Colin McRae kept hopes of a British success alive until well into the event, but in the end Juha Kankkunen capped a successful season with a well-judged victory
it was said that conditions during the 1993 RAC Rally were the worst in memory. All I can say is that many memories are decidedly short. Certainly it was cold, snowy and icy this time, but it was far more so in 1969, when Harry KäIlström and Gunnar Häggbom took their first win in a Lancia Fulvia and a trio of Datsuns, making their first official visit to Europe, beat three works Triumphs to the manufacturers team prize — even though one of them rolled and another was in the hands of a driver whose arm was broken. There were no delicate rubber differences. You used 'chunky' tyres, usually either Dunlop Weathermasters or Goodyear Ultragrips and you set off. Chains were common and no one complained, even if they got stuck, which was rare.
Some 10 years previously, when Gerry Burgess and Sam Croft-Pearson were winners in a Zephyr Six, it had been even worse. Snow blocked a road in Scotland and, as there were no contingency plans in those days and virtually no organisational checks on what went on out in the field, it was just up to the crews to find their way around it. Some fared well; some less well. The Burgess/Croft-Pearson Zephyr just coped better than the rest. All of this was achieved without even ordinary limited slip differentials, let alone 'intelligent' transmissions, tyre warmers, engine management systems, direct communications and as many electronic innovations as would keep the National Physical Laboratory going for a decade. Tenacity, ingenuity and sheer doggedness got the crews to the finish, without much service, without any advance planning and without a nightly rest stop. A pillow was an essential piece of in-car equipment in those days and, when it was invented, a reclining seat for the navigator. The driving was shared and it was up to navigators to take over on relatively easy sections, driving with maps on their knees so that their partners could sleep and be ready for the tough stuff ahead. This was not way back in distant history. These things were happening even in the '70s, when roadbooks were not issued until the day before the start and frantic plotting and planning went on throughout that night. But no one grumbled. On the road, one person slept; the other both drove and navigated. It was the same in service vehicles, far fewer in number than they are today, and those who tried to stay awake for the whole of a two-night-and-three-day leg had only themselves to blame if they came to grief. The sensible people managed very well, and woe betide anyone who approached a stationary car in which someone was sleeping unless it was to proffer a reminder that it was time to depart.
I am not saying that rallying has become soft. However, the increasing complexities of car sophistication, brought about by legislation makers who do not appear to understand what they are trying to regulate, and anomalous rules which seem to change month by month, have needlessly complicated a sport which was once straightforward and untrammelled by bureaucratic interference and have transformed it into one which even some seasoned regulars cannot always comprehend.
One team manager used to say: "To get the best from a driver, keep him hungry." This is not the case today, for the professionals are very well recompensed for the skills they have and the risks they take. The FIA obsession with conformity to its homespun standardisation has diluted the sport, and if a driver sees that, by agreeing with FIA demands, he does not have to stay awake at night, who can blame him?
It's not rallying which has softened. It's the effect of the legislation which controls it. The demands are greater, inasmuch as rules have quadrupled and become more complicated, but the standards have changed radically and, although drivers nowadays are at the wheels of things akin to missiles, they do have the benefit of far more attention than their forerunners. What is worth remembering is this: going off the edge of Penmachno a couple of decades ago in a Saab, a Mini or a Cortina presented no less risk than going off today in a modern Group A car, with all its horsepower in apparent excess of the regulatory limit. The speeds may be higher now, but the perils and the uncertainties are the same. Perhaps the worst and most insidious piece of interference of all in rallying, at least in present times, is the obscene, shameless, near-criminal squeezing of cash from organisers and others for the so-called television rights of the World Rally Championship. What does the FIA, or its UK-based agency International Sportsworld Communicators, give in return for the huge sums it demands? I cannot think of a single thing. In fact, TV coverage must have been reduced since this obnoxious levy was introduced because small and very good film outfits have quit covering World Cha pionship rallies simply because they could no longer afford the ridiculous fees. To our knowledge, at least one national TV company packed up and left a World Championship rally in 1993 because it objected to the enormous sum demanded and would not accept standard footage from the FIA agency. Quite natur ally, it wanted to make its own film, showing its own national drivers, and this would not be possible under the FIA terms.
Manufacturers are hit as well as rally organisers, for they too are expected to pay substantial fees for video footage shot by the FIA's appointed filming agency. Other film companies, rally organisers and manufacturers' teams complain individually, but not collectively as far as we have heard, even though all have their budgets dented by this gross excuse for money making and, in private if not publicly, are vociferous in their condemnation of the money-making machinations of those who now seek to control the World Rally Championship and milk it as much as they can. What product, service or anything else is offered in return? Is there an annual balance sheet offered to those who add to this dubious coffer? We would be interested to see the attested answers to these questions.
The whole thing seems to be a nestfeathering exercise. The sooner it is abandoned, the better it will be for the sport, for all who take part in it, for all who organise its various elements, for all who follow it and for all who seek to bring it, untrammelled by profiteering, to public attention.
If this does not happen soon, the players, the stage managers, the writers, the producers, the scene shifters and everyone else involved will rebel, raise two fingers to the FIA and its greedy offspring and organise its own production. A World Rally Championship without its strings being pulled by the FIA? Why not, indeed? The writing is on the wall.
Back to the RAC Rally, this year sponsored for the first time by Network Q, the used car division of Vauxhall.
Many people have asked, "What is it about the RAC Rally? It's always cold, dark, foggy and miserable, and often snowy and icy. Why do people go for it?"
The answer is simple.
It has unique qualities inasmuch as it takes place in weather conditions which can only be experienced in Great Britain. Anything can happen. It's almost like a toss of the coin. Although pre-event reconnaissance has now been allowed in the forests for three years, things can still change drastically, from hour to hour or from corner to corner. What is more, our forests are deep, dark, almost incomprehensible, adding an unfathomable mystique to the event. And even with ice-note (rock-note!) crews allowed nowadays, a development of BMC's Monte Carlo innovation of the '60s, there were still surprises around almost every bend.
The Welsh forests are smooth, fast and often overlook steep drops, whilst those of Kielder can be uncompromisingly rough and full of puncture-provoking rocks. It can be warm and sunny on one day, but lime-brushed frosty the next; icy in the morning, dry and dusty at midday, wet and muddy in the afternoon and as snowy in the evening as though it had been bombed with flour bags.
So it was this year. Every possible condition came up, with a vengeance. An unexpected snowfall on the eve of the event sent tyre experts scuttling for their stock lists, and it was not made any better when the whole of the first day was cold, frosty and snowy, the second providing snow, sheet ice as firm and slippery as oily glass and, in parts, dust as though it came directly from the Peloponnisos.
Even Juha Kankkunen, who took the World Championship for the third time in 1993 and is used to the climatic extremes of his native Finland, said that it was all a terrible way to toss a coin. But he was neither criticising nor complaining, merely stating the obvious. Throughout the event he drove with supreme intelligence, even cunning, and, with his Welsh co-driver Nicky Grist he went ahead to lead the event and win it with what seemed like effortless ease.
But it was not that way at all. It took a great deal of skill and rallymanship to understand the extremely bad conditions and to drive accordingly, choosing the best tyres for each stage and at one time, one suspects without proof, deliberately giving up the lead position in order that he could be second, not first, on the probably snow-covered roads of the next day. He is not only a superb driver but a skilful strategist, and this more than showed up on this particular event.
As we have said, Kankkunen is a fine driver of the greatest capability. It is fitting that, having already won the World Drivers' Championship for himself and the World Makes' Championship for Toyota, his team, he finished off the year by winning the RAC Rally. It was an event upon which no points were at stake. He and Grist won it fairly and squarely, setting an end-of-season stamp on the double which he and Toyota have achieved this year.
As usual, the rally began with a day composed of a tour around private estates, racing circuits and parks, nine in all. This ploy began some years ago — remember that dreadful and dangerous scarper along a North Wales promenade in the late '60s as a means of attracting spectators away from forests and into areas where they could be herded and kept in confines (not our words)? Why, we wonder, was one of these first day stages this year (at the Motor Industry Research Association's proving ground) designated as one to which spectators were not admitted? What a contradiction in terms. Speak with one tongue; act with another. If Sunday is for spectators, why have a stage which bans them, unless it be, in the absence of other agreeable venues, to bring the stage mileage up to the level (10 per cent of the total) which will allow reseeding after the first day?
The opening stages are highly unpopular among competitors who tolerated them simply because they felt that organisers were obliged to cater for a Sunday public. If they are to be excluded, why have these artificial stages at all? Other events have scrapped these so-called superspecials, as FISA dubbed them. The RAC should now do likewise.
On the entry front Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Vauxhall, Nissan, Volkswagen, Skoda and Lada were all there, but not Lancia. The Jolly Club team's final event with a Lancia was Spain's Cataluña Rally. Now, contrary to Italian traditions, the team may be seeking a link with a non-Italian make, a link which may have been forged before this issue of Motor Sport appears. Nissan had one of its new Sunny GTis, prepared in Britain but entered by Nissan Belgium for de Mevius/Lux.
Driving the Toyota Celica Turbos were Kankkunen/Grist and Auriol/Occelli, a third car being entered by Toyota Sweden for Jonsson/Bäckman. Mitsubishi, under the Ralliart banner, had two Lancer Evolutions for Eriksson/Parmander and Schwarz/Thul, whilst the official Ford team had just one Escort RS Cosworth for French crew Delecour/Grataloup. However, entered by Michelin Pilot Team Ford were two other Escort Cosworths for Wilson/Thomas and Head/Roy, whilst another, a Group N version, was entered by Shell Helix Motor Oils for Welshmen Evans/Davies. The Shell Scholarship put in another for Milner/ Turvey, the co-driver being the son of the late Robin Turvey.
Subaru had a problem before the event inasmuch as the Impreza saloons prepared by Prodrive were finished in the colours of 555 cigarettes. The car has been called the 555 Impreza and the team bears a similar name, but the colour of the car was not to the liking of the organisers, to whom BBC TV coverage was all important. A stalemate ensued. Prodrive had a contract with 555 to use that livery on each of the Impreza's World Championship appearances; the BBC did not want cars in cigarette packet livery on its screens. Who would win? BAT, makers of 555, had a contractual axe to grind; Prodrive had been told by the RAC that the cars would not be accepted in those colours. Eventually, a compromise was reached. Normally, the figures 555 are preceded by what looks like a half-moon. On this occasion, each of the fives was replaced by a smaller, mirror image half-moon and everyone seemed to be happy. Apparently, the half moons mean something significant in one of the prominent Asiatic tongues.
Driving the Imprezas were Colin McRae/Derek Ringer and Ari Vatanen/Bruno Berglund, whilst two of the older Legacys, not in 555 colours, were in the hands of Alister McRae/David Senior and Richard Burns/ Robert Reid.
Vauxhall Sport had two 16-valve Astra GSis for Llewellin/Grindrod and Higgins/ Corner, whilst the senior member of the McRae family, Jimmy, drove a Volkswagen Golf GTi with Chris Wood, also entered by Shell Helix. Aliasov/Levitan and Artemenko/ Timkovskiy were in Lada Samaras; Sibera/ Gross and Triner/Klima in Skoda Favorits.
Always slippery, the Sunday stages were worse than ever. The works drivers seemed to have mixed feelings, probably because few of them voiced their opinions publicly, but there can be no doubt that not one of them enjoyed that day of short but decidedly risky stages in the parks, circuits and private homes.
There were spins, slides and brushes with trees, walls, gateposts, straw bales, heaps of tyres and even pheasants. No end of cars finished the day with dents and bulges, but none of the front runners emerged with any serious damage. Delecour lost some time when he went off the road after his steering wheel loosened, whilst both Burns and Alister McRae, and their co-drivers, were soaked when, at a watersplash in Chatsworth, the force ripped up their gear lever base gaiters, allowing the muddy water to spray the entire interiors of their cars. Later, they were 'blow-dried' by their mechanics.
Wilson had the window of his co-driver's door pop out, whilst Colin McRae needed attention to his centre differential after Oulton Park. Father Jimmy got stuck in a gateway in Donington and needed some pushing power to get his Golf going again. Kankkunen led after the first stage, Schwarz after the next three. Then Kankkunen took the lead again and headed Schwarz by 14 seconds back at Birmingham. One second behind was Eriksson, followed by McRae, Vatanen, Delecour, Auriol, Wilson and Burns. But penalty differences were so small that they were quite insignificant, certainly inappropriate for comparison with what was to come.
During the night stop at Birmingham, Trevor Cathers from Ireland, a competitor who had retired, had his Ford Escort Cosworth (L744 ECW), minus gearbox but complete with service Transit and trailer, stolen from outside his hotel (the Apollo) at Edgbaston. Anyone with information is asked to contact the police at Ladywood (02)-428 6020). This sort of thing seems to be a regular risk on RAC rallies nowadays.
On Monday the field moved into Wales, leaving Birmingham at 4.00 so that Dyfnant was tackled in the dark and Myherin in what was certainly bad light. There was light snow around, but much worse was the sheet ice brought about by the sub-zero temperatures. It was sunny in the afternoon, but still cold, and when track centres proved to be so polished that they were like glass, people began taking to the verges, risking and collecting punctures.
De Mevius stopped when a pulley bolt broke and his engine overheated, whilst McRae's vision was cut down when he smashed a lamp. Eriksson, struggling with a slow right rear puncture, slid off the road and, ironically, punctured his front right tyre. He had to change the wheel and lost some three minutes.
Myherin was delayed whilst an ambulance went in to collect two spectators who were injured when a car went off the road, but this did not affect the early runners. After a short stop at Machynlleth, where the town was as thronged as ever, Worswick had the gear lever of his Sierra Cosworth break off in his hand, but in true fettling fashion he grabbed a pair of molegrips, latched them to the stump and used this makeshift lever until a new one could be fitted.
In Dyfi, Vatanen hit a rock whilst using a ditch to straighten a bend, damaging the front left, flattening the tyre and breaking the half shaft. Kankkunen collected a right rear puncture and needed a full suspension check after driving four miles on the rim. Onwards to Penmachno, where no service was allowed between the two stages (there were service bicycles in the past!), Eriksson was hoping for more snow and ice to lessen the advantage over his Mitsubishi of the more powerful Toyotas and Subarus. He got his wish partially, but not entirely.
After the Brenig stage, with only Clocaenog yet to go until the run up to Lancaster for the night stop, Kankkunen's lead over Colin McRae was only seven seconds. It was very close indeed, but it was turned completely around in Clocaenog when McRae beat Kankkunen by 28s and moved into the lead. Was it due to McRae speeding up or Kankkunen slowing down? We wonder. Kankkunen did not really want to be first on the road the next day, a position which would have been bad if there was fresh snow, better if the going turned out to be icy. It could have been a tactical ploy, sacrificing half a minute or so to gain a theoretical advantage the next day.
Jimmy McRae stopped when he hit a rock, pulled out a drive shaft and bent a track control arm. He tried to fix the damage himself but it was not possible and the senior member of the clan was out of the event.
At the end of the day, Colin Mc Rae's lead over Kankkunen was 21s, whilst Wilson followed 2m 3s later. Eriksson was a further 10s back, Delecour another 10 and Auriol 35. In seventh place, 2m 37s adrift, was Burns.
After the Lancaster night stop the rally passed up through the two Grizedale stages, the only ones in the Lake District this year, past Carlisle and into southern Scotland. Grizedale was the fear of many a runner, but it was not as bad as it has been in past years. There was not so much ice as expected, but the abundance of loose dirt convinced Kankkunen that he was better second on the road than first.
Wilson made a heavy landing in a hole, bending a front strut and causing the tyre to rub against the arch. Eventually it punctured and he finished the stage on the rim. Sebastian Lindholm rolled his Escort Cosworth off the road and caused so much damage that he could not continue. There was quite a delay later at Grizedale when William Hill and Clive Hilton crashed their Escort Cosworth, the driver breaking an ankle and the co-driver some fingers. An ambulance went in, but apparently not before some time elapsed.
The stages around the Scottish border, Kielder included, provided the biggest fear of the whole event. Dirt road tyres were not much good on snow, whilst snow tyres were rather prone to punctures. Kielder had both conditions, a tricky coating of snow over the penetrating rocks.
On Kershope, hopes of a British win dwindled when McRae went through a ditch and became spiked on what was either a tree branch or a narrow, sharp-ended log. Whatever it was, it lanced the bottom of his radiator, and by the time he had driven the 10 or more miles to the end of the stage the temperature was well up, the radiator almost empty and the steam rising in clouds. An attempt was made to get the car going, but it was a futile job and potential winner McRae was relegated to the role of spectator yet again.
Meanwhile, his brother Alister had spent some 12 minutes off the road on the same stage, going down a bank and getting stuck on some logs. Fortunately, there were enough spectators there to help him out. Schwarz passed Evans in the first of the two Wauchope stages but, as is common with Group N cars, Evans could not get his Escort to stop in time at the end and he slid, albeit very gently, into the back of Schwarz' Mitsubishi.
On the next Wauchope stage, there was chaos. Many cars got stuck, some off the road but most because they could not get up a hill, either because they did not have the traction or, more likely, because they could not take a run at it because other cars were stuck ahead, blocking the road. Matters were made worse when the start marshal continued to send cars in, and there was a somewhat dangerous situation when many crews had to spend hours in cars with defunct engines in temperatures well below zero. Before it all blew over many harsh words had been spoken, especially concerning the inability of the organisation, with all its communications equipment, to keep track of what was happening. On the other hand, those who tackled the rally without warm clothing and survival equipment in their cars should have known better. Had the start been suspended until the missing cars had been located, the problem might not have been compounded.
As evening fog came down, Wilson went into Harwood and all but suffered the same fate as McRae. He went off the road and had his radiator speared by some projecting log or branch. Fortunately, he did not have far to go and he made it to the finish without cooking his engine, even posting best time, to boot.
The Falstone stage saw many people going off the road, some regaining it and some not. Kankkunen punctured both his right tyres on this one but carried on and survived the last two and a half miles without causing any suspension or transmission damage.
After Broomylinn, the penultimate stage of the day, Kankkunen realised that Eriksson was getting rather close, only 32 seconds behind in fact, so in Pundershaw, the last stage before the Gateshead night stop, he pulled out all the stops, chopping corners, hooking ditches and risking punctures. His time was 49s less than anyone else's and he finished the day 1m 21s ahead of Eriksson, with Wilson another 55s behind. Delecour, Vatanen, Auriol and Burns came next, whilst Schwarz, after his mishap, was down in eighth.
The next morning's restart from Gateshead was at 6.30, and soon there were more problems. The course car crews at Hamsterley, first stage of the day in a pretty desolate part of the country, decided that part of the stage would be impassable, for 2wd cars at least, especially after an official car got stuck. But rather than cut the stage in half, it was decided to miss out a centre bit and use a convenient short-cut to get cars the half-mile or so from the first part to the last.
Ah, but they reckoned without the barrack-room lawyers of the professional brigade. Crews of the leading cars gathered around the start control and the general cry went up. "You can't do that. Even if it's less than half a mile and, as you say, fairly straight and hazard-free, we have no pace notes so it will be too dangerous." In fairness, not all the professionals were of that mind, one driver even going up to demand a time, saying: "If they won't start, I will, so start counting me down from now." Eventually, word came from Rally HQ that it would be run as the stage commander decreed, and anyone failing to take the start would be penalised accordingly. Very quickly, crews were back in their cars and ready to go.
To obviate such situations in the future, when competitors attempt to invoke the FIA rule that no section shall be competitive unless there has been a pre-event opportunity to recce and make notes, perhaps a set of Alternative Route notes should be issued in advance? But this would be entirely impracticable on the RAC Rally. Who is to know where snow will fall?
Anyway, Hamsterley was eventually run in its shortened form, according to the organisers' decree, and Kankkunen was quickest by 12s from Eriksson, with Vatanen following after another 16s. Wilson was fourth, another 16s behind, 8s ahead of Delecour. Was it dangerous? Certainly not!
In Hamsterley, Wilson had the misfortune to have a small rock fly up and wedge between a disc and a caliper, causing instant transmission seizure. Everything locked up and, for a few moments, the Cumbrian driver was at a loss. Suddenly, he remember his bushmanship, selected reverse and let his clutch out with a bang. Out went the rock, the gear lever was put into first and the car roared off as if nothing had happened, albeit with a loss of some half a minute. Naturally, the entire brake system on that wheel was checked at the next service.
Llewellin was confronted by a fast moving non-competing car on a road section hereabouts and he put his Vauxhall up a bank in an effort to avoid it. Alas, it hit a front corner, damaging the wheel, half shaft, strut and steering arm, all of which were replaced at the next service. The other car did not stop . . .
In Cropton Kankkunen hit a post quite hard, smashing Grist's door window and covering him in snow and glass splinters. He went immediately into a ditch but kept the power on, barged through it and emerged without stopping.
Delecour had said in the early stages that he did not like the rally at all, but as the days went by he changed his tune and was eventually emerging from the car at every stop with a wide grin on his face, saying that he loved every minute of it. "Is fantastic. So difficult. And so plus to my education." During the day, however, he began to look more serious when his gearbox began giving trouble. First it was jumping out of fourth and fifth, then sixth as well, and his car had to be fitted with a new gearbox after the final, Donington, stage in order to ensure that it got to the finish.
Due to the fracas at Hamsterley, the 10-minute stop at Whitby was cancelled, but before the rally got to Langdale Vatanen was off into a ditch on a road section, having swerved to avoid one of his own recce cars coming towards him. The Subaru people all dived in to heave and push, joined by nearby Mitsubishi mechanics who sportingly lent a hand. The damage was not serious, although the Finn did have to tackle the next stage without a sumpguard. The steering also needed some attention later.
There were deep, icy ruts on Dalby, but by this time there were no heroics among the front runners, even though Kankkunen clipped a log pile soon after the start and sent them cascading and rolling into the road. Amazingly, he did not get a puncture. By this time, caution had been thrown to the winds. Penalty differences were such that there was to be no place changing unless for some serious failure. Ditch-hooking became common practice again and the leader's tyre tracks far more adventurous than they had been during the first two days.
That was about the size of it. Colin McRae had once again gone out just when it looked that he would be the first British winner of the RAC Rally since Roger Clark, certainly disappointing the Subaru and Prodrive people but on the other hand confirming to them that both car and driver are made of winning stuff. Kankkunen and Grist stitched up the season in fine form, setting a great seal on a championship double. The two of them, plus the fine performance of the Ford drivers and the startling improvement of the Mitsubishis since the summer, suggest an interesting 1994. Whether the Jolly Club will come up with something similarly competitive remains to be seen. GP
Network Q RAC Rally – November 21-24 1993
1 Juha Kankkunen (SF) / Nicky Grist (GB) Toyota Celica T-4wd, GpA, 6h 25m 48s
2 Kenneth Eriksson / Staffan Parmander (S) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GpA, 6h 27m 32s
3 Malcolm Wilson / Bryan Thomas (GB) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA, 6h 30m 51s
4 François Delecour / Daniel Grataloup (F) Ford escort RS Cosworth, GpA, 6h 32m 57s
5 Ari Vatanen (SF) / Bruno Berglund (S) Subaru Impreza, GpA, 6h 33m 59s
6 Didier Auriol / BernardOcelli (F) Toyota Celica T-4wd, GpA, 6h 39m 39s
7 Richard Burns / Robert Reid (GB) Subaru Legacy, GpA, 6h 47m 25s
8 Armin Schwarz / Peter Thul (D) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, GpA, 6h 51m 02s
9 Mats Jonsson / Lars Bäckman (S) Toyota Celica T-4wd, GpA, 7h 00m 48s
10 Alister McRae / David Senior (GB) Subaru Legacy, GpA, 7h 02m 12s
Final championship points after 13 rounds
Drivers: 1. Kankkunen 135; 2. Delecour 112; 3. Auriol 92; 4. Miki Biason 76; 5. Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz 50; 7. Eriksson 41; 8.Vatanen 38; 9. Gustavo Trelles 28; 10. Tommi Mäkinen 26; 11. Marku Alén 25; 12. Schwarz 23; 13. Andrea Aghini and Jonsson 22; 15. Franco Cunico 20.
(A total of 75 drivers have scored points.)
Makes: 1. Toyota 157; 2.Ford 145; 3. Subaru 110; 4. Lancia 92; 5. Mitsubishi 86.