Saabs upstage Ford’s effort — Gruelling Arctic conditions prove rallying isn’t simply about horsepower
Sometimes it’s the softly-softly approach which works. Against two works Ford Escorts and a pair of factory Fiats, Saab Finland pulled off an unexpected victory in the Arctic Rally with its ageing V4-engined 95, and rubbed it home by making it a 1-2-3. Simo Lampinen/Juohni Markkanen finally triumphed despite Stig Blomqvist’s string of fastest stage times in a Saab run by the Swedish factory. A couple of time-wasting offs dropped Blomqvist to 10th and meant he had to drive furiously to recover, but he fell just shy of Lampinen. Jari Vilkas/Juhanni Soini completed the 1-2-3.
Saab’s strongest rivals in the tough Finnish event should have been Timo Mäkinen (Escort) and the Fiat 124 Abarths of Markku Alén/Illka Kivimaki and Hannu Mikkola/Jean Todt. But as Alén cleared a brow at the end of a long straight he discovered it was not ‘flat’ but a sharp right turn. His Fiat cleared the snow bank and disappeared so far into the drifts that he and Kivimaki abandoned it and walked out of the stage. Mikkola, meanwhile, was trying to recover from the effects of an electrics problem which forced him to drive the first serious night-time stage on sidelights only. But on stage 13 he wedged the Fiat sideways across the road and had to be pushed out of the way by a following competitor. Mikkola was not happy with the Fiat’s handling, and a succession of little difficulties meant that he never figured in the running.
Blomqvist took an early lead, but after two offs on successive stages, found he had given his car rear-wheel steering. So at the first rest halt it was the favourite, Mäkinen, leading, but not far behind were the Saabs of previous year’s winner Tapio Rainio and Lampinen. Coming man Ari Vatanen, already dubbed ‘the new Flying Finn’, was struggling with gearbox problems but had lifted his Opel Ascona up to an impressive fourth. He would later roll out of the rally.
Against the odds Rainio overhauled Mäkinen shortly after the restart, only for his overstressed V4 to break a camshaft. But Mäkinen’s restoration was not to last: smoke from the Escort’s engine bay signalled a terminal fire. So in short order Lampinen had jumped to the top spot, and he never let it go. Behind him, Stig was caning his car to close the gap: on one stage he went off three times and drove the last few miles on a flat tyre, yet only lost 5sec to Lampinen. It wasn’t enough, though, and as the four-day event came to a close in the little town of Rovaniemi, the Swede had to accept that though he’d shown speed enough to win the event, the price of leaving the road several times was to be runner-up.
Down in Group 1, Pentti Airikkala was going well in the new DTV Vauxhall Magnum until he buried it in deep snow and lost minutes digging it out, allowing Kyösti Hämäläinen through to take class honours and fourth overall in his Chrysler Avenger.
Against its modern square-cut rivals the taper-tailed Saab 95 may have looked impossibly antiquated, but over the Arctic’s narrow, rutted roads it proved yet again that in snowy conditions less power and front-wheel drive could still do the business.
Also this month in ’75:
For the first time in the championship’s history, Le Mans will not be part of the world sportscar series. After the ACO sets its own rules for the 24-hour event, featuring GTs rather than prototypes, the CSI deepens the feud by dropping the famous race from its listing.
Silverstone circuit begins work on a new pits complex. The £120,000 project should result in one of the most advanced facilities in the world, says manager George Smith, and should cope with all demands for the next 10 years.
British ski champion Divina Galica announces she is going motor racing professionally. Having shown promise in races in 1974, she will drive a 1.8-litre BDA Escort in Special Saloons. John Webb, her patron, says he wants to see her In F5000 by 1976.
‘The Bike’ Quits
Mike Hailwood retires from motorsport. The ‘bike star had been the 1972 European F2 champion with Surtees but was winless with the squad’s F1 team, and with McLaren, too. He was lying fourth in the ’74 title chase when he crashed at the ‘Ring. His decision to stop follows protracted leg surgery.
McLaren powers to a debut victory in the Global GT Endurance race at Jerez. Three F1 GTRs enter, top the grid, and lead the early stages of the four-hour mini-enduro. But a series of misfortunes almost gifts victory to a GT2 Porsche running in the GT1 class.
Former British F3 runner-up Maurizio Sandro Sala, sharing one Gulf GTR with ’80s C2 star Ray Bellm, has handling problems during his stint, so the lead is handed to the Wollek/Bouchut/Jarier 911 as the other Gulf F1 loses a wheel. At the restart, Bellm retakes the lead but spins, prompting a scorching double stint which finally bags a 16sec win. “I think it was the performance of my life,” he claims later.
IMSA-spec Porsche 962s achieve a 1-2-3-4 sweep as the Daytona 24 Hours opens the US sports-racing season. Bob Tullius’ Jaguar XJR-5 keeps pressure on the favourite Al Holbert/Derek Bell/Al Unser Jnr 962, but all bets are soon off. Two hot-rodded Marches (one on pole with 800 Buick horses) lead early on, but break; then the Group 44 Jag erupts in flames when a tyre bursts, sending Tullius into a huge shunt; he is lucky to escape with minor burns, and the pace car is out for 45min. This allows Bob Wollek/Thierry Boutsen/Al Unser Snr/A J Foyt to inherit the chase in Preston Henn’s 962, but the Holbert car builds a healthy cushion during the night.
As midday approaches, Bell takes over from Holbert — but the car won’t start. It takes 3min to fire, and once on the circuit it cuts again — four times, once when Bell is at the top of the banking. “It felt very lonely up there, all alone with no power,” says the Brit ace afterwards. Steadily his lead evaporates as the fault comes and goes, and with only half an hour to go Wollek in the Valvoline Porsche passes its faltering rival 962 to claim victory.
On the Exeter Trial A E Hay’s Lotus Special “made climbing Fingle look like child’s play.”