International RAC Rally of Great Britain
The finest array of factory teams ever to be assembled; the largest number of talented amateurs; and a rally whose style and concept are probably the most popular in the world among regular competitors. These things came together in November during the RAC International Rally of Great Britain, an event of such stature and popularity that one is left to marvel at the incredible indifference of our legislators to the biggest sporting occasion of the year.
Spectators thronged every forest (and there were nearly 80 forests used) and every time control, and their numbers must have run into hundreds of thousands. It was fortunate for Welsh spectators that the Forest officials in Cardiff removed, less than a week before the rally, a ban which would have prevented their entry to the forests. Doubtless no such ban will ever be considered in the future.
The rally was a saga of transmission failures, as one factory car after another broke driveshaft, differential, gearbox or whatever. It does seem that cars are being made so powerful and given, with the aid of efficient tyres, such good traction that the connecting parts are not standing up to the harsh treatment. On the face of it, the answer seems to be stronger transmissions made in sufficient quantity to be homologated. But in most cases there were attendant circumstances in November, and perhaps the best way to deal with them is to look at each factory team in turn.
To start with the home team. Ford had entered three Escorts, two of them with twin-cam engines and one with 16-valve engine. Since all three cars of any team had to be of the same model, the lone 16-valver was driven outside the official team by Roger Clark and Jim Porter, the only all-British crew in the Ford team. Clark must be highly thought of as a test driver, for it is always he who gets the job of driving the prototypes or the cars with new ideas built into them. But since such cars are usually less reliable than proven machines, it has made rather a mess of Clark’s finishing record. Perhaps it’s time the mobile test beds were shared around.
The two twin-cam cars were driven by the two Finnish members of the team, Timo Mäkinen and Hannu Mikkola, co-driven respectively by Henry Liddon and Gunnar Palm. To make up the three-car team the privately-entered car of Jim Bullough and Don Barrow was co-opted.
In the early stages of the rally the three factory cars showed up well, but first one, then the other two, succumbed to transmission failure before the Monday night stop at Blackpool. Each car broke a driveshaft and in each case circumstances were such that repairs could not be effected in time to keep the car within its schedule. Bullough, too, retired when his car’s differential failed at a speed in the region of 80 m.p.h. and the sudden loss of traction sent the car off the road.
Porsche (West Germany)
Before the rally, Porsche was leading the International Championship for Constructors. But only three points behind (and in a position to beat the German team) was the French Alpine team. Naturally both outfits put all they had into the rally and, apart from the Monte, this was the only event in 1970 into which Porsche had put its full-scale factory effort. In other events cars have been supplied to drivers on a loan basis, and they have had to supply their own mechanics and take care of their own expenses.
But the RAC Rally was worth fighting for, so the Stuttgart mechanics were out in strength. There were three 911Ss for the team’s Swedish drivers, Björn Waldegård/Lars Helmér and Ake Andersson/Bo Thorszelius, and for its French driver, Gérard Larrousse. The latter had got hold of one-time BMC works co-driver Mike Wood as his partner and had surprised the Lancashire man by writing to him suggesting that they could start their reconnaissance runs about a month before the start. The RAC Rally is the only Constructors’ Championship Qualifier in which practising is forbidden.
The fourth entry from Stuttgart was for Claude Haldi and John Gretener, the same Anglo-Swiss Gretener who was once a member of the British Triumph team. They drove a VW-Porsche 914/6 more or less as an exercise, since Porsche wished to evaluate the mid-engined car’s rally potential before deciding whether to use it instead of 911Ss in 1971.
Transmission troubles also dogged the German team. It was in Scotland, again in the first leg of the rally, that the two fancied Swedish crews retired with broken differential/gearbox units. The same happened to Larsson and Lundblad in a privately-entered Porsche from Sweden. The cars of Larrousse/Wood and Haldi/Gretener went on to finish.
When Porsche lost its best performers in Waldegård and Andersson French jubilation was at its highest, for the team stood a chance of knocking the Germans off their championship perch and gaining its biggest honours since Alpines started rallying. Like the Porsche team, Alpine had put a tremendous effort into the rally. Until recently the lightweight, rear-engined cars from Dieppe had been regarded as fragile machines hardly suitable for loose and rough road rallying. Their performance is such that they have always been a force to be reckoned with on tarmac events, but many authorities were of the opinion that they could never survive the pounding of an RAC Rally. But one of them did win both Sanremo and Acropolis rallies this year, neither event as hard on motor cars as an RAC Rally but neither all on tarmac nevertheless.
French rally drivers have a reputation for being good on routes which they have practised and no more than average on routes which they have not. That reputation must surely apply no more, at least not in the case of Jean-Luc Therier and Jean-Pierre Nicolas, both of whom put up outstanding performances on the unpractised roads through the forests. Of all the Alpine drivers, these two are those who have made the best showing on unsurfaced roads, Therier being the man who won both Acropolis and Sanremo and Nicolas having turned in excellent times on such really rough rallies as those in Morocco.
In the months before the rally Alpine went shopping for drivers. Previously they were very nationality-conscious and stuck to Frenchmen, but the extension of their boundaries was heralded much earlier in the year when they engaged the services of Welshman David Stone (formerly with Vic Elford, Erik Carlsson and various others of note) as a co-driver. Then they cast the net into Sweden and came away with the signatures of Ove and Liz Andersson (he formerly of Lancia and Ford and she formerly of Saab and Lancia). But they still had an empty car, for which they eventually engaged Andrew Cowan (winner of the London-Sydney Marathon in a Hillman Hunter and more recently of the British Leyland team). His co-driver was fellow-Scot Hamish Cardno, his regular man Brian Coyle having been signed up for the event by Saab.
Although breakages stopped the majority of works cars, the Alpines confused everyone by remaining intact for some time. Andersson was being troubled by overheating and a blowing gasket on the first night, and was considering how best to keep his car motoring when along came a Datsun and made his mind up for him. The Alpine had spun off the road and the Datsun, crewed by Tony Fall and myself, struck it head-on, bursting the French car’s radiator. The Datsun continued.
In the second leg of the rally Nicolas’ car caught fire in a Welsh forest and was completely gutted. French humour decided that David Stone wanted a cup of tea and needed heat for his kettle!
The biggest disappointment of all for Alpines came right at the end of the rally, on the final special stage in the grounds of Sandhurst Military Academy. Lying second, Therier was almost assured of enough points to give Alpine the Constructors’ Championship. But on that muddy, waterlogged stage, more like a paddy field than anything else, his car broke a driveshaft and was later taken to the finish near London Airport on the end of a towrope. The irony was that the stage later became impossible, and cars were getting stuck in the deep mud. The organisers eventually abandoned it and directed all but the early runners to make directly for the finish. Had Therier been a little later he, too, would have been allowed to by-pass the stage.
There was some strong feeling at the finish on the part of the many who felt that the Sandhurst stage should have been stopped before any car attempted it. Its mud-plug nature didn’t prove very much, but it is to the sporting credit of the French that they chose not to complain, even though a mere chance had robbed them of the championship, and there was not a single protest when provisional results were posted on the Wednesday night.
Cowan, of course, stayed to the end and finished, though the privately-entered Alpine of Hollier and Short (the only one in Britain) fell out with transmission failure.
In 1966 a solitary Opel Rekord came to Britain for the London Rally and finished fourth. In the RAC Rally of that year a team of them came from Sweden. They gained no honours to speak of, but created a talking point inasmuch as General Motors, through the Swedish outlet, were taking an interest in competitions. Since that year, the Swedish GM distributors have become very strong in Sweden and their rally team has been so successful that its manager, Ragnar Ekelund, now has the job of co-ordinating Opel competition activities throughout Europe.
This year they brought four 2-litre Kadetts, unlikely-looking cars by any standards, but extremely well prepared and driven by almost fearless drivers. By picking names from a hat, Ekelund arrived at his three-car team, and it was his extremely good luck that he left out the husband and wife crew, Gunnar and Ingelov Blomqvist. In the West Country, with most of the rally behind them, the Blomqvists had a driveshaft break and they were out.
The other three Opels ran faultlessly and finished second, third and fourth, picking up the manufacturers’ team prize. Present in London were several directors of the Swedish GM Dealer Association and they were so pleased with the success of their cars that it is very likely that the team will be seen more often outside Sweden in the coming year.
In the past decade, the best performance record on the RAC Rally is that of Saab. They have never missed one and have four wins to their credit, three by Erik Carlsson and one by Simo Lampinen. In fact, they are so accustomed to British forests that they were able to plot the route, and special stages, on a map from the scanty information printed in the regulations long before the roadbooks were published.
As usual, they brought a strong side made up of four cars. Their drivers were Tom Trana (twice winner in a Volvo) and Solve Andreasson, Carl Orrenius and Arne Hertz, Håkan Lindberg and Brian Coyle, and Stig Blomqvist and Bo Reinicke. Despite their ruggedness, not one of the four cars finished. Orrenius was the first to seek a plane for Stockholm when his limited slip differential broke, and he was followed closely by Lindberg, whose gearbox seized after a bearing broke up. Trana suffered a loosened flywheel in Scotland and the sudden engine seizure sent the car off the road. Blomqvist, who at one time was in the lead, got as far as Wales where a collision with a stone wall on the Great Orme special stage near Llandudno had repercussions a few stages later. The shock through the front wheel had been transmitted to the differential, and it was this which broke up soon after.
After several forays to Africa for the Safari, and some activities in Scandinavia through the Finnish dealers (Mikkola used to drive for them), the Datsun factory became interested in the RAC Rally in 1969. Their 1600SSS saloons were tough and reliable, but not fast enough to be potential winners. But they won the team prize nevertheless.
In 1970, having realised that they needed more power, they brought four of their Datsun 240-Z sports cars. Somewhat old fashioned in concept, these have 2.4-litre, six-cylinder, in-line engines at the front driving the rear wheels, and in handling resemble the “Big Healeys” to some extent.
Rauno Aaltonen and Paul Easter drove one of the team cars, Safari winners Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schuller another, and I was Tony Fall’s co-driver in the third. The fourth car, having been used in the weeks before the rally for test purposes, was stripped, rebuilt and given to 1969 British Rally Champion John Bloxham to drive. His co-driver was Norman Salt.
The Datsuns were unknown quantities, but their crews didn’t expect them to match the agility of Porsches, Escorts and the like. But they proved to be so incredibly good on rough roads that we began to change our minds. On bumpy surfaces most cars tend to become unstable at speeds in excess of 80 m.p.h., and there is a very real danger that they become out of phase with the bumps and eventually jump right off the road. Not so with the Datsuns. On several very long and bumpy straights our speed was in excess of 110 m.p.h. and the car remained always in a straight line. The Datsuns came to Britain with oil coolers fitted to the rear axles. The engineers, however, considered that the climate was cold enough to run without them, so they were taken off. But the differentials overheated so much that the Loctite used on the crown-wheel bolts melted, allowing them to loosen. Had high-melting point Loctite been used instead of the low temperature grade this would probably not have happened. The result was failure of all four differentials, three of them deep inside forests and one quite close to a time control and an all-important service car. In the case of the latter, the differential unit was replaced and thereafter nursed and tended after every special stage enabling Aaltonen and Easter to finish the rally.
The Turin team started the rally in high spirits, for they were out to repeat their victory of the previous year despite the intense opposition. They relied on a three-car team of 1.6-litre Fulvia HFs, sturdy, agile little cars which also have the distinction of being “pretty” to look at.
Their regular drivers, Harry Källström, Simo Lampinen and Sandro Munari, were respectively co-driven by Gunnar Häggbom, John Davenport and Tony Nash, the latter being engaged only a few weeks before, the rally having been “unemployed” since British Leyland closed its competitions department.
The RAC Rally has never been a happy event for Munari. In 1968 he and I rolled our factory Fulvia in a Northumberland forest. Last year, with Davenport, he broke a driveshaft. This year it was his second inversion which put him out, after which he went straight off to Belgium to practice for another rally.
Lampinen survived as far as Wales, where most of his gear ratios became inoperative. However, it was fortunate that he managed to limp into the crowded, rain-snaked control at Machynlleth, for Källström had arrived there with a very sick car indeed. On the previous stage he’d lost the sump oil, and in spite of several replenishments the gentle journey to the North Wales town had severely damaged the main bearings.
The mechanics promptly put the cars of Lampinen and Munari side by side and got to work transferring the good bearings from one car to the other. Eventually the job was finished and Källström sped away with a good hour and a half of the allowance for the next section (some 100 miles) already used up. He did each of the stages in this section without a sump protection plate; there had been no time to replace it.
At Llanwrda, the next time control, disaster struck again, for Källström arrived with only two minutes of his time allowance left. Understandably he was going quickly, and when he rounded the last corner before the control and found the whole road blocked by a stationary lorry his overworked brakes were unable to stop him. He chose the grass bank rather than the lorry and almost completely destroyed the front left side of the Fulvia. After having the car dragged and pushed into the control so that they could book in on time, mechanics got to work on the car again and once again Källström watched as his allowance for the next section ticked away. But this time it was a much longer section and there was a better opportunity to make up the time.
It was a very sick motor car indeed which eventually mounted the winner’s rostrum at London’s Centre Airport Hotel, but it says much for the tenacity of Källström, Häggbom and their mechanics that they were able to finish at all.
Wartburg (East Germany)
A three-car team of two-stroke Wartburg 353s came over from Eisenach for the rally. They are not fast cars by any means, but they demonstrated reliability in their previous visits and did not tarnish that reputation in 1970. All three finished, the only team apart from the winning Opels to do so. On the special stages many amateur drivers with faster cars were overhauling the Wartburgs, and it was a talking point at the finish that at no time did any of the East German drivers baulk those who caught them up. When a slow car starts a special stage one minute before a faster one, the latter could easily be slowed down if he catches the one in front on a narrow part of the stage. The Wartburgs went out of their way, often pulling well off the road into the scrub, to let following drivers pass if they wished.
There is no doubt that Fiat’s competitions department is in full swing, but cars are still being entered by their drivers rather than officially by the factory. There were to have been two Fiat 124 Spyders, but only one turned up, driven by Alcide Paganelli and Domenico Russo. Factory support was evident in the form of Turin-registered service cars and Italian mechanics. Unfortunately, there was a collision with a tree and the car didn’t finish.
Three Skodas were entered by the British concessionaires, but two mechanics did come over from the factory to give the British mechanics a hand with servicing. Two of the cars were fitted with eight-port cylinder heads, and both these suffered gasket failure, allowing water into the sump. The third also blew a head gasket, but made it to the finish.
The 1970 RAC Rally was probably the most hard-faught event ever. Naturally the contest for International Championship points had much to do with this, but the fact nevertheless remains that the British style of special stage rallying, using the roads of State Forests, is very popular indeed among overseas drivers. Each year the rally is the biggest sporting occasion in this country, for it involves many thousands of people even before you begin to count spectators.
It is to be hoped that the authorities will offer the organisers the encouragement they deserve—they seem to be tolerated rather than encouraged at present, which is a shocking mix-up of precedents—and that the event will preserve its present form ad infinitum.
In the past ten years the attentions of rally people in Britain have been captured by the annual series of some 15 to 20 events which together have made up the Motoring News Rally Championship. This series, each event of no longer than one night’s duration, has gathered momentum since it started in 1961 and for the past two years has been held in association with Castrol.
It is essentially a championship for amateurs, although several contestants in its top fringe have managed to obtain financial support or sponsorship-in-kind from one source or another.
In 1970 there were 15 qualifying events held in various parts of the country, including Wales, the Midlands, the West Country, Yorkshire and the Isle of Mull. As this is written, the final round has yet to be held (December 19th), but the leading pair, Jim Bullough and Don Barrow from Lancashire and Cheshire respectively, have such a lead that they cannot be beaten. Other positions have yet to be decided.
Both Bullough and Barrow are old hands at the game of rallying, having considerable experience at home and abroad. Neither has achieved any outstanding international success, but they are consistently reliable and invariably finish their rallies whilst other, faster competitors succumb to retirements. In long events, or even in a series of shorter ones, reliability often brings dividends whereas sheer speed and performance may not.
In the following lists appear the major international rallies of 1971. What cars can we expect to see in their entry lists? From Britain the only factory prospect is Ford, who will doubtless use their Escort again in 1971, with perhaps a foray or two with the Capri or even the new Cortina with its 2-litre engine.
France will have a strong Alpine-Renault team tackling more rallies than before, and there may even be opposition from the Simca camp with its mid-engined sports car, the Simca CG-MC. In the hands of Gerard Larrousse, this car beat the works Alpines in the Criterium des Cevennes at the end of the year. Citroën will appear in some of the rougher events.
In Sweden Saab will continue to be active, and there is every chance that the Opel team will extend their activities beyond Sweden. The RAC Rally was their first overseas venture for some years and the result seems to have encouraged them to more international activities in 1971. There does not appear to be any signs of Volvo’s return, although the competitions department at Torslanda, now housed in a new building, continues to support private drivers.
In Germany the Porsche team has been evaluating the potential of the VW-Porsche 914/6. The management would like to see it have a few rally successes to boost its sales, but the team drivers are more in favour of the 911S since they understand its handling and find the mid-engined 914/6 somewhat unpredictable on loose surfaces.
Datsun will certainly be entering the Monte Carlo Rally, the East African Safari and the RAC Rally in 1971. Whether any other Championship event will receive their attentions remains to be seen. They are a thoroughly efficient bunch and whenever they set their sights on something they spare no efforts to achieve it. Perhaps it would be of benefit to them if they were to set up their European Competitions Department, as was rumoured some two years ago.
The Lancias will continue, of course, but with a programme which will be run in conjunction with Fiat. There is no question of the two makes avoiding competition with each other, but the signs point to co-operation and exchange of ideas in the future.
Occasionally there will be Wartburgs, Moskvitches and Skodas in various events, and the Daf team in Holland will be contesting a variety of rallies, including the East African Safari, to which they will send three cars.—G. P.