Choose any rally in the world and, if you wanted to, you could probably pick out a score of features which characterise that event and render it different from all others. But when each one is over, one or two points always remain firmly fixed in your mind above all the others. The TAP Rally had several unique features, but perhaps the ones which are most likely to be remembered about the 1973 event are ones concerning its organisation and its popularity.
In the past, TAP Rallies have been lacking in a certain slickness, although it was never an easy or a disorganised rally by any means. This year the improvement was remarkable and the whole thing fell into place without any of the confusion for which the event was noted a few years ago. In its early days formalities consumed so much time during rest halts that competitors were struggling to fight off acute tiredness towards the end, but nowadays everything is prompt and there are no unnecessary stadium sprints during the stops. These used to keep the crowd happy to some extent, but they effectively prevented competitors getting some vital rest.
Among competitors, the most popular rally in the world is the RAC Rally of Great Britain, and anyone who saw the vast crowds around the special stages and time controls in December must have been convinced that it was also the most popular among the spectating public. But some of the Portuguese stages made Donington, Sutton Park and the forests of Wales, Scotland and the North Country look like village green tea parties. Indeed, the public interest was staggering and police had a much greater crowd control problem than they have ever had at the Benfica Stadium—and in football-mad Portugal that is quite a comparison.
Newspapers, radio and television gave the rally prominence and wherever mechanics and other followers went they were always being asked the current rally situation by shopkeepers, taxi drivers, schoolboys and even farm workers out in the hills. The rally's public relations organisation had certainly done a magnificent job in Portugal. But the rally takes in other countries as well, for, like the Monte, it has a number of starting places all over Europe, each route converging on a common time control in Portugal before the start of the four competitive legs. Such concentration runs are by no means popular, but when an event is sponsored by an airline such as TAP it is understandable that they would wish a certain amount of the publicity to rub off on cities which have major international airports.
In theory it would appear logical for British competitors to start from London, the French from Paris and so on, but it doesn't work out that way at all. To do well, practice and note-making are essential and anyone spending a week or more making notes on the route within Portugal is hardly likely to want to return to London or any other starting point simply for the dubious privilege of repeating the journey, especially as Lisbon starters did not have to leave until one day after those of some other starting points, London included.
For the first time, the TAP Rally was included in the World Rally Championship for makes, a status which its organisers had been seeking for some time. It more than deserved it, and fifteen members of the Rally Pilots Association, meeting after the rally was over, were unanimous that it had been a far better event than the two previous qualifiers of 1973, the Monte Carlo Rally and the Swedish Rally.
With a substantial points lead from first place in Monte Carlo and third in Sweden, Alpine was certain to send a strong team; three of the 1.8-litre, rear-engined cars appeared and between them they took first and second places, only the effects of two simultaneous punctures preventing a repeat of the 1-2-3 result which was achieved in Monte Carlo. Ranged against the Alpines were works cars from Fiat, Volkswagen-Austria, BMW-Sweden and BMW itself, all of which retired.
The team of Austrian Volkswagen 1303Ss was four strong, two of the cars being driven by Austrians Fischer and Grünsteidl. The other two were providing a taste of rear-engined motoring for drivers who are more accustomed to front-mounted engines, Tony Fall and Harry Källström. Alas the whole team retired for one reason or another and it was a very disgruntled outfit which returned to Salzburg when the rally was over.
Fiat had three of its 124 Spiders, two for Italians Pinto and Paganelli and one for their newly-acquired part-time Swedish driver Björn Waldegård. Again the team never made the finish, although a few of the team's 1972 cars which had been bought by Portugal's Fiat importer and entered for local drivers did manage to stay the distance, one of them achieving fourth place. Waldegård retired in such a spectacular manner that other drivers wondered how he and Hans Thorszelius managed to escape unhurt; he left the road and rolled a very long way indeed down a mountainside.
Another car to become wrecked during the event was the Toyota Celica driven by Ove Andersson and Jean Todt. This is the car entered by the factory in the RAC Rally and which had been left in Andersson's care for a programme of semi-supported rallying in Europe during 1973. Alas the car is no more, for it went sideways into the end of a wall, causing Andersson severe bruising and breaking two of Todt's ribs.
The incident had its sequel for Raffaele Pinto who come along a few minutes later and stopped to help get the injured Todt out of the car. When he arrived at the next control (it was a road section, not a special stage) he found that he was three minutes late and he applied to have the penalty cancelled because it was due entirely to his having stopped to give urgent help to the Toyota pair. There was quite a discussion about this afterwards, and it seems that the stewards were not in favour of cancelling the penalty. But the deliberations were not necessary, for Pinto himself was soon to retire.
Three 2002 Tiis from BMW-Sweden were putting up some excellent times, particularly that of the young Swede Leif Asterhag, but eventually they too retired. The one car from Munich itself wasn't really factory entered. Achim Warmbold, last year's winner, had persuaded his team to allow him to borrow the car and a few mechanics so that he could try for a double. In the early stages he was keeping up with the Alpines and towards the end he was actually shaping up to take over the lead when a steering defect developed and the resulting bad handling, coupled with a nudge against a very solid tree stump, put the car out of the rally.
And so it went on, with retirements whittling 80 starters down to 23 finishers. In the early stages many crews were being noticeably sympathetic to their cars, but in the final leg the competition became much hotter and it was then that most of the favourites dropped out. After the two leading Alpines there was a gap of nearly twenty minutes before the third-placed car, a Citroën DS 23 driven by Portuguese pair Romãozinho and Bernardo. This extremely wide gap illustrates how much slower than the two Alpines the remainder had to go in order to prepare their cars. Without question, Alpine has made much progress since the days their "plastic" cars were considered too fragile to venture on anything but smooth tarmac. The TAP was extremely rough in parts, and in May the French team will have cars in both the Acropolis and Moroccan rallies, the latter being the roughest of the whole series.
Mention must be made of the sole British finishers, Colin Malkin and Barry Hughes driving a Gp1 Hillman Avenger entered by Withers of Winsford. The car gave considerable trouble, which was not at all unexpected considering the battering it was being given in near-standard trim, but it nevertheless survived to finish 16th overall and win its class.
In the space of seven years, the TAP Rally has undergone complete metamorphosis from a recreational motoring contest for members of Portuguese Airways Sports Club to a full-scale international rally which has already been said to have outshone the Monte and the Swedish. It has an abundance of special stages, some rough and some not so rough, and road sections which are also timed at averages which are much faster than those of most events, although this doesn't always appear the case on paper. In view of the enormous spectator interest, perhaps an easing of some of those road sections might render the event less vulnerable to official criticism in future years.
With three qualifiers gone, Alpine heads the World Championship with 52 points from Fiat (22), Saab (20), Lancia (13) and Ford and Citroën with 12 each. Of those manufacturers it's likely that only Alpine and Fiat will look upon the series as a whole and make a serious bid for points. The others will presumably consider each event on its own merit.
For some time strong representations have been made to the CSI from many quarters that the world's major rally championship should be for drivers, not manufacturers. We have explained the reasons for this on more than one occasion in Motor Sport. The Rally Pilots Association is of the same opinion and at the last meeting it was suggested that a hypothetical points table be kept based on the assumption that the series was, in fact, for drivers. The leaders of such a table would be as follows, points having been awarded on the same basis as the official CSI series: Jean-Luc Thérier (40), Jean-Pierre Nicolas (27), Jean-Claude Andruet (20), Stig Blomqvist (20), Per Eklund (15), Ove Andersson (15).
We understand that the CSI has been made aware of the wishes of the competitors which it represents, but whether any change will be made in the foreseeable future is quite another matter.—G.P.
1st: J.L.Thérier/J. Jaubert (Alpine-Renault) ..... 5 hr. 42 min. 16 sec.
2nd: J-P. Nicolas/M. Vial (Alpine-Renault) ..... 5 hr. 48 min. 57 sec.
3rd: F. Romãozinho/J. Bernardo (Citroën DS) ..... 6 hr. 07 min. 48 sec.
4th: L. Netto/M. Coentro (Fiat 124 Spider) ..... 6 hr. 10 min. 40 sec.
5th: A Nunes/A. Morais (Porsche 911 RS) ..... 6 hr. 17 min. 00 sec.
6th: A. Borges/A. Lemos (Alpine-Renault) ..... 6 hr. 41 min. 00 sec.
7th: "Meqepe"/J. Amaral (Opel Ascona) ..... 6 hr. 51 min. 40 sec.
8th: A. Martorell/A. Roxo (Opel Ascona) ..... 6 hr. 56 min. 09 sec.
9th: H. Britth/H. Reppling (Capri 2.6) ..... 7 hr. 04 min. 47 sec.
10th: G. Salvi/B. Gama (Porsche RS) ..... 7 hr. 05 min. 24 sec.
80 starters – 23 finishers
British finisher: C. Malkin/B. Hughes (Group 1 Avenger GT), 7 hr. 46 min. 57 sec. – 16th.