Total Rally Review
Chevrolet Firenza 5-litre V8s shine but Fall wins for Datsun
Of all the world's international rallies there are but few outside the World Rally Championship which can really claim to be given a great deal of attention other than in their own countries. the Arctic Rally is an obvious one (it has already been suggested by many as an ideal qualifier for the World Championship) and the British home internationals are others. Yet another is the Total Rally, an event which begins its competitive sections in South Africa and passes through Swaziland to end at the Mocambique seaport capital, Lourenco Marques.
So called because of handsome financial backing by Total South Africa, the event is organised by the Pretoria Motor Club and its 4,500 kilometre route is confined to the northern part of Southern Africa. Unlike organisers of other events in Africa (the Ivory Coast's Bandama Rally, for instance) the Pretoria MC has not made the mistake of trying to emulate the East African Safari by running a virtual road race on open public roads without any special stages closed to other traffic. South Africa has "civilised" its bush far more than East Africa has, and whether that is a good thing for rallying or not it is nevertheless completely impracticable to run high-speed sections on open roads as the only means of finding a winner.
The Total Rally relies on closed special stages, twenty-five of them, and apart from the odd series of comparatively short dirt road sections in unpopulated areas, the transport sections are not at all competitive, although not really slow enough to enable time to be made up for wholesale car rebuilding.
To most South Africans all rallying is judged by comparison with the Monte Carlo Rally. That is the standard which, to them, all other events are measured. Although that is certainly not the case in Europe, one can appreciate the reasons; the connections between Total South Africa and its French parent company and the annual prize given to the Total Rally winners by South African Airways, a return trip for two to compete in the Monte.
For that reason there are some aspects of the Total Rally which compare directly with the Monte. For instance, there are several starting points from which a converging route takes Competitors by a long, boring, tarmac meander to a meeting point from which the true Competition really starts. It is by no means a popular part of the event, but one which is put in so that competitors coming from distant parts of South Africa will not feel that they have more travelling than those who live nearer Pretoria. In Europe, the presence of foreign competitors in most events is taken as a matter of course, but in the Total Rally overseas crews are regarded as rather special people. That is not to say that they are given preferential treatment; on the contrary, all crews are treated exactly alike. But South Africa is so far from the areas where rallying is at its greatest concentration that the arrival of competitors from overseas is always something of an occasion. It is hardly a financial possibility for the unsponsored European amateur to tackle the local Rally, but the event's sponsors do go to considerable lengths to attract a handful of visitors and not one of these have I heard remark that they did not enjoy the rally immensely.
Unlike most European events, the Total forbids practising completely and makes no announcement of the route, other than a list of Total fuel stations, until the actual start. This can be considered to put a premium on local knowledge, but in practice that isn't the case, for this year the event was won by an overseas driver, Yorkshireman Tony Fall, albeit with a local navigator, Franz Boshoff. The single feature most likely not to be to the liking of European manufacturers' teams is the effect the secrecy has on service planning. In South Africa, no advance planning can be done and service cars. usually meet up with their competing crews as and when they can, each point being decided at the previous one. For this reason, rally, servicing is in its infancy in South African and if ever the Total Rally provided information in advance to enable service planners to complete their preparations, an efficient outfit from Europe (or even a South African outfit working under the direction of one of their European competitors) would leave the others standing.
South Africa has a thriving motor manufacturing industry, a fact which many people in Europe fail to appreciate. If you buy a Datsun, Triumph, Chevrolet, Volvo, Toyota, Morris etc. the chances are that it will not have been imported but manufactured locally. The models are almost identical with their counterparts abroad, but there are minor differences which could cause considerable difficulty should the Total Rally ever become part Of the World Championship, for the market cannot cope with the numbers required for homologation. This, in our opinion, is the only major problem which the Total Rally organisers have to consider when viewing the possibility of World Championship status. Already there is talk of FIA observers inspecting next year's Total Rally, and the chances arc that the FIA would give dispensation from homologation requirements for South African made cars, just as they did for American cars in last year's POR Rally, but just for one year. What would happen during the following year? It would be grossly unfair for the Total Rally only to accept cars of foreign manufacture; indeed, it would be a situation which would destroy all the interest which SA Manufacturers presently have in the sport.
For instance, the GM people in South Africa built a racing saloon on a Vauxhall Firenza shell and gave it a 5-litre Chevrolet V8 engine and a number of other refinements. So that it could qualify for "production" saloon races, one hundred of the cars were made for the public sale, and indeed they have been sold. Two such cars appeared in the Total Rally, prepared and entered by what is called the Chevrolet dealer Team. The requirement that 100 cars be built is South Africa's equivalent of the FIA homologation process, but it is unthinkable that such a car could become eligible for Gp1 categories for many years, for not just 100 but 5,000 Would have to be built in that case.
It is a difficult problem, and although I feel that the Total Rally could be a most eminent qualifying round of the World Rally Championship it would be unfair to South Africa's motor industry to impose impossible conditions on the eligibility of their own cars.
Ford, Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Datsun, Toyota, Peugeot and Chevrolet were the main contenders this year, the hottest competition being between Datsun, Toyota and Chevrolet. The overseas visitors included Fall and Boshoff in a Datsun 180B, Per-Inge Walfridsson (Sweden) and John Jensen (England) in a Toyota Corolla, Ove Andersson (Sweden) and Jean Todt (France) in a Toyota Celica, Oda Dencker-Andersen (Denmark) and Charlotte Heuser (Germany) in a DATSUN GX, Jorge Nascimento and Jorge Alves (Portugal) in a Datsun 1600 SSS, and half of the crew of a Chevrolet Firenza V8, for I went along to partner the leading South African driver, Jan Hettema.
From the start it was Hettema, Andersson and Fall, in that order, but all three later had troubles. Hettema retired after colliding with a bank in Andersson's dust, Fall had electrical problems, as did Andersson who eventually retired with a broken front suspension unit. Local man Louis Cloute got into the lead in his Firenza V8, but dropped back when his navigator got lost on a special stage. Fall then took over the lead and kept it to head the ten finishers into Lourenco Marques.
It seems rather strange that a South African rally should choose to finish in another country. There is considerable co-operation between the enthusiasts of both countries, even down to combining the resources of their amateur radio enthusiasts to send back information, but it would surely be far easier for the organisers if they were based entirely at the Burgerspark Hotel in Pretoria, which happened to be Rally HQ for one of the stopovers. But tradition demands otherwise. The event has its origins in a trek from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques, and furthermore, South Africa's licensing laws are such that it would be impossible to hold a Sunday evening celebration in Pretoria.
There is no doubt that any visitor to the Total Rally will want to make a return visit. It is a tough, relentless competition across some pretty rugged country, all of which provides its finishers with a feeling of immense satisfaction at the end. Furthermore the helpfulness and welcoming spirit of the organisers are ingredients which no overseas visitor could possibly forget. G.P.