While one member of the Subaru was winning his Erst WM event since
late 1992k the other found himself excluded…
Very few people at the 1994 Acropolis Rally could have remembered the SCDA. It was an organisation beyond the memories of most of rallying’s present followers, born of the time when the event was not only scorchingly hot, throatburningly dry and eye-stingingly dusty, as it is today, but totally demanding of physical stamina, personal endurance and indefatigable grit.
The three latter qualities have now gone by the board, for, in common with other events of the world championship, the rally runs only in the daytime, goes to bed every night and no longer taxes human endurance. Skill is certainly still required, but other once essential elements of tenacity have been swept away by the FIA’s socalled reforms, carried out in the cause of progress and safety but nevertheless quietly pandering to the needs of television companies upon whom the FIA’s UK-based offshoot, the ISC, suddenly dropped a bombshell by demanding huge and unjustified fees for filming rights.
The initials SCDA stood for the Sleeping Co-Drivers’ Association, a tongue-in-cheek group which got together in the early ’70s after several of its number admitted that they had nodded off over their pace notes. It was also the time when crews were stopping whenever they could to douse their heads under the taps of village water pumps. In those days, the Acropolis was almost an African event contained within Europe, with road sections so tight that almost the entire route would be pacenoted and pillows were essential items of in-car equipment.
However, geography and climate are things that are beyond the interference of even the FIA and the Acropolis Rally remains as hot, as dusty and (almost) as rough as it ever was, rendering the event the nearest thing to an endurance event that the non-African events of the World Championship have to offer. Road section schedules have slackened over the years, but there is still no time for major work and this year only 11 of the 36 finishers went without road penalties. There were 88 entries, including no less than five teams with drivers nominated to score points in the World Championship for
Makes. Toyota sent three of its Celicas from Cologne, two for regular crews fuha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist and Didier Auriol/ Bernard Occelli and one for lapanese driver Yoshio Fujimoto, partnered by the highly experienced Swedish co-driver Arne Hertz.
The Ford entourage was split into groups. From Boreham came two Escort Cosworths for Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero and Malcolm Wilson/Bryan Thomas, the latter crew replacing Francois Delecour who is still recovering from foot fractures sustained in a road accident. An Vatanen/ Fabrizia Pons were in a car built by Konrad Schmidt in Germany, which differed from the works examples in several respects Pirelli tyres rather than Michelins, Ohlin shock absorbers rather than Bilsteins and Bosch electronics rather than Marelli, for instance. It was Vatanen’s first time in an Escort Cosworth, his first rally this year and his first time with Pons as co-driver.
Only Biasion’s car was fitted with the sequential gearchange system. Two Group N Escort Cosworths, built by Mike Little Preparations in England, were driven by Carlos Menem/Martin Christie from Argentina and Emirates driver Mohammed Bin Sulayem with his Irish codriver Ronan Morgan. A second Schmidt car
was driven by Austrian Raimund Baumschlager and German Manfred Hiemer.
Two Subaru I mpreza 555s were sent from Prodrive for Carlos Sainz/Luis Maya and Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, whilst a third was entered privately by lapanese pair Hiroshi Nishiyama/Yushi Nada. Mitsubishi Ralliart sent two Michelinshod Lancers for Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander and Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha, the latter pair now reunited after they were split during the time that Schwarz
drove for Toyota.
The Astra team, now divided between Italy and Belgium. brought a lone and rather old Lancia Delta integrate, backed by Giesse, for Alessandro FiorioNittorio Brambilla, whilst both ‘Tchine’ from Monaco and Manfred Stahl from Austria drove privately entered Audi Coupe S2s. Co-driving Stohl was the bearded Berliner Peter Diekmann.
Prominent among the two-wheel-drive brigade were Gregoire de Mevius/Willy Lux from Belgium in their Opel Astra, whilst a Didcot-prepared Nissan Sunny GTi was driven by local crew Stratissino’/Tonia Payli, and stayed in Greece after the event so that the driver can use it in Greek Championship events. Veteran driver ‘Leonidas’, the Athens Renault importer, was in a Clio Williams with Maria Pavli, sister of Ton ia.
From the Skoda Motorsport Team came two Favorit l36Ls for Pavel Sibera/Petr Gross and Emil Trineriliri Klima, whilst two Russian Lada Samaras, crewed by Sergei AliasovNladlen Ishimov and Alexandre Kikonenko/Sergei Talantsev, were actually entered by the Greek importer. ‘laveris’, who once drove rvd Escorts very spiritedly indeed, was at the wheel of an Audi Coupe S2, alongside John Alvanos, whilst whilst up-andcoming Greek driver Aris Vovos was in a Lancia Delta integrale
with Constantinos Fertakis. Last year the rally moved its base from Lagonissi to Vouliagmeni, much nearer the city and its airThe itself
port. The rally itself went nowhere near Vouliagmeni, for the start was, by tradition, at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens, the two night stops at Kamena Vourla, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Maliakos, and the finish at the Peace and Friendship Stadium close to Piraeus. Its 900-mile route. with 33 special stages totalling 312 miles, remained entirely within the main land mass, from Athens in the south to Lamia and Gardiki in the north. During practice it became evident that the leading cars would be at a disadvan
tage, clearing the roads of loose dirt and rubble for those who followed. On the other hand, if you were too far back you stood a chance of encountering rocks thrown into the road by the corner-cutting cars ahead. Good positions to be in were from about five to eight, where. drivers would benefit from the former and not have too great a risk from the latter.
‘Stratissino’ was involved in a bizarre accident during practice when, engaged on a photographic session, he met his photo car head on and his Nissan was badly damaged at the front. A hasty overnight rebuilding session finally got it ready for scrutiny the next day.
When cars congregated for the start, they entered a city plagued by fumes and smog. Indeed, in the weeks before there had been city centre restrictions on private vehicles in order to minimise exhaust emission. Athens, with its enormous traffic problem, would certainly not qualify for a clean air certificate.
The first stage confirmed the predictions of the works drivers. The leading group had to cope with chippings and dirt, clearing it all away for those who followed, and fastest was McRae, running at number seven, just one second ahead of Kankkunen, running at six. Biasion, first driver on the road, was eighth fastest, I 4s behind McRae. Fujimoto collected a front left puncture, whilst Schwarz lost his brakes and broke a rear suspension arm, the subsequent repair leading to a one-minute road penalty at the next time control. On the following stage. Wilson spun, Eriksson had a halfshaft joint
break, whilst Kankkunen had the misfortune of having his radiator fan blades break off. The car survived the overheating and was fitted with a new fan.
Biasion, whose intercom stopped working due to a loose plug, also had his engine overheat, but this was due to a failed water injection, which was put right soon afterwards.
On the fifth stage it was quite amazing that both Fujimoto and Wilson had their windscreen wipers fail just as they were entering a mudhole the same mudhole! The Japanese driver escaped without damage, but the Cumbrian damaged a steering arm on a rock. Later, his handbrake stopped working. Eriksson collected a front left puncture but lost little time as he was using foam-filled tyres, but Fiorio lost something approaching four minutes when his right rear tyre went flat. His tyres were not foam-filled.
Stage six was a 14.5-miler at Stiri, and it was here that Stohl went out when his gearbox gave up. After a new one was fitted that car was fine again and, whilst Manfred went home, father Rudi took the car testing for future events. Schwarz came to the end of that sixth stage with his right rear wheel at a misshapen angle, a suspension link having broken. Before the one hour stop at Livadia in the early afternoon, after seven stages, Bin Sulayem was out due to fuel starvation. Despite being hindered by a gearlever knob which fell off, he had been leading the Group N category, which was then handed over to Menem. Schwarz broke another
suspension link and collected a minute of road penalties, whilst Eriksson had another halfshaft failure. On the first stage after the restart, both Schwarz and Eriksson had yet more similar failures, and the team wondered whether they had been supplied with a bad batch. In any event, to avoid running short, the consignment ready for shipment to New Zealand from Piraeus docks was raided so that Acropolis service vans would not run short. At the end of the leg, Eriksson decided to have his springs changed. Biasion was not finding it easy to get used to the sequential gearchange, especially as it began jumping out of gear at crucial moments as he was approaching hairpins, for instance. McRae was also having a selector problem, though not quite the same. He was finding the mechanism stiff, but he had to endure it until the whole gearbox could be changed at the end of the leg. A
On the last stage of the day, the I 0th, de Mevius stopped when his engine blew, leaving the 2wd category to the Skodas. The sinking sun made visibility ever worse in the dust, and many said afterwards that they could hardly see where they were going. Schwarz found himself without rear brakes, whilst Stratissino lost some eight minutes after going off the road, breaking a wishbone and bending a steering arm.
At Kamena Vourla, McRae led by 43s from Sainz, who was nine seconds ahead of Auriol. Kankkunen was another 9s back and Vatanen another two. The gap then to Eriksson was 38s. On the second day the two Subaru drivers
were first and second on the road and, as expected, their lead was gradually reduced. Indeed Eriksson was fastest on the first three stages, after which he moved up to fifth. Auriol also moved ahead of Sainz into second place. Vatanen was troubled for a few stages by
an engine misfire, whilst Wilson shed a tyre from its rim. Both Biasion and Auriol were distracted by loose objects rolling around in the floorwell, in Biasion’s case a stray nut and in Auriol’s the centre boss of his steering wheel.
At midday there was a one-hour stop at Makrakomi, after five of the day’s stages. Here the FIA people decided to check the cars and, not for the first time, the procedure led to controversy and dispute. After McRae’s car was checked, the borinet was lowered but the securing pins were not placed properly in position. Soon after the car left, the bonnet flew open, breaking the windscreen. After removing dangerous glass frag
ments, the crew continued and arrived at the start of the next stage on time. But they were not prepared to start the stage without a screen so they asked officials if they could have the screen replaced and this was agreed after the officials on the spot had consulted rally headquarters on the radio. What happened next has been reported somewhat differently elsewhere, but the following is what I understood to have happened. McRae was offered a gap of six minutes between himself and whichever car was in front of him when he was ready to start the stage, but the Scot did not take too readily to this and placed his car so that it effectively blocked the road whilst the screen was changed. Eater, all of 29 minutes later, the
new screen was in place and the stage was restarted, McRae still first on the road. Mechanical repairs are allowed in closed park areas, including control zones, but time penalties can be imposed and in this case McRae was told that he would be penalised 141/2 minutes. Unhappy about this, he continued, later to place the matter before the stewards at Kamena Vourla.
Soon afterwards, on the toughest sector of the rally, the Toyota challenge crumbled when Auriol hit a gigantic rock and smashed the sump, and then Kankkunen suffered a rear suspension failure that cost him five minutes and any chance of victory.
Later that night, discussions between Subaru team management and the stewards continued until the small hours, but eventually the stewards decided, unanimously we understand, to ignore the matter of the penalty but to exclude McRae from the event for the “unsporting” conduct of placing his car so that it blocked the road for other competitors.
In the morning, when the decision became known, various emotions were expressed, from outrage to total detachment. But we can’t help feeling that a Ford man best summed up the situation by saying that, even after a scrutineers check, it was a driver’s responsibility to ensure that the bonnet pins were replaced properly so that the car was safe to be driven. Had that been done, the incident would not have arisen. Meanwhile, Ford lost Biasion before the end of the second leg when his oil pump driveshaft broke, whilst McRae was slowed by a broken wheel bearing, allowing Sainz to finish the leg in the lead, 7s ahead of his Scottish team-mate. Kankkunen survived another radiator fan failure, whilst Wilson
lost third place to Schwarz when a turbocharger pipe split. At the end of the leg, both the engine management electronics and the cylinder head gasket were replaced on Wilson’s car, both having been adversely affected by overheating. The turbocharger itself was not replaced until the next morning.
On the final day. Sainz started with a healthy 4m 18s lead over Schwarz, with Wilson another 30s behind. There were no heroics by the Spaniard at this stage. Subaru had lost the chance of a one-two and he was not about to put his first place at risk.
Schwarz had a heart-stopping moment on the first stage of the day when a tractor crossed the road in front of him on one of the faster sections.
the faster sections. But the most severe blow was that dealt to Wilson when he bent a steering rod and finished the stage with his front wheels splayed. No service was allowed between that stage and the next, so Wilson applied a
good measure of old fashioned rallymanship by getting out the jack and a length of rope and enlisting the services of a convenient tree. He straightened the rod as much as he could and continued, but the whole episode cost him a great deal of time, including a substantial road penalty. Less enterprising drivers would probably have retired on the spot, but the wily Cumbrian was determined to get his car to the end. He eventually finished sixth, but would have been fourth or even third had it not been for this mishap.
Schwarz continued to have trouble with his brakes, despite another change of calipers and discs, whilst Vatanen had to work rather hard when his power steering failed in the third stage of the day. Later, he had a halfshaft break. As the rally progressed towards Athens, so Sainz began setting fewer best times. But this was not because others had suddenly become faster; the Spanish driver had such a lead over Schwarz that he could afford to ease off to avoid taking risks. When he finished first, his first World Championship win since the RAC Rally of 1992, there was jubilation in the Subaru camp, but this was tempered by the needless loss of McRae. GP