1st: Timo Makinen/Pekka Keskitalo (Mini-Cooper S) 8,368.0 penalties
2nd: Tom Trana/Solve Andreason (Volvo 122 S) 8,484.0 “
3rd: Rauno Aaltonen/Vaino Nurmimaa (Mini-Cooper S) 8,561.0 “
4th: Risto Virtapuro/A. Strengel (Volvo 122 S) 8,675.0 “
IF you were to take a sheet of ordinary paper, screw it up into a ball and then spread it out, the crinkly contours would give a fair representation of the topography of Finland. The next thing is to imagine that all the hollows are filled with water and you can soon see why the Suomi’s major rally is called the Rally of a Thousand Lakes. The outcrops of land between the lakes are obviously of a fairly tough non-soluble rock, otherwise they would have been eroded centuries ago, and this toughness helps explain why the Finnish roads are continuous series of “ups and downs” with no attempt having been made at levelling except on the very major highways. A subsidiary reason which helps create the smaller “yumps” is that the bad winters break the road surfaces up and often cause subsidence which again is never properly levelled.
Basically only the main inter-city roads are tarmacadam, the surface of 90% of the byways being topsoil which is periodically oil-treated to bind it together’ and of course the salt treatment in the winter also helps in the binding process. The resulting surfaces are firm and do not rut easily yet are still loose or “gravelly” as we would put it. It all adds up to a natural special-stage paradise, and it also all adds up to the reason why this country of only four million inhabitants produces such an abnormally high proportion of quick drivers. For example: Rauno Aaltonen, the current European Rally Champion, Timo Makinen, acclaimed the best, Simo Lampinen, and Pauli Toivonen, to name but four.
It was interesting therefore to go to this land of quick men and see how many more they have, and quite honestly by our own club standards they have quite a lot morel Let’s look at it from the point of view that in any sport where speed is involved the man with the quickest reactions is usually the number one guy. Now, although to a certain extent inherent muscular coordination is a prime requisite, practice does help to make perfect —and obviously there the everyday motoring conditions are a continuous instruction in reflexes. All this helps to develop a sixth sense about forest roads which is highly necessary for otherwise the innumerable blind brows produce a very “stop-go” sort of motoring. This brings us to the plight of Roger Clark and Brian Melia in their works Lotus-Cortina. The British pair, together with six Russian Volgas and four East German Trabants, were the only non-Scandinavian or non-Finnish crew there, even their team-mates, Bengt Soderstrom and Gunnar Palm, being one of the thirty-seven Swedish crews present. Roger Clark’s motoring consisted of this ” stop-go ” procedure simply for the reason that he was not prepared to make “guesstimates” at which way the road turned after each blind brow. As a result the young Leicestershireman emerged after the first night in forty-fifth position, being beaten even by Rauno Aaltonen’s sister, Marjatta, in her Saab Sport. One might have argued, and some did, that this position was his rightful place and not just a result of careful driving. However, I refer back to other rallies in which there is a direct comparison between Roger’s driving and that of Bengt Soderstrom and can say that the usual difference between the pair comes to only one second or so per kilometre whereas there it was more in the region of three to five seconds. It was also noticeable that during the second half, which contained some twelve stages, the Cortina driver began making consistent appearances in the top ten fastest and so eventually finished in his nineteenth spot. It was also little surprising to see the white and green Lotus put up fastest time on the 5-lap race round the oval “trotting ring” as Mr. Clark said afterwards, “Marvellous, I could actually see where I was going.” So much for the problems of the Ford driver. However one can see by now why the northern drivers are so quick over the forests. The impression one gets is of blond young men tearing through the forests, instantaneously prepared for the sudden sharp bend or flying “yump,” but one also saw the mess they made of their cars if a guess had been wrong!
The rally itself is rather a dragging affair, for although there are nearly thirty of the thrilling stages, each one is quite short, some five kilometres on average with the longest being a mere twenty. The reason here is as usual—the authorities. Roads cannot be closed in Finland and so private or forestry tracks have to be resorted to, and similarly to England the available quantity of these is quite limited. Still worse the authorities are so strict on the roads with innumerable radar traps, etc., that the convoy merely crawls between the stages. This is a pity for further north, where there is virtually no traffic at all, long high-speed road sections could be held with consummate ease, so bringing the standard up to that of the best endurance tests in Europe.
Partly the reason for centring the event in the middle of Finland around the town of Jyvaskyla is the attempt made at spectator appeal. Several of the stages are opened to paying spectators and three of them, the comical driving test just before the finish and the two circuits, are designed specifically for television. Really, one must not complain too much for we in England are sorely lacking in nation-wide publicity for our own rally and who would complain amongst the rally crowd if one or two short tests were specifically designed for British TV? Anything to bring home to Joe Public that there is a very large following for our sport and that it is only a few tearaways on badly-organised club events that disturb the peace and bring about those lists of R.A.C. “black-spots” or villages which must not be used at any cost.
Enough digression and returning to the rally. The most interesting thing at scrutineering was to see that Timo Makinen had had his works B.M.C. Cooper S converted to dry suspension. He claims that on the Finnish roads it handles better than the Hydrolastic, but it must be emphasised here that he only uses it in Finland. Another noticeable change is his use of one of the standard B.M.C. Mini reclining seats instead of the usual fibreglass affair, an aching back being the explanation for the former device.
Fords spent all night changing the engine in Clark’s Lotus when a piston disintegrated, they were extremely lucky to obtain a spare engine from Sweden in time; while the midnight oil also burnt long and low in the Swedish Renault camp while mechanics tried to make Toivonen’s 1,134 c.c. R8 Gordini deliver more power than a road-going model. It proved to be nothing serious, only a matter of tuning, and the car was in full song by morning.
The first five stages during the early evening saw an epic performance from Bengt Soderstrom. The tubby Swede pulled out all stops to beat Makinen and in fact managed a lead of six seconds at one point. He afterwards said that he couldn’t have gone faster if he wanted too; however as night fell so did his position, to fifth, obviously the others were able to see better at night. Other people who put up epic performances were Hannu Mikkola in a loaned Finnish works Volvo—he has proved over the past year by winning seven out of eight national rallies how incredibly quick he really is (he rolled on the third stage when the steering jammed)—and Pauli Toivonen, who was vying for fastest R8 times with the very hairy looking Berndt Jansson.
Toivonen’s mechanics’ midnight oil had burnt to no avail when he ditched it in a big way on the sixth stage. In fact he had a miracle escape, for after being ejected through the windscreen (he was wearing full harness belts) he ended up with only a ligament torn in his right arm.
The rally dragged on into the next day and it was interesting to see that quite often only twenty seconds covered the first forty cars, which is a product of the short stages. Tom Traria, in the privately entered (Volvo have officially withdrawn from competition for the time being) works-prepared Swedish Volvo 122S, had come forward to duel with the mighty Makinen while Rauno Aaltonen and Jorma Lusenius in the other works B.M.C. Coopers and Simo Lampinen in the now outpaced Saab 96 had made slow suns but were consolidating their positions just behind the leaders. Although Toni Trana’s drive in the unwieldy looking Volvo must he considered a masterpiece, it should also be remembered that the Gothenberg cars are anything but slow. Their “big-four” 1,800 c.c. twin carburetter engines produce a liberal 130 b.h.p. and the large wheels and heavy duty suspension produce very stable handling qualities which make it a very manageable car.
At halfway, consternation arose in the Ford camp when Soderstrom failed to appear. The gearbox had refused to select any gears, an uncommon malady for a Ford, and so ended a fine drive for the Swede who’s been going so well all this year. The second night and day saw little alteration in the results except that the private owner Risto Virtapuro in his Volvo 122S crept up the leader board with nice steady stage times to take fourth place. This is so typical of these Finns, for Virtapuro does only the occasional competitive event, yet is skilful enough to get such a high placing. This brings us to another point in favour of the rally and that is that it is remarkably cheap for the private owner once you get there (yes, I know it’s expensive getting there!). For instance, one set of tyres is more than enough. Talking of private owners, in the Coupes des Dames the private Saab of Marjatta Aaltonen was comfortably beating the famed Sylvia Osterberg from Sweden in her works Renault Gordini until she had a suspension-damaging place-dropping accident. I wonder if we will see her on the R.A.C. in a Mini ….
Practice this year was not allowed, and this brings us to one final criticism of the event in that the only route information given to crews came in the form of an overprinted map with no control positions or starts and finishes of stages marked. It was strictly a case of “following the mauve line” until you met something, very unsociable and also very nasty for foreign crews for directions through towns were non-existent except for sporadically appearing arrows. local knowledge should not be needed on an International rally. Nevertheless, a fine event, fittingly won by the national hero.—AK,