The Sanremo Rally
Another Stratos victory
IN FOOTBALL CIRCLES it is an accepted fact that teams playing on home ground have a distinct advantage over their opponents who are not. In rallying the same principle does not apply and it is for entirely different reasons that Finns are hard to beat in Finland, Swedes in Sweden and East Africans in East Africa. However, there is one notable exception which rather tends to follow the football principle: Italian drivers are never more relaxed and confident than when they are competing in their own country. It seems to do something for their morale to be in their native surroundings, eating their own food and among their families and friends who in
variably accompany them.
It came as no surprise, therefore, when Sandro Munari, without a doubt Italy’s most experienced and accomplished driver, began this year’s Sanremo Rally in such a way that he was obviously outclassing the opposition. In his 24-valve Lancia Stratos V6 he drove impeccably to forge ahead into a strong lead only to have victory drop from his hands when he lost a wheel on the last of 25 special stages in the first leg of the rally. It was a blow to Italian pride, for Munari is very popular and was undoubtedly the favourite. The face-saver was the fact that an Italian car did win, the 12-valve Stratos of Swedish crew Bjorn WaldegArd and Hans Thorszelius.
The Sanremo Rally was the premier home event of the two teams leading the World Rally Championship. Lancia is in serious chase of that championship, but unlike 1974 when the two leading Italian teams were in direct conflict with each other for points, Fiat is not. The joint management of the two companies finally ended the situation in which the same source of lire was used to finance the two protagonists in a sort of civil war, similar to what might have been had the former British Motor Corporation been in direct contest With Leyland after the latter’s take-over. Both Fiat and Lancia still keep their own rally teams but there is now a high degree of behind-the-scenes co-operation and they have agreed to keep out of each other’s way. The costly struggle of last year is not being
repeated and Lancia is going ahead with its Sporting-image cars whilst Fiat is to cease using the 124 Abarth 2-seater and begin with the new 131 saloon. But it was unthinkable that Fiat should not tackle its home country’s leading event, even if they did still have only the 124 Abarths with which to do so. As well as the five-car Lancia team, there were four works ekbarths in the event, the idea being that if for some reason Lancia scored no championship points, Fiat would be there to reap them up instead. After all, Fiat was in second place in the series. But in view of future policy to go rallying with a tour ing car rather than a sports car, no great publicity advantage would be gained from
winning the championship with a sports car, and after all Maurizio Zerini had
already clinched the European Championship for the team. The main idea was probably to stop other teams picking up points, such as Opel who were third and Alpine who were fifth. The Sanremo Rally, Tour of Corsica and the RAC Rally, the three remaining rounds of the championship, were enough to give either of these sufficient points to win.
Peugeot was another team with enough points to win, the score achieved by victories in Kenya and Morocco, but the French team did not go to Italy and has no plans to tackle the other two rounds. Horses for courses after all and no-one has any illusions about the 504 being competitive in any but the rough endurance events.
Works cars and their retinues are always a great source of interest wherever they go for they represent the best of mechanical development and preparation and the best of competing skills. This is not to decry the efforts of amateurs and those who support them, but a simple fact, just like the biggest guns make the biggest bangs. In Sanremo professional attendance was at a high level, but not entirely in the chase for championship points. Both Opel and Alpine were there, but for other reasons, the possibility of picking up championship points being considered only as a second attraction. Autodelta was there with a team of three Alfa Romeos, two Alfetta GTs and an Alfasud TI. Ford and Alpine-Renault each had 2-car teams because the Italian importers of these cars had requested (and paid for) their presence, whilst Opel came along with both an Ascona and a newly homologated Kadett. It all added up to six factory teams contributing eighteen professionally driven cars to the 11 a-.strong list of starters, Lancia had the most powerful car which was most suited to the terrain in the Italian mountains, These tortuous roads, snaking up and down the passes, used to be rough and rocky, in direct contrast to the tarmac roads across the French border in the same range of mountains and in which the Monte Carlo Rally has its competitive element. Before last year’s Sanremo Rally the road men
had been at work and for the past two years the event has been predominantly on tarmac—narrow, winding and undulating but nevertheless smooth and well suited to the Stratos. Munari’s car was the only one with a 24.valve engine; the other two Stratos, driven by WaldegArd and Pinto, each had 12valve engines. Both Betas, driven by Lam
pinen and Pregliasco, had 16-valve engines. There were some interesting innovations on both types of car, small, not exactly new
but nevertheless important; the Stratos had water-cooled brakes and the Beta had power-assisted steering. Brake fade is a serious problem in twisty, mountainous rallies with as many steep descents in the special stages as there are ascents. Brakes are made to work very hard indeed and it is quite common to see cars arriving at the ends of stages with their brake discs glowing not just red but nearwhite—and almost as common to see in experienced drivers stopping at controls and keeping their brakes on instead of turning off their engines and holding their cars by
engaging a gear. The calipers need every opportunity to cool and it is silly to keep pads in contact with white-hot discs without need, or risk pads welding themselves to the discs.
The cooling system was based on the simple installation of screenwasher kits which squirted jets of water into the vanes of the ventilated discs by means of electric pumps. The switch was activated by depression of the brake pedal. They helped but they could not have been all that effective for the Stratos still had its brake problems, just as Briggs Cunningham’s cars did at Le Mans after small water radiators had been installed to keep the brakes cool. However, they were far more effective than the buckets of water employed by Gatsonides to cool the brakes of his winning Ford Zephyr in the 1953 Monte-Carlo Rally.
Power-assisted steering has hitherto not even been considered by rally car builders because it took away, or at best reduced, that important “feel” through the steering wheel. But Lancia seems to have a heritage of heavy steering on its front-wheel-drive cars. The Fulvia, especially with a limited-slip differential installed, was not an easy car to drive and there were several occasions when bigger steering wheels were requested by drivers in order to have greater leverage. This seems to have been inherited by the Beta and a moderate amount of power assistance was provided for the Sanremo Rally cars in order to counteract it. Ford’s two Escorts were not identical, for one was a purpose-built rally car whilst the other was a car which had been prepared for the Tour de France and had rather wider wheel arches to cater for wider wheels, air ducts to keep the brakes cool and a much lower suspension. The engine which blew up after loss of oil in the Tour de France had been replaced and the suspension had been made more suitable for the special stages. There were, after all, some unsurfaced portions on the special stages. Clark drove the rally car and Miikinen the other, which he had also driven in France Alpine-Renault came along primarily because Renault Italy had requested it, but they were not out of sight of the possibility of scoring championship points. After all, they would afterwards have a good chance of more points in Corsica, and a good chance of winning the championship could convince Renault to allow the team to take part in the RAC Rally. The RAC is an
event which Alpine is keen to win but the team has been denied the opportunity to take part this year because of budget limitations imposed by what is now the parent company. If the carrot, already sufficiently juicy, gets within closer range, the donkey may well attempt a bite.
The two Alpines were in a startling, bright yellow finish which we understand will be the future colour of the team. The familiar blue, the French national colour which was adopted by the Alpine team long before its take-over by Renault, is to be no more, for Regie Renault has insisted that the team be more closely identified with the parent company and should run in its colours. The cars were both A110 I3erlinettes and were driven by Nicolas and Therier.
Autodelta’s three-car team was made up of two 1,984-c.c. Alfetta GT s for Ballettrieri and Svizzero and a little 1,286-c.c. Alfasud TI for Dall’Ava. The team is going to increase its rallying programme, will be sending cars to Corsica as it did last year) and probably one Alfetta GT to the RAC Rally with Andruet at the wheel.
Fiat had four of the Abarths, all with 16-valve engines but two with Kugeltischer fuel injection for the first time in a World Championship event. Apart from perhaps a few Italian events, Sanremo was the final appearance of the 124 Abarth—unless they are brought to the RAC to help I..ancia’s championship effort. In the future they will use the Fiat 131 saloon with the same I,839-c.c, engine as the Abarth uses. However, the car is not yet homologated and until it is the team will seek out nonchampionship events which allow prototypes in order to continue that vital on-event development.
Driving the four Fiats were Verini, Paganelli, Alen and Cambiaghi. It seems that the Finns are spreading themselves through many teams, for of the six works teams, four of them each had one Finnish driver.
The Opel team was competing with the new Kadett for the first time. They hai planned to bring two, but lack of preparation time meant that they could only bring one, and put an Ascona into the rally to keep it company. Homologated in Gp. 4, the Kadett did not have the 16-valve engine as had been the intention at one time, but was mechanically pretty much the same as the Ascona. Both cars had identical 1.998c.c. engines, each with Ktigelfischer fuel injection, but the Kadett was well over 200 kilos lighter than the 1,100 kilo Ascona. Aaltonen drove the Ascona and ROM the Kadett. So much for the combatants; what of the combat itself? In the first place there was no doubt of Munari’s superiority, but when a puncture on the last stage of the first leg necessitated a wheel change the spare could not be fitted to the rear of the car without a great deal of difficulty. Stratos wheels are different front and rear, and the spare wheel is a universal one which can be fitted to either axle. Unfortunately, the spare was replaced by a normal front wheel after a previous change and Munari was only able to get the nuts on
by a few threads. After a very short distance the wheel came off and flew away into the bushes out of sight. The leading Italian driver was out. Pinto’s car succumbed to valve failure and Lampinen’s to front suspension collapse, leaving Waldegard to Win the event and Pregliasco to make fourth place.
I.ancia had scored twenty points, but Fiat notched up fifteen from Verini’s second place and Alpine twelve from Therier’s third. A lot would depend on the Corsica result; certainly the make-up of teams for the RAC Rally.
Alen, after :a mysterious rear suspension failure which showed up as he left the start ramp (some shock-absorber bolts were loose and some missing altogether) came to a stop when reverse gear punched its way out through the gearbox casing, Paganelli when he left the road and Cambiaghi on the final leg when his engine blew up.
The Ford team had a most unhappy rally, for the combination of a breakdown in France and trouble at the French/Italian Customs at Menton meant that the team’s stock of Dunlop tyres simply didn’t get to SanremO in time. The two ears ran as far as they could but when punctures took their toll they had to abandon the rally simply because there were no more tyres left to fit IO the cars.
Punctures were very frequent. The amount of smooth tarmac persuaded teams to use complete slicks with the minimum of longitudinal grooving to comply with regulations. Naturally they were not anything like as puncture-proof as stouter tyres, but most drivers felt that they were so much quicker on the slicks that it was worth risking punctures on the little gravel stretches which punctuated some stages. Some reckoned that the time gained by using slicks was more than the time it would take to stop and change a wheel, hut that is debatable.
Not one of the Alfa Ramos went the whole distance, though Ballestrieri was up among the leaders at the end of the first leg. In the second he went off the road after his brakes faded to almost nothing. Svizzera was stopped by a mysterious electrical failure which cleared up equally mysteriously, but too late to continue, whilst Dall’Ava hit a rock with a rear wheel and just about folded it under the car. Of the two Alpines. Nicolas’ stopped when its limited slip differential failed, possibly the result of vibration and bumping after running for a time on a flat tyre. Aaltonen’s Ascona went out early when severe overheating was caused by a blown head gasket which might have been occasioned by a faulty gasket or a faulty head
being fitted in the first place. Riihrl had succession of troubles with the new Kade# and less tenacious men would have packet. up, but after problems with cooling, ele tries and brakes (the balance was lost, an hard braking often caused the car to spin Riihrl drove magnificently to get up to thi place only to have a propshaft joint bre and put him out of the rally. We think, that co-driver Berger might have been relieved, for the erratic braking made th going a little heart-stopping at times high up in those mountains.
It was a fine rally as usual, but ratherf, over-complicated by the use of stages more than once in different directions, causing some frightening moments when practising crews encountered others practising the same stage in the other direction. There was also an unnecessarily complex way of arranging the timing and control system in the final leg which looped around the same roads several times. But these are minor points and hardly detracted from a stirringl compel tion.—G.P.