RALLY REVIEW Sanremo Rally
THAT the only two contenders for a World Championship title can meet in a contest and be decisively beaten by someone who isn't in the running at all is nothing short of amazing. Were this to happen at Wimbledon, the outsider would oust strikes from front and centre pages, and be given greater accolades than the parents of gains. But Sanremo is not Wimbledon, and An Vatanen certainly no outsider to rallying, so when he trounced the two championship rivals in Italy last month he made no headlines (except in Finland, perhaps) save those of the motor sporting press.
Just as Walter Rohrl before him, Vatanen was in the doldrums for a while after winning the World title in 1981, but now that he is established with Peugeot and has one of the remarkable little 205 Turbo 16s to drive, he has sprung back to his old form and looks set to notch up another series of wins. The Sanremo Rally promised to be a duel between Stig Blomqvist and Markku Alen, with everyone else providing no more than supporting entertainment. Blomqvist had 113 points in the World Championship and Alen 90, but, with three rounds to go, it was
ROHRL'S Audi was completely ckstroyed on the last night when it his a flood, spun, jumped a wall and rolled down a bank.
still possible for the Finn to get ahead of the Swede. Audi, with the makes series settled, was giving Blomqvist all possible backing, whilst Lancia had all its resources lined up to support Alen. Audi had just one additional Quattro Sport, for Walter Rairl who was making his first competition appearance after nearly four months of test driving, but Lancia made its customary grand appearance at Sanremo and no less than five of their rear-engined cars were among the first ten starters, driven by Alen, Bettega, Biasion, Vudafieri and Cunico. Alen had the most
VATANEN and Hanyman scored their second World Chatnpionship win in the new two-seater Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, and the future looks bright for this potent link car.
powerful car, said to produce 350 bhp, and he was going all out for a win, whilst the others were there primarily to keep Blomqvist out of the high points-scoring places. Triangulating the comPetition were the two factory Peugeots of Vatanen and Jean-Pierre Nicolas, and after Vatanen's splendid but somewhat unexpected victory in Finland no-one was making the mistake
of underestimating the potential of the French team.
The Peugeot has a most on-saloon-like appearance when the engine cover is removed, for the crew sits in a separate "cab" with its own rear window, and the whole thing looks very much like a pick-up truck with the engine low down in a hole through the flat-bed rather than under the bonnet. Could that be food for thought for those in Kenya (and now Cyprus too) who go rallying in hornologated pick-up trucks? Some five years have passed since the Sanremo organisers forsook the all-tarmac style of the seventies and went further afield in search of dirt roads. They wanted to return to the style of the sixties and could not do that in the mountains behind the resort simply because the traditional stages of the former Rally of the Flowers had all been surfaced with tarmac.
In one massive change, a tight, compact event was stretched across the entire width of northern Italy, and stages were grouped in clusters here and there, linked by inevitable motorway runs. Divided by substantial stops at Tirrenia, Siena, Pisa and Sanremo itself, the rally now has five distinct parts, the first, fourth and fifth having tarmac special stages and the second and third dirt roads. The distance ratio, however, favours dirt stages which total 295 miles. The tarmac stages total is 213 miles, and the overall distance of 1,635 miles takes up six days, from 2 pm on Sunday to 9 am on Friday.
Twisty, mountainous and unattractive to thousands of wild fans as candles are to moths, the rally has to contend with the uncertainty of autumn weather. One year it can bask in glorious sunshine; the next it can almost be washed out by storm and flood. But at least it doesn't have sudden snowfalls as it did when it took place in February. Over the first group of tarmac stages, the Lancias were expected to better the Audis, but the German cars were firm favourites for the dirt roads. Lancia was hoping for an initial lead which would stand up to Audi's 4-w-d advantage on dirt, whilst Audi hoped to whittle away that predicted Lancia lead and turn it into a deficit. The Peugeots rePresented the unknown factor, but it took v..y little time for into establish into a clear and dominant one.
The form followers were largely correct as fat as the early stages were concerned, although Rohrl did lose about a minute and *half when his throttle stuck wide open and he went off the road and collected a few spectators on the way. Miraculously, they were not badly injured, and helpers soon tnanhandled the Audi back to the road and on its way. Alen was predicted to be the leader after the first leg, but a couple of punctures put Paid to that. Indeed, the highest he ever got was fourth, because eventually that highly stressed engine of his succumbed and blew Up. Too much reliability had been sacrificed
to the cause of performance.
The points chase did not become one-sided, however, for Blomqvist didn't survive either. After a hard landing from a jump, his Audi lost its engine oil and that was the end of its rally. The undershield clearance was 1.2 inches, and although this has always been enough in the past, it was not on this occasion, for an oil feed pipe was pinched and cracked by the sudden flexing. In future, that sumpguard clearance will be increased. These retirements were by no means the reasons for Vatanen's success, for as soon as he got to the dirt roads he took command
completely. He simply could not be beaten, and by the time the rally had wound its way across to Liguria and Tuscany and back, he had opened out a lead of five and a half minutes, enough to keep Rolirl's Audi and the pack of Lancias at bay over the tarmac stages. After a day of rest back at Sanremo itself, the final night, on stages crossing and recrossing through the event's "home" mountains, produced drama which would not have been out of place in the Safari. The afternoon sky had darkened almost to black, the wind got up and rain came down in Continued on page 1393 RALLY REVIEW continued from page 1357
blinding sheets. To make matters worse, the clouds came down to envelop the high ground, and no-one looked forward to what was going to be a really dirty night, particularly as heavy rain in those hills has a tendency to cause landslides of mud and boulders.
Several leading drivers tried to persuade the organisers to postpone or cancel the final leg but they very properly refused. Coping with bad weather is an integral part of the sport, and as long as the mountain roads were not impassable, the final leg would be run as planned, and competitors would have to drive according to conditions.
By 10.30 on the Thursday evening, when the rally restarted, rivers were running down some of those mountain roads, bringing gravel, rocks and even tree branches with them. Aquaplaning became frighteningly frequent, and there was always the chance of hitting a rock hidden in the thick mist.
On the second of those eight final stages, Dario Cerrato's Opel Manta crashed heavily and his co-driver, Giuseppe Cerri, was badly injured. Jean-Pierre Nicolas arrived soon afterwards, and he immediately stopped, left his co-driver at the scene and took Cerri in the Peugeot to the end of the stage where he was transferred to an ambulance and taken to hospital.
The stage matron again but, although the visibility had improved to some extent, in parts it was more like a river than a road. Vatanen hit a 30 yard stretch of running water which put his Peugeot into a long series of totally uncontrollable spins. Indeed, he spun so many times that he lost count, but he was fortunate enough not to go off the road, only touching a rock face once, causing slight body damage at the front and the loss of a few lights.
Rohrl was not as lucky. When he spun, just as dramatically, he hit a wall and promptly jumped over it. The series of impacts as the car gyrated removed wheels, smashed all the windows and even took off some of the body panels, reducing the Audi almost to its frame. Although bruised and very badly shaken, ROM and Geistdorfer were not seriously hurt and they were able to warn following drivers to slow down. On this occasion, the stage was not stopped.
The survivors were very relieved indeed when that terrible night came to an end, Vatanen and Harryman in particular, for they had scored their second fine win for Peugeot, adding to the recently created but already enviable reputation of a new team with a new car. Neither Peugeot nor Vat anen can become champions this year, but they have succeeded in rattling both Lancia and Audi, not to mention putting a spot of tarnish on their trophies.
Behind the winning Peugeot came a trio of Lancias, then the other Peugeot driven by Nicolas. In sixth place was Swede Kalle Grundel who won the Group A category in a Volkswagen Golf GTI, whilst in tenth place was the only Audi to finish in the first ten, the Quattro 80 driven privately by Austrian downhill ski champion Werner Grissmann. The World Championship for Drivers in still open, but with only two events to go and 23 points to catch up, Alen has but a very small chance indeed of snatching the title front Blomqvist.
As we write, Audi is planning to send one car to the Ivory Coast Rally (Oct 31st-Nov 4th) for Blomqvist, but whether Lancia will consider it worthwhile to send Alen to a very costly (and unpopular) event remains to be seen. Even Peugeot has resisted the French connection and cancelled its plans to go to the Ivory Coast, opting instead to prepare for next year's Safari by more realistic test sessions in Kenya. The final round of the world series is Britain's Lombard RAC Rally which will start at Chester on November 25th. Championship or no championship, that's always one that everybody wants to win, and always well worth watching. — G.P.