The Monte Carlo Rally
Just as the R.A.C. Rally did last November, the Monte Carlo Rally divided itself into two in January in order that highly modified and not yet homologated cars could take part. But this time the F.I.A. objected. There is nothing to prevent any National club running rallies for Group 6 cars, of course, but the rules of the European Championship state that qualifying events should cater only for cars of Groups 1, 2 and 3.
The division of the rally into the Monte Carlo Rally itself and what was called the Rallye Méditerranée was done in exactly the same way as the R.A.C. Rally gave rise to its European Club Rally offshoot. On paper it was a separate event, but it used the same route, the same controls, the same special tests and the same time schedules, and the F.I.A. considered that this was not really playing the game and that both rallies were really one event.
Whether the F.I.A. is justified in insisting that its Championship cater only for cars of the first three groups is something which we will not comment upon here, but we certainly agree that the whole shooting match was one rally. Artificial divisions, whatever the cause, are quite undesirable and we take the view that each event should have one single winning crew. If the winner of the Rallyé Méditerranée had accrued less penalties than the winner of the Monte Carlo Rally, we would have had no hesitation in treating the former as the outright victor. It is perhaps fortunate for those who dislike complexities that the situation did not arise, although the respective winners were really first and second on overall points.
At the risk of being repetitive (for it has remained unchanged for a number of years) I will explain that the itineraries from the various starting points to the Principality itself are pretty tedious to the seasoned rallyist and, compared with the 25- and 12-hour runs which follow in the Alps, are reasonably easy. The two alpine loops represent the meat of the rally and together they contained 16 special tests over mountain passes.
The difficulty or otherwise of the Monte is often measured in terms of snow and ice, the greater the quantity the more difficult the rally. The same yardstick is often used to gauge the favourites; if there is an abundance of snow front-wheel-drive cars are considered to have the advantage, whereas in a dry year the high-powered rear-wheel-drive cars (Porsches in particular) get the vote of the forecasters.
This year these methods of prediction went by the board, for although there was plenty of snow in the weeks before the rally, a hot sun disposed of much of it, leaving the sharp night frosts to produce patchy conditions which are really far more hazardous than continuous sheet ice.
With the odds thus as equal as the weather has ever made them, a great deal of importance was placed on what are commonly called ice notes—and if anyone has ever wondered what happens to retired or out-of-work rally people, let me enlighten them by saying that they all troop down to Monte Carlo each January to make ice notes for their successors.
Pace notes have been widely used by factory drivers (and private owners wealthy enough to afford protracted absences abroad) for some time. Bend-reading from accurate survey sheets was common even before Moss and Jenkinson used their system to good effect in the Mille Miglia. But ice notes go a stage further. An hour or two before the rally (the smaller the time interval, the better) a team sends a car over each of the special tests. This car carries copies of the competing drivers' pace notes and its crew marks on them information concerning the degree of ice or snow to be found on every bend. On dry stages, the system is sometimes adapted so that gravel-covered bends are so marked.
So you can see that professionalism in today's International rallying has reached such a degree that the poor private owner really has very little chance against the might of the factories and the facilities which they can afford.
The ice notes, when completed, are deposited with mechanics at service points for collection by drivers when they come along, and it is generally the case that drivers rely on these notes when deciding which tyres to have fitted for the particular test ahead. Nowadays, various combinations of tread pattern, rubber compound, stud frequency and stud length are made available to works drivers by their team managers, and this again is an aspect of winter rallying which is almost prohibitively expensive to the private entrant. Having said enough about the mechanics and strategy of rallying, I had better get to the point and say that of all the factory teams entered not one finished intact. Furthermore, of the twenty British private owners (as small a number as my comparatively tender years can recall) only two were classified as finishers, and only one of those finished the 12-hour loop which is really a complementary section of the rally.
Elford and Stone, last year's winners, crashed their Porsche into a tree, Mikkola and Porter drove their Escort off the road on the ice, Aaltonen and Liddon spun their Lancia over the edge of an unguarded drop and were miraculously held back by a tree, whereas their team mates Fall and Davenport did likewise only a short distance away, except that in their chosen spot there was no tree and the car rolled itself into pieces as it careered downwards. None of these Lancia crews were injured, which says much for the sturdiness of the present Fulvia.
The two works cars entered by B.M.W., 2002 TI models driven by ex-B.M.C. man Timo Mäkinen and ex-Scania Vabis man Ake Andersson, suffered severe brake fade and finally retired with complete loss of braking ability. It did seem that B.M.W. were looking upon the Monte as something of a taster—if they liked it they would order the full meal—and were obviously not putting all their resources into the event. Magnesium alloy wheels, for instance, could well have solved their brake cooling problems, but instead they stuck to the standard steel ones.
Readers of Motor Sport may not be all that familiar with the winning crew. Swedes Björn Waldegard and Lars Helmer. They have rallied in Britain several times, firstly in Volkswagens and then in Porsches before Scania Vabis (Swedish truck makers who used to import VWs and Porsches into Scandinavia) merged with Saab. They have been eminently successful in Scandinavia, and won last year's Swedish Rally by an incredible margin.
Second place in what was called the Monte Carlo Rally went to former Alpine-Renault driver Gérard Larrousse who was also driving a Porsche for the factory, but since he was actually beaten on points by the winners of the "other" rally, we prefer to regard the Frenchmen as third overall.
The "other" rally was actually won by another Swedish crew, Harry Källström and Gunnar Haggbom, in a 1.6-litre Lancia Fulvia. This was entered as a prototype not because it was a thinly disguised racer, but because they have not been made in sufficient numbers yet to be homologated.
The Lancia team is now something to be reckoned with, particularly as the arrival of their new car coincides with the influx of highly experienced blood from the former B.M.C. team. There is talk as we go to Press that Stirling Moss will drive a Lancia once again in a rally—the Italian Sestriere Rally on March 25th—and will perhaps be included in the team on future events. You will no doubt remember that he took part in the Marathon de la Route at the Nurburgring last year, the hybrid event which replaced the old Liége Rally.
With just one event over (this is being written before the Swedish Rally starts) four cars have really emerged as those to be reckoned with in 1969—the Lancia Fulvia, the Porsche 911S, the Escort twin-cam and the Alpine-Renault. We could, of course, be quite wrong. And in any event it is still possible to go rallying unobtrusively in cooking cars and derive a great deal of fun and pleasure—a fact for which we are eternally grateful.
* * *
Recently in an Independent Television play, seen being driven away from the scene of a particularly heinous crime was a Rolls-Royce bearing a number-plate which included the letters WB. Food for thought?
* * *
Apart from the many International rallies which regularly appear, year after year, in the International Calendar, there are some which spring up suddenly and gain as much popularity in their first few years as other rallies do in decades. Others, of course, appear just once and fade away.
Many of these mushroom events take place in faraway places with particularly strange sounding names and, although they attract considerable support in their own parts of the world, their distance from Europe (which is indeed the centre of the world's rallying activities) render them unlikely candidates for the attentions of factory teams.
However, the recently announced Asian Highway Motor Rally, which is being organised in April this year by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, with the co-operation of the Governments of Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, could well spark off some interest in an organisation which last year showed itself to have little concern for rallying at all—British Leyland.
Lord Stokes' prowess as a 'bus salesman is widely known and doubtless he will be interested to learn that this particular "rally" has categories for cars of Groups 1 to 6 inclusive, trucks of various gross weights and 'buses, yes 'buses, of various seating capacities.
This might well provide the straw at which the old B.M.C. Competitions Department at Abingdon is seeking to clutch. Surely the thought of a 'bus rally, if nothing else, will appeal to Lord Stokes. It would most certainly appeal to Paddy Hopkirk, the only remaining B.L.M.C. contracted rally driver, who would no doubt be eager to drive a 40-odd-seater Leyland the 1,800 miles or so from Vientiane to Singapore.
* * *
One of the most popular rallies in Britain over the past three years or so has been the International Gulf London Rally, an event which developed last year into a four-day drive, with very little break to speak of, around the tracks of the State Forests. The sad news was released last month that there will be no London Rally in 1969. So handsomely did the Gulf companies of Britain and Sweden sponsor this event that for many private owners it represented the only International event which they were financially able to consider, and the news of its cancellation came as a great disappointment.
Ironically, it is the very popularity of forest rallies which brought it about. So many motor clubs were seeking the use of forest roads as special stages that the R.A.C., in consultation with the Forestry Commission, introduced a rationing scheme. International events were given priority and it was agreed that in Wales first choice should go to the Welsh Rally and in Scotland to the Scottish Rally. In both cases the R.A.C. Rally took second pick, whereas in England it took first.
As a result, there were very few suitable forests left from which the London Motor Club could provide a testing enough route. Other types of special stage were considered, but the sponsors, in every other respect happy to allow the Club to run its rally as it pleased, made no bones about their preference for a forest rally. In deference to them, the Club attempted to gather together as many forests as they could, but the total stage distance was so low that they decided to cancel rather than run a rally which was a mere shadow of its former self. It has been promised that the rally will be run again in 1970, and whether it will then emerge in a different form remains to be seen.
If only the Government would recognise rallying, as it does lesser sports, and allow free access to forests for all five British International events, this kind of situation would never arise and more British drivers would get the kind of practice they need to compete with the apparently unconquerable Scandinavians.
* * *
The comment of D. S. J.'s correspondent in "Long-Distance Motoring" last month concerning John Sprinzel's "foul mood" at Delhi during the Marathon deserves the explanation that, at the time, the massed crowds had succeeded in breaking all the headlamps, reversing lamps and number-plate lamp on his little M.G. Midget, and were well on the way to ripping off a door. With eight people climbing over his "petrol hard-top" and another four seating themselves on the bonnet, it's easy to see why Mr. Sprinzel, normally affable, was beginning to be not amused.