Whoever it was first had the idea that car manufacturers could make some useful publicity for themselves if they advertised the quality of their products when one of them happened to he successful in a rally, sowed the seed from which sprouted factory competitions departments. It was natural that a manufacturer would sit up and take notice if one of his cars was driven to victory in a worthwhile event. And if it did not win the following year it was equally natural that steps should be taken to remedy that.
Thus competitions departments were created. They were rather crude at first, devoting time to such mundane problems as finding the optimum blade size for a snow shovel, but as the importance of winning increased so the departments were developed into efficient success creators, and there are now some which have very sophisticated organisations with links in the marketing field.
It wasn’t long before the best drivers were being persuaded not only to drive for the companies concerned, but not to drive for rivals in succeeding events—the contract was born.
In the years which followed, the top echelon of drivers picked up good rewards for the risks they took, and the tyre, oil, lighting and accessory trade followed car manufacturers into competition. By the time the late sixties came along, there was indeed a boom in the small but select automotive competition industry (which it could be called at that level). But there was also a huge spending spree on the go; particularly during the London-Sydney Marathon and the World Cup Rally, expenditures were enormous as rally people flitted here, there and everywhere, all over the World.
Eventually, the accountants had to catch up with the situation, and several departments closed down. Some operated on a shoestring and virtually in disguise, and others ceased their own participation but continued to supply competition equipment to all those who wanted to buy it.
With this apparent reversal of the metamorphosis came an insecure feeling by contracted drivers and co-drivers. There were many more of them available than there were cars for them to drive, a situation which played right into the hands of team managers. Why should they stick to three contracted drivers for a whole year when they could so easily have a rally-by-rally choice of two or three times that number?
This is precisely the thinking of Ford of Britain. The rally driver market (and I don’t liken these skilled people to cattle by the use of that expression) has been recognised by Boreham as being heavily in favour of the buyer, so there will be no annual contracts signed for next year. Ford, with a very limited rally programme compared with that of previous years, will instead sign up drivers for individual events. Such a system has the advantage of widening the choice, but it also means that drivers will lose their feeling of being part of a permanent team. Roger Clark, for instance, has been a fine ambassador for Ford, having been associated with that company for many years. In 1972 he will be able to accept any Ford offers which come his way, but he will no longer be barred from accepting other offers, so who can blame him if he drives another make of car in an event in which Ford is not taking part? The continuity will be gone and with it much of Clark’s value to Ford as a public relations commodity—assuming of course that he will get, and accept, an opportunity to drive outside the Ford team.
The situation is certainly not confined to Ford. Porsche has no apparent rally programme for next year, so that drivers like Björn Waldegård are open to offers. With such people available, what chance has the young star with ambition? There are always the permanent teams of Scandinavia, of course. like Saab, Volvo Finland and the Opel teams of both Finland and Sweden. But these are concerned very much with their own national championships as well as with International rallying, which means that they must have a regular team of drivers from their own countries.
The trend seems to be towards private teams. Already this year various works and ex-works drivers have driven in several International and National rallies for individual dealers. They are offered the drives and they accept them. But they are really reducing the demand for their services as contracted professionals for the factories. For instance, Roger Clark and Henry Liddon drove an Escort BDA in the International Manx Trophy Rally last month. They formed part of a team of Escorts entered by J. C. Withers of Winsford, Cheshire. They won the rally, and were followed in the general classification by two other Escorts. The comment from Ford’s Stuart Turner was “When dealers and private entrants are winning rallies in our cars, why should we bother? An Escort is an Escort no matter who drives it”.
In a way he’s right, but what happens when Escorts stop winning? Will the whole process start all over again?—G. P.