Austrian Alpine rally

With seventeen events in the European Rallies Championship calendar it stands to reason that several of these will suffer with a lack of entries, and I don’t really mean quantity-wise so much as quality. Works teams can’t possibly attend every event nor do they want to, which could be either that they don’t sell cars in that country, or more probably because the competition budget doesn’t allow them to.

Of all reasons the date factor was the one which effectively strangled the entry list on the 38th Osterreichische Alpenfahrt, it being incidentally the oldest rally in the calendar having been conceived in the “post voiturette” days of 1910. Last weekend’s Acropolis Rally (last weekend’s that is if you’ve bought your M.S. promptly!) took most of the energies of the works teams. In fact while the mild panic over the military coup was-on, several “names” entered the luckless O.A.M.T.C. event but scratched just about a week beforehand when the rumour that all special stages were to be designated high-speed target zones was quashed!

Joking aside, the Alpenfahrt does have an unfortunate date with it, being just alter the Tulip Rally as well. Indeed an application will be made for it to be moved deeper into the summer for 1968. It can’t be held earlier because most of the passes remain closed until quite late and in fact the very high Solker Pass, a favourite special stage, was still snow-blocked.

Especially as this was a very much improved Alpine, brought much in line with modern trends,such as “scratch” timing and prize monies, it was a pity that only 66 crews made the start at the picturesque town of Velden in South Austria’s Karnten district (Corinthia), but still, those that did faced 1,100 miles in thirty-two hours of interesting if not over-demanding route (road sections have to be set at 55 k.p.h.) broken into two parts and interspersed with eleven stages over 100 miles of unmade roads.

The first part, which started on the Wednesday midnight, was a 27-hour long trek eastwards along the Jugoslavian border, past Klagenfurt, and then northwards in the direction of Vienna: three tests on the western side of the capital and so back south to Velden via the classic Turrach and Solker regions.

Nineteen hours rest later came the “third” night. Only 32 crews were left to face this five-hour dash over the Wurzen Pass into Jugoslavia’s jagged Dolomites, over the two equidistant and highly exciting stages, finally returning via the Loibl Pass tunnel to Velden. Dust and navigation problems were the two main hazards, since over 50% of the route lay on un-tarred surfaces and the continuously choking dust curtain probably contributed as much to the “wrong-slotting” as did the not quite precisely accurate enough road maps.

The results show Porsche winning their third championship event, The Tulip and the Lyon-Charbonniere went to Bedfordshire’s quickest post-master, Vic Elford, but semi-privateer Sobieslaw Zasada scored this time. The Pole had crashed his own 911 S on the Tulip so Huschke von Hanstein kindly loaned him Hanrioud’s ex-Monte and Tulip “S”. It wasn’t quite the runaway victory though for three other crews made the main running, each being defeated by various circumstances, however. Zasada wasn’t quite happy either since his suspension was lopsided. Also the 185 x 15 Dunlop M & S (German version of the SP44s) were rubbing in the wheelarches and the smaller size 165s had to be used on the rear as they are anyway on the front. Dr. Bobby Pilhatsch, local rally champion, set the searing pace but came to grief halfway through when a side-slide into a solid boulder loosened the transverse bar to which the front mounting points for the trailing radius arms are attached and the rear wheels began “bogeying.” Pilhatsch had been vying with Walter Roser, an ex-Steyr Puch exponent making his return to the Austrian rally scene after a year’s absence and he really was the hero of the event for four fastest, five second and one third fastest times went to his credit. The eleventh time disappeared when a wire jumped loose on the distributor and he lost fourteen minutes on a special stage, setting him back to seventh overall instead of easy victor.

Four Swedes attended in Saabs, two in V4s from the factory (Arne Hallgren, Lasse Jonsson) and two private Monte Carlo 850s (Torsten Palm, Stig Blomqvist). Jonsson showed more of his promising Swedish rally form and ended up second after getting lost for three minutes.

The only factory cars there were the Skoda 1000MBs and the East German rally winning 1,000 c.c. Wartburgs AWEs. The only crew to attend from England (Lyndon McLeod/Attis Krauklis) was put out quite early on when the Mini-Cooper S’s battery cable welded itself to the exhaust.

Stop someone on the street, and you’ll probably find that even if they have just the slightest interest in motoring they will be able to tell you that Jack Brabham was World Champion racing driver last year in Formula One and, then, they might even be able to tell you that he’s Australian and uses Goodyear tyres. The question is why would most people be able to tell you this, and the answer lies deep in the realms of advertising. Anybody or anything that has had the slightest connection with the team effort will have forced the point home and, of course, the National press, radio and TV will have followed close behind. Marvellous, just what is needed, for these advertisers pay to support and without that immense help jack would have been appreciably longer in climbing the proverbial hill. This is just one championship, but the example is there – the trade supports only in the hope of success!

The F.I.A. have approved twenty-six other such championships, but what do we hear of those others? The enthusiasts among us might search for the various hill-climb reports, or the results of events in the Challenge Mondial (Le Mans, Sebring, etc.), but tragically the largest single section of motoring sport, namely rallying, has assumed complexity beyond usefulness in its championship, the E.R.C. Usefulness to whom? None other of course than the aforementioned trade, who are always keen to participate in any form of what I call natural or “success” publicity, this being a favourite communication medium with their customers – us, you and me!

More people in Europe take an interest or get involved in rallying than they do in racing and karting, a fact which is especially true in Scandinavia and of late the Iron Curtain countries.

But, and it’s a very big but, they – meaning the trade – must have something worthwhile to tell us, and as B.M.C. set such a scorching record in 1965 and ’66, with seven outright wins in the former and six in the latter year, nothing short of complete success is advertisable. Here, then, we can move on to the main point, which is that the European Rally Championship should take on some of the significance that the F.1 Championship has and then the patient supporters would at least gain new interest, and perhaps the “refined” works teams would consider re-entering the fray.

We have at the moment in rallying six championships. One each for cars of Groups 1, 2 and 3. The ladies have a prize and so does the new idea of a best National team (only Sweden and Austria interested so far), while the R.A.C. offer their World Rallye Trophy as a manufacturers’ prize.

Last year nobody took Much interest in the E.R.C. until the closing stages when one or two people made quick point-gathering forays. The final positions showed the Swede Nasenius in control of Group 1 with his Opel Rekord, Zasada’s “clockwork mouse” Steyr-Puch 650TR took Group 2 and the German Klass ran away with Group 3 in a Porsche 911s. The ladies’ award went to Rosemary Smith and the Rallye Trophy to Ford. There wasn’t a National Team Prize last year, neither was there a Manufacturers’ Team Prize. Those results dribbled through and ended up of no publicity use to anyone, since no one car or driver could be acclaimed “best” or “first.”

Now, two years ago when there were less than a dozen events a rule was made that there should not be more than twelve qualifying rounds to count, from which the seven best scores only would be taken. To accommodate the seventeen current events the present idea of letting only two Groups count on each rally was evolved. That is eleven each on Groups 1 and 3 and twelve on Group 2. It is fairly obvious also that each country had some say in which groups it was to run bearing in mind local conditions, e.g., they just don’t have that many Group 3 cars in Scandinavia!

The first step to be taken in the right direction will come into force for 1968. This will be the splitting up of Europe into four regions, each having four rallies with one region having five in it; the split hasn’t yet been decided. In each region two of the events will count for the new drivers’ championship and the other two for the manufacturers’ championship. Ignoring the odd event, this effectively means eight events in each championship, with the best five scores being counted. The same points system will be kept as, unfortunately, will the three championships, but in 1969 the events will reverse roles. Manufacturers, who at the moment are losing interest in supporting the series will have a much more concise programme to follow, for they can either promote a certain driver or go all out to capture the manufacturers’ cup. This might have the desired effect of a more equal spread of entries in the lesser Internationals, none of which can be dropped, incidentally, for the F.I.A. suffers rather like the United Nations!

Quite neatly this brings me on to the next important point, uniformity. Already during the course of this season we have seen four events change their format slightly to get in step with modern trends, which means a higher ratio of stage miles to liaison miles or if this is impossible, more varied and tight road sections as behind the Iron Curtain in the Polish and Czechs rallies. Nevertheless, the results will always favour the most powerful cars, especially on classification-deciding hill-climbs, but publicity can still be made from results gained. One only has to look to Rootes and DAF for proof. Times on tight road sections or selective sections should be sensibly handicapped, as with the French Alpine idea of taking previously known times and then pruning, which would all help the smaller cars.

One or two other aspects need to be looked at. For example, it will never be possible, or desirable for that matter, to get all events to exactly the same format, but in order to equalise their severity, some coefficient, calculated from the ratio of starters to finishers, stage distance, surfaces used and mileage thereof, etc.., etc., might prove beneficial – something akin to the Shell Berre Challenge points system. Incidentally, Vic Elford and David Stone are well ahead in that particular French competition at the moment.

Perhaps yet another way would be to grade drivers by experience and past results, as G.P. drivers are. National clubs would be responsible for the detail work and upkeep of records, and a G.P.D.A. of rallying might well be a good thing. This incidentally springs to mind as a good cure for the age-old organisers’ headache of how to attract private owners without making it so attractive that thinly disguised works people turn out in their droves. In fact, a classification of “works,” “semi-works” (i.e., assisted or someone who has had some assistance), and “the rest” would stop organisers having qualms about making the route too tough for non-serviced privateers to figure in the results – they would be running in their separate classes or categories.

On uniformity some other aspects that need brushing up are scrutineering procedure, special stage timing, the publishing of regulations, standard entry forms and the rest, because after all nearly all the Internationals are run on an amateur basis, and although many of the clubs have managed to become exceedingly professional, so others still need much internal re-organisation.

So, although in days gone past factories may have entered rallies for development purposes, today’s production cars undergo all major design and development in the laboratories, the rallies now being used mainly as advertising promotions, although of course much is still learnt from the “field” lessons.

The manufacturers want publicity, and so let us hope that 1968, and indeed the rest of this season, will re-arouse interest and that International rallying might gain some status instead of being six championships in twenty-seven. – A. E. A. K.