Punishing Acropolis takes its toll
Whether it be Thousand Lakes, Safari, Midnight Sun, Arctic or Acropolis, there is something ear-catching about a title which is appropriate to the region. Each of the rallies named can be pictured merely by mention of the name, and we often feel that it is rather sad that the RAC did not choose a striking title for its own rally all those years ago before it became the most popular event in the world. To do so now would almost be like re-naming Wembley or Arms Park.
The Acropolis Rally is most aptly named, for the event takes place in the dry, dusty, craggy lands wherein Zeus and his fellows presumably played their ancient sports. For many years one of the world’s most famous rallies, the Acropolis has always been one of the most difficult of events, rough, fast and tiring to the extreme. Indeed, it is one in which just finishing is an achievement, for the retirement rate is invariably high— this year was no exception—due to the punishing roads and the very high averages which are imposed on the inter-stage road sections.
However, it has seldom been the epitomé of organisational slickness—witness the occasion when only a handful of cars finished and no-one knew who had won until the day after! Happily, this year provided a marked improvement and the tough nature of the technical side of the rally was matched by an organisation much, much better than before. Without any financial help at all, most pnvateers would find the Acropolis a heavy drain on their pockets, but the organisers waive the entry fee for foreign privateers and provide them with monetary aid to defray expenses, the actual sum based on a gliding scale related to the distance of their homes from Athens. With this help, private drivers from an over Europe made the journey to Athens, but they were not matched by an equal number of professionals and the group of about eight cars or so at the head of the field proved to be so much quicker than anyone else that there could well have been two rallies taking place at almost the same time. In most events there is a marked difference between the professional driver whose skills are rewarded by hard cash and the amateur who takes part just because he likes the sport, but in Greece this year the difference was even more noticeable.
From the start, the leading group of visitors forged ahead, the only local man staying with them being Tasos Livieratos, an Alpine driver who always rallies under the pseudonym “Siroco”.
The day before the start the organisers held a race at the Tatoi airfield circuit, the race which hitherto they had used as a final, crowd-pulling spectacle. The idea this year was to use the results of the race, not to be included with the rally results, but to establish the start order for the rally. The idea was sound, for it was right that faster cars should be in front of slower ones because of the dust problem on special stages, but in practice it wasn’t particularly good. In the first place it put an unnatural strain on engines (at least two blew up) and in the second it led to an almost farcical situation among the six-strong group of FIA seeded drivers. These were assured of the first six numbers, so they decided in advance who should have what start number and drove accordingly on the circuit, in procession, without strain and just for the sake of appearances. Two of them didn’t drive at all, so they took fifth and sixth starting places.
Nowadays Rauno Aaltonen is not an FIA seeded driver, so at least he had to drive quickly if he was to avoid too much dust when the rally started. He collected eighth starting place, behind the Alpine of “Siroco”.
Privateers usually fall by the wayside because they break their cars, or because they drive too slowly to keep up with the averages. Professionals only suffer from the former malady, and very often to a greater degree than the privateers since they are driving far closer to the limit of adhesion. In Greece the leading eight was whittled down to a mere pair, outright winner eventually being the young German driver Walter Röhrl who drove an Opel Ascona with Jochen Berger.
At first, Björn Waldegård went into the lead in his Stratos, but a minor electrical defect dropped him to third place, and yet another (sticking contact points) put him out of the rally altogether in the closing stages. Team-mates Simo Lampinen (Beta coupé) and Raffaele Pinto (Stratos) both went out with defective gear selectors, Pinto having a moment of acute disorientation when he started off in second gear after mechanics had attended to his selectors and found that his car was shooting away backwards!
The two Toyota Corolla Levins (1.6-litre, 16-valves) of Ove Andersson and Achim Warmbold were going extremely well, indicating that the recently set up team, headed by Andersson, of the Japanese firm’s European dealers, has done some excellent development work on the cars since they first came over from Japan for the RAC Rally in 1971. But Andersson himself dropped out early in the event with a leaking gearbox and Warmbold in the late stages of the rally when he overshot a junction on a stage, reversed and lodged the car on a rock which held it for nearly half an hour. Aaltonen, in the second Ascona, dropped out when loose gearbox bolts let out the oil and the box seized.
That accounts for the eight top runners, of whom only two survived to the finish. Of the 89 starters there were only 17 finishers, a rate of drop-out in keeping with Acropolis tradition. Lancia’s total retirement doesn’t drop that make from the head of the World Championship table, but it might well bring them to add one or two more events to their international programme before the end of the year.—G.P.
1st : W.