Lombard RAC Rally

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RALLY REVIEW

Lombard RAC Rally

TRANSMISSION through all four wheels has never, prior to the ‘eighties, really been successful in competition and those who tried it did not pursue the system for very long.

Four-wheel-drive Capris proved to be abominable handlers on autocross tracks. Grand Prix teams gave it up after abortive and costly attempts, whilst American Motors were thwarted, after success against minimal opposition im sandy rallies in the USA, by an VIA ban on the system, introduced when homologated Jeeps wooled likely to appear in European events.

That ban was later lifted, and very soon afterwards there were reliable stories that a German team was in the throes of develtping a four-wheel-drive saloon car which would be used in international rallying. No immediate concern was shown by other teams. for nearly everyone felt that anything other than rear-wheel-drive was a waste of time. Four-wheel-drive produced had handling and an .desirable weight increase. not to mention the addition of more mechanical parts capable of going wrong, whilst front-wheel-drive seemed to have been abandons.. as shown by people like Ford and Renault transferring the drive from front to rear on their competition cars and Saab

even pulling out of the sport altogether.

Then the Audi Quattro appeared. winning its first rally in Austria a year ago and dominating the early stages of the 1981 Monte-C.arlo Rally. There was instant speculation among other teams. Were these successes iust Hashes in the pan. or had Audi tamed a system which others had remcted? As the year progressed. various failures dogged the Audi team, but they all seemed to be of a

minor nature and easily remedied. The potential of the car was undiminished, and one heard talk that FISA might again introduce a ban on four-wheel-drive in order that the Quattro would not outclass the equally recent Renault 5 Turbo — which was French after all!

But such a ban was not reintroduced and the teething troubles of the Quattro were sorted out. Mich& Mouton was outright winner of October’s Sanremo Rally. and now Audi has achieved its second major victory, on the prestigious Lombard RAC Rally of Great Britain.

Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz, an eminently successful pair ,yer a number of years, the drilver a Finn and his partner a Swede, outclassed everyone in the rain-soaked British forests and finished more than eleven minutes ahead of Art Vatanen and David Richards in their Ford Escort RS.

There is no secret formula for Quattro success. Its hoe-cylinder, turbocharged engine provides enough power to cope with the extra weight of its four-wheel-drive mechanism, whilst its differential system is capable of manipulation to convert inherently indifferent handling into something quite respectable. There are three differential units. That in the front axle is conventional whilst thote in the rear axle and in the prop-shaft can be “tightened” to provide limited slip by controls on the dashboard. Even in the muddiest of conditions the Quattro will always retain drive to at least three of its

wheels, whilst other so-called four-wheel-drive vehicles can often briefs with no more than one driven wheel.

Having thus overcome the disadvantages of four-wheel-drive. the Quattro is left with the outstanding advantage of increased traction. Anyone who has stood near the slippery, uphill start of a special stage and compared the departure of a Quattro with that of a two-wheel-drive car will need no convincing that there in no rally car as tractive and sure-footed as this product of Ingolstadt.

There was no chance at all that Audi would be faced by indifferent opposition in the RAC Rally. for it is one of the most popular events in the world, drivers attracted by the challenge !if well-engineered forest roads and team managers by the immense amount of publicity which it generates in its own right, and not just because it is part of the World Championship.

The competition was therefore of the highest order, with professional teams representing Audi, Datsun, Ford, Leda, Lancia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Opel, Polo., Renault, Skoda, Talbot, Toyota, Triumph and Vauxhall. Some were from the factories themselves, some from dealers or groups of dealers and some from private sponsors such as Rothmans who had mounted a massive operation to help An Vatanen, their number one driver, in his endeavours to become World Champion. Those efforts were successful, for Vatanen drove with uncommon restraint — he is usually more headstrong — and, with co-driver David Richards, took his Ford Escort to a comfortable second place.

Prior to the RAC Rally the championship was led by Frenchman Guy Frequelin who had already scored the maximum number of seven times. Vatanen only had six scores and had to finish no lower than fifth, with Frequclin behind him, to win the series.

It turned out to be no contest at all, for although both of them began gingerly, Vatanen picked up far more quickly than Roman who never seemed to get going at all and eventually ret,ed in Wales on the second leg. It was said that his Sunbeam’s petrol pump had failed, but a more likely reason might have henna waning of determination as hr realised that Vatanen was way beyond his reach and not likely to break his car. Talbot’s lead in the manufacturers’ section of the championship had been virtually unassailable before the event began and Frequelin joined his team-mates M celebrating that victory. But they were all no doubt hiding their disappointment at losing the drivers’ title on the last round.

The rally itself was based at Chester, following its custom of moving from year to year. The first leg began on the Sunday morning with visits to private estates for the benefit of weekend spectators who turned out in such vast numbers that gates were closed long before competing cars arrived.

Thereafter, Sunday night and Monday were spent visiting forests in the Lake District. the Border Country and the Yorkshire Dales before returning to Chester on the Monday evening. After the Tuesday restart there .was a visit to Oulton Park and another estate before entering Wales for a clockwise loop going as far South as Brecon sodas far North as Great Orme before the finish celebrations at Chester late on Tuesday afternoon. Some rallies have traditional weather, but the only tradition about a British November is its grey cold and its possibility of rain or snow. Indeed, it • says much for the enthusiasm of both competitors and spectators that they are prepared to endure all

manner of climatic privations to experience the exhilaration of a tough contest. All sports have their armchair enthusiasts, but keen rallying people are hardy and think nothing of spending a cold, wet night on a bleak mountainside to see it all at first hand.

Alas, the tremendous popularity of the RAC Rally is its own worst enemy, for service areas become clogged with spectators, making mechanics’ work decidedly difficult, queues defeat competitors’ efforts to take quick meals at restaurants, forest car parks cannot cope with the influx of cars and slow moving convoys, stretching for miles along main and secondarv roads, hinder the progress of competitors and service crews.

This year the weather was quite atrocious. Gales lashed the heavy rain into fire host ferocity, snowfalls reduced visibility and forest roads were invariably loose, soft and decidedly slippery. Mechanics worked miracles at the roadside, accomplishing in minutes repairs which would take High Street garages as many hours or more, Indeed, the whole cavalcade which makes up the RAC Rally produces feat after feat of engineering ingenuity. and that is as much part of the rally as the intense fight for seconds on the special stages themselves.

Reliability used to be the greatest deciding factor in rallying and still is in such endurance events as the Safari, but on European rallies made up of a number of relatively short sprint stages the accent has become firmly placed on performance. Opportunities for service are so frequent that if anything breaks it can be repaired fairly quickly, and that philosophy has become so predominant that service planning for the RAC Rally aims for the ideal of having blanket coverage of the entire route, outside special stage of course.

Service vans still leap-frog their way around the country from rendezvous to rendezvous, but supplementing them are faster vehicles which “chase” the, rally cars from stage to stage. ready to give assistance whenever necessary, and unmarked vehicles which “prowl” areas in which service is officially forbidden, usually hiding in town back streos, tucked away in country pub car parks or lurking in farmyards conveniently close to forests.

Running such an operation is by no means easy, and in order to ensure that adequate space for service vehicles will be available as close to stage exits as possible most teams undertake a full recce of the route, not to make notes on special stages (which are secret on the RAC Rally; but to reserve the best positions, preferably under cover in convenient garages.

It was noticeable this year that whilst those fettling privateers did so largely in the open in the service areas, designated by the organisers, much of the time the professionals had set up shop much nearer the stages and with workshop or farm roofs over their heads.

On the first day the relatively short stages were of little consequence since time differences were of the order of one or two seconds. Besides, the tarmac roads were so slimy and slippers that anyone going flat out from the start and risking collisions with stone walls or hefty gateposts was being decidedly imprudent.

But up in the Lake District, after nightfall and in driving rain, tho time for prudence was over. The forests provided the real meat of the event and it was here that straps were tightened and concentrations keyed up as everyone strived to get on the absolute limit of adhesion without actually crossing is But some did, and retirements began almost at once.

Waldegard, leader of the Toyota team and former World Champion, stopped when his Celica broke its suspension; Brookes’ Sunbeam dug its wheels into soft ground on a corner and rolled off the road, causing distortion which later caused the propshaft to break; Toivonen put his Sunbeam over whilst sticking with a high gear to lessen the effects of low oil pressure, but later stopped dead when the engine seized and resisted drastic towrope attempts to free it.

Mikkola also rolled his Quattro, losing about a minute in the recovery process, enough to give the lead to Britain’s Tony Pond in a Vauxhall Chevette. However, the Finn wasted no one regaining his advantage, and when he took •.ver the lead again he kept it to the finish.

Wilson put his Escort off she road in t ‘talk forest, where Salonen’s Damon ran out of luel. whilst Alen broke a wheel and a brake pipe iii h, Stratos by pulling over too far he had a flat tyic at the time) to let another car pass.

Vatanen’s advance was slowed by two miouto spent off the road in Hamsterley forest, whilst Cowan severely dented the bodywork and rout on his Mitsubishi Lancer which needed a powered bodyjack to be straightened.

After the northern loop came the crossing oi the vast Kidder forest where all manner ef breakages and stoppages took place, far too numerous to list. Still Mikkola kept his lead, chased by Pond. Alas, Vauxhall’s hopes were dashed in the Yorkshire Dales when Pond stopped in Dalby forest with a broken halfshaft. Just before, he had driven some ten forest miles on a flat rear tyre, and that sort of vibration inevitably causes some sort of transmission or suspension problem. But Pond’s puncture was on the right side and his shaft failure on she left, suggesting that the latter was not caused by the former. Hosvever, engineers assure us that the two incidents may have been connected.

At half distance Mikkola was still leading, some tcn minutes or no ahead of Vatanen. In third place was Audi’s lady driver Michele Mouton, whilst fourth was the fernier Saab driver Stig Blomqvist now driving a Sunbeam Lotus for Talbot Sweden. Indeed, Brookes and Toivonen having retired and Frequelin unlikely to improve significantly trom his tenth place, Blomqvist had become the priority driver in she Talbot team.

Highest placed Britisher at fifth was Scotsman Jimmy McRae in his Opel Ascona, ahead of Penni Airikkala, the Buckingham-based Finn who drives an Escort for Rothmans. He was suffering rather badly with ‘flu, an affliction which was olny troubling Mouton a great deal.

Mouton was less than three minutes behind Vatanen and there was no doubt that she would endeavour to pass him so that Audi could have a one-two result. After all, the Finn’s main consideration was winning the World Championship and he was not likely to risk retirement for the sake of holding the French girl at bay.

But this was not to be. After losing time having her gearbox changed in Wales, Mouton went off the road and her car became well and truly stuck in a field dotted with tree stumps. Soon afterwards McRae stopped in Brechfa forest with a broken halfshaft, whilst later that night Cowan’s Mitsubishi failed to emerge trom Dyfi forest. The turbocharged Lancers looked and sounded healthy but there were obviously labouring under a power disadvantage. Only Kulling’s remained to the finish. providing a dramatic spectacle for onlookers when mechanics changed its gearbox in 27 minutes, completing the job to enthusiastic applause from the crowd

By this time the list of problems was enormous, including broken throttle springs, exhausts, valves, cams, pushrods, fan belts, radiators, drivers’ seats, suspensions, steering, shock absorbers, wheels and studs, sump guards, brake pipes, gearboxes, halfshafts, propshafts, rear axles, clutches, alternators, starter motors, batteries and various other parts.

Punctures had been coming up thick and fast, along with oil leaks, faulty oil, fuel and water pumps, loss of brake fluid, jumped plug leads, flooded engines, flat batteries, broken intercoms and tripmeters and even cases of running out of fuel.

The whole event was an enormous object lesson in mechanical tenacity as all but the most terminal of faults were located and rectified in the minimum possible time.

One might assume from this list of breakages that rally cars are fragile machines prone to frequent failures. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are certainly highly strung and often temperamental, but they are also sturdy and the breakages come about simply because in four days of peak performance and hard pounding they are worked harder than most road cars can expect to be worked in a normal lifetime.

Foreigners again dominated the results of the RAC Rally, with three Finns, three Swedes and a Frenchman occupying the first seven places, followed by Englishman Terry Kaby in his Celica. But other Britishers deserve to be mentioned, such as that great stalwart Roger Clark who drove impeccably to tenth place, knowing that his first consideration to television backers his co-driver was Chris Serie) was to finish the event.

But he did let his hair down towards the end and the only man who has beaten the Scandinavians in some two decades showed his true form by putting up several best stage times. Others were Francis Tuthill and Felicity Kerr who took their Escort to 12th place, Chris Lord and Ernest Waldron who were 13th in their Sunbeam and Terry Pankhurst and Roger Freeman who finished 15th in their Escort.

New Zealander Rod Millen showed good form by scoring 1 lob place in his Mazda RX7. whilst Finn Peter Gelid, a former snowmobile racing champion, overcame several problems to finish 14th in his Datsun Violet. The RAC Rally is one of the most amazing and exciting mobile spectacles to be staged in this country, and it is to the shame of our legislators that they do not use fit to support this excellent British shop window by instructing the Forest, Commission — without whose fine roads the rally would not take pia. — to remove the crippling boy which is charged to cover the cost ot after-rally road reinstatement. That forest roads are damaged by the rally cannot be denied, but are not pre-rally road repairs postponed until after the rally passes? Sr any case a paper transfer would balance the FC’s books and do much to enhance a piece of British prestige sccond to none

RAC Rally — Results

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