LE MARATHON DE LA ROUTE
Police regulations are increasingly curbing the plans of Continental rally organisers, but by running an event which was almost three thousand miles long and by keeping drivers at work for virtually four days and four nights (without any official breaks) the Royal Motor Union of Liege managed to make their 30th `Liege-Rome-Liege” Rally (run from August 31st to September 4th) a tough test of cars and crews. Of 83 starters only 13 were still running at the finish.
The regulations paid little attention to class results, the prize money ranging from £1,071 for first place to £70 for all those finishing between 11th and 20th. The regulations were equally devoid of complications regarding timing. At the time controls at the end of the easier sections one second’s delay meant exclusion; at other controls there were delay allowances ranging up to one hour before being compulsorily retired. The marking system was equally simple, a competitor being debited with the amount-of time he was late during the rally.
The organisers were not very bothered what state of tune cars were in and the serutineering in Liege consisted of little more than counting the number of wheels. They obviously felt, quite rightly, that a car tuned too highly would stand very little chance of finishing. With the exception of the Mercedes team most of the leading Continental drivers were entered. The only British works cars were four red Austin Healey 3000s.
The authorities insist that rallies must have “liaison sections” at reasonable averages linking the meatier parts of a route and with the exception of an 18-kilometre test between Stavelot and Montenau (on which Oreiller Was fastest in 11 Min. 49 sec. in his Alfa-Romeo GSVZ) the first 1,000 kilometres were at quite low averages through Germany, across the south-west tip of Austria and into Italy and the start of the interesting part of the rally.
The second of the timed tests was from Trafoi over the Stelvio to Bagni Nuovi and consisted of 30 km. to be done in 36 minutes. Oreiller was again quickest and he was the only one to beat the time set with 34 min. 40 sec. This was a remarkable drive; de Lugeneste, winner of this year’s Alpine, was the second fastest but he was 9 sec. over the 36 minutes allowed.
Two well-used passes, the Gavia and Vivione, had to be withdrawn from the next section of the route due to road works and landslides; the revised route took cars to Brescia via Tresenda and Demarco. 68 were still running at Brescia, among the retirements being Maglio, whose Lancia Flaminia had electrical trouble at the start, and Walter whose Porsche developed engine trouble.
From Brescia the route went eastwards and into Yugoslavia which, as last year, proved to be the downfall of many competitors. By the second control in Yugoslavia, at Matulji, 32 cars were running late—and lateness on the “Liege” was cumulative. Most were able to pull back some of their lateness by the control at Novi but from there a section to Vrbovsko caught out the entire entry. The official mileage, on which the time allowance Was based was 91 km. but the distance was nearer 99 km., to be done in 91 min. Nearest to clean was Trautmann in his IDI9 who lost one minute, followed by de Lageneste and Strahle (Porsche) with 3 minutes.
The leader, Oreiller, was five minutes late and abandoned on the next leg having had so many punctures that he ran out of spares. Many cars picked up nails during the 10 hours in Yugoslavia and the Dunlop service boys were very much in demand.
Competitors were allowed to be up to an hour late at Vrbovsko without exclusion but only 45 minutes’ tolerance was allowed at Caber, a further 53 km. on. Once again this official mileage was wildly optimistic, the actual distance being nearer 61 km. A dozen competitors dropped out on this section. Trautmann and Coltelloni were going well in their IDs but possibly they were punishing their cars too hard as they both went out later in the rally with mechanical trouble.
Most of the Yugoslav sections were on loose, twisty roads and by the first control back in Italy, at Predil, only 30 cars were left. The first Italian section was easy and gave crews a chance to recover before a long, tricky section front Cibiana to Rovereto. This entailed covering 260 km. in 5 hr. 12 min, and crews were reaching the stage where it was difficult to maintain the pressure for so long. B.M.C. had sent crews over parts of the route before the rally and they had reported that this section was long and difficult which meant that the Austin Healey crews were forewarned.
Nine crews dropped out before Rovereto. including the leader Trautmann with front suspension bothers. This let Buchet into the lead with his Porsche but he got lost and ran out of time. As a result Peter Riley moved up to first place in his Austin Healey but then he went out, with a fan blade through the radiator. The throttle stuck open on the Austin Healey on the first test of the rally causing it to over-rev, which may have contributed to the failure of the fan.
All these retirements left Coltelloni in the lead, but leading the “Liege” seemed to be a short-lived pastime for his IDI9 had to be retired on the next leg with front suspension maladies.
Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom now took over the lead, which they were to hold to the finish. John Patten lay second in his privately-owned Sebring Sprite which was being co-driven by John Spriuzel who had prepared the car. By this time there were only 15 survivors of whom two more were to retire before Spa.
The road section of the rally eased off as the route moved into France but there were still five special tests timed to the second on which positions could change.
Pat Moss had oil seal troubles in the gearbox of her Austin Healey but enthusiastic work by the B.M.C. service mechanics rectified this; they took the gearbox out and replaced it, all under half an hour. The girls were now clearly in the lead and were naturally taking no chances on any of the tests, although they had a nasty scare during the teat on the Col d’Allos when an official opened the road to non-rally traffic while they were still climbing, with the result that they met on-coming traffic.
All the target times set for the tests were impossible and everyone added to their marks lost. David Seigle-Morris/Vic Elford were going well on their first Works drive for B.M.C. and moved their Austin Healey up into fifth place on the second of the five tests, 36 kim, to be covered in 32 min. from Les Augiers to St. Geniez. Unfortunately the Patten/Sprinzel Sprite which had gone so well in Yugoslavia could not match the speed of the Porsche of G. and W. Sander (a father and son team) front Belgium and they were pushed down into third place.
The only other change in position also affected a British crew, John Gott/Rupert Jones moving up into 10th place after a test from Le Noyer to St. Etienne-en-Devoluy. 12 min. were allowed for the 13.6 km.
The rally finished with a long trail up France via Gray and Verdun, back into Belgium and the finish at Spa.
B.M.C. are taking their rallying very seriously nowadays and all the Austin Healeys (which were practically unscratched) were washed on the run in so that they made an impressive entrance, the more so as the three 3000 versions arrived in convoy.
Deservedly the incredible Miss Moss and Miss Wisdom were given a tremendous reception. Their outright win on a tough event of this nature, following on their second place on the Alpine, must surely rank Pat Moss (who does the majority of the driving) as the most successful British woman driver of all time.
The rally was a most successful one for the competition department at Abingdon and the drivers would be the first to acknowledge their debt to the mechanics, who for this event were Messrs. Brown, Brocklehurst, Hamblin, Wiffen, Organ and Wellman.
Enthusiastically organised, the “Liege” must, rate as the best of the European rallies; one driver thought that it was tougher than a Safari, and he had competed on both. As a final touch the organisers sent out a charming letter to competitors saying how sorry they were that they had not finished and hoping that they would have the pleasure of seeing them in Liege again next year. Such is the rally driver’s capacity for punishment that they probably will.—S. T.