Rally Review - Winter Classics

Monte Carlo Rally

What went wrong with the Monte Carlo Rally this year ? Why was it that only 96 cars set out from the various starting points whereas two years ago, when the rally was last held, it attracted all of 270? The reasons are simple enough; the organisers increased the entry fee from 1,500 francs in 1973 to 3,000, piled on the useless kilometres of the concentration run to something like 4,000 and generally did nothing to ease the cost of the event for the competitors. There are other reasons which could be quoted, such as the very low percentage of competitive miles compared with that of many other events today, and the difficulty and expense of ensuring that one had the right tyres for the right conditions at the right place and at the right time. Even factory teams, with all their resources, slipped up occasionally with their tyre selection, and if they can't get it right what chance does a privateer have?

The concentration runs have for many years been no more than Grand European Tours to get cars from the various starting points to Monte Carlo. Unlike the time when getting there in the first place was the vital task, nowadays the competitive part of the rally does not begin until all the cars have converged. They used to meet at the Monte Carlo quayside, but a few years ago the organisers conceded that it would be better to introduce some sort of competitive element into the concentration run and brought all the itineraries together before the arrival at Monte Carlo and then running two special stages in the final trip into the Principality.

This year there were four special stages in that part of the event, two in France and two in Italy. They were run during the night immediately before the Sunday morning arrival at Monte Carlo, after a stop of eight to ten hours at the town of Gap, where all the itineraries converged. What a relief it was for the competitors to get to Gap. At last the boredom of a 4,000-kilometre drive around Europe was over. What rally can possibly be enjoyable if its competitors become bored ? If tradition demands that the concentration runs be maintained, then they should be along routes which are as direct as possible, not in needlessly complicated meanders. What sense, for instance, was there in planning the route for the Aberdeen starters to go via Fishguard and Exeter? As it turned out there was no Aberdeen start, for there were only two, yes only two, British starters and that wasn't enough to justify running a start control at Aberdeen. In the end, the two British crews, Doug Harris and Mike Butler in a Gp. 1 Ford Mexico and Tony Maslen and John Jensen in a Gp. 1 Ford Escort RS2000, drove down to Monte Carlo and started from there, enduring a concentration run which went down even into southern Italy.

Many rally organisers go out of their way to ensure that their foreign contestants are not in any difficulties with hotels, garages, comprehension of the regulations and various other things. In Finland, for instance, organisers have an extremely friendly way of checking up on whether any visiting competitors need guidance about any point. And if a query is raised with the organisers, the answer is produced immediately. That isn't exactly the case with the Monte, where one gets the impression that the organisers are doing the competitors a favour by allowing them to compete. That may have been the case more than a decade ago, when there was a selection process to choose which of the applicants should be accepted as competitors and which should not, but that aloof attitude is completely out of place today, and the sooner the organisers realise that they should always make themselves known and available to competitors, the better.

The four special stages after the concentration runs were in a part of the rally which was called the Parcours de Selection. That was a real piece of misguided optimism, for instead of having sufficient cars from which to choose the 180 leaders to continue in the rally, only half that number was running. After the first arrival in Monte Carlo on the Sunday there was a long loop through the Alps and even across the Rhone into the Ardèche. This contained nine special stages and ran from Monday evening to Wednesday morning. Included was a stage over that infamous mountain road at Burzet where the commotions and strife of the 1973 Monte had their origins. There was very nearly a repetition, for nails had been carefully placed on the road in order that competitors would be brought to a standstill. In the days before the event the people of the village of Burzet and the nearby town of Vals-les-Bains had been carrying out a poster and leaflet campaign to encourage people to disrupt the event by allowing their animals to stray, parking tractors on roads, setting down nails and piling up rocks. The people of that particular area have not been too enthusiastic about the rally for some time and we feel that it does the sport no good at all for organisers to run roughshod over these people by sending the rally past their homes when they would prefer otherwise. In Britain, no organiser would dream (or perhaps dream is all he would do!) of running a rally through a recognised "black spot".

As it turned out, the saboteurs reckoned without such people as ice-note crews making advance recce trips in order to make the right choice of tyre/stud combinations and, of course, the local gendarmerie. A whole string of cars and police vans collected punctures and the competitors waiting in the village below were simply delayed for an hour and a half whilst the stricken vehicles were recovered and the road cleared of the nails, some of which had been pushed through strips of canvas, laid as prickly carpets and camouflaged with snow.

Main competition in the rally came from the teams of Lancia, Fiat, Alpine-Renault and Opel, although there were some well-driven private cars and, of course, the Castrol sponsored team from the Polski-Fiat factory.

Alpine had a very unhappy event, one A310 going out during the Parcours de Selection when Warmbold nicked a jutting rock with a wheel, broke the steering and floated straight into a rock face, an A310 and an A110 (Thérier and Ragnotti respectively) sliding off the road on a suddenly icy corner of Monday evening's first stage and Nicolas, after challenging Munari's Lancia Stratos most determinedly for the lead, shot off the road when his A110, shod with racing tyres for the dry tarmac, hit some unexpected loose gravel left after a road repairing operation.

The four retirements left Alpine-Renault with just one car, the Gp. 2 Renault 17 Gordini of Piot and de Alexandris, which finished a most creditable fifth overall, one place ahead of the privately-entered A110 of French veterans Henry and Gelin.

For Lancia the rally began with disaster. First of all the Beta coupe of Ballestrieri ran its main bearings whilst being driven from the garage to the start ramp. It started, albeit noisily, made a cautious journey across the border to Italy, had its bearings changed with the loss of only one minute at the Cuneo time control, only to have the same failure within a very short distance.

In the second special stage of the Parcours de Selection, two of the team's three Stratos (Andruet and Pinto) crashed on the same icy corner, leaving Munari quite alone to uphold the honours of Lancia-Alitalia. Uphold them he did, for although he was beaten on several tests he appeared to be playing cat and mouse with the opposition, sometimes slowing down and letting them catch up a little then setting a storming time to forge ahead again as if to demonstrate that he was in complete command.

In last month's MOTOR SPORT we wrote of the "market" which takes place unofficially at the end of each year as drivers and team managers renew old contracts and make new ones. We also spoke of the complicated arrangements which some drivers have to make in order to accept one-off contracts from different teams. That such agreements are never really final until papers are signed (or hands are shaken as often is the case) is illustrated by the fact that we said that Eklund, a regular driver for Sweden's Saab team, would be driving for Lancia in the Monte, as would Finn Simo Lampinen. As it turned out, neither driver appeared in the event at all, showing how loose some arrangements are, even until the last moment.

Andruet's partner was not his usual co-driver, the young girl Michele Petit who uses the pseudonym "Biche" and with whom he won the previous Monte Carlo Rally in 1973, but Yves Jouanny, the young and quite inexperienced son of a friend. It seems that "Biche" could not undertake the long practice sessions, so Andruet took a succession of different partners during practice before starting the rally with Jouanny whose inexperience was shown by the number of "wrong-slots" they took during the concentration run through Italy.

The Fiat team consisted of four 16-valve 124 Abarths for Alén, Mikkola, Darniche and Bacchelli, two Finns, a Frenchman and an Italian. They lost one car when Darniche's engine succumbed to oil pump failure, but the others finished a creditable second, third and fourth. Despite every endeavour to get ahead of the winning Stratos, the Fiat drivers found that their cars could not match the power/weight ratio of the wedge-shaped Lancia.

Three Opel Asconas were also among the leading group of cars, one entered by the Dutch dealers and two by the Euro-Dealer team based at the Russelsheim factory. The first was driven by Lars Carlsson from Sweden and Dutchman Bob de Jong, and the others by Swedes Anders Kulläng/Claes-Göran Andersson and Germans Walter Röhrl/Jochen Berger. Kulläng retired after a collision with a lorry, Röhrl, after some very good times indeed, when his engine broke and Carlsson after a most unusual incident on the first test of the last night. He collected four punctures on the same stage, believed to be caused by the tyres moving around the rims and snapping the valve stems. He was classed as one of the 43 finishers, of course, as he had completed the "long loop".

The most difficult task facing any team manager in the Monte is the efficient deployment of tyre supplies. Road surfaces can vary so much that it is necessary to have every available type of tyre on hand before every test in order that drivers, armed with recent surface information brought back by ice-note crews, can have the maximum choice. A team of three cars will only need to pick up 15 new tyres between them at any service point, but frequently something like 80 to 100 wheels and tyres are available. Most of them won't be needed and will be moved on to supplement stocks at other service points, but it's impossible to know in advance what conditions will be like so tyres for all road surface possibilities must be made available.

The British method of making ice-notes is to send out crews armed with photocopies of the pace notes of each of their team's competing cars. They then drive over the special stages ahead of the rally, not so early that conditions may change and not so late as to run the risk of failing to get back in time with the required information. One crew member reads out from one of the sets of notes as the other drives and every patch of ice or snow is marked accurately on the notes, usually by a system of red underlining. On dry roads, gravel, rock falls, pools of water etc. are marked instead. Care is taken to locate precisely whether the ice is on the braking distance for any bend, the apex or the acceleration. It's a complicated business but a vital one for any team with the resources to use such means to gain extra seconds.

Some continental teams don't use such precise methods, preferring to make a general survey of each stage and noting the distance dry, the distance of slush, the distance of snow etc. Trip readings are also taken so that competitors will know roughly where during the ascent of a col the snow starts and where during the descent it ends. This may be fine for choosing tyres but it isn't anything like as good as the detailed notes which warn drivers of the most dangerous situation of all, an icy corner after a fast stretch of dry tarmac. This undoubtedly contributed to many of the retirements this year.

The year 1974 ended in a fierce duel between Lancia and Fiat for the title of World Champions. This year has started with the prelude to what could turn out to be a repeat, for Lancia scored 20 points and Fiat 15.

As for the event itself, we feel that it's high time the organisers got off their pedestal and started taking a more realistic view of their rally. The past doesn't always make a good prop for the future and if some of the Monte's traditions are not eased they will die completely along with the event itself. The concentration runs need not be scrapped altogether, but they should be along direct routes. There need not be any start point at all at Monte Carlo. The competitive distance in the Common Run and the Complementary Run should be increased in relation to road distance, and road distance itself should be kept to a minimum and made more relaxed. Some such sections this year were only just possible in the set time, and that is totally hypocritical in an event which sets down a penalty for being caught exceeding the legal speed limit.

The character of the event would not be affected at all by these changes, but it could be made more concentrated (this year it spanned a ridiculous ten days) and less expensive. A way of forcibly cutting competitors' costs would be to rule that only one type of tyre may be used throughout the event on each car - no restriction on number, just on type. That way there would be no massive tyre service operations necessary and a compromise tyre would have to be used by every contestant.

It would be very, very sad if the Monte Carlo Rally were allowed to fade away and die, but unless the organisers themselves do something to give it a new lease of life, that is precisely what could happen. — G.P.

MONTE CARLO RALLY GENERAL CLASSIFICATION

1st : S. Munari/M. Mannucci (Lancia Stratos)............6h. 25m. 59s

2nd : H. Mikkola/J.Todt (Fiat 124 Abarth)............6h. 29m. 05s.

3rd : M. Alén/I. Kivimäki (Fiat 124 Abarth)............6h. 29m. 46s.

4th : F. Bacchelli/B. Scabini (Fiat 124 Abarth)...........6h. 47m. 02s.

5th : J-F. Piot/J. de Alexandris (Renault 17 Gordini)...........6h. 51m. 15s.

6th : J. Henry/M. Gélin (Alpine-Renault A110).............6h. 52m. 12s.

7th : J-P. Rouget/P. Chonez (Porsche Carrera)............ 7h. 25m. 00s.

8th : G. Frequelin/C. Delferrier (Alfa Romeo 2000)............ 7h. 33m. 30s.

9th : N. Labaune/J. Maurin (Porsche Carrera)............ 7h. 46m. 25s.

10th : C. Dorche/P. Gertosio (BMW 2002Tii)............ 7h. 49m. 25s.

96 starters - 43 finishers, only 28 of which completed the final "Mountain Circuit".

Arctic Rally

Hard on the heels of the Monte Carlo Rally came the second European Championship qualifier of the year, but the second at the highest co-efficient of 4. The Marlboro Arctic Rally is a snow rally to end all snow rallies, its location right on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland guaranteeing sufficient snow to cover all the stages and sufficient thickness of ice to make possible stages on lakes and rivers.

In the marvellously relaxed atmosphere of the cold, bleak, dark but undeniably attractive Lapp countryside, the rally is based at the modern town of Rovaniemi where there is tremendous enthusiasm among the populace and a fine welcome for visitors arriving for the event. The organisers are keen and enthusiastic but not quite as slick as they might be in processing information about stage times and getting it back out in the form of interim positions as the rally progressed. However, this is something which can easily be put right (and steps are being taken in that direction) and we see no reason why the event should not in the future be considered seriously for the World Championship.

Having won Sweden's Bergslagrally just before the Monte and picked up 20 European Championship points (the event rated coefficient 1), Stig Blomqvist was sent by the Saab factory to join the Finnish Saab people in a bi-national team for the Arctic Rally. His team-state Per Eklund was kept at home for a Swedish Championship event called Värmland Runt which he won.

The joint Saab team then consisted of Blomqvist/Sylvan, Rainio/Nyman, Lampinen/ Markkanen and Vilkas/Soini, Jari Vilkas being the son of that Finnish veteran Onni Vilkas who basso many Monte Carlo Rallies behind him that he could decorate his house with the plates. Fiat had two 124 Spiders for Mikkola and Alén but neither made any striking show. Alén left the road at very high speed and buried his car in deep snow whilst Mikkola, after doing his share of digging, eventually got up to seventh place. Mäkinen, in the only works Ford Escort, made a bad start when his tyre studs came out, due to a combination of excellent grip and ineffective adhesive, picked up to the top again only to go out when his engine caught fire.

Present Finnish tyre stud regulations prescribe that studs should be limited in length, number per unit surface area of tread, and position. The latter was laid down as the two outer thirds of the tread surface; the inner third was to be free of studs. Narrow tyres are better on snow and ice than wide ones since they provide greater ground pressure per surface contact area, but an unstudded portion of tread lessens the grip becuse it prevents the studded portion exerting its full penetration. This was recognised by that master of winter tyre development, Timo Mäkinen, who spent considerable time with engineers from Nokia, makers of the Finnish Hakkapeliitta tyre, to develop a pattern which gave optimum grip within the provisions of the new regulations. To have no tread at all in the centre third of the tyre was not allowed (that would have been ideal) so a pattern was made with two simple, soft rubber flanges running around the centre of the tread. These flanges really did nothing except make the tyre legal. They exerted little or no ground pressure and allowed the studded portions of the tyre to exert their full grip. It was a simple but effective idea, and such tyres were used in the Arctic Rally by the Ford and Volvo teams, with very similar tyres made by Kumi-Helenius, a Finnish remould company, used by Saab and Fiat.

Stud regulations may vary from time to time and give rise to development in order to provide the best equipment which complies with those regulations, but one thing is quite certain: on ice and snow there is no substitute for metal-tipped tyre studs. They provide the safest and most effective means of winter travel and any government which bans them (as some do) on the pretext that they damage road surfaces is deliberately suppressing one of the finest aids to winter motoring ever invented.

Consistency brought success in the Arctic Rally to Simo Lampinen who drove a Finnish made Saab, but others were quicker. For instance, Stig Blomqvist was fastest on the majority of special stages but the advantage was neutralised by the time he and his co-driver spent digging and coping with the effects of going off the road. Such is the nature of the Arctic Rally that it is not enough to be fastest most of the. time; the slightest of mistakes is often enough to produce to a wide margin of defeat. As we said before, it is one of the few adventure rallies of this world and as such should never be allowed to fade away. — G.P.

ARCTIC RALLY GENERAL CLASSIFICATION

1st : S. Lampinen/J. Markkanen (SAAB 96 V4 (2))............7h. 45m.53s

2nd : S. Blomqvist/H-E. Sylan (SAAB 96 V4 (2))............7h. 48m. 40s.

3rd : J. Vilkas/J. Soini (SAAB 96 V4 (2)) 8h. 12m. 36s.

4th : K. Hämäläinen/M. Alamaula (Chrysler Avenger(1)) (40s) 8h. 24m. 01s.

5th : P. Airikkala/H. Haaksiala (Vauxhall Magnum (1)) (10s) 8h.36m.13s.

6th : H.Vilkman/M. KaTaja (SAAB 96 V4 (2)).............8h. 37m. 50s.

7th : H. Mikkola/J. Todt (Fiat 124 Abarth (4))............ 8h. 43m. 54s.

8th : J. Haugland/A. Antonsen (Skoda 120S (2))............(30s) 8h. 56m. 10s.

9th : E. Nuuttila/M. Olkku (Vauxhall Magnum (1))............(10s) 8h. 58m. 00s.

10th : K. Mäkelä/P. Kuukkala (Peugeot 304S (1))............ 8h.89m.27s.

68 starters - 32 finishers

Figures in brackets immediately before total penalties indicate road and other non-stage penalties.