A CONGRUOUS link forged itself between the month's two major rallies. They were both held in countries striving for their individuality to be recognised. The events took place in Corsica and Wales, one a World Championship qualifier and the other indicating the mid-point in this country's RAC Open Rally Championship, of the two, the Tour of Corsica, by rights, was rich in quality, but the other was no pauper by comparison. Both attracted a goodly number of FISA graded drivers and World Champions, the Welsh event had two to Corsica's one.
Corsica annually plays host to the only summer tarmac World Championship rally, the island's tortuous mountain roads used to their optimum in producing a mammoth 1,770 km. test of man and machine. This year Renault was rewarded for its toil, with a strong victory for the mid-engined 5 Turbo in the hands of Jean Ragnotti.
Unlike its Formula One orientated brethren, Renault Sport rallying involves just 15 people, a tenth the size of the Grand Prix department. For such a small team to succeed in the ultra competitive scene of World Championship rallying speaks realms for their dedication and tenacity. Such sacrifices demand reward and what better way of receiving it than with a win.
The island's roads are unforgiving, threading their way through mountain passes and along coastal cliff tops. A relentless string of corners unwind before a driver. Straights are unheard of in Corsica, drivers snatching top gear for the briefest of moments before stamping down through the gears for the next corner. It's tough, it's furious, but above all it's the epitome of rallying. Praises deserve to be showered on the car's constructors and field back-up crews. Even to finish such an event shows the state of the art in modern rallying, where a car has been held flat out for three days and almost 1,200 km. It's a wonder that even a single car could withstand that hammering.
Ragnotti well deserved his victory. His command of Corsican roads was supreme, but not unchallenged. Jean Claude Andruet provided the competition. He, like Ragnotti, was a past Corsica winner and his Ferrari 308GTB was well suited to the terrain.
Three days of hard rallying lay ahead of them, opening with a day's run from Ajaccio in the south to Bastia in the north of the island. Andruet's Ferrari led for half of that day, leaving Ragnotti to take the lead he was never to relinquish again.
The Ferrari took on the guise of pursuer, Andruet strengthened his resolve and the second day was to dawn with the promise of a memorable battle. Behind them lay Atillio Bettega using the new Lancia Rally conforming to FISA Gp B regulations. The new supercharged purpose built machine excelled in Bettega's hands, whilst teammate Markku Alén struck early troubles with damaged front suspension. The event was not a happy one for Audi. Two of its three Quattros left the fray during day one, Mikkola on the first stage and Wittman after a further five, leaving Michele Mouton to press on for the marque.
Bernard Darniche too was proving competitive in the debut of the World Championship's most powerful car yet, a 400 b.h.p. BMW M1. However, the car succumbed to the rigours of Corsica on the first day's penultimate stage, its chassis broken. The second day saw the rally return to its southern base of Ajaccio travelling down the cliff top roads of the island's west coast. It saw the end of Bettega's run in a horrendous accident. The Lancia destroyed its flimsy front against a part of Corsica's scenery at almost 100 m.p.h. Bettega suffered multiple fractures it both legs and is not expected to drive again until the close of this year. This was perhaps the first hint of how safety can be adversely affected by the new FISA vehicle regulations and the dramatic increase in speeds involved.
Ragnotti continued to better Andruet, but when Corsica's unpredictable weather struck, the Ferrari found itself caught out on slick racing rubber during a rainstorm. Andruet dropped from contention, though safe in second place. The rally lost some of its magic and attention switched to the Röhrl / Beguin battle for third place.
At the close of day two, Röhrl's Ascona 400 held a single second advantage to Beguin's Porsche 911.
The final day saw no change at the top. Ragnotti was to give Renault its victory and Andruet stood down to accept second place after more drama had struck, leaving his Ferrari all but clutchless for the day. Bernard Beguin stunned everyone with a stirring performance, outdriving Röhrl despite inadequate tyres for his Porsche. The past World Champion, Walter Röhrl thus settled for fourth place extending his Championship lead to 25 points from rallying's first lady, Michele Mouton. — S.F.