Rally review: Scottish rally

A road to international fame, or nothing more than a self-indulgent cuI de sac? It's not an easy question, but one which the RAC Open Championship has to face up to. In its sixth year, the premier British rally series is commonly accepted as the best domestic championship in the world, such is the high level of support it receives from manufacturers and the trade. Some even go as far as suggested that it is only pre-empted by the World Championship, the Open easily putting into the shade the over-complicated FISA European series.

Yet as a stepping stone to greater things the Open has been a flop. Certainly there are a number of drivers, co-drivers, team managers and mechanics making good livings out of the six event series, but from the point of view of being a launching pad towards inclusion in full World Championship teams it is meaningless. In this respct the Open Series has developed into a means for its own end.

Take Scotland's Jimmy McRae. Genialpresentable and at times brilliant on tarmac rallies, McRae had twice won the championship for Opel. Yet, he is only invited to make a single World Championship appearance for the factory team outside the UK. As the only "home" driver to have won the Open Championship you would have thought that his credentials would have been impeccable.

Of course, to lay the blame entirely at the door of the Open series would be too simpleUnfortunately, amongst some teams there still remains an attitude that unless you have a Scandinavian name, then you can't be any good. It's even evident amongst the British based teams who contest the Open seriesFor example, the Audi Sport UK organisation employs a Swede and a German to drive its cars, the Toyota effort another Swede. There is no room for patriotism if you are a team boss who doesn't rate home grown talent, but it should also be remembered that the Open series would not hold as much interest and charisma if it were not for the presence of the likes of Stig Blomqvist and Per Eklund, the only true international stars who are regularly competing in the current championship.

After the fourth round of the championship, June's Arnold Clark Scottish Rally, Quattro driver Blomqvist ties for the title lead with Britain's Russell Brookes. The tenacious Brookes is having his best season for some time with his Andrews Heat for Hire backed Vauxhall Chevette, and with two tarmac rounds remaining, stands his best ever chance of becoming Open Champion. The ever-consistent McRae is third in the standings, six points downwhilst Eklund is fourth after some unbelievable giant killing drives in his fleet GpA Toyota Corolla.

The Scottish in fact marked a significant point in the championship. Now extended from five to six qualifying events, the Rothmans backed series is neatly split between asphalt and gravel rallies. It started with the forest Mintex International in February (won by Blomqvist), went to Ireland at Easter for the Rothmans Circuit (first - Brookes in his Chevette), took to the Welsh forests in May for the Castrol-supported International (Blomqvistand then visited Scotland. Two tarmac rallies remain, the newly instated Ulste(july 29/30), and Rothmans Manx (September 14/17), both of which allow practising and on which the Quattro loses any significant advantages from its four-wheel drive system and turbocharged engine.

The odds would therefore seem to favour Brookes and McRae, both of whom have cars which are more suited to tarmac rallying. It could be a grandstand finish to the 1983 series, but such a situation is not unusual as last year McRae managed to take the title on the very last round.

The competltlve nature of the championship demands heavy investments from the top contenders, and budgets of up to half a million pounds are not unusual. top ranking driver can also expect to command fees of around £25,000 for the six events. Although for British drivers the rewards may not be high in terms of progression to World Championship rallying, the publicity value alone is worth such financial rewards. An integral part of the hype is television coverage. From the outset, the organising RACMSA together with the championship sponsors (initially the St. Albans based family company of car accessory manufacturers, Sedan Products Ltd, and for the past three years the mighty Rothmans which has another year of its agreement to run) have made nationwide television coverage a major factor in the Open Championship selling package. Both BBC Grandstand and LWT's World of Sport have covered the Open over the years, the current arrangement being with the commercial company which makes a filmed report of each round.

It was also recognised at an early stage that such an arrangement would be costly, and also that the television moguls would be unwilling to finance the coverage themselves. Therefore, over the years system has developed whereby the major sponsors and participants contribute to special fund which covers these costs.

However, although television has become the reason why the Open Championship continues to attract the top-line support it does (entries have nevertheless sunk from 150 plus to an average of 80 or so an event, but it is still good considering the economic climate), the series initially came into being for two reasons. One was to create a laddeof achievement whereby British competitors had something to aim for, gradually moving up from the club championships such as the BTRDA Gold Star series through the RAC's National Championship to the Open. The other was to try and counteract the problem of marauding Swedes and Finns.

Before the Open Championship was created, the premier British rally series waa combination of national and international events. However, more often than not this championship was dominated by young up and coming Finnish drivers such as Ari Vatanen. It was thought however that the national series should be just that - championship solely for the home drivers. Thus it was eventually decided that the international rallies should be brought together to form their own Open series, whilst the national championship would consist of one-day events in which only the holders of British and Eire passports (not competition licences) could score points.

As a shop window for the Sport the Open Championship has achieved its aim, but as we said at the outset the achievements of the home crews has by and large failed to impress the World Championship teams. So much so that many team managers now view the Open as nothing more than a publicity exercise which has no bearing on the outside world - until, that is, each November's Lombard RAC Rally which is run over some of the forests used on the Mintex, Welsh and Scottish rallies. As one manufacturer's representative once put it: "The Open? Little fish in their own muddy pond!"

The RACMSA recognises the fact that the Open Championship is in danger of stagnating in its own importance, and is currently lobbying FISA to give the top three in the Open Championship automatic "A" grading. Anything that can be done to improve the stature of British drivers abroad is to be applauded.  MRG.

 

Scottish Results

1st: S BlomqvistIB Cederberg (Audi QUBttro GpB) .... ..... ...... 5 hr. 05 min. 02 sec. 

2nd: J McRae/I Grindrod (OpeManta 400 GpB) ... ....... ........ .5 hr. 09 min. 37 sec.

3rd; R Brookes/M Broad {Vauxhall Chevette GpB).. ... ............. 5 hr. 12 min. 03 sec.

4th; P Eklund/D Whittock (Toyota Corolla GpA) ....... ..... ...... ...5 hr. 20 min. 17 sec.

5th; T Kaby/R Arthur (Vauxhall Chevatte GpB). .. .. ... ... ......... .5 hr. 25 min. 43 sec.

6th: E WeberIG Wanger (OpeManta 400 GpB). ................... ... 5 hr. 27 min. 52 sec.

7th; A Cowan/A Douglas (Audi 80 Quattro GpB) ....................... 5 hr. 29 min. 38 sec.

8th; O WeidnerIGreasley (Audi Quattro GpB). ............. .......... 5 hr. 29 min. 50 sec.

9th; K WoodIP Brown (Rover Sdi Gp4) ... .. ... ....... ... ... .. ........ 5 hr. 40 min. 42 sec.

10th: H Hauksson/B Halldorsson (Ford Escort RS Gp4) .. . . . . . . 5 hr. 45 min. 01 sec.