One that got away

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Rauno Aaltonen: 1965 Alpine Rally

To lose a rally is bad enough, but when you also lose one of the most coveted prizes in the sport, then it’s indeed a bad day. In 1965, at the start of the Alpine Rally, Rauno Aaltonen stood on the verge of winning a Coupe d’Or, an award made to a driver who had completed three Alpine Rallies in a row without being penalised, winning the event in ’63 and ’64. To win a Coupe d’Or was already a prized accomplishment: on the 2400-mile route of the Alpine Rally — over 70 passes, 40 selective sections and 12 special stages — it was an outstanding achievement. Only Ian Appleyard in ’52 and Stirling Moss in ’54 had won one. Now, both Aaltonen and rival Jean Rolland could add their names to this exclusive list.

Aaltonen was driving a 1275 Cooper S; Rolland was in an Alfa Romeo GTZ. Rolland wasn’t long for the rally, though: his wipers failed on the Chorges-to-Embrun section and he hit a wall. For Aaltonen, the first leg of the rally went well despite heavy rain as he and co-driver Tony Ambrose worked their way north to a rest halt.

The second leg was a figure of eight based on Grenoble, including a test up the Col de Luitel and a night-time rendezvous with the Col du Frene. This was not a tough section, but the maze of roads around Route National Six needed care and BMC had gone to the trouble of making a road book to negotiate them.

“We came to the main road and a gendarme told us that the road ahead was blocked and we should turn right. I urged Tony to take the map out, but he couldn’t find it… So we took a road to the left and went like hell. It even fitted in with where we thought we’d rejoined the road book— but then Tony found the map under his seat. It took only a few seconds before he shouted, ‘Stop! Turn around.’ When we hit the big road, the engine was pulling 8500rpm in top but, of course, we were low-geared for the mountains. We must have gone at least 7km wrong, which meant 14 extra in the section.”

To rub salt in the wound, the other Cooper Ss of Timo Mäkinen, Paddy Hopkirk and Tony Fall all won Coupes. Mäkinen nearly won the event outright, finishing 1.7sec behind René Trautmann’s Lancia Flavia Zagato. Without his road penalty, Aaltonen would have been third behind Mäkinen. As it was, he was classified 14th.

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