RALLY REVIEW Cyprus Rally
‘FOP-HEAVY, cluttered by coefficients, and with so many qualifying events that they frequently overlap, the European Rally Championship never seems to attract attention until about hallway through the year, when two or three drivers have emerged as potential winners of the series. Only then are efforts intensified, and the policy of some teams appears to be to tick over for the first half of the year, then to decide whether the chances of championship laurels are good enough to warrant the expenditure of a greater effort in the second. Alas, this is not always the best strategy, and disappsintments at the end of a series have often been mixed with regrets that the year had been tackled piecemeal rather than as a whole.
This might have been in Jim McRac’s mind when, after dominating the early stages of September’s Rothmans Cyprus Rally, he was delayed when a front strut punched its way up through his Ascona’s bonnet, then stopped altogether by a broken ball joint.
McRae’s accumulation of points began with two wins in Ireland, a third place in Belgium and a second in Scotland, but had the Scottish driver’s backers of the Rothams Opel team provided him with the means to enter a few more qualifying events he might have been in a better position now that the season is almost over.
Had he won in Cyprus, McRae would have been excellently placed to become the first British driver to be full European Champion, but it was his nearest rival, Tony Pasties of Italy, who won, thereby settling his position as 1982 Champion. Fassina was also driving an Opel Ascona 400, but for the Italian Conrero team, and each outfit operated quite independently. However, inter-team rivalry was nothing but the friendliest, and Italian mechanics did not hesitate to allow their welding equipment to be used to repair McRae’s broken front suspension.
The breakage might have had a contributory factor in a somewhat increased pace to make up for road penalties incurred at the first two time controls. Co-driver Ian Grindrod experienced “brainfade”, as he put it, and twice booked into controls three minutes early before discovering his error.
The inference from some reports was that this caused bad feeling between the pair, and one even made a point of the Scotsman’s chances being ruined by his English partner. This was not true, of course, for they remain the best of friends, with an excellent rapport in the car, and both am sufficiently experienced to realise that no-one is above making a mistake, be he driver or co-driver.
An Italian F1SA inspector seemed to think that the organisers should have prevented the mistake. Indeed, hc even refused to listen to the organisers’ point of view and turned a thscussion into an argument without need. It is, of course, a competitor’s responsibility to arrive at his proper time, certainly not the task of marshals to advise him of it, and the FISA man showed a distinct lack of knowledge in this respect. Fassina’s win was by the comfortable margin of over nine minutes from Dimi Mavropoulos, the London Cypriot, partnered by Scot Dave Adams in a Sunbeam Lotus, whilst third place went to 1981 winner Vahan Terzian in a Mitsubishi Lancer. Another Scot, Ivor Clark. had to find a substitute local co-driver when Terry Harryman sent word that he couldn’t make it, but both he
and Ulsterman Ernest Kenmore, failed to finish. The superb event in which the prematurely shortened duel for European supremacy took place enjoys the highest coefficient, four, in the championship, but in terms of toughness it can match the challenge of most world series events. The special stages vary from comparatively smooth dirt roads near the coast to much rougher ones in the mountains, all strung together an compactly that practice is not the long, seemingly interminable process it is on less-tightly-knit rallies. What is more, them is no tedium about preparation. Cyprus is a beautiful island which enjoys a delightful climate, its people are invariably friendly and its rally organisers helpful and generous beyond measure. Regrettably, there were few foreign entrants even though the Rothmans-backed event picks up most of visiting competitors’ tabs, and the only possible deterrent must be the time it takes to get cars to and from the island.
We must resist the temptation to go on extolling the virtues of this splendid rally, an we will do no more than reaffirm that this is definitely one worth experiencing. A letter to PO Box 2279, ‘Nicosia, Cyprus, will get you information on next year’s event. — G.P.
RALLYING n. essentially a form of competition between individual crews; two people and their car against all the other pairs and their cars. There is no constant and necessary co-operation within a group of crews to produce a single, collective score. as there is between the players of a football team. If you consider each crew as a single competitor. it’s really a case of every man for himself.
That is the principal element of the sport, and it remains predominant in the public eye. But eyes which see deeper have no trouble detecting that it’s not quite like that any more, at least, not among the top echelon of fee-earning competitors. Professionalism into advanced that behind each crew nowadays are specialist car builders, engineers, mechanics, administrators. equipment providers, managers, tacticians, publicists. sponsors and various others. Among them, the craving for product publicity has become such an obsession that the important thing is not so much who wins, but what he teethe usex to win. Teams help to create idols of their drivers, but foremost in their minds must be the amount of publicity which rubs off on the cars they’ drive. Until 1979 the World Rally Championship was for makes only, which suited manufacturers admirably. But it was hardly good for the sport since there was no real. live champion, no figurehead, no-one who could appear on television and become known tel the public Then, after years of lobbying — not thc least of
which was by this magazine — came a championship for drivers, and in its three years 11982 is the finirth) it has become mom prominent than the series for makes. In 1981, for instance, the manufacturers’ title went to Talbot, but more readily recalled is the fact that the drivers’ title was won by Ari Vatanen, well known as a Ford driver.
Manufacturers have not been slow to recognise this and, whilst they still strive to win the series for makes, it is more important ffir them that the driver who becomes World Rally Champion should be driving one of their cars.
In 1982 two manufacturers have emerged as close contestants for the makes title. Opel and Audi. The two drivers fighting for the personal title are Walter Riihrl, who drives an Opel, and Michde Mouton, who drives an Audi. Each team therefore has a double interest in the series, and whilst it is good publicity for Opel if any Ascona wins a rally, and for Audi if any Quattro wins, the primary object is to ensure victory by a driver who stands to become Viorld Champion.
Thus in the Sanremo Rally it was not enough for Audi just to have any Quattro take first place; it had to be the Quattro driven by Michele Mouton. Similarly. Opel’s objective was not only to have an Ancona in the lead, but to have it driven by Walter Rtjhrl.
And that is where team manipulation begins to interfere with a sport in which the essence is every car for itself.
Audi amassed all its troops loran onslaught in Italy. Not only did they take their own works drivers. Michele Mouton and Hannu Mikkola, but they gathered their dealer-backed people frthn various countries. Franz Wittman from Austria. Stig Blomqvist from Sweden. Michele Cinotto from Italy and Harald Demuth from GermanyThe idea was to fill as many leading places as possible with Quattros to minimisc the pot.n scored by Opel. Rohrl in particular. and to enable some manipulation to take place towards the end so that the highest number of points was scored by Mouton. It was a rugby scrum, and the ball had to be passed to the right plamr.
Opel. on the other hand. took works Asconas finROhrl and Henri Toivonen, and were hacked only by the two locally-eritcred cars of Massimo Biasion and Dario Cerrato.
Mese two outfits were the main contestants at San erno, although there seas a buffer in the form of three Lancias, each a rear-engined Rally, two entered by the facto, and one privately-backed. The two works drivers were Markku Alen and Fabri io Tabaton. whilst the third was Fulvio Bacch Ili. the tall man from Trieste who used to be a Fiat works driver.
There was a time when the old Rally of the Flowens had superb dirt roads right on its doorstep, in the mountains behind Sanremo, but all of them have long vanished beneath the tide of tarmacadam. For a while the organisers were content to run the event on these tarmac roads, but in the past few years they have gone in search of unsurfaced roads with the result that the route is now stretched across much of the whole width of Northern Italy, going as far as Tuscany.
The stages are good, but the intermediate road sections are long and boring, whilst service CieWS seem always to be on the move.
The first gnoup of stages were on those nearby tarmac roads, then the body of the rally lay in the distant dirt roads before the finale again on tarmac. Audi’s advantage was firmly based on those loose-surfaced roads, whereas in the Opel camp Rohrl was confident that whatever he lost on the dirt he could regain on the tarmac. However, afire that first group office tarmac stages it was neither an Opel nor an Audi in the lead. In fact it was the Ferrari 308 GTB of Antonio Tognana, entered by the Jolly Club. 20 seconds ahead of Alen’s Lancia. The Opels of C.errato, Toivonen and Riihrl came ncxt in that order, followed by the Audis of Mikkola. Blomqvist and Cinotto.
Michele Mouton. the girl Audi wanted to get into first place, wan not exactly on peak form and was down in 19th place. She did recover many of them places, but not really her best form and she was the first to admit this. As soon as the rally got to dirt roads, the man Whit stood out aixi e everyone else was Stig lllomqvist. After the kventh stage hr had moved lalo the lead, and afior four more he had extended that to a whole minute over Alen’s Lancia which Was perfornnng far better on din roads than llarone had Imagined. Bacchelli had gone off the road, as had poor 9Vittmann who had bccn labouring with Kleber tyres when all the other
Quattro drivers were using Pirelli. It wasn’t his choice, of course; the better Pirellis were simply not available for hirn.
Meanwhile the weather became ve, unsettled, and there were violent thunderstorms, very heavy rain and even showers of hail. Many of the stages were soaked, putting more of a premium on Audi’s four-wheel-drive system, whilst others turned out to be d, and dusty.
When the rally came to its second stop. at Siena (the first had been in Sanremo after the tarmac stages) Blomqvist’s lead was over two minutes. Alen was still in second place, another two minutes ahead of Cinotto. Mouton was up to sixth, but Mildtola, troubled by a puncture and the failure of one differential. was eighth.
The next group of stages saw no diminishing of Blomqvist’s determination. The memo, of driving to orders in Finland and allowing himself to be beaten, still rankled. and this time he was going to show who was in command, which he did most dramatically. Mouton was over six minutes behind him, Mikkola another two seconds and Cinotto another minute. The leading Opel was Toivonen’s whilst Riihrl. the World Championship leader, was down at seventh.
Although he had said earlier that he could regain his losses. Rdhrl had become rather despondent. Never a tenacious man. he showed all his old pessimism, although that might have been a performance intended to be reported back In his opponents.
After the third stop, at Pisa, the rally turned back towards Sanremo, and it was on this leg that Alen’s Lancia stopped with engine failure after a quite remarkable drive. This left the contest to Audi and Opel. but when the cavalcade got to Sanremo the odds were decidedly in Audi’s favour.
Four of them were entrenched at the head of the field, in the order Blomqvist, istikkola, Mouton and Cinotto. Toivonen’s Opel came next. followed by Demuth’s Audi, and then Riihrl Opel in seventh place. It seemed that he had misjudged his final push. if that was still his plan. for he was all of eight minutes behind the leader with only seven stages left, totalling 150 km. But the talking point at this stage concerned the leaders, for it was thought that Rohn could not possibly men any influence. Would Blomqvist
and Mikkola be told, betbre the last stage, to slow down so that Michele Mouton could win and thereby collect twenty valuable championship points? No-one was actually admitting to anything, but a senior Audi man did say that although they could not order Blomqvist to slow down, this would certainly he -recommendedto him. Nothing was said of Mikkola, hut he is a. full-time facto, driver after all.
The situation illustrates the point made in the opening paragraphs. tor Audi had a massive frontal phalanx and could manipulate it as they wished. B111 Mouton’s advantage over Riihrl was only little over two minutes, whilst she was nearly six behind the leader.
As it happened, manipulation by Audi never became possible. for no-one thought that Rohrl would push as hard as he did on that final night. On roads which were damp but not really wet. he was fastest by half a minute on the first stage, followed by Toivonen, Cinotto, Mikkola and Mouton.
The two Opels continued to make best times, and on the third from the end the German driver got ahead of his French lady rival. From that moment, there was no question about Blomqvist or Mikkola slowing down. They had us stay up there to keep Rdhrl out of the top points. Actually, Blomqvist was not driving at 100,, for his advantage was such that he could afford not to take any risks.
Toivonen, with one stage to to, got up to third place. just five seconds behind Mikkola. no on that final stage he madr a tremendous effort. All tools, spares, even the spare wheel and hick, were removed from the car, and fuel was kept to a minimum. Alas, that was tempting fate, and he collected a puncture which slowed him and dropped him back to fifth.
Blomqvist’s drive was brilliant, and even though he has spent some time switching from one car to another after the closure of Saab’s competitions department, he has lost none of his fine edge of skill. His demonstration of that was clear for all to see, but he has to thank Rtihrl’s final charge for being allowed to take the victory which he most certainly deserved.
Rtihrl collected twelve championship points, but since he had already scored seven times, the maximum, he had to drop his lowest score which was ten. Mouton, on the other hand, kept all her ten points, and the situation afterwards was Rohrl 101, Mouton 82.
As this issue of MOTOR SPORT is published, the circus will be embroiled in the penultimate round. the Ivory Coast Rally, in which Mouton will also be able to keep all of whatever she scores. It seems, then, that matters will not be resolved until the final round in November, the RAC Rally of Great Britain which starts at York on Sunday the 21st. — G.P.
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