When Carlos Sainz crashed out of contention whilst leading the 1000 Lakes Rally it was an uncharacteristic lapse, for he is the most precise of drivers, always taking great pains to perfect his notes and not being satisfied until he considers their detail to be flawless. Indeed, he has been known to return after an event to the scene of an error so that he could better analyse the incident and satisfy himself as to its cause.
He has been a perfectionist since he began making a World Championship name for himself, but he is not the machine that some people have chosen to call him. He is human, can make human mistakes, and can be wrong when it comes to estimation.
The ability to estimate when it not possible to measure accurately comes to the fore when rallies do not permit practice at anything higher than a rigidly controlled speed limit. Assessment, no matter how well founded on experience, is no substitute for actual sampling and the careful analysis and verification of results.
In Finland, practice at anything approaching rally speeds was forbidden. Sainz crashed. In Australia during late September, speeds during the reconnaissance period were also subject to strict limits. Sainz crashed again, this time on no less than three occasions before he retired. By pointing this out we have no intention of calling the man’s ability into question. He is an impeccable driver of unusually high talent for which we have nothing but the greatest respect, but his meticulous mind does seem to require not only the radar-aid of pace notes, but their precise refinement at speeds approaching those which he will attain during the rally itself.
On the other hand, we could be completely mistaken. Two years ago he was leading the RAC Rally without any forest notes at all. So much for the opinions of mere observers!
It’s all very well to theorise, but when it comes to the crunch during a hotly contested special stage, all manner of things can happen at the whim of a piece of straw, especially when competition is as fierce as it is today between the leaders of the World Championship. And who are we to attempt to identify that piece of straw?
Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Rally bears little resemblance to the country’s previous major international event, the Southern Cross Rally. The latter took place on the East Coast, in the mountainous forests inland from Port Macquarie, whereas the present World Championship qualifier is in Western Australia, based at Perth. The terrain is different and, more importantly, the character and surfaces of the roads are different.
We once heard a loud-voiced air traveller proclaim “Oh yes. I know Australia. I’ve been to Sydney three times”. That remark was just as ludicrous as a suggestion that a trip to Michigan would make you familiar with Arizona, or even that Kielder Forest can be likened to Romney Marsh.
Australia, like most large land masses, has an immense variety of geographical, climatic and other conditions, but the feature of the Western Australia part of the Commonwealth Bank Rally which is of greatest importance to competitors, especially those new to the place, is the nature of the roads used as special stages.
Unlike many forest roads which have a constant character and have bends which follow each other in a near-rhythmic, predictable manner, the dirt tracks used by this event are almost beyond categorisation. The bends vary in style, camber, width, severity, gradient and surface, and they are strung together as though they were designed and built not by a single engineer but by a large committee.
Reconnaissance is all-important, for driving on sight through such an endless series of hazards and traps will give a competitor no chance at all of matching the times of those who have notes. And notes made at reduced speeds are better than no notes at all, provided the driver tempers with a little caution any in-contest upgrading from, say, a spoken “fast” to a driven “very fast”.
The surfaces are treacherous, to say the least. One bend can be fairly abrasive and provide reasonable grip, whilst the next can be covered in “marbles”, small clippings which provide the surface with as much grip as wet murram in Kenya or a snowy track in Sweden.
Preparation for the event was therefore as difficult for the tyre companies as anyone else, and both Michelin and Pirelli produced new variations, each resorting to hand-cut treads for use when required.
Car set-up was also important, and the two major teams, Toyota and Lancia, went to great lengths in their test sessions to emerge with cars that would satisfy their drivers. Other teams spent less time in such testing, and it was a little embarrassing for Timo Salonen to hit a tree with his actual rally car when out testing with it only a day or two before the start. But when the Mitsubishi appeared on the rally, there was no sign of damage and it was as pristine as a showroom example.
It must be said, of course, that Toyota and Lancia probably have budgets considerably larger than those of other teams, which is why they can undertake more painstaking development and can mount more comprehensive service support operations. It also shows in the results!
The five major teams in Australia were Toyota, Lancia, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Subaru. Toyota took just two Celica GT-4s for Sainz/Moya and Schwarz/Hertz, but the team’s test car was refettled for the rally and entrusted to local crew Bates/Jorgensen. Lancia had a similar turn-out, with two new cars for Kankkunen/Piironen and Auriol/Occelli, the latter in Fina colours, and the rebuilt test car for Recalde/Christie.
Ralliart took two 6-speed Mitsubishi Galant VR-4s for Eriksson/Parmander and Salonen/Silander, whilst a third such car, albeit a 5-speed version shod with Yokohama tyres rather the Michelins of the UK-based team, was entered locally for Dunkerton/Gocentas. A privately-entered Galant was driven by Ordynski/Mansson.
Mazda Europe sent just one 323 GTX from their Brussels base for Carlsson/Carlsson, but expatriate New Zealanders Millen/Sircombe had their California-built car to chase points in the Asia Pacific Championship. New Zealanders Wilson/Saunders drove a private Mazda.
The Subarus looked like Legacies, but their badges announced otherwise. The model is called a Liberty in Australia, so some facial cosmetics were carried out for the sake of local continuity. Driven by Alén/Kivimäki and New Zealanders Bourne/Freeth, they were built by Prodrive in the UK but had Japanese-built flat-four engines. A separate entry was put in by Subaru Japan for Kenyan-Australian pair Njiru/Shearer, and by the time this issue of Motor Sport appears, Njiru, who worked for a while in Japan and speaks Japanese, will also have made the journey from Nairobi to Pretoria for the Total Rally.
Finally, the Australian Hyundai importers entered two of their Lantra models for Bell/Boddy and Carr/Stewart.
Based at Perth, the rally ran from Friday to Tuesday, heading out each day from the base town. The first day was just a local trip to a “superspecial” stage, but the others ran through ten, eleven, thirteen and four real stages, forming two loops to South and two to the East. Total distance was 1,287 miles, of which the 39 special stages accounted for 368.
From the Saturday start, when the meat of the rally got under way and which we shall call the first day, there was no doubt that Lancia and Toyota were going to have the fierce battle which everyone expected, but before the end of the day some steam went out of the contest when Sainz had the first of his mishaps. The Subaru team was also reduced by half when Bourne’s gearbox broke on the sixth stage, whilst the two works Mitsubishis did not seem to be shining at all.
On the second day, on the very first stage in fact, Sainz caused real consternation in the team when he rolled again, once more being able to continue. However, the stage-by-stage fettling which usually follows such incidents didn’t last for long, for two stages later the Spanish driver rolled yet again, this time being unable to carry on.
Alén also went off after having complained, as he did in Finland, that the engine management system caused a power drop whenever it detected a rise in engine temperature. He said the problem did not arise on short stages, where the engine did not have time to get hot, but on the longer ones he was frustrated by having less power than usual. Perhaps his accident was due to late braking in an attempt to compensate for lack of speed. He was able to continue, but needed a completely new rear suspension after the stage. He was not at all sympathetic towards the car and later needed a new clutch, rear shock absorbers and front struts.
As first driver on the road, Kankkunen was not enjoying being “the bulldozer” through the marbles, but he made very little comment and carried on as usual. Unlike Sainz, he was brought up in a different driving environment and is perhaps able to cope with the unexpected a little better than his Spanish rival.
On the other hand, he may be just a little more experienced at upgrading his notes from practice speed to rally speed, as Finland has had strict recce speed limits for some years. On the third day some of the morning stages were repeated in the afternoon, and there was an expectation that the sweep of the morning would have cleared the roads of much of their chipping top dressing. There was also the thought that any pace note improvement discovered in the morning would produce higher speeds in the afternoon. This is highly unlikely, however, because when a co-driver is reading notes at rally speeds he can hardly indulge in writing as well. Nevertheless, Schwarz, whose speeds had not matched those of Sainz, was noticably quicker in the afternoon, perhaps an indication of his own good memory, or perhaps testimony to the skill and experience of co-driver Hertz.
Auriol had moved ahead of Kankkunen for a while, and some said that the Finn had slowed deliberately in order that he would not have to sweep away the chippings for a while. However, towards the end of the day the French driver suddenly lost all power as he was pulling away from the start of a stage and, realising that his engine was finished, he immediately pulled over and stopped so that he would not slow his team-mate by his dust and thus give an advantage to Eriksson.
By this time, the latter driver was up to second place and was no doubt causing concern to Kankkunen by his presence and his apparently new-found turn of speed. Even with serious brake loss, caused by an overheating wheel-bearing, he was still remarkably fast.
By that time, Carlsson had gone out when his Mazda rolled badly. He struggled on for a while, dazed from a knock on the head, but stopped when his engine began to rattle, all its oil having been pumped out through a split in the cooling radiator. Low branches also presented a hazard in places, Eriksson and Auriol (before he stopped) cracking their screens and Kankkunen losing a wiper blade.
Even on the final day Kankkunen was not sure what kind of performance Eriksson was likely to put up, and he did not intend to relax at all until he knew what the situation was. However, a flattened exhaust pipe reduced Eriksson’s power for a while and the result was a win by Kankkunen, his second in a row and his fourth of the year, by the margin of a minute and thirteen seconds.
Behind, the battle between Dunkerton and Millen for Asia Pacific Championship points was resolved in Millen’s favour when a seven second difference was turned into a 25-second advantage for Millen when Dunkerton lost turbocharger pressure. The Group N category went to Ordynski, whilst Schwarz capured a FISA A-seeding by his third place.
Finally, we must mention a change in the results of the 1000 Lakes Rally as a result of Salonen’s disqualification from his third place after analysis of fuel samples taken during the event showed that his octane rating was higher than the permitted maximum for that event. Those behind move up a place, improving the scores of Mazda, Ford and Nissan. Drivers’ scores are also improved, the most significant being that of Sainz who moved up from fifth to fourth.
Eriksson, driving the second Mitsubishi, moves up from fourth to take Salonen’s third place, his car in Finland not having a fuel sample taken for subsequent analysis.
The World Championship points shown in the accompanying table include the changes caused by this FISA decision, and indicate that both series are still open. Lancia leads Toyota by three points in the makes series, but since each has already scored eight times (maximum is seven), in the remaining two rounds as much will depend on scores dropped as on scores gained. Toyota’s lowest score is 14, Lancia’s 17. A win in Sanremo for the latter team will therefore mean just three more points, whereas a win for the former will add six points to its score.
In the drivers series, Sainz leads Kankkunen by just two points, and there are four rounds left. Maximum number of scores is nine. Sainz has scored seven times and Kankkunen eight, so the former has the advantage. — GP
Results (top five): Commonwealth Bank Rally (Australia) — 20-24 September 1991
1. Juha Kankkunen (SF)/Juha Piironen (SF) — Lancia Delta Integrale, Gp A — 5h 48m 48s
2. Kenneth Eriksson (S)/Staffan Parmander (S) — Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Gp A — 5h 50m 01s
3. Armin Schwartz (D)/Arne Hertz(S) — Toyota Celica 2000 GT-4, Gp A — 5h 54m 42s
4. Markku Alén (SF)/Ilkka Kivimäki (SF) — Subaru Legacy Turbo 4WD, Gp A — 5h 58m 15s
5. Timo Salonen (SF)/Voitto Silander (SF) — Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Gp A — 6h 00m 54s
World Rally Championship Situation
Drivers (top five) after 10 of 14 rounds: Carlos Sainz (E) 125 pts, Juha Kankkunen (SF) 123 pts, Didier Auriol (F) 81 pts, Massimo Biasion (I) 54 pts, Kenneth Eriksson (S) 51 pts
Makes (top five) after 8 of 10 rounds: Lancia 131 pts, Toyota 128 pts, Mitsubishi 45 pts, Mazda 38 pts, Ford 34 pts