After the two inter-continental rallies from London to Sydney and from London to Mexico it must have been a great temptation for the Germans, who were anxious to provide rally people with a contest held in conjunction with the Munich Olympic Games, to run something on similar lines, stretching front one side of the globe to the other. Fortunately, for themselves and for the contestants, they showed restraint and the rally which they did organise cannot be regarded as anything but a success even though it was contained within the borders of West Germany.
The groundwork for the Olympia Rally began a good two years ago, for Germany is by no means a country in which the paths of rally organisers are smooth. Indeed, they are so difficult that the country’s enthusiasts are starved of top class events and it came as no surprise when the entry list of the Olympia Rally included all of 307 pairs of names.
The biggest obstacle to rallying in Germany is the country’s highly localised system of government, and any route of reasonable length must be approved by officials of the various districts through which it passes. Each burgomeister, each police chief and each village constable probably have their own ideas on what is acceptable and what is not, so it is by no means a straightforward task to produce an event which is capable of satisfying all of them.
Although there was no direct link with the Olympic Games, the association was obvious and this certainly had its effect in persuading officials to co-operate. But games or no games, the rally had to be self-supporting and an enormous amount of money had to be found. Landowners had to be paid for the use of roads making up the sixty seven special stages; rally officials had to be compensated for loss of earnings during the week of the event; every policeman and police vehicle had to be hired; and the foresters, ambulance men, timekeepers and all the others had to be paid for their services.
Compared with most other rallies, which run largely on voluntary labour, the cost of the Olympia Rally was enormous and could certainly not have been met without the help of the German motor industry. Each car manufacturer (with the exception of Porsche, surprisingly enough) made a substantial contribution and in return the organisers allowed them to “adopt” certain controls. Wolfsburg, Rüsselsheim and Munich were obviously the preserves of Volkswagen, Opel and BMW, whilst Mercedes-Benz looked after the special test at Hockenheim, Ford the test at Plattling speedway track, the Renault importers the start at Kiel, Sachs the control at Schweinfurt and various component manufacturers odd stages here and there. Bilstein, for instance, adopted the special stage over the mountain from which the company takes its name. It all added up to almost total involvement by Germany’s motor industry.
Although the German car manufacturers were involved as sponsors in return for publicity, not all of them were actually involved with competing cars. BMW had a team, of course—they would have been silly not to have taken part in a rally finishing in the shadow of their own factory—Opel was represented by a three-car team from Sweden and Ford by two Escorts from Boreham. There were two works Alpine-Renaults and a team of Fiats from the factory in Poland. Other countries represented were Turkey, Norway, Denmark, Holland. Belgium, Spain, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg.
The event ran from Monday to Friday with just one night stop, the 3,500 kilometre route passing through 67 special stages, some on tarmac, some in forests, some at racing circuits (Nürburgring and Hockenheim) and some at oval speedway tracks. The route wasn’t particularly twisty, and it was not at all easy for service crews to meet their cars at one point and get ahead of them for the next. This, combined with the multitude of surfaces involved, made matters complicated for the tyre companies. It was no easy event for anyone concerned.
On such a long event, both in distance and in time, it is difficult to keep track of competitors’ performances, and with no experience of running regular events behind them the organisers, a consortium of both AVD and ADAC, found themselves overburdened. Indeed, the rally became a little top-heavy and throughout the event there was no clear picture of who the leaders were and by how much. But apart from this one failing, an important one of course, the organisation coped very well indeed; so well that there is talk of a serious attempt to organise the rally as an annual fixture.
Of the three works BMWs, Aaltonen’s 3-litre coupé retired with a blown head gasket. Fall’s 2002 TI with a broken differential pinion and Warmbold’s 2002 TI with a burst radiator which followed an off-road excursion after a fine drive indeed. Both factory Escorts retired on the first day, Mikkola’s when a drive-shaft came away complete with wheel and Glemser’s when he rolled it. One of the three Swedish Asconas dropped out with a burst radiator, but the other two went on to finish, that of Anders Kulläng in second place despite the lack of racing tyres for the tarmac stages. Darniche, after holding the lead for much of the early part of the rally, put his Alpine upside down into a ditch, but his team-mates Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Jean Todt went on to win the event handsomely.
There was enormous spectator interest throughout the event, much of it obviously (since it appeared to be organised rather than spontaneous) occasioned by the prize being put up for the town or village showing the greatest interest, offering the greatest co-operation and having the best atmosphere before and during the event. The prize was a completely equipped children’s playground and it was won by the town of Burghausen in Bavaria. The public interest taken in the event has caused optimism in German rallying circles that it can be run again next year, but it remains to he seen whether like enthusiasm can be stirred up without the dangling of the playground carrot.
Mention must be made of a young German driver called Walter Röhrl who took part in a Ford Capri RS 2600. Without much experience behind him he drove surprisingly well in a car which was far less suited to the event than those being used by professional drivers. For a considerable time he was in second place, a broken engine causing his retirement during the last evening. With such new talent cropping up—and there isn’t a shortage of it if you know where to look—established works drivers had better start taking a long, hard look at their finishing records.
When one thinks of sport in the continent of Africa the event which springs immediately to mind is the East African Safari, a rally which came to prominence simply because of its reputation as a car-breaker and, in later years, because it was apparently impossible until 1972 for overseas drivers to beat the locals. It is an extremely expensive event for any team, not only because of its distance from the car manufacturing centres of the world, but because it demands weeks, almost months, of careful reconnaissance and the mounting of complicated service arrangements.
Nearer the bottom of the globe, and in the same continent, there is an event which compares very favourably indeed with the Safari and is far, far less expensive. The Total Rally of South Africa is just as tough, just as physically demanding and just as hard on motor cars as the Safari, but it has most of its meat on closed-road special stages, whereas the Safari takes place entirely on public roads with no official closure orders. What is more, the Pretoria Motor Club guards its route well, and the whole lot remains a close secret until the time of the start. There are no tedious weeks of practice and no opportunity for manufacturers to arrange fuel dumps, tyre stockpiles, and land/air support in advance.
Sandwiched between the Olympia Rally and the Austrian Alpine, the Total Rally attracted only a handful of European crews, and just one from the USA, but it was a local driver who won, driving a Datsun 1600 SSS with 1.8-litre engine. The event had many rough edges which, if it seeks World Championship status, will have to be rubbed off, but its style and character were such that its inclusion as a World Championship qualifier would be an asset to that series. Rallies are becoming costlier and costlier, and an event which bans practising must surely figure prominently in any short list. The RAC Rally is the most popular event in the world at the moment, and its no-practice rule is one of the major reasons for its popularity. If the Pretoria Motor Club thinks seriously about going for championship status we can think of no reason why, after an observed 1973 event to make sure that the bugs are ironed out, why anyone should oppose them. Of course, manufacturers who are not confident of their cars’ ability to get around a rally route without major repair work are not likely to be keen on the idea.
South Africa is at a greater distance from Europe than Nairobi, but in view of the unpredictability of shipping arrivals at Mombasa it must surely be easier to send cars by sea to Cape Town than to the Kenyan port, and certainly cheaper than air-freighting them to Nairobi. At the moment the Total Rally is below championship standard, but only due to a collection of minor shortcomings which could doubtless be put right without much trouble.
Austrian Alpine Rally
Following the Olympia Rally by less than three weeks was the sixth qualifier of the 1972 International Rally Championship for Makes, the Austrian Alpine Rally. Considering the tremendous support for rallying in neighbouring Germany, the most surprising thing about the Austrian event was that it attracted just 58 starters among whom was not one German private entrant. Between other neighbouring countries there is quite a flow of rally traffic and it did seem rather strange that the rally-starved Germans took so little interest in an event so close to their border.
Last year’s Alpenfahrt was a model of efficiency. So smoothly did it run that in one year all the wafting smoke of previous disorganised events was blown away. The slickness was repeated this year, the Austrians realising full well what a surprising number of other organisers fail to appreciate; that the whole basis of a well controlled rally is an efficient network of communications linking special stages and controls to rally headquarters.
All too often nowadays rally organisations crumble under the strain of getting information from controls and stages in remote country to results rooms at rally headquarters. The Austrians solved this in the best possible way by enlisting the help of the army who provided radio-teleprinter trucks at each special stage. The outcome was an instant results service which was as near foolproof as any could be. What is more, rally headquarters were equipped with closed-circuit television and in the public rooms pictures were being shown direct from the special stages.
Although entries for the Alpenfahrt were low, the factory interest was not. There were works teams from BMW, Lancia, Fiat and Saab, and a team of Volkswagens from VW-Porsche-Austria. Every team possessed winning potential, and the lead passed from BMW to Lancia and finally to Fiat, the Italian company scoring the second win of the year in a major event. The winning crew was Hakan Lindberg/Helmut Eisendle, the pair who won the Acropolis Rally in May.
The event was not without its little difficulties; firstly the roadbook was far from satisfactory, and even professionals who had practised were finding themselves in doubt as to which road to take. Among the private entrants there must have been considerable scratching of heads. Secondly, some of the stages were inclined to be rough, though it was noticeable that the complainants were mainly those with not-so-rugged cars at their disposal. The main defect, however, lay in the average speeds set for open road sections. This was generally too high, not because they were impossible but because drivers feel that any antagonisation of other road users or of the authorities tends to bring the sport into disrepute and to create difficulties for the future. The real, hard competition should be confined to the special stages, and any high road averages (designed to prevent major servicing) confined to the night time. All these points will be rectified for next year, when the event is likely to be a qualifier in the World Rally Championship for Constructors.
The fortunes of the factories were not the best, and of the eight finishers only two were actually works-entered. All three BMWs retired, Warmbold after rolling when, as on the Olympia Rally, he was leading. The other two succumbed mechanically, like the three Lancias. One of the two Saabs lost a wheel and was actually driven at considerable speed back to the crew’s hotel on just three wheels, saying much for the car’s stability and aerodynamics and the skill of driver Stig Blomqvist.
It’s true that Lindberg’s Fiat 124 Spider only moved into the lead after Warmbold (BMW) and Lampinen (Lancia) had retired, but mechanical reliability is as much of the game as driver skill, and it would be completely wrong to dilute the success of the Fiat team with theories as to what might have happened had the opponents’ differentials, oil filters, connecting rods and distributors not broken.
The second outright victory brings Fiat up to third place in the championship after six events. Presently leading is Lancia, also with two wins, the two Italian makes being separated by Porsche, the German factory having gained most of its points as the result of good places achieved by private entrants. Three events are left in the series, the Sanremo Rally, the Press-on-Regardless Rally and the RAC Rally. Present positions are shown in the accompanying table. — G. P.