only for the Drivers’ series.

If it turns out that there is a last ditch struggle for supremacy in the Drivers’ series, November is certainly going to a busy month for those involved. Three rallies in one month is a concentration which has never before happened in the world series, and we foresee that neither Spain nor the Ivory Coast will attract the entries they would like, although the former stands a better chance than the latter. Certainly Toyota is not going to deny their World Champion pair the opportunity to drive a works car in front of their home crowds.

What of other changes which can be expected in 1991? On the subject of rest stops, FISA’s campaign to increase the duration and frequency of rest stops has already affected all the European-style special stage rallies in the world series. With but very few exceptions — the Monte Carlo Rally’s final night is one example — there is precious little night running nowadays, and there is always enough rest to ensure that stamina and endurance are no longer essential ingredients for success.

Special stage events invariably run very close, if not exactly, to schedule, for their stages are divorced from road timing and overall timetables are not affected by the stage performances of competitors. A crew will amass hours of penalty on special stages but may yet remain penalty-free on the road and get to every control on time. Organisers can therefore plan their timetables with precision, knowing that they will be disrupted only by unexpected blockages and the like.

An event without special stages is in quite a different situation. Competitive sections form an integral part of the overall schedule, and if a crew loses ten minutes on such a section then it will remain ten minutes late until the next rest stop or regrouping control. It therefore takes just six ten minute losses to put a crew one hour behind its scheduled time, and this is something that organisers of such events have to take into account in their planning.

In just that category is the Safari Rally, this year no longer sponsored by Marlboro. All penalties in that event are road penalties, and in order to produce a winner the organisers are obliged to include sections which are impossible to complete in the time allowed. Lateness is therefore inevitably accumulated, and when a car arrives at an eight rest stop two hours late, its crew’s rest period is reduced to six. That is as it always has been, still is, and presumably always will be. The restart after a rest stop cannot be revised to take the lateness into account, for the entire event would then become scattered over a wide area and a huge time span. We recall the days when spectators often pitched camp for the weekend in one place, for it was often the case that several hours separated the cars, no more than a handful of which would pass in an entire day.

More rest stops and regrouping controls have put an end to that kind of extreme situation, although it necessarily persists to a lesser degree. It is impossible to legislate against lateness in an event which has lateness as the essential product of its competition.

In the days when the Safari visited all three East African countries and was divided into just two legs, the half-way stop was substantial, but so was the accumulated lateness, and it often happened that some competitors arrived so late that their rest period was completely swallowed up. We have mentioned before that a common remark by officials of the time was, “Unless you’re bursting for a pee, I shouldn’t bother getting out of the car!”

Longer and more frequent rest stops have put an end to that sort of thing, although an unavoidable, old-fashioned “bog-up” last year in the Taita Hills delayed later runners so much that their rest period in Nairobi was considerably reduced. Normally, they would have been time-barred, but the Clerk of the Course extended maximum permitted lateness in order that they could have the chance of staying in the rally. The choice was theirs, and some of them managed to get back to Nairobi, determined to carry on.

The scheduled rest period at the end of that first leg was no less than eleven hours (from 9.00 pm to 8.00 am for the first car) but when FISA observers saw that cars were continuing to arrive from the first leg in the early morning they criticised the organisation for providing insufficient rest. Had they bothered to ask the latecomers themselves they would probably have been told that they wanted to carry on, no matter how much they were late.

A blockage, due for instance to a sudden storm producing a flood or a huge mud hole, always causes controversy, and criticism is invariably levelled at the organisers (who else can it be levelled at?) for choosing roads liable to such blockage. This, of course, is nonsensical, for in Kenya any road can be so affected, even the city streets of Nairobi itself. Those who were stuck in the Taita Hills last year were probably disgruntled at the time, but on reflection they must have realised that the situation was beyond anyone’s control. A truly all-weather road has yet to be built, and if the organisers had to choose a route which was certain not to become impassable they would have no Safari at all.

The Safari is not an event which can be fitted neatly into one of the pigeonholes of Paris. It defies categorisation, has a character which is unique and cannot be made to look like the other rallies of the world.

No organiser would voluntarily relinquish World Championship status, and those of the Safari have bent over backwards to comply with FISA’s many demands. Short of turning it into a touring cavalcade, they have done just about everything to keep the international body happy. Now they are going a stage further by adding another chunk to the already substantial rest time.

Last year there were five substantial rest stops, and from the start of the event to the finish the running time was 39 hours and the rest time 58 hours. Can it really be that this is considered too strenuous? It seems so, for to accommodate additional rest time the rally will be started on the Wednesday before Easter, rather than the traditional Thursday. Indeed, one Nairobi writer commented that it would start each day after breakfast and end in time for tea!

David Morgan, the former regional organiser who has taken over Mike Doughty’s role as executive manager of the Safari, has found a few hitherto unused roads in the northerly part of the route area, even beyond the Cherangani Hills. This is getting close to the area which was once planned, surveyed and practised in the early Seventies, using that wonderful region close to Lake Turkana, but was cancelled at the eleventh hour when a violent storm turned the Chalbi Desert into the Chalbi Sea!

The tendency for rallies to go to bed every night is certainly welcomed by one group of the sport’s followers, photographers and cameramen, although the latter have been plagued considerably in the past year by a requirement that, in addition to applying to event organisers for the passes which allow them to go about their business, they also apply to an organisation called International Sportsworld Communicators.

FISA, it seems, has world film rights for World Championship rallies and has vested authority to issue or refuse such passes in the ISC which, curiously, operates from the FOCA offices in London.

All manner of hassles have occurred, and there have even been cases of authority being given for only a certain number of cameras per film unit. One outfit filming the Lombard RAC Rally for the BBC was even asked to remove cameras from competing cars (which they had arranged with the teams) because they were authorised to use only three cameras, not five. Eventually the extra stickers (each camera must bear a sticker of authorisation) were handed over, but not until considerable inconvenience had been caused to the film unit in question. All this, of course, can jeopardise the quality of television coverage of the rally, which all of us like to see done properly and adequately.

No doubt many readers will remember Pentti Airikkala’s horrific roll during the RAC Rally. It was captured on videotape by amateur camcorder user Geoff Helm of Hull who later offered the shot to the BBC. Naturally, they accepted and the sequence was shown on BBC television, adding to the comprehensive coverage of the event and even illustrating the safety factor by showing Airikkala and McNamee walking unhurt out of the stage aftertwards.

We understand that the clip was shown during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony, and that Bernie Ecclestone was heard to comment that the BBC had no right to screen it without authority from the ISC, and that Mr Helm had no right to pass it to the BBC in the first place. What rot! If someone is in the right place at the right time, having paid his admission or entrance fee, takes a picture or shoots a video sequence, why on earth should he not dispose of them as he wishes. He is an amateur after all, demanding no special privileges.

The situation remains confused, and even just prior to the Monte Carlo Rally there were film outfits still without confirmation that they would get the required passes.

Among the interesting non-championship events planned for this year is the RAC Historic Rally of Great Britain which will take place during 7-10 March, starting at Bath and finishing at Torbay. Night stops will be at Builth Wells, Bath and Torbay.

The 1000 mile route will have no forest stages, but will have no less than 17 special tests, two manoeuvring tests and some 100 miles of regularity sections in the Welsh Mountains, a far greater competitive element than the old Rally of the Tests. Regularity sections can, of course, include secret time controls where cars will be timed on sight and penalised if they are not adhering strictly to the stated average speed for that section.

This is the sort of stuff which featured in the RAC Rallies of the Fifties, and will be ideal for anyone possessing a car of that era. To qualify for the international section, cars must comply with Category 2.2 of Appendix K to the International Sporting Code, but there will be a concurrent national event to cater for cars which do not meet that specification.

Finally, a little snippet from the 1990 Lombard RAC Rally. Originally, the organisers planned not to have any road penalties at all, except exclusion for exceeding the maximum. This would in no way have diluted the competitive element of the event and would have done no harm whatsoever. However, FISA subsequently objected to the absence of road penalties, so a change had to be made. The new rule stated that for every minute late at a time control, competitors would be penalised one second. Neat! GP