Regulations, whatever their purpose, must have a pretty substantial degree of stability to be effective. It’s no good making a rule one day if it stands a chance of being changed the next at the whim of the rule makers. This is especially true of the regulations governing the construction of competition cars, for which long-term manufacturing, development and planning programmes have to be established well in advance.
If a manufacturer wishes to embark upon a programme of rallying spanning several years, the design and development of the car chosen for that programme will be carefully planned, and considerable financial and engineering investment made in the project. If vehicle regulations are changed during that car’s competition life it is very likely that months, even years, of costly and complicated planning and research will be completely wasted.
Continuity is therefore essential. When a set of vehicle regulations are drawn up and a period of, say, three years is declared as that for which those regulations will remain in force without change until being made the subject of review, then that three-year period should be considered inviolable, during which no change of rules should be even considered.
It is grossly unfair upon car manufacturers that the world’s administrative body should declare a set of rules stable for a stated number of years, then suddenly to reduce that period and pit the manufacturers on a highly invidious spot by rendering their cars obsolete before the end of their expected life.
The present vehicle regulations were intended to remain stable until 1992, but FISA has since declared that this would be brought forward to 1991. Immediately there was a furore, and nowhere was it more fierce than in Japan.
Only a few years ago, Japanese manufacturers involved in rallying were considered almost a joke. The orientals were dipping their toes in water which was far too deep, and in which only their European counterparts knew how to swim. But times have changed, and just as the phrase “cheap Japanese copy” has given way to “Japanese improvement”, so the regard in which their car manufacturers were held has changed from one of amused derision to one of businesslike respect. The Japanese manufacturers involved in rallying have protested against the shortening of the term covered by the present vehicle regulations, within which they have planned their future programmes, and have even added their signatures to a joint letter of objection. Indeed, there have been strong indications that, if the objection is ignored, the manufacturers concerned would take the view that World Championship rallying is no longer sufficiently stable to merit their attentions and they would boycott the series.
If this happens, when Japanese cars are emerging as real challengers to Lancia domination, what will be left. The sport will be in a sorry state indeed, and rally organisers will be left with entry lists decidedly lacking in competitive, professional crews. After years of bending to the whims of the Balestre brigade, and agreeing to their meddling, they will have to ask themselves, “Was it all worth it?”.
Regulations governing the construction of competition cars, provided they are just and stable, are essential to ensure fair competition, but rules which force rally organisers to run their events according to a pattern laid down by FISA are in quite a different category. The Safari, for instance, has such an abundance of long, competitive sections that it is ridiculous to force its organisers to have special stages timed in seconds. This year, they even have to run one of those absurd preludes which FISA calls “superspecials”.
The threat of removal from the World Championship is what has twisted the arms of organisers to conform to the Paris rules, and that intimidation has also been levelled against those events which do not permit recceing and the use of pace notes.
Some years ago the organisers of the New Zealand Rally were faced with a dilemma when FISA insisted that they allow recceing, and the forest authorities, over whose land the special stages were held, refused to permit it. They agreed to have the rally itself pass through their woodlands, but they didn’t want the nuisance of practice weeks ahead.
The authorities were not at all overjoyed at the prospect of having their vital logging operations disrupted for longer than it took to run the rally itself, but they appreciated that the rally organisers were being held over a barrel, and if New Zealand was to continue hosting a round of the World Championship they had to give in and agree to a limited practice session.
A compromise was reached. During a specific period of just a few days, competitors were led in convoy through the stages at moderate speeds so that they could make pace notes. This was not practice as such, and no competitor is entirely happy with notes which have not been checked at rally speeds, but it satisfied FISA at the time.
The RAC Rally has often been in the same situation, being pressed by FISA to allow recceing but always facing categoric refusal by the Forestry Commission. Practice would disrupt forest operations needlessly and lead to a straining of the good relationship which has always existed betiveen the RAC and the Forestry Commission since the day some thirty years ago when Jack Kemsley first took the event into the forests. Practice would also increase costs, lead to higher entry fees and bring the risk of serious objections by residents living in forest areas, particularly those who use roads leading to and from the forests themselves.
Such a situation has been seen often in other countries. Indeed, it was largely the practice sessions rather than rallies themselves which led the once highly popular Alpine Rally to its demise. Residents became fed up with the continual shattering of their tranquility, and the threat to their safety, not just for five days but for as many weeks.
Some time ago limited recce sessions were introduced to the RAC Rally, but only over a specific weekend and only for the private park and estate stages which made up (and still do) the opening day of the event. There was no question of allowing recceing on forest roads. Traditionally, the RAC has been a “blind” event in which drivers have to contend with natural hazards on sight, without being prepared for them in advance by pace notes read out by their co-drivers.
Now, in 1990, thirty years after unpractised forest rallying began in Britain, all this is to be changed. In November, recceing will be introduced to the forest stages of the RAC Rally, and the full use of pace notes permitted.
At a recent meeting at the RAC MSA between the rally organisers and representatives of the world’s leading rally teams, certain opinions were expressed which convinced the RAC that perhaps it was time for a change. The reason was not to bend finally before FISA’s demands. There was far more to it than that, as the RAC has explained.
In the first place, the manufacturers felt that those drivers who took part regularly in British Championship rallies would get to know the forest roads quite well and would amass such a degree of local knowledge that, even without actual notes, they would have a distinct advantage over drivers whose only UK event of the year was the RAC Rally.
This is a valid point, of course. Some forest roads are used so often that regular competitors cannot fail to become familiar with many of them, even though the exact routes may not be the same each time. This familiarity results in a very real advantage, given that such other things as car performance and driver skill are equal, of course.
Another point raised by the works teams was that of safety. If people made notes, they would be unlikely to be caught out by unexpected hazards. To us, this point is far less valid than the one concerning familiarity. On unpractised stages all crews have to be ready for whatever may appear around the next bend or over the next crest, and have to drive accordingly. With notes, cars will be travelling faster, so if someone does make a mistake and go off the road, the incident is likely to be far more serious than it would have been at the slightly slower speeds which the absence of pace notes demands. He who takes chances, and goes too fast without notes, has only himself to blame if he goes off the road. He certainly cannot blame it on the absence of pace notes.
The manufacturers’ representatives were not enthusiastic supporters of the Sunday park and estate stages, which are largely artificial and are run on roads which have very little rhythm or flow from bend to bend. However, they agreed that publicity needs must be satisfied and that the park stages should be continued as spectator attractions. The provision of a recce weekend on the parks and estates will continue this year, and this recce session will be quite separate from that which will be held in the forests.
For an additional fee expected to be no less than £1,000 per car, competitors will be allowed to make two pre-event runs through every forest stage. These will be under strictly controlled conditions, in standard roads cars and with enforced speed limits. These runs are expected to take place between November 14 and 22, held in various sessions according to the location of groups of stages. They will not be tackled in convoy, but certain periods will be allowed for each group of stages, all of which will be fully marshalled.
Naturally, the RAC will have to pay higher fees for the increased use of forest roads, and this is reflected in the amount to be passed on to competitors. Competitors will have the choice whether to recce or not, and only those who opt out of the scheme will be considered for private entrants’ awards. They will still have the opportunity to recce the park stages, of course, free of charge, and this session will take place during November 21 and 22.
To help those who decide not to recce the forests, the organisers have decided to Issue each competitor, free of charge, with a complete set of pace notes made by a professional crew. In theory, this might seem a good idea, but anyone who knows anything about pace notes will tell you that it can be highly dangerous for any crew to drive on notes which they have not made themselves.
Pace notes are very personal things indeed. The subtle differences between “Fast Right” and “Very Fast Right”, or between “Fast Right” and “Slight Right” cannot be appreciated by a crew using someone else’s notes, no matter how experienced and skilfull that someone else may be. No two crews will make the same notes along a given piece of road, and our advice to RAC Rally competitors using the organisers’ issued pace notes is to use them with great care and not to be tempted into assuming what may be behind the thinking of the person who made them. To use them implicitly at a pace of 100% will be folly.
For an event which has avoided the introduction of recceing for so long, these are certainly radical changes, and it certainly says much for RAC/FC co-operation that the forest authorities have been able to agree to the change. No longer will anyone be tempted to secrete pace notes, in one form or another, somewhere in their cars, and no longer will there be any need for spot searches to be carried out to enforce the no pace note rule. “You’d be surprised at what we found during some of those searches” was one official’s comment last month.
Speed will be restricted during the recce sessions, and we understand that this will be fully enforced, with exclusion facing those who transgress. For perfection, drivers always like to check their notes time and time again, gradually increasing speed each time and making slight changes here and there after finding, for instance, that a “Very Fast Left and Fast Left” was really a “Very Fast Left Tightens”. Anyone tempted to check their notes in this way will not only jeopardise the whole arrangement but will be removed from the starters’ list. We certainly hope that the RAC has all the loopholes plugged!
Fears have been expressed by competitors who take part regularly in British Championship events, and by the organisers of those rallies, that pace notes made prior to the RAC Rally may find their way into cars taking part in their events, which will continue to forbid the use of such notes. This could certainly be a problem, and those organisers may be faced by the need to have regular car searches. No-one likes being treated as a rule-breaker, and we foresee some harsh words in the future if the situation is not dealt with diplomatically, and well in advance.
Another aspect of the RAC Rally to undergo change is that of servicing. Works teams always want to fettle their cars wherever fettling becomes necessary, and this has often led to breaches of the rules declaring that service is forbidden in some areas. It has also led to bad feeling after works team set up their service crews in their dealers’ garages, or in garages rented for the occasion, even though these may be in forbidden zones.
This, too, is to be changed. The policy will be to allow as many service areas on private property (with the owners’ permission) as possible, and to cut out all timed service areas where overcrowding in the past has resulted in delays not the fault of competitors. Official service areas have been chaotic in past years, with spectators jostling with mechanics and competing crews having to pick their way through hordes of goodie-sellers to find their service cars. This, apparently, is to end.
Furthermore, the ploys of the past, where unmarked service cars (sometimes even bicycles!) have sneaked along forbidden lanes to get as near to the ends of stages as possible, just in case their cars need attention and cannot drive on a few miles to the proper service area, will also be no more. Emergency service will be allowed wherever possible close to the ends of special stages, although we imagine that this will be for small service vehicles only, not big trucks. The general attitude seems to be one of co-operation for the common good rather than attempting to enforce rules which are almost unenforcable, especially when astute planners begin searching for loopholes.
The route will be made more compact than in the past, with special stages accounting for 370 miles in a total of 1,515. However, this has been at the expense of cutting down the areas visited by the rally. For instance, this year the event is not going to Wales, which will no doubt upset Welsh enthusiasts no end, and quite a few competitors who enjoy the Welsh forests. Next year, no doubt some other area will be removed from the route, and the Welsh forests revisited.
Start and finish will this year be at Harrogate, and there will be just one night stop other than those in that city, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The first car will leave the start at 8 am. on the Sunday, and will finish there at 10 pm. on the Wednesday. We understand that it is planned also to have the 1991 event based at Harrogate.
The prize fund will total some £50,000, and this will be weighted in favour of amateurs. Indeed, about three-quarters of the total will be divided between privateers and class winners. In addition to satisfying the usual requirements, amateurs must have opted out of the forest recceing arrangement, and must not use pace notes other than those provided by the organisers.
If, therefore, you are a complete amateur rallying on a tight budget supplemented by scraps of sponsorship gathered here and there, and you do decide to take part in the forest recces, you will not qualify for any of the private entrant awards. We may mention here that the fee of about £1,000 for taking part in the forest recces applies not only to each car but to each crew. Doubling up with friends and sending one car containing four people out into the forests will definitely not be allowed! Only two people per car, and not from two different competing crews.
The number of starters this year is being cut from 180 to 150. This is not only to make the rally more manageable and to reduce the overall running time past any given point, but to cut the number of car/miles both during the rally and during the recce.
Finally, at a time when there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the administration of the World Rally Championship as a whole, it’s worth recalling yet again that the idea of establishing a trophy for a series of world events was not that of FISA at all. Indeed, it took a great deal of pressure and persuasion before FISA would agree that rallying deserved any such trophy. Even when they introduced one in 1970, it had the title International Championship, not World, and was for manufacturers only. it was not until 1973 that it was considered sufficiently respectable to deserve the word World in its title, and not until 1979 that a Drivers Championship was introduced.
But long before all this happened, the initiative had been taken in Great Britain, not in France. The premier rally series of the world in the early Sixties was the European Championship, and whilst Place de la Concorde did not consider it worthwhile to create a World series, Belgrave Square took the opposite view.
The RAC took three leading European events — the Acropolis, Swedish and RAC rallies — and added two others from outside Europe — the East African Safari Rally and Canada’s Shell 4000 — to form a contest for what they called The RAC World Rally Trophy. In 1968 the Geneva, Czechoslovak and Alpine rallies were added, and the following year the Czech event was replaced by what was then called the TAP Rally. The trophy was for manufacturers, but it so happened that leading drivers invariably emerged, and one of the first drivers responsible for his team winning the trophy was Roger Clark. FISA was lagging behind in those days. Now, it is attempting the opposite by dragging the sport forward into an area where it really doesn’t want to go. And Balestre blandly describes it all as democracy. What rubbish! GP