Rally review, July 1986

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Regrouping

Reactions have been varied to the post-Corsica changes in the rules governing vehicles eligible for the World rally Championship from 1987 onwards. At one extreme there were harsh words indeed, even talk of legal action aginst FISA for failing to abide by the stability understanding under which manufacturers went ahead with car development and production in the belief that continuity of vehicle regulations would not be interrupted by changes for at least some years.

At the other extreme the FISA decision, made very hurriedly indeed in Corsica and still to be properly ratified in detail as we went to press, found favour. It sticks out a mile that those who support the decision are the makers with production cars capable of assuming a competitive role in Group A (5,000 produced), and that those against it are the factories with very little to fall back on when Group B cars (200 produced) are no longer eligible for the World Championship points. When commercial axes are lobe ground, there is no sparing the stone!

Disregarding commercial interests, the majority seem to favour halting the advancement of rally cars towards racing cars, with attendant increases in power, cost and vulnerability. This is what we feel is the logical step, but FISA can accept no credit whatsoever for taking it, for they are merely correcting their own mistakes under the convenient camouflage of selfrighteousness.

Rallying has been manoeuvred towards the style of Grand Prix racing for two long. The gradual edging of vehicle regulations closer and closer to outright, purpose-built prototypes has been obvious, though not to all, and demonstrates clearly that FISA has singularly little knowledge of the sport which it is supposed to administrate.

Rallying is a sport, not a technical exercise; a contest between people, not between machines. It’s high time that the process of reversing those definitions were turned about.

The changes are very likely to bring about the disappearance of familiar faces and the reappearance of others who have been out of the sport for some time Manufacturers who had put all their eggs in the “special” basket by concentrating on purposebuilt Group B cars totally removed from the occupants of a showroom may have little to fall back on Peugeot, for instance, is left with little raw material from which to produce a reasonably competitive Group A car for 1987, but the team is going ahead with its bid to win both championships this year.

Austin-Rover is another team to which the rule changes spell disaster, for the Metro 6R4, like the Peugeot 205 T16, will not be eligible for the World Championship next year Neither, for that matter, will be the Ford RS 200, but at least Boreham has both four-wheel-drive and Cosworth power in production, and could well make at least 5,000 of whatever they decide to use and continue to compete in the World Championship.

Fiat — Lancia has expressed agreement with the rule changes. Fiorio stating that ‘We’ve gone too far. I think we’ve taken one step too man, the step which spells the difference between a normally dangerous sport and a situation which has got out of hand”. However, there’s no indication yet of the car which the Italian team will use from next year onwards.

Audi, with several mass-produced 4wd cars of respectable power, was perhaps the best placed, but just a week after the Tour of Corsica the company announced its immediate withdrawal from the World Rally Championships, and from other events in which it had been planned to use Group B cars. They described this action as an -initiative”, but it remains to be seen whether it will be permanent, or just until the team may be ready to return with a Group A car.

And what of the others? Opel, Volkswagen, Datsun, Toyota and Mazda, even Citroen, Renault and Volvo, could be among those now in a situation exactly to their liking, and the changes will certainly not have passed unnoticed in Trollhattan. Saab withdrew from the sport because it could not tolerate the way in which rally cars had become so far removed from those of the production line, and we wonder whether the changed circumstances will persuade them that the time is ripe for a come-back.

Whatever happens, planners are going to be earnest study during the remainder of this year, and 1987 could well provide a few revelations. — G.P.

Hidden factor

Several World Championship rally organisers were forced to change their dates this year, causing considerable local difficulty, as a result of a demand by FISA that a new rule governing the minimum interval between events should be followed absolutely.

The quoted reason for the rule was to allow works teams time to reprepare between events, but this need was itself created by another FISA rule insisting that, to be eligible to win the championship, manufacturers take part in at least eight events during the year one of them outside Europe. Thus FISA was more or less obliged to provide breathing space between events.

However, the situation may have been influenced by a hidden factor which so far has remained in the shadows. Last year the Morocco Rally was revived after an absence of nine years, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to its illustrious past and clearly another gestation period was required. The December date did little to encourage entries, for at that time works teams are embroiled in preparations for the year ahead and long distance exponents are more concerned with Paris Dakar

So that it may have a better chance of attracting a healthy field entries in 1986, a new calendar spot was required, and we find it somewhat more than coincidental that the Ivory Coast Rally (another French-speaking event) suddenly vacated its late October date and moved to the end of September Other championship rounds were manipulated to accept the changes. and the Morocco Rally was slotted in at the end of October. That date is much too close to Sanremo for championship comfort. but it’s not part of the series yet. If it does get in we have no doubt that a little more date adjustment will be done to accommodate it — G.P.

 

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