A Catalogue of Disasters

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A Catalogue of Disasters

IT CAME as no surprise that this year’s Monte Carlo Rally was completely snow free and that the dry stages contained only occasional ice patches. After all, winter had been mild all over Europe and the ski resorts were facing financial disaster. Nevertheless, the teams and tyre companies had to lay in stocks of all their tyre types, just in case a last minute snowfall would put them in the embarrassing and calamitous predicament of being without those which they really needed.

The major teams this year were Lancia and Toyota, although both Mazda and Mitsubishi were relatively unknown quantities and could, even on dry tarmac, present a threat to the other two. Lancia’s line-up consisted of three 16-valve Delta Integrales entered by Lancia Martini, another by the Jolly Club and another by Fina. The three works crew were Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero, Juha Kankkunen/ Juha Piironen and Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli, the Jolly Club crew Dario Cerrato/ Giuseppe Cerri and the Fina crew Bruno Saby/Daniel Grataloup. Toyota brought three Celica GT4s for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya, Mikael Ericsson/Claes Billstam and Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha. Mazda had just two 4wd 323s for Hannu Mikkola/ Arne Hertz and limo Salonen/Voitto Silander. Mitsubishi’s rallying activities are entrusted to Essex-based Team Ralhart which also brought just two cars, for An Vatanen/Bruno Berglund and Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander. The team’s preparations for Monte Carlo had been more difficult than most, for since Christmas they had been heavily involved in the

Paris-Dakar Rally, with both Vatanen and Ralliart’s team manager, Andrew Cowan, taking part, and only returned a matter of days before the Monte start. Vatanen’s Monte Carlo practice had all been done before Christmas and, although he had his pace notes, he was not able to remember certain sections of special stages (a speciality of Finnish drivers as well as those who had practised more recently).

General Motors is concentrating this year on contesting the Ladies Cup section of the World Championship, using a Vauxhall Astra driven by Louise Aitken-Walker and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner. Their main rivals are Italian girls Paola de Martini and Umberta Gibellini in an Audi 90 quattro.

The starting points this year were at Sestriere (I), Barcelona (E), Lausanne (CH), Rheims (F) and Bad Homburg (D). The British, East European, Scandinavian and even Greek start cities have long ceased to figure. The first competitive leg went, via six special stages during the Sunday, from Monaco to a night stop at Aubenas, west of the Rhone in the Ardeche. The next, via twelve stages, returned to Monaco, but via a night stop at Gap. There followed another night stop before the final leg which was scheduled to have ten special stages during the Wednesday evening and night, prior to the finish on the Thursday morning. In Monaco, the closed park was on the quayside, as usual, but the actual start

ramp was outside the Casino, and competitors had to drive there, up the hill past the once-popular Rosie’s Chatham Bar, without service. It was just after Vatanen left the closed park that he experienced what might have seemed at the time to be a minor incident. But it heralded more serious trouble to come.

Having stopped to speak to a group of journalists, the Finn was unable to restart his Mitsubishi’s engine and he was obliged to have it push-started. It fired and he drove away, but not without being noticed by officials who recorded the incident, resulting in a 30 second penalty for being pushed in a closed park. There was an objection on the grounds that the pushstart took place outside the actual closed park, but it seems that no assistance whatsoever was allowed on that short run to the Casino and the penalty remained.

However that was not the most significant point. No-one in the team could figure out why the engine refused to restart. Later, it became noticeably down on power, and still the cause could not be traced. It was decided to carry on for two reasons; firstly, the rally provided an excellent opportunity to test a whole range of components under competitive conditions on tarmac; secondly, diagnosing the engine problem might be easier if it were allowed to run for a longer period. It was a sensible decision. Vatanen was loyal to his team by saying that his times were not really competitive because his

practice had been undertaken a long time before the event, but most of the time the full power of his engine was not available to him. Eventually, much later in the rally, the problem became so bad that they decided to pull out whilst the engine was still functioning, albeit inefficiently, and capable of being examined properly. After all, if the engine did blow up, they might never discover the cause.

Hairpins proved to be difficult during the rally, especially the slow-speed, uphill ones towards which it was not easy to make snake approaches to slow the car down and to get it facing the right way for the exit. Many people reported that handbrake turns were simply not working, and they were having to use reverse gear to get around the tightest ones. Some such cases were caused by brakes becoming inefficient due to overheating, but others were thought to be due to tyres which were too efficient and “sticky”, resisting the slides, which the handbrake turns were attempting to induce.

Saby began his rally with a demoralising misfire. This was soon cured by the replacement of both a spark plug and its lead, but later he had more bad luck when a brake problem caused the car to pull hard to one side when the pedal was pressed. Cerrato lost turbocharger pressure; Ericsson went off sideways at a hairpin, hitting a spectator who was taken to hospital with a broken leg, whilst later he and Billstam suffered intercom failure and had to shout at each other. Jochi Kleint went out of the rally when he rolled his Lancia Delta down a bank, suffering no injuries.

Kankkunen went off the road on stage five, whilst Biasion came to the end of the sixth with a cracked windscreen. At the end of that stage, Saby remarked dryly, “That might have been a good time for a local councillor, but not for Bruno Saby”! With six stages over, the two drivers who seemed ready for a close fight for outright victory were Sainz and Auriol. A Toyota/ Lancia battle seemed imminent, with Mazda and Mitsubishi only providing token opposition on this occasion. The second leg began with a special stage over the mountain above Burzet in the Ard

eche, where several serious incidents occurred. It’s a high mountain, with considerable drops, and when the Renault 5 GT of Jean-Claude Bertaudiere and Francis Malaussen went off the road and down a drop, the driver was killed instantly and the co-driver seriously injured. He was treated at the scene by paramedics, then taken to hospital by Cas-Evac helicopter. Schwarz came off the stage with a front corner of his Toyota’s bodywork in tatters. A tyre had deflated and shredded, the flailing rubber almost destroying the wing and wheel arch. Ericsson lost time at the control before the stage after stopping to change• the front differential, whilst Vatanen lost two minutes after a drive shaft broke. Philippe Roux, a French privateer in a Lancia Delta, had the unnerving experience of having to coast all the way from top to bottom after his fuel pump stopped working, whilst Louise Aitken-Walker needed a replacement gear cluster after the stage. Unfortunately, the oil seal leaked afterwards, and the leaking oil led to clutch slip, so the seal had to be changed a second time. Later she also needed a new alternator and a

replacement for a bent front strut.

For Mitsubishi, Burzet was not a good stage at all. Eriksson lost his oil pressure when a pipe union loosened and considerable oil was pumped out. He stopped, tightened the joint and carried on slowly. There seemed to be no permanent problem, but the turbocharger failed soon afterwards, and two stages later the engine seized.

Stage eight had to be cancelled simply because an injured spectator had to be taken to hospital before the first car arrived. The leading competitors asked that the stage be again checked by the course cars, but this would have caused a much greater delay and the organisers decided to cancel it altogether and send competitors through it as a road section. On stage eleven, Saby hit what he called a “solid lump of concrete” which other competitors said was the end of a bridge parapet, whilst on the next stage many people reported being surprised by surface gravel, just after the apex of a corner, which was neither there when they had practised nor shown on the notes of the ice-note crews.

When the Common Leg, the main bulk of the rally, was over, there was no doubt that the two men in command were Sainz and Auriol. There was very little to choose between them and they had been changing places, separated by just seconds. However, taking into account composure, confidence and personal attitude, we felt that Sainz had the edge, and had we been persuaded to take a bet (which we were not), our money would have gone on the Spanish pair. Biasion was not in the running this time. He was by no means flagging, but unless one of the two leaders had a problem, he stood almost no chance of gaining anything higher than third. Traditionally, when the Monte Carlo Rally stopped for its final night stop, the more determined drivers would go out on the Thursday morning (Friday was the old finishing day) to have a look at Whatever stage they considered to be the

most difficult or presented the most weather problems. This year was no exception, and whilst some drivers slept or otherwise relaxed, others were up in the mountains making their own last minute checks.

The ten stages of the final leg were run in two almost identical loops, such famous stages as the Col de Turini and the Col de la Couillole being used twice. The first stage, over the Col de la Madonne from Peille, had to be cancelled because a group of strikers chose that town to stage a demonstration and pretty well blocked the roads. Sainz and Auriol were the two combatants, very closely matched. Biasion was a fairly distant third, whilst Ericsson and Schwarz had been slowed by petrol pump failure in their Toyotas. After the first loop it seemed almost certain that Sainz would win. He was holding off Auriol and driving faultlessly. However,

during the second loop everything changed. Auriol’s times improved markedly. On one stage he clipped no less than 27 seconds off his time for the first passage, whereas Sainz’s improvement was no more than four or five seconds.

Eyebrows were immediately raised. Had Lancia done something underhand to increase their turbocharger efficiency? They would certainly have been silly to attempt such a move, but it seems that their turbo restrictor system can easily be replaced, although it was checked before the rally and declared legal. It was also checked after the finish by scrutineers who did not report any irregularity.

The result was a win by Auriol and Occelli, who beat Sainz and Moya by 52 seconds. Toyota was not at all happy with the situation and protested on the grounds that Lancia’s turbos had not been sealed properly. The protest was turned down, but notice of appeal to FISA was lodged and until that is heard, the results as published can be no more than provisional. It is always sad when a rally has to end in bickering, whatever the reason. Sometimes protests are not justified, which is the worst kind of situation, but sometimes they are and the protesters are doing no more than what they feel is right. On this occasion, Toyota was certainly not trying to cause trouble. They felt they had a genuine grievance and wanted it put right. GP

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