November in the Forests
LIKE COUNTLESS other readers, we were all in stitches when we read D.S.J.’s description of the 1975 British Grand Prix in MOTOR SPORT’s Jubilee issue. This column is not about to make off with his metaphors, but one can’t help feeling that if the British Grand Prix is a circus, then the RAC Rally of Great Britain is one enormous travelring circus. That is not intended to be a disparaging comparison, for the big publicity guns have not yet been able to get their sights on rallying as they have on Grand Prix racing and the travelling sideshows of the RAC Rally are really quite insignificant alongside the fierce, determined, hairy-chested competition which moves at considerable pace through Britain’s forests each November. It is said that the present use of forest roads (it would be an insult to the Forestry Commission’s engineers to call those welldrained, well-cambered ribbons of hardfounded gravel mere tracks) owes its origin to a chance pollution of Jack Kemsley’s breakfast cereal by pine needles, Mr. Kernsley being chairman of the organising committee and the man responsible for steering the
event through the formative years of its present style. The impracticality of running a full-scale international rally solely on the public roads of a traffic-infested and legislatively hog-tied Britain never really caused problems to come to a head, for the event moved into the forests for its competitive elements long before any difficulties cropped up. Those forests represent not only the spice &nu the entire main course of the rally. They lend a sort of rough-shod majesty to the event and ensure that there is far, far more to the whole thing than simply driving a car against the clock. The elements have to be tackled; not smooth, practised ferro-concrete and tarmac, all made clinically sterile and hazard-free by various forms of barrier, cushioning and other protections, but unmade roads as tractors use them, twisting and
undulating to follow the natural contours of the land and bordered by trees, rocks, ditches, walls, fences, log piles and what you will. It is a contest between pairs of men and their cars (helped by others, as happens in racing) against whatever form of indigenous hazard which Mother Nature deigns to provide. There is no bleating about some part of the route being too dangerous, no arguments about lack of protection on the outside of a clifftop hairpin and no honing down of a car’s pedigree to such a fine degree that it cannot cope with anything but perfect conditions. Provided roads are not completely blocked, drivers will keep going through snow on one stage, mud on the next, rocks on the next and torrential rain, only to grin wearily but with complete satisfaction when it’s all over and exchange tales over whatever is their favourite tipple.
MI this is built into the RAC Rally, an event which, for sheer excitement and a charged atmosphere, cannot be bettered. On November 22nd, somewhere in the region of 250 cars will set out in the morning from York for a tour of English, Welsh and Scottish forests which will not end until the following Wednesday. Among them will be professionally driven cars entered by manufacturers, all eager to reap the publicity to be gained by winning this plum of international rallies. There will also be a whole string of amateurs, some backed by sponsors and some making the financial effort to go it alone. All will be helped by an even bigger cavalcade of service support crews, leapfrogging their way around the route to render assistance in the vital places. To those involved it is a simple enough operation, but to those unfamiliar with the requirements of present day rallying it is a complex, almost mystifying affair, and that is perhaps the reason for the absence of that big publicity artillery—it could be that promotions men are reluctant to get involved in anything which they don’t fully understand. Rallying has always enjoyed tremendous popularity among its numerous devotees, but in the past decade the sport has spread to all sections of the public. It is impossible to estimate accurately how many people watched the last few RAC rallies, but figures in the region of a couple of million per event cannot possibly be wrong. To be everywhere to see the crowds is impossible, but from a competitor’s seat (which we have occupied regularly for some years) one gets a very good impression. Ten years ago there were groups of people at each of the “hairy” spots on most special stages; nowadays it’s not uncommon to find an entire forest stage lined on both sides from beginning to end, and when you consider that there are usually about eighty stages that adds up to pretty impressive spectator figures. Consider further
that a cold, murky, November night in a dank pine forest on a Welsh mountain is hardly comparable with sunny Wimbledon or even a crisp Wembley, and certainly not with a comfortable armchair in front of a television set. It takes a special breed of enthusiasm to endure November conditions to watch a rally out of doors; on the other hand the rewards in terms of spectacle and excitement are such that every moment of that endurance becomes completely worthwhile. MOTOR SPORT’s printing schedules are such that we are unable to publish an accurate itinerary of the rally, with details of the cars and crews taking part, but we can say that the event will be in three loops, each starting and finishing at York Racecourse. The first, from Saturday morning until the same evening, will be confined to the Yorkshire forests; the second will run from Sunday morning until Monday evening and will include the West of England and Wales; and the third will take in the North
of England and the South of Scotland, running from Tuesday morning until the following day. Since it is more able to cope with late information, our weekly stablemate, Motoring News, will contain a detailed itinerary and a full entry list in its issue of November 20th. However, we can indulge in a little crystal ball grazing and predict that the majority of the major teams will be contesting outright victory, led of course by Timo Makinen who will be looking for a RAC hat-trick in his works Ford Escort. The opposition will however be as strong as ever and amongst the front runners will be Lancia who are sending two Stratos, one for Sandro Munari the other for Bjorn Waldeglird, whilst Toyota will have a very strong team consisting of Ove Andersson, Hannua Mikkola and Britain’s Chris Sclater.
To those of you who have watched the RAC Rally in previous years, most of what has been said above will have been superfluous, for you will already have witnessed the incredible feats of speed and control performed on loose surfaces. We urge those who have not to make up for the omission in a few weeks time. Not all the special stages will be made known to the public, for the Forestry Commission and the organisers contrive to keep secret those with restricted access roads and parking facilities for fear traffic jams will delay the arrival of competitors, as has happened in the past. We can’t say that we agree with this policy, for we feel that the woods are for all to enjoy. However, enough of the special stages should be made public to keep even the most energetic of spectators occupied for the whole of the five-day period if he so wishes.—G.P.