Lombard RAC Rally of Great Britain

Imagine a Wembley cup final taking place after the champions had clinched their position in a semi-final. Such a match, merely to determine runners-up, would be low in spectacle, devoid of significance, and by no means an attractive, sparkling package capable of generating excitement on the customary Wembley scale.

Fortunately, the same criteria do not apply to rallying, and even though the World Rally Champion may have laid full claim to his laurels long before the twelve-event series has ended, the final rounds can be just as exhilarating as those early in the year.

The Lombard RAC Rally stands as ample proof of this. In its position as final round of the year it frequently has to accept that its outcome will have no bearing on an already settled championship. Nevertheless, it invariably attracts a field of competitors which is the envy of the other rounds, every entrant well aware that winning the RAC Rally will bring its own rather special kudos, championship or no championship.

Spectators, too, seem to have little concern for the World Championship, for they know that the contest for victory will be no less fierce just because no points are at stake. Furthermore, they are among the hardiest enthusiasts in the world. Not for them tropical beaches, fashionable rivieras or the crisp, clean snow of an Arctic Winter, but cold, bleak hillsides and dank, muddy forests. Wet and often foggy, the RAC has the least attractive conditions of all the World Championship qualifiers, yet year after year it attracts millions of watchers, night and day.

The upsurge of public interest in the RAC Rally started more than two decades ago when, at the instigation of Jack Kemsley, it began to use forest roads as special stages. But go many would go out to watch, and travel from forest to forest, that disruption was caused by traffic jams and the rally was in danger of strangulation by its own popularity. Then came a move to use roads of public parks and private estates partly to entice spectators away from forests and partly to lessen the heavy financial burden caused by the Forestry Commission's levy for the use of their roads.

This is the style of the rally today, parks and estates as much as possible, especially at the weekend, and forests when spectator attendance is not likely to be at its peak. Many of the forest stages are not publicised at all, particularly in Wales, in an effort to keep spectators away from areas likely to become congested, but real enthusiasts will always locate the action and there are invariably groups of spectators even in unpublicised stages.

The new World Rally Champion, Stig Blomqvist, did not drive in the 1984 RAC Rally. He had been entered by Audi, his team, but that was merely a precaution against his not clinching the title on the previous round in the Ivory Coast. When his title did become certain, Audi decided not to take up the entry and Blomqvist was left without a car, for both the cars entered by Audi UK had already been earmarked for Hanna Mikkola and Michtle Mouton.

However; both Blomqvist and his co-driver, Bjorn Cederberg, came along for the start and went out to see some of the early stages. Indeed spectators who were at Trentham Gardens on the Sunday may be interested to learn that the V8 Land Rover which made a run through the stage before competitors arrived was, in fact, driven by the World Champion, and with considerable aplomb at that!

Among the professional entries, the one which caused greatest interest was that of a solitary Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 for Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman. Very rarely indeed do new cars achieve success until they have been competing for months, sometimes years, but this one has been an exception to the rule. On its first championship outing, in Corsica last May, Vatanen took it into a substantial lead before crashing indicative of its potential on tarmac roads. Then he won convincingly in Greece and at Sanremo and has now capped a .truly outstanding year for Peugeot by winning the Lombard RAC Rally against very stiff opposition indeed.

The "small" rally car came into its own when BMC launched its Mini, and for some years it enjoyed eminent and enviable success. But brute power eventually outclassed the Abingdon car and we were back to more generous dimensions, later to be joined .by turbochargers, complex electronics and four-wheel-drive, altogether an intricate package which appears to contradict the o/d adage that simplicity is best for reliability. 'Renault made an attempt to turn back the clock with its rear-engined R.5 turbo but with only scant success. This time, Peugeot has made the move packing all the punch and traction of bigger cars into a small, light body. Other factories are pursuing similar goals, but whether they will achieve such sensational results so quickly remains to be seen.

Arrayed against the Peugeot at Chester, where the RAC Rally began on Sunday, November 25, were the two Audis of Mikkola and Mouton, a normal, "long" version for the Finn and the shorter but far less popular Sport for the French girl. Another long Quattro was driven by American John Buffum, winner of the Cyprus Rally in September, backed again by BF Goodrich. Toyota had three Celicas for Waldegård, Eklund and Kankkunen, whilst Nissan had two official 240 RSs for Salonen and Mehta, plus a similar car driven by Terry Kaby. Salonen was back in harness after recovering from slipped disc surgery, whilst Mehta was once again accompanied by his wife Yvonne.

Entered by Unipart, Austin Rover brought a Rover Vitesse to be driven by Tony Pond, but the project ended in humiliation on the very first stage when the car slid off and demolished a front corner on a tree stump.

McRae, Brookes and Fisher each drove an Opel Manta 400 backed by GM Dealersport and their own sponsors, whilst the Belgium based Mazda team had an RX7 apiece for Therier and Carlsson. Alas, the four-wheel-drive Mazda used by Rod Millen in the USA did not appear to take up its entry in the half-rally (third leg only) which was open to prototypes. Perhaps someone felt that it might outstrip its homologated cousins!

The UK-based Rothmans Porsche team, using 911 SCRSs whilst the factory is developing its 4-w-d car with progressive differentials, had two cars for Saeed al Hajri from Qatar and British veteran Roger Clark, whilst Grundel had his usual Golf GTI from the VW factory.

In the main rally there were 120 starters, most with attendant service cars, spares trucks, motorhomes for food and sleep and, for the more affluent at least, managerial cars, chase cars, publicists and information gatherers. These, along with pressmen, film makers, officials and spectators, produced a sizeable convoy moving on the Sunday through the Midlands, on the Monday and Tuesday in a loop through the Lake District, Southern Scotland and north-eastern England, and on the Wednesday and Thursday in a clockwise loop taking in the Forest of Dean and Wales. All three legs started and finished at Chester.

Gales and storms ripped across Britain in the few days before the rally and there were fears that some stages might be blocked by fallen trees. There were blockages in some places, but the branches and other debris were quickly cleared away by volunteer working parties of officials anxious to ensure that nothing would cause the cancellation of "their" stage. The wind had diminished in force by the Sunday, but the effects of the heavy rain were saturated forests, dirt roads made soft and very slippery, and tarmac roads mady slimy and covered by treacherous wet leaves.

The first day was a tour around seven stages, but since together they added up to less than half an hour, there was little point in attempting to break records. Indeed, there was every reason to do otherwise, for margins would be relatively small and the risks on such artificial stages, often studded with obstacles such as tree stumps, gateposts and hefty fences, were high. Furthermore, there was no start order advantage to be gained for the second leg, which was to start in numerical order, not that of classification.

Slides, spins and minor collisions were common throughout that first day, though few of them as serious as the brush which stopped Pond's Rover before it could really show its paces. Watersplashes caused interiors to mist up and some engines to misfire, whilst Mikkola was somewhat surprised when his horn started sounding on its own and refused to be switched off! Mehta spun off and clouted a log — in Knowsley Safari Park at that!

Geitel's Nissan gave all the signs of cylinder head gasket failure, whilst throughout the field were reports of tripmeters not working, lights smashed against trees, fuses blown, screen wipers not working, siezed starter motors, cracked manifolds, broken exhaust pipes, bent suspensions, misfiring, broken handbrake cables, missing gears, petrol leaks, slipping clutches and a host of other things. Steam clouds were so dense after watersplashes that one report claimed that McRae's radiator had burst, an easy enough mistake under the circumstances.

The shrubbery at Sutton Park reduced the view ahead so much that many missed signs and junctions, among them several of the leading professionals who had to reverse after overshooting one hairpin in particular.

After the day's round of Knowsley, Chatsworth, Donington, Sutton, Weston, Trentham and Oulton, 116 crews arrived at Chester for a night's sleep before the 5 am restart. The pace and traction of Vatanen's Peugeot was the talk of the day, and seasoned campaigners were astounded at the ease with which it took corners at seemingly impossible speed, and made positive, firm getaways from standing starts on slippery roads. Vatanen had taken the lead, 39 seconds ahead of Mouton, but up there among the 4-w-d cars were the Celicas and the Mantas making up the first ten places, followed by a brace of Nissans and Grundel's Golf. The day would probably have no bearing on the final result, but all had been able to sort out various problems in readiness for the forests to come.

Having made best time on six of the seven stages so far, Vatanen began doing the safe thing in the Lake District, although it was somewhat perturbing when a fire extinguisher went off in the Grizedale. Punctures became common, and Ericsson and Billstam had to use a log as a lever after their Audi's jack broke Log piles, a British rallying hazard since the first use of forests, also claimed victims and crowbars, hammers and adhesive tape were much in use to repair damage.

After the two stages in Grizedale, trouble with her front differential caused Mouton have her gearbox / diff unit changed in Ambleside, whilst Malcolm Wilson's Audi was given the same replacement. By this time the Audis had moved up to a solid bunch behind the Peugeot, in the order: Mikkola, Mouton, Wilson and Buffum. Behind came Waldegård, ahead of the Brookes and McRae Opels.

Tyres were wearing rapidly, despite the wet surfaces, and were we to list all those who suffered punctures and shredded treads we would need a complete page for them alone. Northwards, the route went via the western part of the Kielder before crossing the border for three stages in the South-West of Hawick. Before then, Waldegård’s fine run had come to an end with engine trouble, this time jamming linkages. Geitel, too, was in similar trouble and he eventually had to pull out rather than enter a long stage with his selectors jammed in fifth.

Kielder produced its usual crop of troubles and stoppages, and many cars were left in the forests to be recovered by their service crews at first light.

Wilson's Audi stopped when it ran short of both oil and water probably due to a blown gasket, whilst Brookes lost several minutes when his Manta went too much sideways on a bend and the outside wheels dug in, causing the car to roll. The roof caved in, and Brookes and Broad were only able to get out with the help of spectators, via the side windows. But the car suffered little more than body damage, and after it was righted by the spectators, it was able to continue.

Kaby kept losing his rear brakes, whilst Carlsson put his Mazda off the road when attempting to overtake a slower car. He managed to get it back and continue. Buffum had a new gearbox flitted, whilst Ericsson's Audi 80 became a front-wheel-drive car for a while after both its rear half shafts broke.

Alter a short stop at Middlesbrough, there was a pre-dawn visit to the Yorkshire Dales to the West of Scarborough, where three stages were visited twice each (Langdale, Wykeham and Dalby) and two others once each (Pickering and Cropton). As usual there were separate forest entrances to enable spectators to see the action without hindering competitors, but the double loops in the urea did cause some confusion, particularly near the service areas, of which there were three covering the whole forest area.

Bufftun was having trouble selecting gears, whilst Kaby had the immense satisfaction of overtaking Clark on Dalby, a feat which he would have found impossible in the days of Escorts. Carlsson finished that same stage with just one rear wheel, having lost one some two miles short of the finish.

Throughout all this there was no catching Vatanen, who was steadily moving ahead of the trio of Audis behind him, Mikkola, Mouton and Buffum. After the Yorkshire stages he was nearly four minutes ahead of Mikkola who, in turn, was over seven and a half minutes ahead of Mouton.

From Yorkshire, the route went via Harewood right across to Lancashire, where the two remaining stages of that leg were at Haigh Hall in Wigan, and Aintree Circuit. Haigh Hall was very slippery indeed, and not at all popular with competitors who considered it a game of chance rather than skill. However, it made no significant difference to the leader board. Behind the four four-wheel-drive cars came Eklund, just seven seconds ahead of McRae, whilst Kankkunen was another 80 seconds behind. Salonen came next, a minute ahead of his team-mate but keen rival Kaby. Brookes was 14 seconds behind Kaby, but much of his deficit was due to his earlier roll. Stromberg was 11th in his Saab 99, and Mehta, driving as reliably as ever, 12th.

Back at Chester on the Tuesday afternoon all was bustle at the zoo car park as service crews got to work fettling the cars, works teams replacing everything they had time to replace and amateurs only changing items of which they had spares. Tyre trucks were replenishing vans, and the whole area was thronged with spectators, although nothing like as solidly packed as we have seen at Dolgellau, Machynlleth or Brecon.

That evening most people had an early night, but some mechanics preferred to move southwards immediately so that they could sleep nearer their positions and not gel up as early in the morning. There was certainly a fair amount of rally traffic heading down the M6 that evening.

After morning stages at Loton Park and Burwarton, the first forest visit was to a cluster of three in the Forest of Dean, served by service areas at Cinderford and Chepstow Racecourse. Spectators here were nothing like as numerous as we have seen in the past; perhaps the majority had opted instead for the five stages in Coed Morgannwg, or the control and major service area at Aberafan.

Brechfa and Llanafan were forests visited on the way North, then clusters in Dyfi, Coed y Brenin and Clocaenog before the finish at Chester on the Thursday afternoon.

It all looked plain sailing for Vatanen who continued to set a scorching pace without overstepping the mark. But then it happened! One small mishap and off went the car and over on to its roof. Was the whole tremendous performance going to end in just stories on lips without a concrete result to show for it?

Fortunately, the car was righted without too much trouble and they were able to get away again without too much loss of time. Alas, the loss was enough to let Mikkola through to the lead, and the Audi driver was amazed at the fortune which seemed to be about to give him yet another RAC Rally win.

Vatanen, however, wasn't giving up that easily, and he pulled out all his stops in an effort to get back in front. He was aided in his efforts when Mikkola, too, had trouble, being slowed by turbocharger malfunction and transmission which threatened to pack up. Mechanics from both Germany and France fettled the two cars with loving care as they neared Chester, but it was the amazing performance of the Peugeot which won in the end, Vatanen beating Mikkola by just 41 seconds, the narrowest winning margin on the RAC Rally for a decade.

Eklund stayed ahead of Mouton to take third place, whilst Buffum had the misfortune to go out during the night. Kaby, too, retired whilst doing really well. In South Wales he had gearbox trouble and was swagging to get to his service crew with his box jammed in fourth. His mechanics had taken space in a garage, so the crew ignored a small roadbook diversion to a service area, believing that it was not mandatory. Alas, there was a passage control at that service area, and the Nissan found itself with a missing control stamp which put them out of the rally.

Brookes was the highest placed British driver, ahead of Salonen and McRae, the Mehra family was eighth, which must have pleased them no end, whilst Clark was very happy to finish eleventh in a car which was somewhat outclassed by more purpose-built machinery.

It was certainly a fine climax to the year, even if the World Champion himself was not taking part. The coming year promises more stirring competition between Audi and Peugeot, for the French team has been making great strides with development and planning for 1985, when one of the most interesting events will undoubtedly be the Safari at Eastertime.

On the statistical side, we have added a table of the leading points scoring drivers in the World Championship, and a complete list of the Makes which have scored points.

Although we have little time for statistics which can be manipulated to "prove" almost anything, we feel that one significant feature of 1984 results is the manner in which Finnish and Swedish drivers have again showed their superiority over all the others. Indeed, between them they have scored more points than drivers from the rest of the world put together!

We have compiled a table of such scores and, to make it more realistic, we have only included points scored by drivers in events outside their own countries. Vatanen's points for winning the Thousand Lakes Rally have not been included, for example, nor Blomqvist's for winning in Sweden. The figures in brackets can be taken as an indication of the utilised talent of each country. Unemployed talent cannot be measured, of course. — G.P.

RAC Rally results

1st: A. Vatanent/T. Harryman (Peugeot 206 T16 GpB) 9 hr 19 min 46 sec

2nd: H. Mikkola/A. Hertz (Audi Quattro GpB)

3rd: P. Eklund/D. Whittock (Toyota Celica T GpB)

4th: M. Mouton/F. Pons (Audi Sport Quattro GpB)

5th: R. Brookes/M. Broad (Opel Manta 400 GpB)

6th: T. Salonen/S. Haranne (Nissan 240 RS GpB)

120 starters, 52 finishers

World Rally Championship 1994

Drivers

Stig Blomqvist 125pt
Hannu Mikkola 104
Markku Alén 90
Ari Vatanen 60
Attilio Bettega 49
Massimo Biasion 43
Per Eklund 30
Björn Waldegård 28
Shekhar Mehta 27
Timo Salonen 27
Walter Röhrl 26
Michèle Mouton 25
Jean Ragnotti 20
Jean-Pierre Nicolas 18
Rauno Aaltonen 15
Kalle Grundel 12
Jorge Recalde 12
Henri Toivonen 12

Makes

Audi 120pts
Lancia 108
Peugeot 74
Toyota 62
Renault 55
Opel 48
Nissan 46
Volkswagen 34
Subaru 11
Alfa Romeo 9
Fiat 9
Ford 6
Citroën 4
Vauxhall 2
Mazda 2
Mitsubishi 2

Success rate by nationality

Finland 273 (42.79%)
Sweden 172 (26.96%)
Italy 65 (10.19%)
France 46 (7.21%)
Germany 28 (4.39%)
Kenya 27 (4.27%)
Japan 11 (1.37%)
USA 8 (1.25%)
Austria 7
Great Britain 1