Cobras head to Pageant
The 50th birthday of the AC Cobra will be celebrated at this year's Cholmondeley Pageant…
When Toyota Team Europe went to Spain for the Cataluña Rally the prime object was to get Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya on the winners rostrum. The secondary object was to keep rivals Juha Kankkunen and Juha Piironen out of the top points-scoring positions. The double purpose had two reasons. In the first place, Sainz needed points to stay ahead of Kankkunen and to keep his World Championship title; in the second, it would be appropriate that he should win the first World Championship qualifier to be held in his native country, where he has an immense following.
Having such strong motivation, the team was bitterly disappointed when Sainz completed no more than the first day of the rally. As he was leaving the start area at Lloret de Mar on the morning of the second day, the engine of his Celica GT-4 suddenly stopped and all was commotion in the team as help was despatched to him.
The term ‘electrical failures’ used to mean something simple such as a broken wire, a disconnected terminal or a failed ignition coil. Nowadays it can have a much deeper significance. So much complex electronics are packed into modern rally cars that to say that one stopped due to electrical failure is about as specific as saying that a road was wet because it was raining. Locating a failed semi-conductor (chip) is by no means as easy as finding a loose HT lead, and it can sometimes take a great deal of time to trace a defunct component when it is buried among a mass of printed circuit boards.
This was the case on this occasion. It took a good hour to trace the fault in Sainz’ car. When found, it was rectified quickly and the engine restored to healthy life, but by that time Toyota’s number one driver was beyond maximum lateness and had lost all chances of scoring any championship points at all.
Toyota’s secondary purpose then became vital. Its second car, driven by Armin Schwarz and Arne Hertz, had to win the rally, and other rival drivers, notably those of Ford, should ideally fill the next few places in order that Kankkunen’s Lancia should not finish too high in the list. Schwarz did win the rally, but it was ironic that he should score his first World Championship victory in an event where his team-mate had been more of a favourite than anywhere else.
Factory entries for the Cataluña Rally were by no means as varied as they have been on other events. Toyota sent just the two cars for Sainz and Schwarz, whilst Lancia had cars for Kankkunen, Andrea Aghini, the Italian driver who drove remarkably well at Sanremo, and Gustavo Trelles, the Uruguayan who is actually based in Spain. Another Lancia was driven by Jorge Recalde. It had been intended that Didier Auriol should drive a Fina-backed car entered by the Jolly Club, but this entry was withdrawn following the death of the French driver’s father.
Ford sent two Sierra Cosworth 4x4s for Frenchman François Delecour and Spanish driver Josep-Maria Bardolet, known as Mia, whilst two Group N cars, both entered privately and both prepared in Britain, were driven by Fernando Capdevila and Carlos Mennem, the latter being the son of the President of Argentina.
The rally was based at Lloret de Mar, to which resort it returned for each of the three night stops. The route crossed and recrossed itself several times, and some tarmac special stages were used more than once. Seven stages took place on the first day, 13 on the second, nine on the third and five on the fourth. The stages of the first two days were on tarmac, the remainder on dirt roads.
Getting Schwarz into first place was one thing for Toyota; keeping Kankkunen off his tail was quite another. The Finn did not shine at all on the tarmac special stages of the first two days, but he certainly made up for this on the dirt and quickly moved up, finally beating Delecour into second place by just five seconds.
Initially, Schwarz and Delecour made the running, but the latter’s turbocharger failed just three stages into the first day and he lost much time. Had this not happened, Ford might well have recorded a win. The first day was also notable for lack of crowd control, and in some places spectators were so closely massed at the roadside that some drivers said that it was reminiscent of the Portuguese Rally. We heard that on one stage a helicopter came down to a low hover, its downwash raising considerable dust, but the people returned to their positions when it had left. Had that been intended as a means of crowd control, then we don’t think much of it, although we have to say that it may have been a private aircraft quite unconnected with the rally organisation.
On the second day, Delecour was unbeatable. Indeed, he recorded best time on each of the 13 stages, equalled on one of them by his team-mate Bardolet and on another by Schwarz. His progress was remarkable and, despite experiencing a sticking brake pedal, he moved up to second place, finishing the day just 30 seconds behind Schwarz. Bardolet, too, was impressive even though he was handling a seven-speed gearbox for the first time. He needed a new front differential after having driven six stages without its limited slip property, but neverthless finished the second day in third place, 71 seconds behind Delecour.
Kankkunen did not really figure at all during these two days and the best placed Lancia was that of Aghini, in fourth place, followed by that of Trelles. When the third day started, the Finn began to demonstrate that he is most at home when he is on a loose surface, but recovering the time lost to Schwarz and the two Ford drivers was by no means easy.
It seems that the Pirelli tyres which Ford was using on 15 in wheels were somewhat too inflexible for the dirt roads and the team began to regret not having 16 in wheels for the second half of the rally. Later in the event, when it became important to Toyota that Delecour stayed ahead of Kankkunen. Toyota gave Ford some of its more suitable Pirellis.
Trelles’ Lancia suffered a transmission seizure on a motorway and the Uruguayan sent out a radio call for assistance as he stopped on the hard shoulder. Mechanics were soon there to help him and the car was on its way again in well under half an hour. It was a scene of considerable bustle and much attention was attracted, especially as Lancia’s helicopter was parked on the nearby verge.
Kankkunen made steady progress, passing Recalde, Trelles, Aghini and Bardolet. He finished the day in third place, just 25 seconds behind Delecour, but Schwarz was another three minutes or so ahead and it seemed very unlikely that, barring trouble, he would be able to dislodge the German. But after a routine gearbox change before the Lloret control at the end of the third day, the trouble started. Schwarz’ engine refused to start. Immediately, a service vehicle got behind the Toyota and bump-started it, after which Schwarz made jerky progress into the closed park, the gearbox stuck in sixth.
That night, as Toyota made plans for a very rapid service session the next morning, the outcome was a leading topic of conversation even among Ford and Lancia men, for both teams had cars which could take the lead if Schwarz fell back. Only about a quarter of an hour would be available for whatever would be required — certainly a gearbox change and perhaps even engine attention.
In the morning, the engine proved to be stubborn, but eventually it fired. However, the gearbox was still jammed in sixth gear and Schwarz and Hertz had to push the car to the waiting mechanics who had set up shop just beyond the control zone. The gearbox change was a perfect example of mechanical precision and team effort. The whole job was completed in eight minutes, a feat which was instantly acknowledged by the applause of the watchers. Half a minute had been lost, the penalty for pushing the car out of the closed park, but Schwarz still had a substantial lead and he was going to take no undue risks that day. At least, that was the plan.
But plans often go wrong and, on the last stage of the day but one, they went horribly wrong when the leading Toyota rolled and came to rest on its side. The crew were out of the car in a flash, looking around for spectators to help them right it. Alas, there was just one, but between them they got the Toyota back on its wheels when, to their relief, the engine fired immediately.
About a minute was lost, but this was not enough to topple Schwarz from his lead. Just as important, the car suffered nothing more than body damage and the only work needed before the final stage was a spot of roof and pillar straightening and the replacement of the windscreen. It had certainly been a nerve-wracking day for the Toyota team.
Meanwhile, Kankkunen was snapping so closely at Delecour’s heels that the Frenchman felt that he had no hope of keeping his second place. Indeed, he was so resigned to finishing no higher than third that he even eased off fractionally on the last stage. That was a mistake which was no doubt due to his lack of experience, for even in the final mile of a rally things can go wrong for anyone, seasoned professionals included.
On that last stage. Kankkunen lost a little time when he spun and stalled his engine. Delecour, having eased off, bettered his time by just one second. On the other hand, Schwarz, who had also eased off, made best time, four seconds less than Delecour’s. Had he kept up his efforts on that final stage, Delecour would almost certainly have improved his time by at least the five seconds which dropped him to third place. He lost second place but gained the important lesson that whilst there is a chance, you should never stop trying.
The Cataluña Rally put Kankkunen ahead of Sainz in the World Championship table, but not decisively. The determining event would be the Lombard RAC Rally which followed just a week and a half later. GP
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