Monte Carlo Rally
Theorists went to work in earnest when January's Monte Carlo Rally ended in a steamroller victory for the Audi team, a complete reversal of last year's result when Lancia took all the glory. Serious-faced folk gathered in huddles, discussing, analysing, hypothesising and generally manufacturing reasons for the change of fortunes. Tyre quality, team strategy, driver ability and various other reasons were proposed by self-styled experts who seemed to ignore the real reason presumably because it was too simple; four driven wheels are better on ice and snow than just two.
The tedious concentration runs were livened a little this year — though not for those concerned — when traffic was blocked by snow on a German motorway, and when striking French factory workers made it necessary for another detour. Terry Kaby was not amused when, as he stopped at a T-junction on the run-down from Paris, the attendant service vehicle behind him, a big Nissan Patrol driven by a Japanese engineer, did not! He was rammed heftily from behind, so badly that he had to put up with very peculiar handling for the remainder of the event due to warping of the chassis rails. The axle was changed on the spot, of course. Team-mate Salonen also had to hang around for a while after a French filling station attendant calmly hosed super into his oil reservoir! At Aix-les-Bains, about half-way between Grenoble and Geneva, it was raining on the Sunday evening, but up on the high ground the ice-note crews had found things a little different. The road over Mont Revard was about two-thirds covered in snow, that over the Granier and the Cucheron about half covered and that from St Jean en Royans to La Chapelle even more mixed. These were just the sort of conditions for which ice-notes were devised decades ago, and perfected by Abingdon's BMC team under Stewart Turner. Teams continue to use the services of non-competing drivers and co-drivers to recce each stage in advance of the rally (but as close as possible to it in terms of time) not only to provide information from which the correct tyres can be chosen, but to make red-ink additions to competitors' pace notes so that they have advance knowledge of every ice patch, every wet corner likely to freeze if the temperature drops, and whether a spot of patchy snow is left, right or centre, on the braking distance, the apex or the exit from a comer. Indeed, there were so many former works crews doing this job that they outnumbered the professional competitors themselves. Audi, for instance, had no less than nine ice-note cars, three for each of their three cars, although most teams can quite easily cope with a total of three, each marking the notes of every car in the team. Right from the start the Audis were supreme, the Lancias even being beaten by the Renaults, but because the third stage started dry and continued on snow, Lancia boss Cesare Fiorio decided to use a tactic which he has used several times before, even as long ago as Fulvia days when Sanremo's Passo di Teglia had a dry, rocky climb on the sunny side of the mountain, and a snow-covered descent on the shady side. He had already prepared for the contingency by having a van standing by with rapid tyre changing equipment and a crew well trained in its use. The van went into the stage long before the road was closed to the public, parked at the start of the snow line and waited to change the Lancias' tyres when they came along. This meant that slicks could be used on the tarmac, and new studded tyres, undamaged by use on tarmac, for the snow. This made a big difference in the times but it was to no avail, for the advantage was removed when the stage was later cancelled due to a tragic accident when Guy Chasseuil's Audi slid off the road into a group of spectators, killing one and injuring two others.
After these three stages the rally crossed the Rhône into the Ardèche region where the looping stage starting and finishing at St. Bonnet-le-Froid, this time in an anticlockwise direction, was as bleak as ever on that open moorland. Then came Moulinon-Antraigues, after which the field headed for the sports holiday complex of Grospierres, about 20 miles or so South of Vals-les-Bains.
The rest stop here was from 7 am to I pm on the Tuesday, but there was no reshuffling of the running order according to classification. The restart was in number order, which meant that those who had gained an advantage by overtaking were faced with the continuing problem of overhauling slower cars on special stages. Blomqvist was leading here, but by only 13 sec from Walter Röhrl, human enough when out of the car but almost a thinking extension of the machinery once he's inside.
Two more stages in the Ardèche came up that afternoon, the first from Souche to La Chavade and the second on the mountain above Burzet, scene of so many controversial incidents in the past. This stage reverted to its old form, starting and finishing at the village and not diving off at Lachamp to finish at Mezilhac. There was a great deal of snow on the top, but the wind was strong and for some competitors there were drifts to contend with, whilst for others the road had been blown clean, exposing the sheet ice beneath. Many made the wrong tyre choice here, particularly as the local police had closed the stage to all traffic long before scheduled closure time, preventing some ice-note crews from making their recces. Alén spent some minutes stuck in a drift. whilst Mikkola was among those who chose the wrong tyres.
Back on the eastern side of the Rhône, the next stage was from St. Nazaire-le-Desert. an area almost as remote as the name suggests, and it was here that Röhrl snatched the lead from Blomqvist by six seconds. But this time there were no team orders, and there was nothing stopping Blomqvist pushing a bit harder to regain its position, which he did most decisively the Col de Perty, pushing Röhrl back to second place to the tune of 24 sec. We said that there were no team orders, and none there were at that stage. But there had been an agreement among the Audi team that, provided there was no threat from outside, the order at the first arrival in Monaco would be maintained throughout the final leg without any contest between team-mates. So, although few knew this at the time, if the Lancias and other opposition were safely in the background, for the leaders the hot competition would be over before the final leg began. There was no argument, even behind closed doors, and there seemed to be greater harmony within the team than we have noticed before. Even the servicing seemed to be slicker and without the blunders to which all have become accustomed, although this may have been because the cars displayed greater reliability than before and there were no moments of panic and disorder as serious defects had to be remedied at the roadside. Nearer Gap, the Col de Faye was run South to North, after which the Col d'Espreux was the final stage before another stop in Gap itself. This friendly town always seems to have some disorder about it when fleets of service cars and tyre trucks arrive in advance of the rally, but things always seem to fall into place. However, this year it was a little different, for the snow was coming down relentlessly and some of the bigger vehicles stopped short of the steep descent into the town. Ice note crews had already failed to make it over the two nearby stages which were to follow the halt, the first around Ambel and the second over the Col de Manse, already shortened from 17 km to 11.
As competitors slept, the organisers decided that those two stages would have to be cancelled, but they were faced with the task of infonning people in hotels and guest houses scattered all over the place. They did their best by rounding as many of them as they could and placing the cancellation notices on hotel doors, windows and reception desks, but they obviously missed quite a number, and when some crews turned up at the town square closed park for the 5 am restart they were told that there would be delay of some two hours.
Blomqvist still had a 20 sec lead over Röhrl at this stage, but he nevertheless had to restart fifth on the road because again the running order' was not changed according to classification. There were agreements between drivers, however, and baulking up front, if it occurred at all, was kept to an absolute minimum. Chorges-Savines, to the East of Gap, was entirely snow-covered, but at least it was passable, and by that time the snow had stopped falling. After that came the Col des Garcinets, then the climb of the Col de Fontbelle from Sisteron. Röhrl had been edging forward stage by stage, and after the Fontbelle he was only three seconds behind. There were only four left, and Blomqvist knew that the competition would be virtually over after that. If he was to make a bid, he had to do it then and keep on doing it along every yard of each of those four stage's. But on that narrow, twisty, up-down stage from Le Chaffaut to Puimichel to the South-West of Digne, the going was largely dry, with rather nasty ice stretches here and there. This seemed to suit Röhrl, and he took the lead once again by six seconds.
That nasty little road from Trigance, through Comps and Jabron to Castellane, very narrow in parts and with very little rhythm in its awkward corners and crests, was where Blomqvist dropped further back, for the firmness went out of his gear linkage and he missed a change or two. A Monte win was slipping from his grasp, and he only had two stages left to attempt to recover it.
But he could not do it, and after St Auban-Les 4 Chemins, and that other nasty one from Loda to L'Escarene, the order did not change. There was a moment of panic for service crews waiting at Lantosque, before the short climb up to Loda. There is very little roadside space here, and it has been usual in the past for the big entrance yard of a quarry to be used as a service area. But on those occasions the stage has been run at night, when the quarry has not been working. This time it was in broad daylight, and when one of the quarry officials saw the various fettling shops being set up in his yard he wasted no time telling everyone in very few words to go away at once. When no-one moved, he announced that he would fill a loading shovel with boulders and drop them on whatever vehicle or equipment was still in the yard in five minutes. When the loading shovel started up, the evacuation was very rapid indeed!
At the end of that leg, Röhrl's lead over Blomqvist was 29 sec, whilst Mikkola was another six and a half minutes behind. But they were all clear of the opposition, for Thérier's Renault was another 11 min behind, three ahead of Saby's similar car. The best Lancia was Bettega's three and a half minutes behind Saby.
The descent into Monaco was the prelude to a rest stop of some 32 hours, always welcome after days and nights in the Alps, and the only significant activity, among all the receptions, conferences, cocktail parties and the like, was an official service period of half an hour during the Thursday afternoon. Little more than routine and precautionary measures were taken here, although Audi did complete the replacement of the gearboxes of all three Quattros. By this time ice-note crews were well through their first visits to the stages, for the police are quite unpredictable in their road closures in preparation for the final night. Spectators went in convoys, to the Turini in particular, where the usual Franco-Italian rivalry manifested itself in snowball fights and various other forms of combat. The Germans seemed to be mostly elsewhere, for it is now customary for Germany to send out battalions of packed motorhomes which can be seen parked in available spaces along almost every special stage. The Turini was about two-thirds snow-covered, but more fell during the night, even affecting Loda-L'Escarene which was largely snow-free, but icy in parts, for the first run.
Saby's fine run came to an end near Ascros when he put his Renault over the edge to be stopped 20 ft down by some trees. Later he was joined by another car which all but landed on top of the first! Snobeck also went off, leaving Therier to keep Renault's flag flying, in fine style we must say. During the hour's stop, Andruet, apparently worried by a misfire, asked two officials if he could open his Lancia's engine lid. They agreed, and he did so, whereupon the same two officials pronounced disqualification for working on a car in the closed park. He was dumbfounded, but whether he actually did something under that engine lid (to which the officials may not have agreed) is not clear and quite another matter.
Blomqvist had to suppress a grin during his second crossing of the Turini, for the Renault 5 which he had sideswiped quite heftily the first time over had, in the meantime, been moved to a safer place. Kaby, his car still defying all attempts to get it to handle properly, clouted a rock and broke his steering, but within 10 min he and co-driver Gormley had fitted a replacement track control arm which they had in the car and they were away again to finish 17th. This was Kaby's first Monte, incidentally, although he has been going to the rally for over ten years, driving ice-note cars or team managers around. The other British crew, privateers Newby and White in a Vauxhall Astra, finished 50th and won their class even after collecting a 30 min penalty for having illegal studs in their tyres.
There is no doubt that Audi jubilation will continue for some time, for theirs was the most decisive win possible, and the Swedish Rally (February 10th-12th) is likely to produce a similar result if the cars demonstrate continued reliability. Lancia is already preparing for the Portuguese Rally, which is more to their cars' liking, whilst already a car is being tested in Kenyan rallies preparatory for the Safari, in which one will be driven by Vic Preston.
Championship points are of no real significance yet, but we would hazard a guess that Blomqvist will be making the running, with Röhrl at his heels even though the German driver has fewer events in his contracted programme. — G.P.
Monte Carlo results
1st : W. Röhrl/C. Geistdörfer (Audi Quattro GpB)....................................8 hr 52 min 29 sec
2nd : S. Blomqvist/S. Cederberg (Audi Quattro GpB).............................8 hr 53 min 42 sec
3rd : H. Mikkola/A. Hertz (Audi Quattro GpB).........................................9 hr 05 min 09 sec
4th : J.-L. Thérier/M. Vial (Renault 5 Turbo GpB)....................................9 hr 16 min 53 sec
5th : A. Bettega/M. Perissinot (Lancia Rally GpB)...................................9 hr 21 min 41 sec
6th : M. Biasion/T. Siviero (Lancia Rally GpB).........................................9 hr 29 min 49 sec
7th : B. Darniche/A. Mahe (Audi 80 Quattro GpA)...................................9 hr 32 min 39 sec
8th : M. Alén/I. Kivimaki (Lancia Rally GpB)............................................9 hr 36 min 05 sec
9th : K. Grundel/P. Diekmann (VW Golf GTI GpA)..................................9 hr 44 min 53 sec
10th : T. Salonen/S. Harjanne (Nissan 240 RS GpB)..............................9 hr 44 min 53 sec
209 starters, 129 classified finishers, of whom 82 completed the whole distance. The tie (above) was resolved by times on the first special stage.