When Carlos Sainz’s Subaru picked up a misfire almost within sight of the finish, it allowed Didier Auriol to enter the final round of the WRC with an unexpectedly large points advantage

There were tense moments indeed when Italy’s Sanremo Rally drew to a close on Wednesday, October 12. After leading the rally throughout, Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, their Subaru Impreza 555 having developed a misfire, slowed fractionally and allowed Didier Auriol and Bernard Occelli to move their Toyota Celica ahead on the last stage but one. The French pair eventually won by 21 seconds.

The Sanremo Rally is one of the few rallies which still uses mixed-surface special stages. After a long run out from the start to Arezzo, far to the east, and a night stop in that town, the competitive driving did not begin until the second day. All the stages that day were on dirt roads, as they were on the next. Tarmac stages figured on the last day only, when the rally looped through the mountains immediately northwards of Sanremo, where the old Rally of the Flowers used to be held in its entirety.

There was an excellent entry for this last-but-one qualifier of the 1994 World Rally Championship. Ford send three Escort Cosworths for Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup, Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero and Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot, whilst another two, backed by Martini Racing, were entered by Ford of Italy for Franco Cunico/Stefano Evangelisti and Malcolm Wilson/Bryan Thomas. Both cars were built at Wilson’s workshop in Cumbria. From France came a Group N Escort Cosworth, crewed by Spaniards Jesus Puras/Carlos del Barrio.

Auriol’s car for the rally was a Celica of the old shape, whilst the later GT-Four was driven by Juha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist. In the Subaru team. Sainz was joined by Colin McRae/Derek Ringer driving a similar lmpreza. Another such car, entered by ART, was driven by Italian pair Piero Liatti/Luigi Pirollo.

Mitsubishi made one of its now occasional appearances by sending two of the latest Lancers for Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha and Tommi Mӓkinen/Seppo Harjanne. Mitsubishi Germany took two Group N Lancers for Isolde Holderied/Tina Thӧrner and Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie. They finished 15th and 16th respectively, the former taking both the Group N category and the ladies’ prize.

The only other team nominated to score manufacturers’ championship points was Skoda, with two Favorit I36Ls for Pavel Sibera/Petr Gross and Emil Triner/Jiri Klima.

Two Opel Astra GSis came from Belgium for Grégoire de Mevius/Willy Lux and Freddy Loix/André Malais, whilst the Italian Grifone Team entered three Toyota Celicas for Andrea Aghini/Sauro Farnocchia, Piero Longhi/Flavio Zanella and Gilberto Pianezzola/Loris Roggia.

After the long run eastwards, it seemed that all of Italy’s rally fans were out on the road. Indeed, many problems were later caused by traffic jams and some competitors even lost road time as a result of delays due to roads blocked by spectators’ cars. One special stage was even cancelled for this reason.

From the first special stage it was Sainz who made the running and moved into the lead, benefiting from being 10th on the road and not having to endure loose gravel on his driving lines. On the other hand, Auriol spun on the first stage and emerged in 13th place.

Kankkunen was slowed by punctures, whilst Mӓkinen suffered suspension failure on stage five and retired. In second place at the end of the day was Wilson, followed by Thiry, whilst Auriol had steadily moved up the field to finish the day in fourth place.

Sainz was not looking forward to being first driver on the road on the second leg, but he coped very well with the reduction in grip caused by gravel not yet swept away by the passage of cars and kept his lead, finishing the day with an advantage of 1m 13s, despite having bent a shock absorber by going into a ditch. Wilson had dropped from second place after losing fourth gear whilst Delecour had left the fray after a broken water pump drive belt caused his engine to overheat.

Auriol, by this time, was up into second place, and there was tremendous tension in both Subaru and Toyota camps, for the driver’s championship is still open to grabs by one of these two drivers.

During the run back to Sanremo and another night stop, suspensions, tyres, transmissions, computer chips and various other things were replaced in readiness for the tarmac of the final day, whilst mechanics spent time restocking their vans.

A niggling misfire on that final day eventually caused Sainz to lose much of his lead, though he was still 38s ahead of Auriol when the problem was finally eliminated. The Frenchman was still pushing very hard, however, and his spirited effort carried him ahead of the Spaniard on the penultimate stage.

Thiry had dropped to fourth (he had been second at one time) after suspension damage and road lateness caused by being stuck in a traffic jam the previous day, whilst Cunico had been slowed when a turbocharger pipe came off. Wilson also lost considerable time when he got stuck in a ditch.

The championship situation remains close, although Auriol leads Sainz by 11 points. The French driver needs only to finish in fourth place or higher in the forthcoming RAC Rally of Great Britain and he will take the title, even if Sainz wins the rally. So, in the British forests Subaru will be endeavouring not only to get victory for their Spanish driver but to keep Auriol’s Toyota out of the first four. G P

Sanremo Rally – October 9-12 1994

1 Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli (F) Toyota Celica 4wd, GpA 5h 56m 40s
2 Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (E) Subaru Impreza 555, GpA 5h 57 01s
3 Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero (I) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA 5h 57m 27s
4 Bruno Thiry/Stéphane Prévot (B) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA 5h 57m 57s
5 Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (GB) Subaru Impreza 555, GpA 5h 58m 16s
6 Franco Cunico/Steve Evangelisti (I) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA 5h 58m 31s
7 Juha Kankkunen (SF)/Nicky Grist (GB) Toyota Celica 4wd, GpA 6h 00m 58s
8 Piero Longhi/Flavio Zanella (I) Toyota Celica 4wd, GpA 6h 05m 49s
9 Malcolm Wilson/Bryan Thomas (GB) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA 6h 07m 42s
10 Jorge Bica/Joaquim Capelo (P) Lancia Delta integrale, GpN 6h 27m 06s

World Rally Championship points after eight of 10 rounds

Drivers – 1 Didier Auriol 110; 2 Carlos Sainz 99; 3 Juha Kankkunen 78; 4 Massimo Biasion 42; 5 Bruno Thiry 32; 6 Armin Schwarz 31; 7 Franҫois Delecour 30; 8 Colin McRae 29; Ari Vatanen, Tommi Mӓkinen and Ian Duncan 20; 12 Kenneth Eriksson 18 etc.

Manufacturers – 1 Toyota 151; 2 Subaru 134; 3 Ford 102; 4 Mitsbishi 41; 5 Renault and Skoda 4.