Tour de farce?

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Rally review

The FIA’s so-called rationalisation and streamlining of the World Rally Championship has led to what every one outside the portals of the sport’s blue-blazered establishment had expected. Every works team goes in search of outright victory. Class wins are meaningless; even wins in the separate category for two-litre, two-wheel-drive cars.

To establish an independent series for such cars, partly within the main World Championship and partly without, is quite ridiculous, especially as it has been said that the events in the main series will be included on a rota system, some years being relegated to two-litre status only. Such relegation, despite the FIA’s words to the contrary, is tantamount to being dropped altogether and this year the Swedish Rally, once the leading snow rally of the world, attracted a mere shadow of its entry list of the past largely due to its being included only in the list of the new, two-wheel-drive series.

In theory, a championship for two-wheel-drive cars is a great idea. But to place it within the series for the modern, FIA-induced, four-wheel-drive supercars is like sending a windsurfer on the tall ships race. The big boys get the kudos; the little boys get the barrel scrapings.

Manufacturers still maintain that rallying improves the breed. So it did years ago, when the car-buying public had something to gain. But what percentage of showroom buyers go for four-wheel-drive cars nowadays? And what degree of benefit from highly expensive competition car development rubs off on the standard car that the man in the street buys? A sophisticated and very expensively developed 4wd Ford Escort Cosworth won the Monte-Carlo Rally this year. Will that induce Joe Bloggs to go out and buy a more docile and standard Escort? I think not.

The International Swedish Rally, a winter event which is now an amalgam of the former Rally to the Midnight Sun (in summer) and the Värmland Rally (in winter), used to be part of the full World Championship, but the FIA, in its glaringly misguided ‘wisdom’, decided that in 1994 this should only qualify for the two-wheel-drive championship. Thus it was that the only true snow rally in the series (one cannot consider the Monte-Carlo Rally thus) was relegated.

Manufacturers’ teams, with eyes only on outright wins in the main championship, were understandably disinterested. Who wants a mere 2wd win when the big prizes are at stake?

The FIA 2-Litre Cup is a total travesty, especially when the first round of the 1994 series for such cars is won outright by a four-wheel-drive car! It would be so much better if the World Championship were entirely devoted to two-wheel drive.

Out would come immediate howls of protest that development was being stifled. But development for what? Who are the customers? I leave the questions unanswered.

In Sweden this year, the rally was again based at Karlstad. The whole event included 24 special stages, comprising 268 miles within a total distance of 882.

There were no entries from the major works teams but Mobil Ford Motorsport Sweden did send Stig Blomqvist and Benny Melander in a Group A Ford Escort RS Cosworth. Mats Jonsson and Johnny Johansson were in a Mazda GTR, and Thomas Rädstrom/Lars Bäckman in a Toyota Celica GT4.

Outright winners were Rädstrom and Bäckman (pictured) in their Toyota Celica GT4, just 12 seconds ahead of Jonsson and Johansson in their Mazda GTR. Blomqvist and Melander were third in their Escort, only four more seconds behind.

The highest placed two-wheel-drive car, which is the category of vehicle for which this series was designed, was the Opel Astra GSI of Per Svan and Johan Olsson. They finished seventh overall, and that, among many other considerations, makes us question the professed knowledge that the FIA claims to have of world class rallying.

The Swedish Rally was held in relatively good conditions. Under circumstances outside the stunting control of the FIA, this would have been an event of high calibre. Why is it that our so-called administrators, who are supposed to promote and advance our sport, only succeed, and are allowed to succeed, in driving it into the ground? G P

Swedish Rally — February 3-6 1994
1:Thomas Rädstrom/Lars Bäckman (S), Toyota Celica, GT4, GpA, 4h 12m 00s

2:Mats Jonsson/Johnny Johansson (S), Mazda GTR, GpA, 4h 12m 12s

3:Stig Blomqvist/Benny Melander (S), Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA, 4h 12m 16s

4:Johan Kressner/Jürgen Edström (S, Toyota Celica GT4, GpA, 4h 20m 01s

5:Kenneth Bäcklund/Tord Andersson (S), Mitsubishi Galant VR4, GpN, 4h 25m 53s

6:Sven-Olov Walfridsson/Gunnar Barth (S), Mitsubishi Galant VR4, GpN, 4h 26m 48s

7:Per Svan/Johan Olsson (S), Opel Astra GSI, GpA, 4h 29m 02s

8:Arne Rädström/Krister Engströrn (S) Audi 90 Ouattro, GpA, 4h 29m 58s

9:Anders Rädström/Lars-Olof Larsson (S), Mitsubishi Galant VR4, GpN, 4h 31m 52s

10:Jürgen Jonasson/Nicklas Jonasson (S), Volkswagen Golf GTI, GpA, 4h 33m 43s