RAC Rally

IN 1966, when the Lancia factory started to spread the activities of its competitions department, two Fulvias came to Britain to tackle the RAC Rally. In the hands of Ove Andersson and the late Leo Cella they caused more than a little interest, but proved to be so fragile that they all but fell to pieces on the rough forest stages.

That same year, a mild-mannered and relatively unknown Swede called Harry Källström showed that once inside a motor car his manner became anything but mild and, in his Mini Cooper S, he finished second to Bengt Söderström’s Cortina.

Three years later, with considerably more know-how under their belts, the Lancia team made it abundantly clear that their cars are not the fragile but pretty little things which they were in 1966. Furthermore, Källström was instrumental in making this point for it was he, with co-driver Gunnar Häggbom, who not only won last November’s RAC Rally but also became European Rally Champion.

At a time when the influence of Fiat must be making its presence felt in the tall building which straddles Via Vincenzo Lancia, the competitions staff of Lancia must be feeling gratified that Källström should have provided them with this double victory at the end of 1969, Fiat’s take-over year, to justify their continued existence to the new directors.

The first point of interest about the RAC Rally was the number of entries. Over a hundred and fifty pairs of competitors setting out to drive their cars hard over unmade tracks proves that interest in forest rallying is as high as it ever was. And the number of thousands who turned out to watch and help them dispels any doubt that rallying is a minority sport.

Five official factory teams took part in the RAC Rally. The Ford Escorts, the Lancia Fulvias and the Saabs we had seen before, but the fuel-injected 2.5-litre Triumphs entered by British Leyland were unknown entities. It was the first real return to rallying for the Abingdon concern since it ceased calling itself BMC, but it was most gratifying to see once again service cars displaying the familiar octagon, Abingdon’s traditional means of identifying its support crews—in deference to its MG roots, of course.

The fifth team was from the Japanese Datsun factory, and their 1600 SSS (Super Sports Sedan) cars were brand new to British rallying. Of course, the Japanese have had considerable experience tallying them in such places as East Africa, but they have never really made a sustained effort in Europe. It would render the sport considerably livelier if they regarded the RAC Rally as a trial run for a more ambitious European programme in the future.

When the snow came as plentifully as it did, glazing over many of the special stages in Northumberland, Scotland, the Lake District and Wales, and rendering the rougher surfaces smooth, the whole aspect of the rally changed. Predicting a likely winner became more a matter of choosing between drivers rather than between cars, and the Scandinavians naturally emerged favourites. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that not once in the past decade has the RAC Rally been won other than by a Swede or a Finn, and the progression shows no signs of changing.

Early in the rally the lead was taken by Björn Waldegärd and Lars Helmer in a Porsche entered by the Swedish importers. With a Monte Carlo and other Championship wins to their credit, they were number one favourites, but without factory support, so when a shock absorber broke on the last day they were unable to replace it to have a chance of regaining the time lost by twice leaving the road.

The Ford Escorts, with their very wide Goodyear tyres, had trouble putting their reserves of power on the very slippery ground, and changing to narrower tyres didn’t seem to help matters much. In any case, their chances of the Manufacturers’ Team Prize had been lost when Hannu Mikkola left the road on an early special stage and embedded his car in the trees.

Both the Lancia and Saab teams were reduced by blown head gaskets, Lampinert struggling on for a while in his Swedish car but finally succumbing, and Mäkinen grinding to a stop in a special stage after holing the radiator of his Lancia in a collision with a dog . . . or a fox . . . or a badger, opinions differ. These incidents resulted in a battle for team supremacy between British Leyland and Datsun. The former team had to put up with clutch and gearbox problems—Hopkirk had his gearbox changed at Machynlleth—and the drivers were somewhat hesitant whenever they were asked how the cars were behaving. Certainly the Triumphs were bigger and less manageable than the cars to which their drivers had been accustomed—Imps and Minis. On the special stages, sometimes they used chains and sometimes they didn’t, for such appendages were mixed blessings. Tyre studs were, of course, banned in order that the forest tracks might not be cut up more than necessary.

Of the Datsuns, little can he said; not because of insignificance but because nothing went wrong with them. They proved to be utterly and completely reliable, and were strong enough to take the roughest of roads without any thought of car sympathy. These comments are not the result of brainwashed PR utterances by the team drivers, for I took part myself in one of them and I can vouch for their reliability. Even when our car rolled over on to its roof on a snow-covered stage in North Wales there was little damage except for the loss of the windscreen, and even after a pause to check fluid levels only a minute or so was lost due to the incident.

The power output of the Datsuns was nowhere near as high as that of its rivals, but the cars never seemed to need attention. If the Japanese company peps up those single-overhead-camshaft engines for future rally use the name Datsun could very easily become as much of a rallying byword as some of the other manufacturer entrants.

It was the reliability of the Datsuns which undoubtedly earned the trio of cars the Manufacturers’ Team Prize, something which they hardly expected to achieve on their first outing in Britain. Aaltonen/Ambrose and Fidler/Sprinzel drove two of them, and more seasoned rallyists would be hard to find, whilst the third was driven by Jack Simonian, a Kenyan with considerable experience of the East African Safari, but none of European events: In fact, until the 1969 RAC Rally he had never even seen snow at close quarters before, so driving on it was quite an experience for him.

December is really a month for wound-licking, and even victors carry scars, but even a meagre rally programme consumes a vast amount of time nowadays, and almost as soon as the RAC was over various people began rushing off across the world to begin reconnaissance trips. Both Ford and British Leyland had men in South America last month looking over the route of next year’s World Cup Rally; the Alpes Maritimes were swarming with crews making pace notes for the Monte Carlo Rally, whilst Aaltonen was even in East Africa making preparations for the Safari.

The sport and business of rallying is considerably more involved than it was jut decade ago, but we in Britain can rejoice that we have as tough and as popular an event as can be found anywhere. From time to time rumours circulate that the Forestry Commission will ban all rallies from its forests. Happily nothing material has emerged from these rumours. If it does, any move to prevent the RAC and other British rallies using the forest tracks should be resisted with every force possible.

1970 Championships

THE various calendars which are published from time to time, both by the FIA and by various other bodies, rarely seem to agree in every respect and whenever a year comes to an end we get hundreds of phone calls from readers who want to know correct dates for the following year. The following dates are taken from the latest list to be published by the FIA.

Of the two championships for 1970, that for constructors has expanded from European to International. This is by virtue of the inclusion of the East African Safari Rally. Some people have said that Kenya is so far from the more concentrated rally grounds of Europe that the Safari ought not to have been included. This is not at all a sensible view. In fact, I can think of no event more suitable for a constructors’ championship than this one, since it is so fast and tightly scheduled that very little time indeed is available for servicing. Furthermore, each change of component results in a penalty, a system which is not followed in Europe, where most events will allow competitors to change gearboxes, drive shafts, shock absorbers, etc., with impunity.

The other seven events in the Constructors’ Championship are sufficiently well known to need no explanation, except perhaps the Italian qualifier which is an amalgamation of the Sanremo Rally with the Turin-based Sestriere Rally, the latter being blessed with much financial support from Fiat.

The list of qualifying events for the Drivers’ Championship are by no means as straightforward, and the former rule that no country should have more than one event in the series has gone by the board. Twenty-two events are included, but only the best six scores will be taken into account at the end of the year with the proviso that not more than two should be front events in the same country.

Most of the 22 are familiar, being long-term regulars in the European Championship, but some are quite new. Two of Britain’s Home Internationals are included, the Scottish and the Circuit of Ireland allies. Portugal’s TAP-sponsored Autumn Rally has doubtlessly been included for its toughness and cheapness and the attraction it has for private entrants. France has both its Lorraine Rally and the Tour de France, although there are some who doubt the validity of the latter as a true rally.

Finland’s Rally of the 1,000 Lakes has been “relegated” from the constructors’ qualifiers presumably because Scandinavians are decidedly hard to beat on their home ground and anyone managing it should be given points on his own account and not just to the maker of his car. The Danube, Polish, Moldau, Geneva, Tulip and Spanish rallies are all old regulars.

For the first time since the old Liége became nine parts transformed into a race, Belgium has a qualifier—the Tour of Belgium; and France has its better known tour, that of Corsica, a real event for drivers if ever I saw one. Italy’s island event, on Elba, has been included, together with the San Marino Rally, the latter always having been regarded as important by the Italians and the French. Austria’s 1,000 Minutes and Bodensee rallies are in, both of them deserving qualifiers, whilst there are two from West Germany and one from the East.

Many of the events are very close together indeed in terms of time, and no one could possibly undertake them all. This is no real drawback since six from twenty-two offers a considerable choice. But we can foresee some “consultation” between drivers high in the points scale to decide who will go where, and when. This might he particularly noticeable in October, when five events are crammed into the month.—G.P.

A simple battery charger

AT this time of year the battery of a car has a hard time. For keeping it up to the task of cold weather starts, Lucas have introduced a 12-volt 1 1/4-amp. battery charger called the “Majorcharger”. A very simple affair, in reality a large-plug-in of bakelite, the Lucas “Majorcharger” consists of a transformer, silicon rectifier, an indicator lamp to show if it is working and a fuse. Clips attach its insulated cables to the battery which can then be charged from any mains supply three-pin 13-amp. socket. No switches or dials complicate the service and it is claimed that a 10 to 12 hour charge will keep the average battery in good condition with no fear of overloading. The part number of this acceptable Lucas product is 5428-5679 and the recommended price is 75s.

Two Dellow owners, who feel that it is time a Register was formed to keep this increasingly-rare breed together, invite fellow owners of the marque to correspond with them. Write either to Mark Hayward or John Temple at 86 Paxford Road, North Wembley, Middlesex, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope.