R.A.C. Rally of Great Britain
January is usually the month in which this page looks back upon the R.A.C. Rally and, despite the overshadowing influence of the London-Sydney Marathon, that is precisely what it intends to do.
The first thing to remember about the R.A.C. Rally is the fact that it was really two rallies in one, an artificial division having been created in order to get through a small loophole in regulations laid down by the C.S.I. of the F.I.A. for all events in the European Rally Championship.
The only cars which the F.I.A. will permit to take part in championship events are those of Groups 1, 2 and 3, and since there has been an increase in the number of non-championship events catering for cars in Groups 4, 5 and 6 (the Scottish and Circuit of Ireland Rallies, for instance), the organisers of the R.A.C. looked for a means of catering for these highly modified cars without prejudicing the rally's championship status.
The Alpine Rally solved the problem quite simply—its organisers opted out of the championship altogether and threw its entry list open to cars of all six groups. Do you remember the picture we published of Neyret's ungainly Citroën Original?
The R.A.C. Rally wormed its way through the rules in a different way; the R.A.C. Rally was kept for groups 1 to 3 and a separate rally was held (the European Club Rally) catering for cars of all six groups. Jack Kernsley, organising chairman of the rally, has a great deal of admiration for British club drivers and their amateur mechanics, and it was out of consideration for these people that he split his event as he did. Of course, the regulations, route, timing and all other aspects of the joint event were exactly the same for both categories, and what little division there was existed on paper only. I took part in a Group 6 car, and if anyone tells me that I did not do the R.A.C. Rally in 1968 I'll feed my road book to him, page by page.
The proximity of the Marathon and its enormous drain on manpower and financial resources resulted in no entries at all being put in by the British factories. The only works teams to take part were those of Porsche, Lancia, Saab and Wartburg, the first three only being those in with a chance. Porsche, Saab and Wartburg each put its eggs in the same basket and entered Group 2 cars only, but Lancia sent only two such cars, another three being entered in the European Club Rally. These were brand new Fulvias with the new 1.6-litre engines. Although they were called prototypes and were entered in Group 6, they were by no means disguised racers, but merely the first arrivals from a recently started production line and were so entered simply because they were not yet homologated.
The rally took its usual form, starting and finishing near London Airport and spending three days and nights on the road, divided into two and one by an overnight halt, this time at Edinburgh. The competitive stages were mainly on tracks through the State Forests with variety being introduced by stages at Thruxton, Ingliston, Mallory Park and Silverstone circuits, the army roads at Epynt and the hills at Porlock and Rest-and-be-Thankful.
The feature of the rally which competitors are most likely to remember is the vast number of spectators. Certain parts of the country, Wales in particular, have always been known for their rally enthusiasm, but the huge crowds which turned up last November were quite unprecedented. Every time control was thronged, main road roundabouts were ringed and service points set up by factory support cars attracted watchers like moths to a candle—literally sometimes.
But the greatest crowds of all were on the special stages themselves. Previously, one could always guarantee a goodly knot of enthusiasts at each difficult corner of each stage, ready to provide instant pushing power if required. But this time the spectator population was so high that some stages were lined by faces along their entire lengths.
This spread of enthusiasm is a wonderful thing in itself, but there were times during the rally when it manifested itself in an ugly way. Unlike permanent circuits, forest stages have no facilities for spectating and those who go along to watch have to choose their vantage points as best they can. The majority of the spectators were regular followers of the sport and knew precisely how to behave. But others were quite uninitiated and wandered around over the tracks, scuttling for the cover of the trees only when competing cars were almost upon them. Others were even more oblivious and stood outside the tree belt on the very edges of the track. Obviously they were unused to the art of rally spectating—for it is an art—and were content to remain within a few feet of cars being driven at high speeds on loose, often bumpy, surfaces.
The two stages close to London attracted the greatest number of these stupidly unthinking spectators, some of whom were in positions best described as suicidal. It was on one of these that a group of spectators, some of them children, were struck by a competing car as it left the road following a series of bumps which sent it into the air. Under circumstances such as these, no blame whatsoever can be attached to the competing driver. He has enough to contend with keeping his car on the road and cannot possibly be expected to concern himself with the positions of spectators. Their safety is their own concern.
The rally itself was as tough as it has ever been. Some people claimed that it was too tough, that it should have ended at Edinburgh. I do not subscribe to this view, but I do agree that some of the special stages were a little too rough, particularly some of those in Northumberland and North Yorkshire. An over-rough stage ceases to be a test of driving skill but becomes a game of chance against the possibility of hitting a stone at the wrong angle and breaking something. No matter how sturdy and well prepared a car, it will break if it is driven fast enough on rough roads, and the best times on such stages are not necessarily put up by the best drivers but by those unsympathetic enough towards their cars to drive them hard hoping that they will survive the pounding.
At various times during the rally various cars were credited with the lead, including works Lancias, Porsches and Saabs and the privately-entered Ford Escort of Timo Mäkinen/Paul Easter. This crew was formerly part of the R.M.C. factory team and was snapped up for the rally by Clarke and Simpson, the London Ford distributors. The other two redundant B.M.C. crews were also driving in the rally, Rauno Aaltonen/Henry Liddon in a 1.6-litre Lancia, and Tony Fall/ Mike Wood in a Porsche.
But the "lead" was not quite as conclusive as it ought to have been, for the official statements of positions given out at various intervals showed the "two" rallies as separate lists and most news media gave the R.A.C. leader without taking the trouble to compare his penalties with those of the Club Rally leader. The truth is, as the rally got up towards Scotland, Aaltonen and I.iddon were least penalised overall and this erstwhile pair had to put up with press announcements that so-and-so was leading whereas they knew full well that their own penalty was far less.
Thus it was that an artificial situation was created. One cannot argue against it for it was explained beforehand that the two categories would be kept separate throughout, but one can argue most strongly against the regulations which gave rise to it. It is high time that the whole position of prototypes in international rally was clarified. The arguments, both for and against these cars, are many and at various times have been mentioned in this page. But that is another story altogether and is perhaps best left until another month.
Of the 15 works cars which took part in the rally (I really cannot get used to saying "both rallies"), only three finished—two Saabs and a Wartburg. The others succumbed to mechanical maladies and crashes of various kinds. This has given rise to opinions that private entrants were of a better standard than the factory crews. These opinions are certainly mistaken ones. It is all very well to say that before you can win you must finish, but a driver whose salary-earning job it is to do his best for his team must always drive to win; it is not sufficient merely to finish. Naturally, he takes a greater risk of retiring, for whilst he drives at ten-tenths the privateers are on nine-ninths or even less and are therefore more likely to reach the finish. To finish, say, twelfth after a consistent rally is of no consequence whatsoever to a professional driver. He has to go all out to win and therefore takes a greater risk of retirement than his less pressurised private cousin.
Two Scandinavians, a Finn and a Swede finally made first and second places, both driving V4-engined Saabs. Simo Lampinen and John Davenport were the winners and Carl Orrenius and Gustav Schröderheim runners-up. In third place were Jim Bullough and Don Barrow (Ford Escort t/c), but on overall penalties (each second counted a point on the stages) they were beaten by almost half an hour by the winners of the European Club Rally, Rod and Ian Cooper in a Ford Cortina.
Not once in the present decade has the R.A.C. Rally been won by a non-Scandinavian driver. If the Minister of Sport (I think someone still occupies that position) encouraged rallying as much as other ministries attempt to stifle it, perhaps our young drivers will get sufficient practice to produce an R.A.C. winner one day from their own ranks.
Despite the superlative descriptions given to such events as the Monte, Acropolis, Alpine and other rallies, there is no doubt that the R.A.C. Rally remains the toughest in the European calendar. We fervently hope that it will remain so, without a radical change of style, for many years to come. On the other hand, we also hope that it will iron out some of its nastier bumps, become "One" rally again and be graced by spectators who will have educated themselves in the coming months to behave properly on special stages.
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Again beaten by printing schedules, this page is unable this month to comment on the result of the London-Sydney Marathon, for it is being written as the 72 remaining crews at Bombay (the organisers were human enough to allow the two extra cars on the boat) are nearing the end of their voyage from the Indian port to Fremantle.
That the figure of 70 Bombay arrivals should have been reached, let alone exceeded, surprised everyone, and many have voiced the opinion that it was all a bit too easy. By normal rally standards, the whole journey was a rather boring trip punctuated by two real sections of rallying, one in Turkey and the other in Afghanistan. Indeed, many professional drivers claimed to have had more sleep during the event than they would in their own beds at home.
But for the private entrants, a term which we use even in the face of heavy sponsorship, things were different. Unaccustomed to spending such a long period in a car, most of them were penalised heavily for lateness at controls, but the total permitted lateness, before exclusion, was so generous, that many of them made it within the time allowed, some having missed a few controls to do so.
Of the leading ten to arrive as Bombay, seven were factory drivers from Europe and three were Australians. Ford men Roger Clark and Ove Andersson (Cortina Lotus) were least penalised with 11 minutes lateness.
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The eight events qualifying for the World Rally Trophy, the manufacturers' championship run each year by the R.A.C., have been changed slightly for 1969. Gone are the Shell 4000, which is no longer in being as such, and the Czechoslovakian Rally. In their places are the San Remo Rally (Italy) and the T.A.P. Rally (Portugal), the latter being a young event which will only be run for the third time in 1969. The complete list of events is as follows: R.A.C. Rally (Britain), T.A.P. Rally (Portugal), San Remo Rally (Italy), East African Safari (Kenya), Swedish Rally (Sweden), Alpine Rally (France), Acropolis Rally (Greece) and Geneva Rally (Switzerland).
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Following the example of the R.A.C. Rally, the A.C. de Monaco is to run a parallel to the Monte Carlo Rally, catering for cars of Groups 4, 5 and 6. This will be called the Rallye Méditerranée and will be subject to the same regulations, route and timing, etc., as the main event. This internal division of one event into two is a trend which we hope will not catch on permanently, for a rally should have one winning crew and one only. The sooner the amends rules to render such offshoots unnecessary the better.—G. P.