AhTER my homily on the subject of Groups 5 'and 6 last month, fate decided to teach me a lesson and for the Spanish Rally I found myself in the hot seat in a Group 6 Lancia Fulvia. Unrepentant, I maintain that it is the fault of the organisers that the manufacturers find it necessary to build and prepare such cars in order to win rallies. The actual grouping of the cars entered in the Spanish Rally was quite interesting and, with a little more thought and the right rule changes from the F.I.A., it could result in a more rational system. Cars from all Groups t to 6 were accepted and divided into two Categories : Touring with Groups I, 2 and 5; Grand Touring 3, 4 and 6. Within each category there was a classification on handicap which operated rather in the manner of the old Tour de France as it was calculated in kilometres rather than minutes, which gave a proper balance between the results on the circuits and the results on the special tests. Thus on handicap, the two categories ran completely independent of one .another, but the confusing thing was when results were published for the outright classification on scratch. Not unnaturally, a Group 6 car won the scratch classification, which was the only one featured in headlines and advertisements, and the only pleasing thing about that fact is that it was our Group 6 car.
The Spanish Rally did not attract a large entry and of 53 cars entered only thirty-two actually started. This is rather surprising in that this was not 3 difficult rally nor was it hard on the car while the prize money was bountiful. In fact, not only was there prize money within each class and category for the final result, but there was also money for most of the special stages and the two race circuits. The fact is that there are too many events counting for the European Rally Championship at the moment and while a works team may find it financially viable to travel to Spain or sonic other remote part of Europe for one of the minor events, a private owner will, generally speaking, stick to the better known events. On these he is assured of some help from the trade support crews and, if he is lucky, the factory which makes the model that he drives may help him with support from their mechanics. There is also the rather curious fact that private owners seem to prefer a hard long distance event like the old LiegeSofia-Liege where works drivers tend to fall by the Wayside despite extensive service from the factory mechanics. No one could describe the Spanish Rally as a long-distance endurance event as most of it took place in daylight with the intervening nights spent in hotels-. Just how long 3 rally like this can continue to be a European Championship event depends on its sponsorship and in Spain there seems to he very little lack of cash.
The rally was quite well organised and the organisers proved to be switched on to the extent of running special stages more downhill than up. All but one of these were on tarmac and quite fast, so that a time of seven and a half minutes for thirteen kilometres—I make that about 65 miles an hour—was the rule rather than the exception. The timing was all done on hand-held clocks in the manner of the Italian Rally and was perfect, and an example to many better supported events. The race circuits of Guadaloupe (Alcaniz.) and Jarama (Madrid) were not all that important as they lasted for thirty minutes and forty-five minutes respectively, while each special stage was given the value of twenty minutes' racing measured in kilometres. The circuit at Guadaloupe was perhaps the most interesting as it is a fairly twisty affair running round the medieval city of Alcaniz. Despite the twists, the Jolly Club Alfa Romeo$ of Raffa and Cavallari would certainly have dominated had not a rare shower of rain turned the circuit into a slippery bob-run on which the front-wheel drive of the Lancia Fulvias showed up to advantage. It was during the wet spell that there was some excitement among the marshals concerning which flag to wave at the Alfas while they were rotating very dangerously and keeping the Lancias from passing. The Spanish temperament doesn't take easily to interpreting rules in a hurry though their solution to another flag problem before the race at Madrid is a classic. At the driver's briefing it was announced that any driver repeatedly crossing the white lines defining the outside of the track would he black-flagged. Some bright spark promptly pointed out that in the patagraph Of the regulations covering the race there was no black flag listed among the flags to be used. The ruling came back that the black flag would be used as promised, but that driers did not, have to take any notice of it!
The problem facing the F.I.A. with regard to the European Rally Championship is that every country wants to have its own qualifying event, which has resulted in there being seventeen events this year.
As it is impossible for any given works team to compete in seventeen events, we have had the situation where the works reams all turn out on the recognised classics and then sneak off one at a time to clean up the rest. For example, Saab took the Czechoslovakian, B.M.C. the Danube. Lancia the Spanish, Porsche the Polish, and now Renault the Three Cities. It is to be hoped that the ne‘v regulations for the European Championship will alter this situation, though as far as can be ascertained none of the big teams is placing much importance on the Championship as such and will be aiming at collecting individual outright wins in much the same way as this year. Incidentally, it now looks as though the Groups t and 3 Champions for this year will be SObieslaw Zasada and Vie Elford respectively, so that Porsche will have that to add to their laurels, while Bengt Sficierstrom's second place on the Three Cities looks certain to give Ford the Group 2 title unless someone like Piot or Hopkirk wins the R.A.C. Rally and Siiderstrom finishes nowhere on that event. Next a word about the future. just as this magazine lands on your hall floor about one hundred of the best rally crews in Europe will be .scrutineering for the Tour de Corse, France's rally version of the Targa Florio complete with riding mechanics in the true vintage style. This superb event is not in the European Championship purely: because France is already represented by the Coupe des Alpes and„ indirectly, the Monte Carlo Rally. For many years it has had entries from the best that France can offer but this year, with Cooper S entries from B.M.C., full teams from Porsche, Lancia, DAP and Alfa Romeo plus the usual hordes of Renaults, Citroens and N.S.U.s from France, its status is equal to any of the Championship events;
Hot on its heels comes the R.A.C. Rally, which will run from November 18th until November .22nd. Sponsored by the Sun newspaper, this year's event should have more spectator appeal as during those five days it will be making appearances at four circuits in addition to the four hundred miles of special stages where spectating is better done via the television set. For the benefit of readers who may not take one of the motoring weeklies, Sunday, November 19th, should see the rally at Silverstone and then Mallory Park, While the following day Croft Aerodrome is en route for Scotland. Then on the Tuesday, Dutton Park will provide the excitement before the final night in Wales and the finish back at Fortes' London Airport Hotel.
One bright prospect for next year's rallying is that the Ford Motor Company will be coming back in with a team of three cars. This year, .apart from special drivers signed for the R.A.C. Rally, Fords have been preparing Lotus Cortinas only for Bengt Siiderstrom and Roger Clark, with whom they have had more than a little success. These two stalwarts will be joined for 1968 by Ove Andersson who you will no doubt remember won the Gulf London Rally driving a Ford Sweden Cortina. These three will contest most of the major events next yeat with the -sole exception of the Monte Carlo Rally. With both Ford and B.M.C. continuing to enter the major rallies and with rumours of Vauxhall starting up a competition department increasing day by clay, Britain's position in the Sport should continue to be a leading one for some time.—J. D. F. D.