The Monte Carlo Rally

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Some rallies are of a constant high standard year by year; others are constantly mediocre. But whatever their end of the quality scale, the majority of them differ so little from their immediate fore-runners that no one year produces features which cause an event to stand out. There are exceptions, of course; the year of the “Magnificent Seven” on the East African Safari, or the “Rally of the Bulb” as the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally was called.

The Monte Carlo Rally, more than any other, is prone to having specific features highlighted each year. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is the presence of an army of press people at Monaco, all eager to unearth specific stories which tend to become emphasised more than the rally itself. The time-honoured search for the case of a man clamping his teeth around a dog. The second reason is the eagerness of the organisers to stop up any loopholes in the regulations discovered during the previous year, and to introduce whatever reform they may consider necessary without altering the style too much. An example of this was the year 1967, when a handicap was slapped on all competitors who did not declare that they would confine their tyre allocations to eight in the 24-hour run and eight in the 12-hour run. Most elected to run on the restricted number, and had their tyres branded with a hot iron so that no unlawful swopping could take place.

The 1971 Monte Carlo Rally will also be remembered for a special reason, but not one specially highlighted by pressmen or by the organisers. It was brought about simply by the weather.

The Monte has always provided headaches for those tyre manufacturers who provide supplies and service for works rally teams. A rally can use the roughest roads in the world; if they are constantly rough then the same tyres can be used throughout. On a Scandinavian snow rally, provided you ignore the niceties of differing stud patterns, studded tyres are used throughout and there is no need to ponder over compounds and whether to change from knobblies to racers.

On the Monte surfaces are rarely constant. There are dry asphalt roads which require racing tyres, roads covered with packed snow which demand studs of one type, sheet ice which demands another type, and possibly potholed, gravelly tarmac for which unstudded winter tyres could be the best choice.

These constantly changing conditions send tyre fitters scurrying all over the alps to set up their dumps of various kinds of tyre in the best possible positions. Every professional crew will have practised thoroughly before the start, but several days will have passed between the time they last practised a particular special stage and the time they tackle it during the rally itself, and anything can happen to change surface conditions in those few days.

Snow was plentiful in the weeks before the start; so much that some mountain passes were not open to coincide with some teams’ practice schedules. Then, during the special stages, every possible weather condition (except perhaps a heatwave) was experienced and many competitors found that they had made the wrong tyre choice. This will probably be the feature best remembered in years to come of the 1971 Monte.

As always, the Monte used ten starting points (one of which was Glasgow this year, and another Marrakesh) and journeys covering three nights to get competitors to the Principality. An innovation compared to other recent Montes, was the introduction of one special stage towards the end of the concentration runs, some 100 kilometres from the arrival point at the quayside. All the other special stages were kept within the 25-hour Monaco-Chambery-Monaco loop from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning (nine stages) and the 12-hour meander in the Alpes Maritimes during the Thursday night (seven stages).

These two loops are now regarded as the rally proper, with the concentration runs (at least before that one stage this year) being looked upon as a comparatively leisurely trip which survives as part of the rally each year merely because it provides such an excellent vehicle for publicity. Professionals are bored by it; amateurs enjoy the excitement of pulling into crowded controls every few hundred kilometres. Whatever one’s feelings, one must accept—however reluctantly—that the AC de Monaco knows when it is on to a good thing, and they would be wrong to drop the run-in sections. At least they took a step in the right direction this year by introducing that extra special stage so that at least a leader could be named when competitors had finished arriving at Monte on the Monday morning.

The tyre problem arose even for the first special stage, for its surface was anything but constant, with deep ruts in the ice on some corners. But a heavy snowfall just about at the time that cars were crossing the stage rather made people’s minds up for them.

Factory teams do not leave things to chance, or even to intelligent estimation of conditions from a study of cloud formations! They employ squads of experienced people, generally competitors or former competitors themselves, to drive over each special stage about an hour or so before the first competing car crosses. These people are referred to as ice-note crews, for they carry copies of the pace notes of every car in their team and during their run they note on those notes the exact surface condition of every curve and even straight on the stage—whether the ice be continuous or patchy, smooth or rutted, on the left or right across, and so on. In fact, it is their task to bring the pace notes right up-to-date into highly sophisticated intelligence sheets from which competitors will know precisely what to expect on every corner.

Snowstorms, rainstorms, thunderclaps, floods and landslides were all experienced during this year’s event, and it was possible to encounter such varying conditions as ice, snow, ruts, slush, water, gravel, rocks and mud, all on a single stage. Thus it was important for those ice-note crews to be as precise as possible, for one corner wrongly noted would be enough to send a car off the road.

What of the cars taking part? Alpine was the strongest side, with two three-car teams and a bevy of private entrants. But the hopes they pinned on their French drivers were somewhat misdirected, for it was Swede Ove Andersson who shone the brightest. He joined the Alpine side for last November’s RAC Rally after having been dropped from the regular Boreham team. He took the lead on the very first test, never lost it and romped home the winner with his wife Liz being replaced in the navigator’s seat by David Stone.

Apart from works Alpines there were factory entries from Datsun, Lancia, Daf, Fiat and Porsche, with supported entries from Autobianchi (supported by Citroen), Opel and BMW. In fact, BMW was the most numerous make of car in the entry list.

Although their drivers were against the idea (and, indeed, their team manager) the Porsche hierarchy decided to enter three of their mid-engined 914/6 cars instead of the rear-engined 911S which had brought them success on three previous occasions. The cars displayed neutral handling characteristics, and this was not at all to the liking of Waldegard, Andersson and Larrousse, all of whom realised that they would be unable to utilise the very safe tail-swinging tactics with the 914/6. Handling turned out to be such a problem that at no time was a Porsche in a position to challenge for the lead, although Waldegard did manage to use his considerable skill to get his car up to equal third position.

To talk of individual performances would be wrong, for there were so many people doing well, but one feels that Aaltonen should be singled out for his incredible display of skilful control of the big Datsun 240-Z. In loose British forests the car took some holding; on polished snow it took even more, but the little Finn managed it, getting into fifth place.

The other man who must be mentioned is the burly Swedish comedian, Hákan Lindberg. Once in the Saab team, Lindberg now drives for Fiat, and the way he drove a 124 Spider on the Monte Carlo Rally was fantastic. On one stage he even passed the Alpine-Renault of Andruet, an incident which did Andruet’s ego no good at all. Fiat have more participation planned, though they are still using their crews’ names as entrants. In the immediate future they plan to enter Swedish, Sanremo and Morocco rallies.—G. P.