World Rally Championship: Safari Rally

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African challenge

Imagine a game of rugby between a team of thirty players and another of only three! It would be a bit one-sided, to say the very least, and the spectacle of one team simply steam-rolling the other would be pretty dull. The only grain of interest would possibly be in wondering whether the underdogs would ever get the ball.

The same one-sidedness prevails in rallying. The scales have long been weighted in favour of works teams, since manufacturers realised that there was benefit to be gained from winning competitions in cars similar to those they sold to the public, but never has the imbalance been as obvious as it has in the past few years.

At one time, three laden estate cars, a tyre van and an extra vehicle or two provided by a fuel or lubricant company represented the ultimate in full backing provided by factories for their works crews. Indeed, such lavish support was the envy of every amateur who ever scraped enough money together to cover the cost of four wheels and tyres, some fuel, a handful of spares and a toolbox to be carted around by a couple of friends. Had international regulations been directed towards the things that matter and not those which do not, that sort of Utopia might very well prevail today, a balance of Power keeping everything on more or less the same footing. But the avenues have been wide open for works teams to spend more and more on providing their crews and cars with maximum support along every possible yard of the way, and who can blame them for taking advantage of that situation? If the opportunity is there, and they can afford it, why shouldn’t they take it? After all, the same restrictions and the same liberties apply to all.

However, restraint is enforced with equal vigour upon all, but freedom is far more selective. If there’s no limit to the number of tyres a competitor can use, the pantechnicons of the professionals will dwarf the roof-racks of the amateurs. If the numbers of service vehicles is unlimited, the platoons of the privateers will be puny alongside the regiments of the manufacturers. But there is no clear line of demarcation dividing the haves and the have-nots.

There are degrees on both sides of the fence, and the occasional wealthy, well-stocked amateur will turn up just as often as a badly-equipped works team making the best of a bad budget. It’s all a question of what you can afford, and the sad thing is that in World Championship-class rallying today, the depth of the corporate pocket can determine success or failure as much as crew skill or car performance and reliability.

If a car is reliable, it can be expected to cover a reasonable distance, at a reasonable speed, with the minimum of attention. If it is not, or if there are any doubts, then it must be fettled, nursed and refurbished as often as possible along the way, and that sort of close support, which cannot be given without a considerable outlay, has become an essential prerequisite for success in most rounds of the World Championship.

Rallying, after all, is not based on sheer speed, whatever other ideas FISA might have. Speed is one essential, but also important is lasting the distance, and if a car has to be driven beyond its breaking strain in order to achieve reasonable times, then it will only finish if it gets constant attention along the way. Although to far less a degree than before, endurance is still an ingredient of rallying, and if a marathon runner burns up his endurance by beginning his race with a flying sprint, the chances are that he’ll have worn himself out long before the finish line.

Comprehensive service backing is therefore vital to keep the fast, sophisticated but temperamental rally car of today performing at its best, and no team is going to cut down on its battle line-up knowing that its opponents are highly unlikely to do the same. Everyone wants to have the advantage, and if the money is there to enlist twenty more men, to bring in ten more vehicles, to charter an extra helicopter or to fly in an additional container of spares, then it will certainly be used. No rally demonstrates this more than the Marlboro Safari Rally.

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