Acropolis Rally

No sensible person would argue with or complain about measures to lessen the chances of accidents such as that which caused the deaths of of two competitors during the Tour of Corsica. Halting the extreme technological advancement which took competing cars right out of the realms of rallying, and to which the door should never have been opened in the first place, is such a measure. Diluting the content of a rally by shortening, re-routeing or reducing the length and number of special stages is most certainly not.

Some have argued, and not without good reason, that sudden changes to vehicle rules such as those announced at the end of the Tour of Corsica create an instability which undermines the ability of a team to have confidence in its own planning, and renders useless long and costly development projects. This is perfectly true, and whilst we favour the return to cars based on genuine production models, we have every sympathy for those who will suffer financial wastage as a result of the suddenness of the change.

However, bringing cars back to sensible reality is one thing; demanding that rally organisers redesign their events is quite another. We have always been opposed to the kind of standardisation which FISA would inflict on rallies throughout the world, even relatively minor points such as insisting, in the case of World Championship events, upon so few roadbook entries per page that the books themselves have become bulky and costly to print. Changes which affect the character of a rally are far worse, and should be vigorously resisted by any organiser who is concerned about the reputation of his event.

Already the Safari, traditionally a long endurance rally in which distance has always been an integral part, was compelled In lop a thousand kilometres from its usual five thousand total, and was even moved from its customary Easter dates. Such a weakening can hardly make it safer, only less challenging, and what achievement would there have been in conquering Everest in particular had it been no higher than twenty other mountain peaks?

In Europe the Acropolis Rally has, for two decades at least, enjoyed the reputation of being the toughest. The roads are rough, demanding intelligent, sympathetic driving rattler than blind following of pace notes, whilst stamina, endurance, tenacity and reliability have all been vital for success. Such ingredients set the rally apart from those which are no more than successions of sprints but, like the others, the Acropolis has had to bow to the dictates of Paris and cut its cloth from the communal bolt.

Some years ago, like a few other events in Europe, the Acropolis Rally set road timetables which were so tight that competitors made pace notes for nearly the whole distance, and risked a penalty even when they stopped for fuel Gradually, that tightness has been relaxed, but at a much slower rate than other events, and its reputation has remained, aided perhaps by the inevitable heat and dust which speed the onset of fatigue and which have led to drivers being seen dousing their heads under village taps.

In the mountains, there was no great danger if a tight road section or even a special stage passed through a village, for the inhabitants would set quietly out of harm's way, sipping their oyzo, watching with bemused interest and probably wondering what possible satisfaction the visitors could derive from wrecking perfectly good motor cars on roads which they would traverse only by donkey!

Past Acropolis Rallies have lasted tour, even five days, but this year it was reduced to just three, divided by two night stops into three legs. Gone was the usual final night through the rough stages of the Peloponissos, and that splendid, colourful finale, introduced in the 'eighties, when competitors were spared the boring run to the finish by being brought back, complete with their cars, in the comfort of a ferry boat. Indeed, this was the first time as far as we can remember that the rally has not crossed the amazing cleft of the Corinth Canal.

Forty-six special stages had been planned, but in order to abide by the FISA rule demanding lower stage distances, several of those were cancelled. Others were shortened and there was even an increase in the time allowances for some road sections. Thirty-eight stages were finally held, and even then we heard complaints that this was too much. Lancia driver Markku Alen would have liked even fewer, in the cause of safety, and we wonder at the reasoning behind that opinion. Such a sport as rallying, in common with others, has inherent danger and the only way to avoid it and remain completely sate is not to compete at all. The dangers created by what are virtually thinly disguised prototype racing cars can be eliminated by returning to "normal" cars, but to suggest that certain roads should be cut out because they may contain too many hazards seems almost like an admission of inability to cope, though we know very well that this is not so in Alen's case.

A driver has to adjust his performance according to the conditions presented to him. If there's a rock in the road, he goes around it, if the going becomes rough, he slows down: if there's an unguarded drop, he may choose to use a little less than 100%. It's all down to him, and it has always been part of the sport that hazards should be tackled according to their severity. Take them away altogether and you have nothing but a clinical sameness which would render the sport boring and pointless.

Audi's reaction to the post-Corsica rule changes was to withdraw from rallying, though it remains to be seen whether this is temporary or otherwise. Certainly the team had done badly this year, winch suggests that perhaps the excuse had been welcomed. The team's contracted sponsors, HB cigarettes, are continuing their presence in rallying, whilst Audi has seen fit to compensate Castrol, SKY and Michelin by including those companies' press releases with its own, which continue to be published after each World Championship event.

Another team to shelve plans to tackle the Acropolis was Austin-Rover, leaving Peugeot. Lancia, Ford, Citroen and Volkswagen the only regular factory teams taking part. For this event, Skoda, Dacia and Wartburg also turned out and there was one car from the Rothmans Porsche Team.

Peugeot, decidedly unhappy about the new rules which will rnake their 205 Turbo 16 obsolete from the end of the year, are determined to give the car a good send oft and they brought three for their regular crews Timo Salonen / Seppo Harianne, Juha Kankkunen / Julia Piironen, and Bruno Saby / Jean-Francois Fauchille.

Citroen, having decided to miss the Tour of Corsica in order to concentrate on practice and testing in Greece, brought three BX4 TC's for Jean-Claude Andruet / Annick Peuvergne, Philippe Wambergue / Jean-Bernard Vieu and Maurice Chomat / Didier Breton, the latter car being financed by Total.

Ford had two RS200s for Stig Blomqvist / Bruno Berglund and Katie Grundel / Benny Mellander, whilst Lancia had three Delta S4s for Markku Alen / Ilkka Kivimaki, Massimo Biasion / Tiziano Siviero and, newcomers to the team, Mikael Ericsson / Claes Billstam. Entered by the Jolly Club were three Fiat uno Turbos driven by Giovanni Del Zoppo. Michele Rayneri and Alessandro Fiorio.

One Porsche 911 SCRS was brought by the UK-based Rothmans Porsche Team for Saeed Al Hajri / John Spitler. whilst Volkswagen had two Group A Golf GTis or Kenneth Eriksson / Peter Diekmann and Franz Wittmann / Matthias Feltz. There were no works Nissans, of course, but the local importers entered two 240RSs for George Moschous and Stratis Hadgipanayiotis (whose use of the pseudonym "Stratissimo" is quite understandable!) Another 240RS was brought from Cyprus by former Cyprus Rally Winner Vahan Terzian.

There were two Skoda 130LRs for Krecek and Kvaizar, four Dacias (Rumanian-built Renaults) for Balint, Vasile, Grigoras and Macaneata, and three Wartburg 353s for Heimbrirger, Fink and Krugel. "Tchine" and Thimonier brought an Opel Manta 400 from Monaco, Stohl and Kaufmann an Audi Coupe Ouattro from Austria, whilst further down the list were "laveris", who used to drive an Escort very well, "Jigger" (otherwise youthful oil magnate John Vardinogiannis) in an Audi Quatro, and the evergreen Johnny Pesmazoglou, the Opel importer who won the first ELPA Rally back in 1952 and then the (renamed) Acropolis in 1955.

Practice for the rally had taken longer than usual this year, for the organisers had chosen a route which did not follow that of recent years, although those stages which some people termed -newwere not entirely so to those like us with longer memories. Furthermore, there was much rough road testing to be done with replica rally cars, unlike years past when the only consideration was note-making. A broken practice car in those days usually meant a telephone call to Avis or Hertz, companies which subsequently became very cautious indeed about accepting business in the month of May from overseas visitors, especially those who enquired about the sales gambit of "Hire it here; leave it there".

One of the organisers' problems prior to the rally was the difficulty in obtaining a helicopter for emergency purposes, a point which is noted by FISA observers who now recognise that the presence of such aircraft can save lives.

Surprisingly, and to its own detriment, Greece has no commercial aviation industry. Everything is state owned, and the only available helicopters (and light fixed wing aircraft for that matter) are those of Olympic Aviation, a subsidiary of the national airline. The few available helicopters (only two as far as we could gather) had been chartered long in advance by works teams, and when the rally organisers then applied for permission to hire a privately owned aircraft, the application was denied by the country's Civil Aviation Authority.

The organisers, the Automobile & Touring Club of Greece (ELPA), notified the CAA that this refusal would be recorded as acceptance of responsibility for any delayed treatment ot iniuries, and immediately came a reply to the effect that the application would be considered after all, a complete reversal of the original decision said to be in compliance with the law However, by that time ELPA had been offered the CASEVAC services of the HB helicopter brought in from Germany, and they gratefully accepted.

We tied it odd indeed that a prestigious sporting event such as the Acropolis Rally, attracting considerable overseas attention, should be supported to the hilt by one government department, the enlightened National Tourist Authority, and ignored completely by another, the much less aware Civil Aviation Authority.

From the start at the foot of the Acropolis itself on the monday morning, the route made a day-long loop from Athens to the resort of Lagonissi, some 25 miles south-east of Athens, where rally headquarters were based and where the first rest stop was located. The second leg, on the Tuesday, ran from Lagonissi to Kamena Vourla in the centre of the country, and the third returned to Athens on the Wednesday evening for the finish at the Olympic stadium, an impressive enough occasion but nothing like as dramatic as that ship arrival of recent years when all surviving cars disembarked at a port near Athens and drove in convoy to the stadium.

The first stage was on a hill outside Athens, near the Kessarian monastery, where Grundel took the initial lead for Ford, 11 seconds ahead of Alen, Lancia over the eight mile distance But opening stages. especially short ones, are rarely indicative of sustained performance and by the time the rally made its first night stop at Lagonissi Alen was in the lead, lust six seconds ahead of Grundel. Saloons followed, just one second behind. and Blomqvist another six. Another minute and a hall later came Kankkunen, followed after a like interval by Saby, whilst Biasion was another hall minute behind.

Next, after well over six minutes adrift, was Al Hajri, although in fairness we should say that he suffered a fractured brake pipe and broken rear shock absorbers which also led to the need to change wishbones. It has always been the case that broken rear shock absorbers on a Porsche can very quickly lead to total suspension failure, and it seems that times have not changed.

The Citroens had very cruel luck indeed, all three succumbing to breakages of one kind or another. Andruet's car stopping with a broken chassis member and Wambergue's a broken ball joint.

Salonen's luck turned against him on the first stage of the second leg, after stopping to change a wheel after a puncture his engine refused to start and he lost some seven minutes. This let Blornqvist onto the lead, and within a short time he had been lured at the head by Grundel Alas, this didn't last long, for four stages later Blomqvist went off the road, not enough to cause any damage, but the rear of his car dropped down a slope and it was quite impossible for the two of them, without the aid of any spectators at all, to manhandle the car back to the road.

As though this were not disaster enough for Ford, when Grundel stopped for a wheel change some of the nuts proved stubborn, and when one siezed completely and started to turn the stud, there was no alternative but to change the hub, an operation which took longer than the maximum lateness of half an hour.

Thus both Fords were out of the rally, a disappointing conclusion to what looked like a very promising beginning indeed. Another to stop at almost the same time was Mikael Eriksson whose Lancia Delta broke a shock absorber and had to be treated gently until it could be replaced. The time lost, added to the time taken by the subsequent repair proved more than the maximum.

Meanwhile, Salonen was Pulling out all the stops to regain the time he had lost in the morning, and by the time the rally got to Kamena Vourla he was up to fifth place just under five minutes behind the leader his team-mate Kankkunen. In second place, two minutes behind, was Biasion, followed after lust one second by Alen, whilst Saby was fourth, another 84 seconds behind and half a minute ahead of Salonen. Behind them, in quite another league, the others were led by Al Hajri, all of 20 minutes separating him from Salonen.

The final leg on the Wednesday began with Alen making a determined effort to move ahead. Indeed, it looked as though he might rust succeed, but the effort proved too much for his Lancia's engine, which prornptly blew up just two stages from the end, leaving the two Finns to hitch a lift by helicopter back to the team's base at Glyfada's Astir Beach bungalows, where the entire rally used to stay before ELPA negotiated terms for headquarters at the Lagonissi bungalow area.

Salonen, too, had been putting all his efforts into a bid to move ahead, but this came to a stop on the first stage of that Wednesday when the top mount of his front right suspension broke away from its chassis mounting. leaving the wheel flapping about and the steering useless. Continuing was out of the question, and since there was no hope of recovery and repair within the time allowance, the two Finns set about the car with a coil of wire and were able to bind the broken parts in place sufficiently well to give them efficient steering for the return journey to Lagonissi.

That was that The amazing Juha Kankkunen not only moves even further ahead in the World Championship, taking Peugeot with him, but he has also increased to four the number of events he has won at his first attempt, the others being Safari, Ivor y Coast and Swedish. His future alter this year is not clear, because Peugeot has not yet announced plans, if any, to meet the Group A restriction on the World Championship from next year. However, no matter what the Peugeot decision, Kankkunen is now sufficiently well established, and certainly successful enough to have his future assured — G.P.