Of all the rally financiers in this world—and there are several who keep their chosen events alive by an annual subsidy exchange for publicity—the national airline of Portugal must come very close indeed to being the most generous. On second thoughts, the company contribution to the TAP Rally must top the poll, for in its six years as an International event its organisers have been given the financial power to attract a quality entry from all over Europe and even beyond. Factory teams have been given an incentive to take part, some of the attraction being the chance of creaming off a proportion of the publicity generated by TAP itself.
The rally has advanced rapidly in terms of International publicity, and is now knocking on the door of World Constructor Championship status for next year. The CSI had two observers in Portugal, although local opinion seemed to have jumped the gun rather, for the organisers were talking in terms of having been granted the status.
Although the event has an established style, it doesn’t really fit into an established pattern. The rally is divided into a number of parts, including a concentration run from twelve starting points, and five competitive legs of varying lengths within Portugal. Between the stages, the road sections were extremely difficult and far more competitive than would be allowed in other countries in Europe. Indeed, one wonders how long the Portuguese authorities will tolerate such a style of rallying which makes very little provision indeed for spectators and other traffic. At the moment, the organisers are able to run the rally with the competition partly on closed special stages and partly on open public roads, but it could well be opportune for the organisers to exercise a little restraint as far as the open sections are concerned; after all, it is far better to make one’s own decisions than to wait for others to make them.
Throughout the first half of the rally, the French driver Jean-Pierre Nicolas was leading in his works Alpine; indeed, he held the lead until well into the second half when a broken gearbox stopped the car. Pushing him throughout had been Germany’s Achim Warmbold in a works BMW 2002 TI, and when the Alpine was no longer in the lead Warmbold went on to a thoroughly deserved victory, his first—and the first for BMW—in an event of Championship stature. Making quite an impression was the 16-valve Dolomite driven by Brian Culcheth, but broken rear axle tie rods put the car out of the rally well after three-quarter distance.
Included in the rally as one of the special stages was a seven-lap race (totalling 15 km.) around the newly constructed Estoril Autodrome. This took place in 20-car heats, in the dark and in a torrential downpour which flooded the track and sent rivulets running across in all directions. Drivers were a bit edgy about tackling the test, but there was not a single suggestion that it should be stopped, and what transpired was the hairiest piece of racing that anyone there had seen for years. There were some pretty pointed comments afterwards about what the reaction of the GPDA would have beenl — G. P.