Lole: a natural on the loose

He had no prior interest in rallying, and didn’t enjoy having someone barking instructions at him, but Carlos Reutemann proved handy on the rough stuff

In the 1960s, the worlds of international rallying and Formula 1 occasionally merged – Jim Clark storming the RAC Rally with a Lotus-Cortina in 1966 for example. But it was nothing quite on the scale of the Codasur Rally in 1980 when Fiat managed to persuade local hero Carlos Reutemann to drive one of its 131 Mirafioris.

“My first racing was in a Fiat saloon back in 1965 but I was never attracted to rallies,” said the former F1 star. “In fact I was soon driving just single-seaters.” He was in the middle of a season in which he finished third in the World Championship, when the call came to drive in his home rally.

 “My personal sponsors brought a lot of money to the arrangement so it was a very good thing for Fiat and a good thing for me,” he explained. 

It needed to be. The British Grand Prix ran on July 13 – Reutemann finished third – and the rally started the following Saturday: “I only had a chance to see the first special stage,” he said, “as the majority of the route was hundreds of kilometres away up in the mountains behind San Miguel de Tucumán.” The Codasur Rally took its name from a regional association of countries each of which had a starting point: even the Buenos Aires starters had to drive for some 1000km before getting to that first asphalt stage.

Reutemann’s presence brought out the partisan Argentinean crowds in a way that was hard for the European teams to take in. Even on the long concentration run, they seemed to line every metre of the roads and, at time controls, ‘Lole’ was mobbed (especially by the ladies) in a way that made one wonder if he had as many spare clothes as Fiat had spare wheels. 

Once the real action got going on the Monday morning. Reutemann proved to be a consistent driver, if not quite able to shine in the company of ace gravel sprinters like Walter Röhrl and Marku Alèn. He was able to keep closer to the Mercedes-Benz 500 SLCs of Hannu Mikkola and Björn Waldegård and to match the pace of the factory Datsun 160J driven by Shekhar Mehta. “I simply did not feel comfortable driving faster on someone else’s information,” Reutemann recalled. “And in any case, to have someone talking to you when you are driving fast is not in my experience.” His co-driver was Mirko Perissutti: when they saw on the Monday night that they were doing well, they took a recce car and toured the remaining stages.

As it turned out, a steady pace was not a bad strategy. Both Alèn’s 131 and another works Fiat driven by Attilio Bettega broke their sumps, two Mercedes fell out with driveshaft breakages and the Datsuns wore out their tyres. Reutemann did have the odd problem like stopping in a water splash for several minutes but his car came through virtually unscathed to finish third behind the victorious Röhrl and Mikkola’s Mercedes. He was 20 minutes clear of Mehta.

Just to show that this was no flash in the pan, Lole accepted an offer from Peugeot to drive a 205 T16 on the 1985 Rally Argentina where he once again finished third overall.