Whether it is because too many events have been held in too short a space of time, or because Alpine has built up such a commanding early lead in the International Championship for Makes or because too many people spent too much money going to Africa for the Safari, will never really be known; but the result was apparent in May when both qualifying events held in that month, the Austrian Alpine Rally and the Acropolis Rally, attracted less than the usual number of factory teams.
The Austrian event, which really was the original of the French Coupe des Alpes, has suffered in recent years from a decline in popularity. Indeed, in the late sixties drivers were coming away from Vienna saying how scrappy and uninteresting the rally had been. But this year there was a complete transformation. The organisers produced a difficult testing event which never lost its interest from start to finish, which taxed competitors and cars to the full, and which was accompanied by publicity-catching exercises which I have not known anyone to utilise before in a rally.
The event consisted of eighteen special stages, all of them on loose-surfaced roads—some of them rough—compressed into a tight, 48-hour route with but two short stops of about an hour apiece. The difficult roads reduced 53 starters to 15 finishers, their crews remarking at the finish that, that they felt far wearier than after events of twice the duration.
Works participation was confined to two Alpines, two Fiats, one Lancia, two BMWs, four Skodas (it being a comparatively short journey from Prague to Baden) and two semi-works outfits, one of Volkswagens and the other of Citroens. The BMWs were fast, but not strong enough to survive the pounding; the Lancia blew a head gasket and one Fiat left the road; both Alpines suffered broken hubs, but one was repaired sufficiently quickly that it stayed ahead of the field to win—its Swedish driver Ove Andersson scoring his third major victory of the year.
Something which must be said of the Austrian Alpine Rally is the way in which its organisers set out to provide a rapid results service and to heighten interest among the public. Since a rally spans a large area, it is difficult to maintain interest in one place when the competitors are tackling a special stage several hundreds of miles away. The O.A.M.T.C. solved this little difficulty by setting up a public information centre in the headquarters town of Baden, providing a bar and refreshment counter and installing closed circuit television. Not only did this indicate positions, but it also brought pictures live from several special stages, sent along hired telephone cables. The equipment was provided by an Austrian importer of Japanese electronic appliances and the exercise proved to be immensely effective yet not at all expensive. Why similar measures could not be taken during the RAC Rally we cannot imagine.
Just two weeks after the Alpenfahrt the scene shifted to Greece for the Acropolis Rally. This was just as difficult, just as fast and just as rough (if not rougher) than the Austrian event, but it seemed to be received with less enthusiasm by competitors. The results service was not particularly good in Greece, which meant that competing crews were seldom given information which told them where they stood in relation to their rivals. Furthermore, although the event finished on a Saturday the results were not officially available until Monday evening. True there was a race at Tatoi Airfield near Athens on the Sunday morning, but that shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the production of results. Racing and rallying don’t really mix, and to expect a handful of tired rally cars and tired drivers to provide a crowd-pulling spectacle is really asking too much. The organisers would be well advised to drop this race and to end the rally cleanly without any unnecessary appendix.
Entries in the Acropolis were at about the same level as those for the Austrian Alpine, with 59 starters being reduced to 9 finishers. There were three Alpines, the French team anxious to really consolidate their lead in the Constructors’ Championship, two Fiat 124 Spyders and again a solitary Lancia. Entered privately was a works Daf, an ex-works Datsun 240Z and the team of Citroens from Austria. Of these, one Alpine retired after shedding fanbelt after fanbelt and one Fiat with a broken differential, leaving the Alpines of Andersson and Nicolas to finish first and second, Lampinen’s Lancia third and Ceccato’s Fiat fourth. The remaining finishers consisted of a Greek Opel, a Turkish BMW, a Greek Alfa Romeo, a Greek Datsun and a Cypriot Peugeot.
One thing the Greek and Austrian events had in common; they were both won by a Swedish driver who has an incredible run of success this year, Ove Andersson. Once in the teams of Lancia and Ford, Andersson drove an Alpine in the RAC Rally of 1970 but didn’t finish. But he started 1971 with considerable impact by winning the Monte Carlo Rally and following it with another win at Sanremo. With his two recent successes, he has won four major championship events in the space of five months, a record that we cannot recall ever having been matched.—G.P.