The roughest rally ever to grace the International Championship for Makes took place during the last week of April on the rocky desert tracks and wild mountain roads of Morocco. Four factories were represented by proper works entries, three of them French and one Italian. The Italian car, for there was but one, emerged the victor, Simo Lampinen and Sölve Andreasson defeating the teams of Peugeot, Citroën and Alpine in their Lancia Fulvia HF.
Although the Morocco Rally was revived and given International status as long ago as 1968, there were several people in Morocco who considered that the event was being “discovered” for the first time this year. Their enthusiasm for this tough, well-organised, car consuming event in North-West Africa was understandable, but they didn’t seem to-appreciate that the event had been held on four previous occasions just as successfully.
Since it began, the Morocco Rally has always attracted top drivers from France, the link between the two countries being obvious. Indeed, it made such an impressive showing in its first year that in 1969 three British crews decided to go along to see what this difficult event, partly in the desert and partly in the mountains, was like. But it wasn’t until this year that drivers from Scandinavia and Britain were engaged professionally to drive factory cars in Morocco, which is perhaps the reason 1972 was considered by some to be “the year of discovery”.
Prior to 1972, the event has been won once by a Renault and three times by Citroëns, the latter company considering the Morocco Rally as the number one on its list of priorities. Citroën has always put a major effort into its assault in Morocco, with Renault following very closely behind. This year the Peugeot factory also decided to put up a team, though it was somewhat half-heartedly disguised, at least on paper, as a private venture by Jean Guichet of Marseille who drove one of the cars and in whose name the other three were entered.
Sheer speed has never been the sole ingredient for success in Morocco, for some of the roads are so terribly rough that strength and durability are equally, if not more, important.. This perhaps explains the success of Citroëns in past years, for the big French cars cannot be considered agile by any standards, yet they are strong enough to remain unbroken over terrain which pounds lighter ears to pieces.
This year the 4,000-kilometre rally started as usual in Rabat, ran through two days to the first night stop at Marrakesh, restarted for another leg to the desert town of Ouarzazat, then restarted for the final leg to Casablanca.
For the first day and night the rally remained on the tarmac roads of Northern Morocco, but at dawn on the second day it struck out southwards for the winding roads of the Atlas Mountains and the incredibly rough desert tracks through the arid scrublands on the northern fringe of the Sahara.
It was difficult country to say the least, yet the organisers retained complete control over every situation and maintained such an efficient communications network throughout the event that up-to-date interim positions were available for competitors and team managers at every time control. This is an important point in long-distance rallies, far a tactical reduction in speed can often mean the difference between finishing and retiring, and such tactics cannot be employed with confidence unless one knows the exact extent of one’s lead.
Four works Peugeot 504s, three Citroën SMs and three DS21s, and a trio of Alpine-Renaults backed by an R12 Gordini and a few R16TSs represented the biggest onslaught by French manufacturers on a rally for some time. What is more, Peugeot had engaged Mikkola, Fall, Chasseuil and Guichet, Citroën had Waldegård. Aaltonen, Desehazeaux (last year’s winner Neyret (winner in 1969 and 1970), Bochnicek and Romaozinho, and Alpine Andersson, Nicolas (winner in 1968) and Thrièr.
These strong teams from France were faced by a single works entry from another country—the solitary Lancia Fulvia HF entered by the factory for Simo Lampinen and Sölve Andreasson. For the first time, the rally was a qualifier in the European Rally Championship for Makes, and the Italian team was represented in Morocco solely because there was a chance of scoring Championship points. After all, Lancia had won the Monte Carlo Rally, and they couldn’t let Porsche stay at the head of the table for too long with points scored only from three second places.
The Citroëns and the Peugeots were relying on strength rather than speed, and the Alpines were well protected by a complete underbody skid-plate which extended to curl up beneath the door sills. The Lancia, too, had been built with reliability and shock-resistance in mind and it gave no serious trouble at all during the rally, a feat which also reflects the intelligent driving of Lampinen. But of the French factory cars only one DS21 finished, that of Neyret which took second place to the winning Lancia.
The Peugeots suffered from weak engine mountings which allowed their fans to come into drilling contact with their radiators on rough roads; the Citroën SMs were weak on the transmission side, with Aaltonen losing first his clutch then his gearbox and Waldegård his differential. The Alpines dropped out when Nicolas lost first a rear wheel then a front wheel, Andersson lost his water and cooked his engine, and Thèrier simply ran out of tyres.
Tyres were of special importance in this event, for some special stages were over 200 kilometres long, and the chances of a car being driven fast on rough roads for such distances without collecting punctures are pretty remote. Indeed, two spare wheels were hardly enough on some tests, and the works teams were setting up dumps of tyres, fuel and spares in mid-stage, and using aircraft to patrol the tracks themselves to watch the progress of their cars. After running out of tyres on one particularly long test, Thèrier was eventually rescued— though too late—when spare wheels dropped front the sky at his feet, courtesy of his low-flying service aircraft.
The three French teams were using Michelin Noras, chunky treaded tyres which seemed to provide excellent grip on the loose and yet have treads which did not tear themselves off the tyres when being driven at high speed on hot tarmac roads, as many tyres did in the Safari. But they were by no means as puncture resistant as the Pirellis used by the Lancia. At Ouarzazat, well after three-quarter distance, Lampinen remarked that he had not had a single puncture, and on gravelly tarmac, loose shale, sharp rocks and the many stony crossings of dried river beds, that was something of an achievement.
After the first three qualifiers of the year it looked as though Porsche were about to do one of their usual “winning without really trying” for three second places brought them more points in the Constructors’ Rally Championship than any of the three winning makes. But in Morocco Lancia added 20 to their existing 32 (scored in Monte Carlo and Sweden), putting them ahead of the German make which has 45 to its credit.
Whilst rallies in the more populated countries labour under difficulties caused by traffic increase and the general spread of development, events such as the Morocco Rally have an almost guaranteed future—particularly if they continue to be as well organised. This year the event attracted only 52 starters, but that low figure was the result of local private entrants being somewhat over-awed by the news that so many foreign professionals were to come. May they take heart from the very high retirement rate among factory drivers this year and turn up in greater numbers in 1973, accompanied by overseas privateers, for this superb event. There are very few rallies which, by their very nature, are also exciting adventures; the Morocco Rally is one of them. — G. P.