Rally review, March 1973

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Monte Carlo Rally

“IF YOU DON’T play the game my way, I’ll take my ball away,” So is it occasionally with youngsters whose immature minds are incapable of -appreciating the significance of playing for playing’s sake and whose only concern is to achieve a desired result no matter what the path to that result might Iv. So seemed it also to have been with a group of competitors in the Monte Carlo Rally, for many who were not there to appreciate cause as well as effect have been heard to write off the rally as an adult version of spoilt children attempting to run away with the hall after they have been put out of the game. There was considerably more to the Monte Carlo incidents than that, though it is not at all to our liking that a historic sporting Occasion should have been handled in such a way that its competitive content should be taken as less significant than scenes bordering hooliganism. It is the habit of the popular daily press to consider newsworthy any deviation from normal, mid we hardly think that the Monte Carlo Rally would have rated front page treatment had it taken place as it should. By devoting Space to the matters here, MOTOR SPORT is not emult.ting the “mar. bites dog” periodicals; it is simply that we feel our readers have a right 10 know what really happened.

Always the Monte is held in three parts: the first iS a mere concentration run to bring competitors to the Principality from the various starting points; the second is a common run of some 28 hours, looping front Monaco to Grenoble and back, containing ten special stages; the third, a complementary run for the 60 crews who are highest placed after the second leg, is an intricate twelvehour affair in the mountains immediately behind Monte Carlo with three mountain passes permutated to form seven special stages.

In 1971 the organisers introduced a special stage to the end of the concentration run so that at least the latter part of the boring journey to Monte Carlo would contain some proper Competition, and so that there would be a significant order of classification after cars reached the quayside for the first time.

In 1972 the extra test WM planned again, but dropped before the rally owing to some local administrative difficulties. This year it was put in again and kept, but not until there had been various changes of mind, particularly relating to tyre studs, a situation which was explained in detail in last month’s MOTOR SPORT.

Although there was comparatively little snow during the weeks before the rally, there was sufficient in the few days before to render nearly all the special stages some 80 or 90% snow-covered. Not a situation which would concern sporting drivers who wouldn’t he there at all if they couldn’t cope with high speed driving on sheet ice and polished snow. But even the hardiest of rally people recognise the fact that conditions can move beyond the tough stage and become downright impossible. The organisers went wrong simply by failing to acknowledge this basic principle. It isn’t at all clever to send cars over an exposed mountain top knowing full well that drifting snow was likely to stop them short. Like ostriches, the organisers completely ignored the dangers and seemed to take the view that their rally was possessed of sonic kind Of divine right to overcome all the adversities that nature could provide. What happened as a result was entirely of their own doing and could so easily have been avoided without any harm to the rally itself had someone only thought and acted with the mind of a competitor. Alas, the organisers are far more concerned with organisational trivia than with the practicalities of taking a rally through the mountains and it was this very neglect, coupled with total failure to recognise a situation even after it arose, which gave rise to the trouble. Near the town of Vals-les-Bains to the mirth-west of Montelimar there is a village called Burzet and it was a loop of mountain road, starting and finishing at Burzet, which caused all the trouble. It has been used for many years as a Monte Carlo Rally special stage, although there have been many occasions when doubts as to its passability have arisen. This year it was the third of the common run’s special stages, scheduled to Open for the first car at 5 p.m. on the Tuesday.

For several days, ice note crews had failed to get over the Burzet stage to make their vital notes concerning the road surface. It was completely blocked by snow, and although no fresh snow was falling the high winds made it impracticable to plough—the snow would simply be blown back into the road. Word of this naturally got back to Monte Carlo and it was expected that the stage. would be cancelled. This would have caused no difficulty at all since the loop in question Startedand finished in the same village and a simple instruction would have avoided the whole thing.

But this did not happen, and when crews left Monte Carlo at 8 a.m, that morning they imagined that conditions at Burzet had improved, even though no reports of that had come back from the professional teams’ ice note crews. Just an hour or two before cars were due to arrive at Burzet a snow plough went through, but an ice note crew following at about 100 yards repOrted that the snow was blowing back almost as fast as it was being pushed away.

Some fifty-odd cars got through the stage and then a Capri spun and got itself completely wedged across the road, its nose and tail held firmly in the snowbanks. In addition to this, there was a delay when an .ambulance was sent into the stage to bring out an injured man. Whilst all this was going on, the marshal at the start of the stage was continuing to send cars in, which was quite the most idiotic thing to do under the circumstances. It was obvious that it was going to take time to sort out the chaos, for there Was apparently no chance of getting through the stage and getting the cars back to the start would be a prolonged job. In the comfort of their headquarters overlooking the Mediterranean, the chairborne organisers heard of the situation but decided to do nothing until they heard that all the obstructed cars were out of the Burzet test. It would perhaps be more correct to say that they didn’t decide anything at all. Eventually, after a delay of more than four hours, word was sent to Burnt that the stage would not be scrubbed, that delayed competitors would not be given an extra time allowance so that they could continue and that therefore they should consider themselves excluded—firstly because they would not have completed the Burzet test and secondly because they were beyond their maximum running lateness of one hour.

You can imagine the feeling among the :affected competitors; simply because the organisers had made a stupid,, unforgivable mistake ‘which they were not prepared to .admit, nearly a hundred and fifty competitors had been deprived of the opportunity (for which ihey had paid a high entry fee) to.complete the rally. There is no doubt that the. organising committee of the rally is quite without the practical experience which is so necessary nowadays to run a satisfactory rally. It is not enough to draw up a map of the road, consult the police, prepare a time schedule, drop a flag and let the competitors get on with it. Contingency plans must he made. Other organisers do, so why on earth should the pompous Men of Monaco think that they are above that sort of thing. Thunderstorms and floods wash away complete roads in Africa, and Arctic blizzards can block roads within seconds in Lapland; yet the rally organisers of these regions wouldn’t dream of allowing competitors to forge ahead in an Obviously futile attempt to heat the elements. There are emergency plans to deal with such situations, alternative routes, amended time schedules and various other means. It is high time the AC de Monaco got rid of its superiority complex.

It was suggested by the organisers that they could not cancel the Burzet stage since it would be unfair to the fifty or so competitors who got through. Obviously they didn’t relish. angering the factory teams whose contracted crews made up the bulk of the fifty early numbers. This again was a childish and unnecessary attitude, and one which would certainly not have been adopted by organisers who were better acquainted with practical rallymanship. After the rally was over, the Rally Pilots’ Association held a meeting at which it was unanimously voted that they would have been in favour of the .stage being cancelled. The fact that they had been able to get through made no difference whatsoever. The complete indifference of the organisers was censured, but at the same time it was felt that the reprisal action taken by the affected competitors could not be condoned. And that leads us to the well-worn adage that no right can be born of two wrongs. At Burzet, the excluded competitors got together to discuss the situation. Many of them had paid considerable sums of money to take part in the event and they were naturally angered that lack of proper organisation had turned it into wasted expenditure. One British crew had spent Something like £1,000 on the whole venture. The democratic thing to do would be to return to Monte Carlo and to put in official protests, but experience had shown that the organisers: of this particular rally were practically unapproachable; they remained aloof in their inner sanctum, preferring to remain clinically untainted by contact with competitors. For a private entrant, it was virtually impossible to find a responsible person among the organisers who would venture forth to discuss a situation and to give an opinion without reference to the committee and without long and unnecessary delays. How different it is in other events where the chief organisers go out of their way to make themselves known personally to all competitors and amenable at all reasonable times to answer queries.

How then could their feelings be made known? What redress could they seek? There was no point in trying to get back into the rally for that was bv then impossible. They could ask that the results of the rally be taken as the positions at the start of the Burzet test, but that would involve discussion and there was little confidence in that course. If they asked for their entry fees back it would hardly recompense them for the various other, and greater, costs which they had had to hear. The Only way, they felt, would be to teach the organisers such a lesson that they would have to organise their event properly in the future. The path was made clear when a group of the excluded competitors; mainly German and Italian privateers, decided that since the organisers had, by their apathy, put out half the rally, they would put out the remainder so that there would be no finishers at all. That would attract world headlines and make quite sure that future Mantes would be run properly.

Although we are in complete sympathy with the feelings of the excluded competitors, we cannot condone what some of them did next. Their action was directed against the organisers, but it also involved their fellowcompetitors who were still running. It certainly highlighted the shortcomings of the rally„ but it also held up the whole sport in a had light and that—though not intended— was the worst possible outcome. Assault parties were formed, routes Of attack drawn up and organised groups of excluded rally cars converged on a mountain road leading down to the town Of Digne. The idea was to prevent the rally getting through to Monte Carlo within its time limits. The organisers got to hear about it and alerted the police who sent extra squads to Digne in vans. Their instructions were to prevent the blockade by keeping all but surviving competitors away from the area. They were not in time to prevent the blockade, but they did hold up a number of retired rally people who were anxious merely to make their peaceful way back to Monaco, Naturally they were upset by the barriers and there were brushes with the police which involved baton swinging and pistol brandishing.

Meanwhile the competitors who were still running were putting their skills to work. No professional rally driver is a member of a works team for nothing, and tenacity was really brought to the forefront by this confrontation. What made the situation decidedly unsavoury was the fact that here were competitors setting themselves up against competitors simply because both groups considered the rally organisation to have failed. Various little incidents took place which provided some relief, like Timo Makinen backing up his car, tightening his harness and clipping on his helmet before taking a highspeed run at the blockade only to veer at the last moment, to climb the steep grass bank and to perform a perfect wall-of-death manoeuvre which took his car clear to the other side of the obstruction. For a moment, all antagonism was forgotten and he even got a handclap for his display of skill.

Rauno Aaltonen went on foot to inspect the surface of a ploughed field, decided it was firm enough to support his Datsun 240Z and drove the car suddenly down the bank, through a thin hedge and across the field towards a road to escape on the other side. A deep ditch and a hedge were no deterrents, for the Finn simply charged at them both, cleared the ditch in one leap, crashed through the hedge and emerged on the road to the complete surprise of the crew of a police van standing by.

It was the signal for the other blocked crews to do likewise and what followed was an amazing sight as rally cars milled about all over the field looking for ways of escape, harried all die time by cars of the blockading party heading them off. Eventually the cars got away, though the organisers made yet another stupid error by failing to extend the time allowance for the run into Monte Carlo; even though they did cancel the two remaining special stages. The result was a high-speed convoy of cars rushing down through the gorges and even through the towns—Nice included—in an endeavour to make the journey without losing time.

Apart from the shouting, that was that, although the discussions and arguments went on for hours, even days. Fifty-one cars completed the leg, and these crews became rather concerned when veiled threats about interference with the final mountain circuit began to circulate. Its one thing to set up a roadblock on a road section in daylight; it’s quite another to start messing around with highspeed special stages over steep-sided mountain passes. Happily, the threats, if they were serious in the first place, were not carried out and the remainder of the rally passed as rallies should, with no thought of anything but tough, hardy, sporting competition.

It dismays us that we have been obliged to devote so much space to describe incidents which have really no place in international rallying, but under the circumstances we felt it right and proper that the record should be kept straight; after all, the “Blitzkrieg Monte” will probably be remembered just as much as the “Rally of the Bulb” in 1966. Happily, the Monte and all its controversies represent just one entry in the international sporting calendar, and we would not like readers to assume that the entire sport is conducted in a like manner. On the contrary, organisers of other events are active sportsmen themselves who make the proper decisions just when they should be made. We would even go as far as to say that if the organising team from a one-night restricted rally in Wales were to have been transported to the South of France last month they would have made a better job of running the practical Side of the Monte Carlo Rally than the AC de Monaco. Harsh judgement perhaps, but no more than is deserved. The rally itself, to which the whole of this review was to have been devoted, was a triumph for the French. Not only did the Alpine team get three of their Alpine-Renault 1800 Berlinettes into first, second and third places, but the winning crew were French, Jean-Claude Andruet and Michele Petit. What is more, the fact that the co-driver was a young girl, and an attractive one at that, appealed all the greater.

The Italian teams, Fiat and Lancia, failed to get cars into the first half-dozen, although in the earlier stages Sandro Munari looked as if he was all set to make another bid for outright victory. As it happened, Raffaele Pinto, last year’s European Rally Champion, got his Fiat Abarth 124 into seventh place, just a singlesecond ahead of Harry Kfillstrom in a Lancia Fulvia. The two works Ford Escorts, with 2-litre aluminium engines and suspension more akin to racing specification than anything else, started well and it looked in the early part of the rally that the British team was to make a bid for outright victory, but the leech-like Alpines kept them behind and the best-placed Escort was eventually that of Hannu Mikkola which was fourth, but was easily the winner of the touring car category, which was the main object. Opel AscOnas in the hands of Swedish drivers also went well, even though they were fitted with GM automatic gearboxes as a test and publicity exercise. Highest placed British crew were Tony Fall and Mike Wood in a works Datsun 240Z, and the highest placed British privateers were Chris Sclater and John Davenport in an Escort RS, albeit with the support of the Ford Service network and the help which came from Sclater’s gaining the Kleber-Wheelbase Rally Scholarship in 1972.

One always tends to remember the more pleasant features rather than the had ones of any incident, and one hopes that the sporting content of this year’s Monte Carlo Rally will outlive the memory of chaps. On the other hand, one also hopes that the AC de Monaco will have learned its final lesson. Theirs is a historic event which remains on its pedestal despite the fact that other rallies are better run, but they should climb down from their lofty perches and realise that it cannot stay there without a determined effort.—G.P.

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