Not so very long ago, about three years in fact, the most important events in the competition programmes of factory teams, both in Britain and on the Continent, were those which were qualifiers in the European Rally Championship. Their schedules were geared to the Championship series and any event which was not a qualifier was only tackled if time and budget would allow.
But then the F.I.A. decided to have separate categories for each of Groups 1, 2 and 3 and at once the edge was taken off the Championship. Few people seemed to relish the idea of a championship which would not have a single winner. The situation was rendered even more complex when the F.I.A. further decided that half of the qualifying events would count for a drivers’ championship and half for a manufacturers’ title.
The net result has been a noticeable falling-off of interest in the Championship, particularly among the British manufacturers, B.M.C. and Ford. The tendency now is to enter only those events which stand on their own and have a certain publicity in their own right. Those which are of interest merely because of their inclusion in the Championship series have lost favour, particularly those in Eastern Europe such as the Polish, Czech and East German Rallies.
The East Gentian Rally, in early April, for instance, attracted no British entries and was won easily by the Finn, Pauli Toivonen, in a Porsche. Likewise, the West German Rally, in early May, had not one Briton in its field of 147 cars. Toivonen once again won easily, both he and his Porsche team-mate, Polish driver Sobieslaw Zasada, finishing with not a single penalty recorded against them.
But in the weeks between the two German events were three rallies of significance, only one of them in the European Rally Championship. These were the East African Safari, of which we spoke last month, the Circuit of Ireland, and Holland’s Tulip Rally.
The fact that factory cars contested the Circuit of Ireland indicates the growing importance which is being placed on the “home” Internationals by the British works teams. It cannot be doubted that this is a wise move, for Ford derived much good publicity when an Escort twin-cam romped home to an easy victory in Ireland in the hands of Roger Clark and Jim Porter, a pair who formerly drove Rovers together. Needless to say, the Scottish and London rallies will attract the same kind of interest from Abingdon and Boreham, not to mention Coventry, when they are held in June and July respectively.
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For the British club rally driver who wants to cut his International teeth, the Tulip Rally has long been regarded as the ideal event on which to make his debut. In fact, it was considered almost a trespass to take part in a Continental rally without having done the Tulip first. Why this should have been, and how the idea started, is all rather vague and will probably never be separated from rallying’s dark mythology. One can only assume that the event’s popularity among private entrants, came directly from the modest outlay which was needed in order to take part.
Sadly, the 1968 Tulip Rally fell far short of its former glory. For years the event has been sponsored from Britain by BP, and when that company ceased its competition activities at the end of last year the guilders stopped flowing into the Tulip’s cash reserve. Faced with the problem of finding money for their event, the R.A.C.-West were rumoured to be considering cancellation, but BP then decided to, help after all and the event became possible.
But regulations were late appearing and the entry fees were as high as £70, so it was not surprising that only 77 cars arrived at the starting ramp.
To run a rally within the borders of the Netherlands is virtually impossible, and the organisers take their route down into France for most of the competitive sections. This presents administrative problems and the R.A.C.-West are pretty well obliged to accept the stages which are offered to them by the French authorities. Most competitors did not like the style of this year’s event, although it was largely the same as that of 1967. The special tests were of several kinds, some with target times and some based on scratch. A list of these had been published long before the start, giving an opportunity to those with the time, money and inclination to practise and make pace notes. But when the actual road book was issued it was found that several more tests had been included, adding to the confusion somewhat.
Whatever one might think about the desirability of practising, special stage details should be published at one time. They should either be made known—all of them—soon enough to permit practising or be kept secret until the road books are issued. To publish some of them beforehand and withhold others until just before the start is all rather pointless and confusing.
To talk of the decline of the Tulip Rally would be quite inappropriate at this time of the year, for who knows what the organisers may produce from the bag in 1969? In any case, criticising an organising club is all too popular nowadays and, before one condemns, one should consider the troubles with which the R.A.C.-West have been faced.
Having digressed from the actual competition, I had better return to earth to record the fact that the least-penalised crew on the Tuilp was that of Clark and Porter in a factory-entered Ford Escort twin-cam, entered in Group 3. I say “least-penalised” and not “winner” because there was no general classification published after the rally was over. The results for Group 3 cars (GT category) were kept quite separate from those of Groups 1 and 2 (Touring category). Nevertheless, if one is looking for a car to regard as the winner, that car should be the Ford Escort.
Ford’s success was really something to crow about, for their other Escort, that of Ove Anderson and John Davenport, was a close second and the victory came just two weeks after the car’s first International win in Ireland.
Among the touring cars B.M.C.’s Mini-Coopers dominated, Julien Vernaeve and Mike Wood winning the category and only being beaten overall by the two Escorts. Makinen, who had rushed back from East Africa to join his co-driver, Paul Easter, left the road about half-way through the rally and lost a whole hour while the Cooper S was manhandled by spectators back to firm ground.
The fortunes of the twenty British entrants were not too grand, for apart from the leading factory cars only one British crew scored a class win; Yorkshiremen Phil Cooper and Ken Deacon, who had been shrewd enough to take a 1071-c.e. Cooper S.
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Although this journal appears but once each month, schedule’s are such that this review has to be written before the date gets into double figures. Consequently, I am unable to say anything in this issue of the Austrian Alpine Rally which ended on May 19th. Naturally, the two European rivals—Porsche and Alpine Renault—will have taken part, but only one factory entry was received from Britain, and even that had a Swedish crew. Bengt Soderstrom and Gunnar Palm were entered obviously to get used to an Escort twin-cam before joining a full team of three cars on the Acropolis at the end of the month.
The Acropolis, which finishes on June 2nd, will be the next event to have a full complement of factory teams. B.M.C. will have two Cooper Ss for Makinen and Aaltonen and an Austin 1800 for Brian Culcheth. Tony Fall, the other member of Abingdon’s team, will be away in Canada driving an Austin 1800 in the Shell 4,000 Rally. Paddy Hopkirk, who has had rather a quiet time in recent months, will be driving a Cooper S in the Canadian event and both men will have local co-drivers.
Both Porsche and Alpine Renault will have their regular drivers in Greece, Toivonen and Zasada for the German factory and Piot, Vinatier and perhaps Andruet for the French firm.—G. P.