Rally of the Thousand Lakes
1st:H. Mikkola/G. Palm (Escort TC) .......................... 16,612
2nd:T. Makinen/H. Liddon (Escort TC) ...................... 16,798
3rd:S. Lampinen/J. Davenport (Fulvia HF) ................. 18,802
4th:H. Majander/J. Ahava (Volvo 142) ....................... 17,228
5th:E. Soutulahti/P. Keskitalo (Volvo 142) .................. 17,247
6th:J. Lusenius/S. Halme (R8 Gordini) ....................... 17,545
7th:P. Karha/T. Alanen (Isuzu 1600) ........................... 17,711
8th:V. Paakkonen/M. Tiukkanen (Imp) ........................ 17,749
9th:H. Valtaharju/L. Paalama (Kadett) ......................... 18,001
10th:E. Nuuttila/E. Nuuttila (Kadett) ............................ 18,174
Opel (Valtaharju, Nuuttila, Halonen)
93 starters – 47 finishers
I ONCE heard the Rally of the Thousand Lakes described as a British club rally in another country with a whole field full of drivers with tongue-twisting names.
That is a most unfair description, for nowhere in the World is there an event which tests the car controlling skill—and bravery—of drivers quite like Finland's premier event does. Finnish roads are so undulating that blind brows and crests as violent as pyramids are as common as the lakes and trees.
Road surfaces are generally smooth but loose, with a top dressing of sand sprayed with a sealing compound. It would therefore appear that the rally, which uses special stages on closed forest roads just as the RAC Rally does, is not particularly hard on motor cars. This is not the case, for those crests are so frequent and violent that cars spend a great deal of time in the air. Whilst airborne, there is the tendency to over-rev the engines and everyone knows the danger of that practice. What is more, landings send such shocks through suspensions and bodyshells that there is more pounding than on an event many times as rough.
The Thousand Lakes is the only event in Finland which permits practice beforehand. But legislation guards against public annoyance by creating a 50 k.p.h. speed limit on all roads to be used as special stages from the time the route is announced to the time of the rally. Naturally, the restriction is lifted once the rally starts !
The technique of driving sideways on the loose roads has been mastered by the Finns. It is indeed an experience to watch a car leaping into the air from the apex of a crest, and at the same time turning slowly sideways in order that it may be set up properly for the bend which follows. There are skills involved in such high-speed driving over natural obstacles that no mere racing circuit practitioner would ever dream of. The people of Finland realise this and turn out in hundreds of thousands, no matter what the weather, to watch in the forests. Rarely are they unrewarded.
The inherent skill of the Finns is one of the reasons for the absence of a truly international character. Drivers from many European countries have matched themselves against the locals at various times during the 20 years the event has been running, but only twice during that time have the Finns failed to produce the winner—and even on those occasions the winners were from neighbouring Sweden where the talent is equally high.
This year, factory-entered cars were only three in number, two British Escorts for Mikkola and Makinen and a Lancia Fulvia for Lampinen—all three Finnish. But their respective co-drivers were Palm, Liddon and Davenport, a Swede and two Englishmen. For the two Englishmen, at least, it was their first experience of the Thousand Lakes. In past years Finnish drivers had to use co-drivers from their own country or they would not qualify for points in the Finnish Rally Championship. That regulation has now been amended, which gave each of the three works drivers the chance to take their regular partners. Both Liddon and Davenport are very experienced professional co-drivers, and it takes a lot to impress them. It was therefore interesting to witness their unconcealed enthusiasm for the event when it was over. Both were full of praise and it was obvious that they had enjoyed every moment of it.
There were teams of works Trabants and Wartburgs, of course, as there always are on the Thousand Lakes, but not the customary quartet from the Moskvitch factory. It seems that the team's prepared cars were fitted with the new twin-cam engines, and they were nowhere near homologated. Rather than change engines, the team decided to give the event a miss. In addition to the actual works cars there were teams of Opels, Renaults, Hondas, Isuzus, Volvos, Imps and various others all entered and supported by enthusiastic Finnish concessionaires in much the same way as factory teams operate.
Unlike 1968, when Castrol made the memorable film called "Flying Finns", the weather was fine and there was none of the sandy mud which spreads itself as a film over the roads. Instead there were loose surfaces and dust, the former being ideal for the techniques of driving sideways and jumping over sharp crests.
All three works cars had their minor problems, but they all finished, Mikkola gaining his third successive outright win on his country's prem!er event. Lampinen spent much of the time in second place, but dropped to third before the end when a determined effort by Makinen coincided with some front suspension trouble on the Lancia.
Heavy landings after jumping have caused more retirements in the Thousand Lakes than any other factor, and it was undoubtedly a recommendation by Mikkola and Makinen which kept the two Escorts going to the finish. To prevent excessive engine movement, they suggested fitting suspension bump-stops in front of the block. Furthermore, they also asked for reinforcing on the sumpguards. This took the form of cross-members across the back of the guards, but not bolted to the car's frame so as not to offend the Group 2 regulations.
These were wise measures, for engine movement has been the cause of many Escort problems in the past, not only with fan entering the radiator, but with sump coming into contact with steering rack.
It is unfortunate that as a result of a good selection of events and rules for the International Constructors' Championship, and a complex jumble for the Drivers' Championship, the latter series has degenerated into a sort of poor relation. Since the Thousand Lakes is a Drivers' qualifier, it has suffered a sort of rubbing off, and the sooner the CSI introduces its expected amendments to the various championship rules the sooner the Drivers' series will be restored to its proper status and the sooner events such as the Thousand Lakes will get the support they so richly deserve.
* * *
As we go to press, we hear that the number of works teams taking part in November's RAC Rally might be further supplemented. It is certain that there will be cars from Ford, Alpine-Renault, Lancia, Porsche, Saab, Datsun and Skoda. There is also strong talk that Volvo will soon be making a return to the sport—although perhaps not in time for this particular rally—and there will also be a team from the Wartburg factory.
Furthermore, interest is also being shown by Porsche Salzburg, and that could very well materialise into a team of three Porsche 914/6s. An enquiry has also been received from none other than the Fiat factory, and not on behalf of Lancia either. Fiat has been making under-the-counter excursions into the sport for some time, and it would be very nice if the RAC Rally saw the company bring their competitions activities right out into the open.—G. P.