MICHÈLE MOUTON has demonstrated many times that rallying skill is by no means an attribute peculiar to males. At the beginning of June she went a step further by displaying a degree of physical stamina hitherto only associated with masculinity; she won the Acropolis Rally, acknowledged as the toughest endurance event remaining in Europe.
Her team-mates, Mikkola, Wittmann and Cinotto, all succumbed to mechanical failures caused by pounding on the rough roads, but the entire three-car team of Opel Asconas remained, so there was no respite for the French girl. Fighting against fatigue brought about by heat, dust, tiredness and the sheer physical effort of driving a car near its limits on rough, rocky, twisty tracks in the mountains, she paced herself so that she would remain just ahead of her championship rival Walter Rӧhrl, yet never went as fast as to risk a breakage and the delay of the consequent repair.
Although a little shorter than it used to be, the Acropolis is without doubt tougher than any of its European counterparts in the World Rally Championship. It does not require the finesse needed on the ice roads of Sweden, nor the precision necessary on the forest jumps of Finland. Its demands are different, the most important being an ability to remain always alert and aware not only of a car's adhesion limits but of the breaking points of its mechanical components. Greek mountain roads are largely unaffected by the advance of spoilsport tarmac and their rough surfaces take a mechanical toll the equivalent of several other rallies put together.
There was a fair amount of mud this year, caused by thunderstorms before and during the rally, but usually more prominent is the thick dust which reddens the eyes and makes overtaking hazardous and sometimes impossible on the narrow, tortuous tracks. This, combined with heat and a relentlessly tight time schedule on road sections, causes the rapid onset of fatigue and only those drivers with stamina and tenacity manage to succeed.
Greek authorities are most co-operative with the organisers who are able, except in only the most populated of areas, to set road section time allowances so marginal that even routine work such as tyre changes and refuelling has to be done as expeditiously as possible lest time be lost. Mechanical breaks, common enough on the rocky tracks, often lead to serious delays whilst roadside repairs are made as service points, and a frequent cause of retirement is lateness beyond the permitted maximum of 30 min. between any two consecutive time controls, or ay minutes accumulated up to any of the regrouping points.
This tightness often calls for road section speeds as high as those on special stages and professional drivers invariably practise everything and make pace notes on all sections where time is likely to be short. It is not meant to be impossibly fast on the road, but the organisers put such stress on reliability that they ensure a high risk of penalty for all except the trouble-free.
Stages themselves often pass through villages where the passage of the rally is regarded as the highlight of the year. Bemused elders sip ouzo at their roadside tables, quite unconcerned about their close proximity to cars passing at high speed, and only the young show any outward excitement. Bozouki music blares from little bars and tavernas and everyone seems to be on holiday. Even when a village lamp-post — perhaps even its only one — was demolished by a Japanese competitor along with his own radiator, residents were delighted to have witnessed the spectacle which will probably keep them in conversation topics for month.
It was to this unique atmosphere that the works teams of Audi, Opel, Datsun, Fiat, Lada, Wartburg and Dacia came this year, the more obvious contenders for a win being Audi and Opel, whilst Datsun was putting its bet on reliability and Fiat on sheer speed with their new mid-engined Lancia Rally, a car with a model name as silly as a willow bat called a cricket! Audi showed no animosity after the disqualification of their entire team last year. If they did bear any grudge, they certainly didn't show it and, in any event, the overwhelming need to score championship points both for Michèle Mouton and for the make was enough to overcome whatever enmity existed before.
The Opel team, or the Rothmans Opel Rally Team to give it its full title, came with three cars with the same object in mind, their driver in line for the title being Walter Rӧhrl, eager to repeat his achievement of 1980 but not the doldrums of unemployment which he experienced in 1981.
Both Mouton and Rӧhrl showed a great understanding of tactical rallying, Mouton by never pushing her car faster than was necessary to stay ahead of Rӧhrl, and the latter by appreciating that he could not catch his French rival and driving just to keep his second place and the 15 championship points that it would bring him.
The Audi win resulted in a somewhat singular celebration, for all three other Quattros retired. Cinotto, the Italian driver, eventually ran out of electrical power after failure of an alternator relay, whilst Wittmann, the Austrian woodcutter, spent so much time having broken steering repaired, twice, that he arrived at the halfway stop one minute beyond his maximum lateness.
Milkkola, who has been having a very lean time indeed this year, broke his front right suspension and the wheel flapped so badly that he was obliged to remove it and complete that stage on three wheels. He continued some twenty kilometres to his next service point, with co-driver Hertz sitting in the back and two mechanics hanging on grimly to the rear of the car in order to move the centre of gravity away from the front, but there was really insufficient time to complete all the repair work within the lateness maximum.
Among the Opels, Rӧhrl was the most consistent, although Toivonen and McRae, the latter on his first World Championship event other than the RAC, were sometimes faster. The difference was that Rӧhrl spent less time at service points than his team-mates, and that obviously paid off. Nevertheless, all three Asconas finished, Toivonen's in third place and McRae's sixth. although in fairness it should be made clear that the Scottish driver twice spent time tracing irritating electrical failures on special stages, one an under-panel disconnection and the other a low-tension breakage, and would otherwise have been up to complete a two-three-four for Opel.
The Datsuns were expected to be more reliable than fast, but in the early stages Salonen was making very respectable times indeed, his Silvia-bodied Violet GTS having been fitted with an engine rather more powerful than that of the others. But he stopped with a broken differential, though not caused by the case-cracking which gave Datsun such an enormous amount of trouble during the Safari. Without any oil loss, the teeth simply stripped.
Pond had the front suspension fail after a heavy landing, and this sent the car into a rock which immobilised it completely. Mehta, on the other hand, in a Violet of the old shape, confined his troubles to those which could be dealt with within the time available, and with his usual dependability he was always there to move ahead when others were delayed. His fourth place puts him third in the World Championship, and Datsun fourth, much of the credit for this being due to the determination of his wife Yvonne, also his co-driver, who withstood the pain of an abscessed tooth throughout the event, as well as the discomforts caused by the side-effects of medication kindly provided by the Opel team doctor.
The two Lancias, comparatively new to rallying, were very much from the Italian mould. Rather like racing cars converted for rallying, their construction gave rise to misgivings even from within the team— and that is indeed a rarity — concerning their sturdiness, particularly after the horrific accident in Corsica when the tube-frame front end of Bettega's car folded up on impact with a stone bridge parapet, allowing the floor pan to fold up and crush the driver's legs, trapping him in the car until an escape hole could be cut through the roof.
There were no such accidents in Greece, but Vudiafieri, who replaced Bettega in Greece and whose co-driver, Perissinot, still bore the arm-plaster of his Corsican injuries, stopped when the supercharger compressor stopped working.
The rough roads shook the car of team-mate Alen so much that the upper stabilising brackets cracked, allowing the engine to jump about so much that other supporting structures broke and the gear selectors jammed. This necessitated no much work at service points that, like Wittmann, Fiat's Finnish driver was one minute beyond his maximum lateness when he arrived at the halfway stop.
The second part of the rally, after an 18-hour stop at the coastal resort of Lagonissi which also served as rally headquarters, was in the Peloponnissos Peninsula, that land-mass to the south-west of the country, south of the Gulf of Corinth.
Reached via a bridge over that great cleft in the Earth known as the Corinth Canal, a name somewhat inadequate to describe the engineering feat which it is, the final leg was the roughest and tightest collection of special stages in the whole event. Indeed, some had prepared for it by nursing (comparatively, of course) their cars in the first leg so that they would be better able to stand up to the pounding of the second.
Rӧhrl was one who adopted such tactics, and he stayed resolutely in second place, his only hope of a win being based on the possibility of Mouton having her car break. It did not, of course, and when cars lined up on the quayside opposite Poros Island, ready to take the car ferry for the two and a half hour voyage to Athens, bouquets of victory were taped to the bonnet of the Quattro.
Although the Acropolis has never been anything but tough and immensely satisfying, its organisation has been lacking in several respects, despite measures by FISA to hold it up as an example to others. However this year's rally was a vast improvement, and whilst we would challenge the inclusion of some other Pets of Paris in the World Championship, the place of the Acropolis cannot be questioned.
By the time this issue of MOTOR SPORT is published. New Zealand's Motogard Rally will be over by twit days and the World Championship will have moved forward by another round. After that should have been July's Codasur Rally, but we hear that this has already been cancelled by the Argentine authorities. The Brazil Rally, in mid August, seems to be in limbo, for some teams consider it not worthwhile to transport a complete rally entourage to South America for just one event. However, what comes next is Finland's Rally of the Thousand Lakes at the end of August, and no-one will doubt the validity and permanence of that furious but eminent competition. — G.P.
(May 31st to June 3.. 1982)
1st: M. Mouton/F. Pons (Audi Quattro Gp4) 12 hr. 54 min. 44 sec.
2nd: W. Rӧhrl/C. Geistdӧrfer (Opel Ascona 400 Gp4) 13 hr. 08 min. 23 sec.
3rd: H. Toivonen/F. Gallagher (Opel Ascona 400 Gp4) 13 hr. 17 min. 21 sec.
4th: S/ Mehta/Y. Mehta (Dasun Violet GT Gp4) 13 hr. 27 min. 28 sec.
5th: G. Moschous/A. Constandakatos (Datsun Violet GT Gp4) 13 hr. 36 min. 44 sec.
6th: J. McRae/I. Grindrod (Opel Ascona 400 Gp4) 13 hr. 40 min. 16 sec.
7th: P. Moschoutis/”Silef” (Fiat 131 Abarth Gp4) 14 hr. 21 min. 48 sec.
8th: A. Maniatopolous/S. Kokkinis (Renault 5 Turbo Gp4) 14 hr. 27 min. 28 sec.
9th: T. Gernenis/J.Kepetzis (Datsun Violet Gp2) 16 hr. 06 min. 10 sec.
10th: F. Heisler/W. Blieberger (Ford Escort RS Gp2) 16 hr. 10 min. 40 sec.
136 starters, 32 finishers
World Rally Championship positions(After six rounds)
Walter Rӧhrl (D) 72 pts
Michèle Mouton (F) 52 pts
Shekher Mehta (EAK) 30 pts
Per Eklund (S) 25 pts
Stig Blomqvist (S) 20 pts
Jean Ragnotti (F) 20 pts
A total of 49 drivers have scored points.
Makes(After five rounds)
Opel 74 pts
Audi 58 pts
Renault 32 pts
Datsun 28 pts
Porsche 28 pts
Ford 20 pts
A total of 14 makes have scored points