Rally review: Monte Carlo rally, March 1970

A MONTE CARLO Rally without any controversy, without any disqualifications, without any snow-shovelling, but with all the ingredients of hard, clean competition may well endear itself to those for whom rallying is life blood, but in Fleet Street it kindled the faintest spark ever and the great newspaper-reading British public was left with the most scantily-covered Monte since it began.

We all complain of the treatment rallying gets at the hands of national newspapers, and it has become fashionable to grin at the misguided sense of values possessed by most editors in devoting fair space to the Monte and none at all to the other worthy events. But now it seems that even the Monte, biggest publicity catcher of them all, has faded from prominence. Even the third successive victory for Porsche, and the second for Waldegård and Helmer, failed to rouse much newsroom enthusiasm. What we need, of course, is a rallying horse-trainer to win, or a band of hippies to entrench themselves on the Turini and spray the spectators with LSD.

I can’t really believe that newsmen look upon rallying as a ploy of car manufacturers to counter the grim stories of strikes and disputes with tales of adventure in the snowy Alps and the steamy hush. But indifference by the British press (elsewhere, particularly in France, it was covered admirably) was not the only feature of the 1970 Monte Carlo Rally. There were fewer British entrants than there have been for decades, only eight starting from Dover – and one of those was French. The cost of doing a Monte may have something to do with this, or it may be a general preference by British drivers for other events on the Continent. Non-championship events such as the TAP-Rally in Portugal and the Firestone Rally in Spain certainly attracted their share of Britons last year, and some even ventured as far as Morocco.

Manufacturers, however, were keen to try for points in the European Constructors’ Championship, for which the Monte was the first qualifier. Porsche sent three cars, Lancia six, Ford four and Alpine-Renault no less than nine, of which three were Renault saloons. Citroen maintained an interest in cars entered privately by their works drivers and Saab came along to look after their one car which was entered simply because its driver, Lindberg, was partially financed by a tyre company. Vic Elford and David Stone were driving an unlikely car for this event, a Toyota, and it proved to be no match for the faster machinery.

The first of the Monte’s three parts, the concentration run front the eight starting points to Monaco, was as tediously routine as ever, although it robbed the number one Alpine team of one of its stars, Andruet, when his co-driver made a navigational error. It would be wrong to completely change the character of the Monte Carlo Rally by doing away with the concentration run, but it could be improved tremendously if the eight routes were to converge sooner so that special stages could be included between the converging point and the arrival at the Principality.

There was plenty of snow in the Alps in the weeks before the rally, and it did seem to crews engaged in practice that it would persist to level off the power advantages of some cars over others. But then the rains came to wash it all away and there was so little left for the rally itself that it could well have been a somewhat colder Alpine Rally and not a Monte at all. The real rallying started with the first of the two mountain loops, containing nine special stages. The first of these highlighted the tyre problems which can develop when predominantly dry roads have patches of ice here and there. When a stage is completely snow covered one’s choice is simply one of how many studs and what type. But on this occasion it was whether to take studs at all, and it was just that decision which faced drivers on nearly all the other tests – there being some, of course, which were completely dry and needed unstudded racing tyres.

First Vinatier crashed on a patch of ice and later Therier’s transmission broke. Thus the three 1.6-litre Alpines entered by the factory were out, leaving only the 1.3-litre car of Jean-Pierre Nicolas in a three-car team which he shared with two privately-entered Alpines.

Nicolas drove the lightweight Alpine remarkably well and managed to beat the Porsches on some of the tests despite having only half their available b.h.p. But it ought to be remembered that only a very few years ago Monte Carlo Rallies were being won by engines of similar capacity – mounted into BMC Mini shells.

Lancia had a very unhappy rally indeed, with three of their six cars retiring with blown engines and a fourth rolling over during the final mountain loop. This left Ballestrieri and Barbasio to carry the HF flag, and they finished sixth and eighth respectively.

The lone Saab dropped out when one of its two brake master cylinders jammed, whilst the Citroens didn’t really have the power to make a serious challenge, although Jean-Luc Salomon did manage to get his DS21 into the first ten only to spoil it all by crashing on the last hairpin of the rally, within a mile or so of the quayside at Monte Carlo.

The four Escorts from Boreham couldn’t match the performances of the lightweight Porsches with their aluminium and fibreglass, but Roger Clark and Jim Porter were able to finish fifth to win the Touring category, being beaten only by four group four cars. Mikkola, twice winner of the 1,000 Lakes Rally, had a throttle cable jam at the carburetters and although it was soon released the gear-changing difficulties took their toll later when the lever stuck in reverse gear for 40 minutes. Piot failed to finish the final Mountain Circuit when his differential gave out.

Twice during the rally Ford had trouble with their knock-On Minilite wheels. They loosened, perhaps because they weren’t tightened properly in the first place, and one of them took quite some time to be replaced properly because the loose running had worn the threads.

If one compares times on special stages with those put up on exactly the same tests last year, the speeding up is instantly noticeable. Cars are undoubtedly becoming faster, even though there was less snow to slow them down this year. That they are basically production cars is evident only from their external shapes, for nowadays a factory rally car is a specialist machine which no private entrant (and certainly not an ordinary buyer at whom all the advertising is directed) could hope to match. When considered a Sport, rallying has a place for such advancement in design and performance, but when considered a means to a marketing end one wonders where the gentle art of public persuasion will stop.