The Arctic Rally
Rainio wins for Saab
Event could go ahead, along with some of the qualifiers in the Finnish Ice Racing Championship.
Alas the short time which the organisers had left to make their plans (less than three weeks) affected the running of the event somewhat and many foreign competitors decided against the trip simply because they could not finalise their travel and car-shipping arrangements in the time available. However, there was nevertheless all of 110 starters and a very healthy array of talented professionals and retained drivers at the head of the field.
Saab Sweden, Saab Finland, Ford, Volvo Finland, Opel Euro-Dealers, Opel Sweden and Polski Fiat all put in official entries, and there was plenty of variety in the form of private entrants using BMWs, Volkswagens and even such widely differing cars as a Mini and a Datsun 240Z.
Since the Arctic Rally progressed beyond a Finnish national event and began to achieve international recognition some four years ago it had become increasingly expensive to run and it was because of the cost of running such an event (the fleet of snow ploughs is a big expense in itself) the organisers were obliged to seek sponsorship. This came from Marlboro Finland who, sportingly and generously, entered into an agreement not for a fixed sum of money but to guarantee that all the bills were paid at the end. Last autumn it seemed that the Philip Morris headquarters in Lausanne would latch on to the Marlboro Arctic Rally and provide it with all the show which has become familiar on the Grand Prix circuits. But the long period of waiting for governmental approval was not to their liking and they called it off. However, Marlboro Finland stuck to its agreement and its involvement was more than obvious by all the advertising and publicity paraphernalia in evidence during the rally. Rival companies were not deterred by the overall sponsorship by Marlboro and cars backed by other brands of cigarette carried huge advertising decals which just about blotted out the official ones near the competition numbers. No-one seemed to mind and the rivalry was far friendlier than we have seen elsewhere.
Since the event was entirely on ice and snow, studded tyres were standard equipment —but studs far removed from the “porcupines” and masses of carefully inserted chisel-tips which have been common in the past. Owing to increasing opinion that studded tyres cause damage to road surfaces (an opinion that we do not entirely share) some countries are limiting the use of studs and others even banning them altogether. Sweden already has a restriction of 150 studs per tyre and Finland plans to introduce similar legislation in the autumn. It was with this in mind that the Finnish Automobile Sport Federation (not the organisers of the Arctic Rally) rukd that all cars taking part should have tyres with no more than 150 studs, that each stud should project no more than 1.5 mm. outside the tread surface, and that the tips of the studs themselves should have vertical sides and square-cut ends—the latter to prevent the use of chisel-tipped studs.
The limit of numbers greatly reduced the amount of traction to which winter rally competitors are accustomed, but it was the rule about protrusion which caused the greatest controversy. It is impossible, under hard rallying conditions, to guarantee that stud protrusions remain constant. One special stage is sufficient to force the studs out from their original positions and even to distort them. In the Arctic Rally there were constant checks on studs and even confiscations of tyres with the threat of disqualification if the stewards so decided. It was all quite unnecessary, for a rule which could not be fairly enforced should not have been made in the first place. It would have been far better to have imposed a limit on the total lengths of studs, for no-one with any knowledge of studs would have too much of the tip protruding since, with a limited length available, that would not provide the base grip necessary to keep the body of the stud upright and properly seated. A stud which has leaned over is worse than no stud after all.
So much for the technicalities. During the rally itself the most fierce fight was between Saab and Ford, the three Boreham Escorts using their power to advantage on the faster roads and those with firm surfaces and the works Saabs from Sweden and Finland having the edge whenever the going became twistier or covered by loose snow. The lead changed hands several times, but it was eventually a pair of Saabs which took first and second places, with Escorts in third and fourth positions. The struggle was intense right to the end, when the space of a mere 81 seconds separated first and fourth cars.
On summer-time gravel roads rally drivers remain right on the limits of adhesion; on the polished ice of Scandinavian winter rallies they frequently go beyond it, for the graph of adhesion against speed is considerably more acute and it takes but a tiny error of judgement to send a car slithering off the road and into the snowbanks. Even hardened professionals were having their share of diving off the road deep into clinging snowbanks. Leaving the road in a British forest can sometimes mean a delay of as little as half a minute, but when the roads are lined with high snowbanks release often comes only after long stints of hard digging. This is one of the reasons for the sudden and dramatic changes of fortune in the Arctic Rally; a small mistake can often mean very little in a summer event but such a mistake in winter can lead to delays of half an hour or more.
Non-Scandinavians had a very lean time, and among the Britishers only Jimmy Rae (Perth) and Jim Porter (Leicester) managed to finish. Porter is a professional co-driver with the Ford team and was paired up with Rae to provide the Scottish driver with the benefit of his wide experience. Rae was competing as part of his 1974 programme after winning the 1973 Kleber-Wheelbase grant as the most promising British driver. He began very well indeed but spent much time digging snow and when the starter motor of his works Escort failed to work after one such excursion the delay dropped them right down the field.
Another disappointed visitor was Billy Coleman, the Irishman who came to prominence a few years ago by driving a rather worn, home-built Escort far, far more quickly than most owners of more expensively built cars. He finished the rally but was then disqualified for being caught exceeding the temporary 80 k.p.h. speed limit by more than 10 k.p.h.
Finally, a word about the winners; the name Tapio Rainio may not mean much to Motor Sport readers, but that is not to say that he is a complete newcomer suddenly achieving fame by beating established stars such as Makinen, Mikkola and Blomqvist. Twenty-six years of age, Rainio has twice been placed third in the Arctic Rally, has been a contracted driver with Opel Finland for a number of years and for the past year has been Simo Lampinen’s team-mate in the Saab Finland team. He spent far, far less time off the road than most other people and achieved his victory by intelligent driving and by being content to put up a ninetenths performance whilst others were staying so close to ten-tenths that they very often went over the limit.
Despite the complaints about bad roles and the short time in which arrangements had to be made, the Arctic Rally was a success. It is part of the European Championship, and we see no reason why, with greater advance planning and with a little more practical competition experience among the small group who control the event, it should not become the prestige event of the north just as the Safari is of the centre.—G.P.