As each of the 17 rounds in the European Rally Championship appears one can see changes in format as organisers struggle to please the increasingly professional competitors who are, at the same time, decreasing numerically. Changes in format mean tighter road sections, particularly during the night, while presentation changes include the abolition of co-efficients or marking on other comparative bases. The past two Tulpen Rallyes have seen drastic revisions. After Rosemary Smith’s Imp won in snowy 1965, organiser Piet Nortier did away with the class-improvement system of marking and put everybody on “scratch” timing, fastest man to win. Despite the exciting battle last year between the Minis and Lotus-Cortinas, when Aaltonen beat Elford in group 2 and Makinen just beat Soderstrom in group 1, the 18 tests proved monotonously boring for the professionals though interesting for the hordes of amateurs out on their one international rally of the year. So, determined to please, the committee included some 200 km. of selective sections this year set at 70 k.p.h. Seven of these were to be on a loop to the south of Geneva in the Savoie region.
However, some late snowfalls made French police request route changes, so the loop was turned into 19 separate short sections, all set at 60 k.p.h., and with all time controls craftily situated at the foot of a pass. Although the best passes were deleted the minor ones can still prove “uncleanable” at 37.5 m.p.h. even to the best, for it only needs a puncture or some other small delay and those three or four minutes in hand are gone. So it was, and only 12 of the 183 starters managed to clean the Annecy-Rumilly loop, most of the damage being done by an unexpected patch of ice in the 90˚ left tunnel on the Col de Croix-Froy.
The latest format can be quoted a fair success for if the route didn’t exercise the professionals that much, it really had the amateurs breathless, even though most managed to finish. Vic Elford’s, Porsche 911S set a hot pace from the outset and kept the lead all the way down to Annecy, over the usual Tulip tests in the Ardennes, Luxembourg and the Vosges. Of the selectives, only the Lac d’Alfeld (3.5 km. of the, descent from the Ballon d’Alsace to Sewen) proved extra tough, with only Elford and Makinen (1293 Cooper S) cleaning it. It could be seen on the way down that the three works Minis of Makinen, Aaltonen and Belgian Julian Vernaeve were playing “tortoises” to the group 3 “hares” of Elford, Hanrioud and Zasada, while at the same time battling with the group 2 Porsche 911 cars entered by Swedish Scania Vabis for Waldegard and Ake Andersson. The latter has just left Saab, and the Porsches in the Touring category were developing 165 b.h.p., only some 25 less than the 911S models running in the GT section.
Both Hanrioud and Andersson crashed on the Croisette test before Annecy, then Elford lost three minutes in the icy tunnel but kept his excursion a secret to the finish. The route back from Rumilly was much the reverse of the route down. Makinen was going like the wind and nearly eliminated himself when a piston began chewing up oil rings. However, with a very soft plug fitted for the last test at Zandvoort, he finished just 45 seconds behind Elford, who incidentally had damaged his suspension in an excursion on the Route de Mont hill-climb, so conceding just one fastest time.
Aaltonen held off Waldegard’s Porsche and Vernaeve, who always excels on the Tulip, just beat Wilfried Gass’ semi-works Porsche 911 for fifth place, so the team prize went to B.M.C. – or should it be B.M.H.? With the lack of any other fast cars like Alfa Romeo, Ford or Lancia the rest of the field dissolved into the various class battles. The only works Renault Gordini 1300 demised with a blown head gasket but Krause’s privately-entered car managed to beat Slotemaker’s B.M.W. 2000 TI and Lambart’s Opel Rekord 1900. Pat Moss-Carlsson suffered the agony of stripping the Saab V4’s drive shaft splines on the start-line of the first test but went on to win the Ladies’ Prize when the Sun-sponsored Cooper S of Carol Tyler shed its dynamo pulley. Andrew Cowan drove extremely well in the 875-c.c. group 2 Imp only to lose a wheel yards from the finish of the penultimate test, the stub-axle having sheared, but Peter Harper saved Rootes’ face by hurling his Rallye Imp to third place in group 3, not that far behind the Lotus Elan of David Friswell, the best amateur entry.
Even with its new look the Tulip is still a battle of power-to-weight ratios and one wonders if next year will bring yet another change in format. It is on this sort of rally that one would really like to see in action my idea put a couple of months ago, that the European Championship might benefit more and mean something more if it was run for group 5 prototypes only, with all the other competitors running for separate class awards.