The 1967 series of European rallies is at present in a period of relaxation for although the number of events that are being held each month is not decreasing, between the Acropolis and the Alpine comes the red period with most of the rallies taking place behind the Iron Curtain. Excellent though these events are, they very rarely attract a full complement of works entries which probably explains why in previous years they have been B.M.C.’s exclusive territory. This year the red period kicked off with the East German Rally back in April when the only “works” interest comprised Nasenius’ Opel Rekord, Zasada’s Porsche and Genta’s Lancia Flavia. Due to some slight partisanship on the part of the organisers, none of these gentlemen figured in the results and the roll of honour read Wartburg thrice followed by Trabants. There is thus little of significance there except to say that it is very unlikely that many works entries will be received for next year.
Of the other three Communist rallies, all have been held in July and August within a few weeks of one another and the pattern on each has been rather similar. None of them has had a big entry and of that entry only half a dozen or so have been truly competitive. On the Danube Rally, where B.M.C. and Renault were really the only teams in with a chance, victory went to Fall’s Austin 1800 after Aaltonen’s 1275 Cooper S had failed to pass the Hungarian border authorities and the majority of the works Renaults had found the going a bit rugged for them. In Czechoslovakia only Saab put in a full team and were rewarded with first and third places overall for Mr. and Mrs. Carlsson which would have been first and second had not the handicap favoured Zasada in his Group 1 Porsche 912. In Poland—Zasada’s home territory—things looked as if they were going to fall out much the same way; although the Porsche had a 6% bonus handicap on the factory Lancias, both Ove Andersson and Leo Cella proved to be fleet enough to contain the Polish driver. This was not to be, however, for the Polish weather turned a trifle inclement, reduced the number of competitors on the last night from over 50 to three, and led to both the Lancias leaving the road. The only cars left in the rally were Zasada’s Porsche 912, Nasenius’ Opel Rekord 1900 and a local driver in a B.M.W. 1600. Doubtless Aesop would have drawn our attention to the fact that all three of these cars were running in Group I and not one single car from Group 2 contrived to finish, having either left the road through an excess of speed or having fallen too far behind the schedule from a lack of haste.
With the end of the Polish comes the end of the red period though there is still the Munich-Vienna-Budapest to be held in the beginning of October. We can now look forward to a few events in the traditional European style. In the last weeks of August comes the 1,000 Lakes which is Finland’s contribution to the European Championship and will be the first championship event since the Geneva to have participation by most of the leading factories in Europe. Within two weeks of the 1,000 Lakes comes the Alpine Rally, perhaps the second or third most important of the European events, which will see all but one or two of the works teams in full attendance. With an enviable record of five outright wins already in the 1967 series, it is to be expected that Porsche will make a big effort on the Alpine and since the event is open to cars of all categories right up to Group 6, the German factory can be expected to have some exotic machinery out for Vic Elford and Jean-Pierre Hanrioud and leave the Group 2 and Group 3 categories to favoured private entrants. Their strongest opposition will undoubtedly come from Renault and the associated firm of Automobiles Alpine. Renault drove the Alpine Rally last year with some Group 6 Renault Gordinis and they have plenty of experience with the Group 6 Alpines from the Tour de Corse, Lyon-Charbonnieres and the Rallye Mont Blanc.
One surprising thing about the Alpine Rally is that apart from something that Ford France may do, there will be no official Ford cars on the event which breaks a run dating back to well over 10 years ago when Jeff Uren, Anne Hall and the Harrisons were competing in Anglias and Zodiacs. This, of course, has been a year of little active competition from Ford who have become heavily involved in formula racing with first the FIVA engine and now the 3-litre Formula One motor. Their lone Lotus Cortina entries have not been without success and they have won the Swedish Rally and finished third on the Acropolis as well as winning events such as the Shell 4,000 in Canada, the Scottish Rally and the Gulf London. They plan to enter the 1,000 Lakes with cars organised from Sweden hut, apart from this, they will only show real form at the end of the year in the R.A.C. Rally when they expect to have a team of some four or five cars. By that time, their plans for 1968 should be more clear and all I can do is predict that they will be doing far more rallies than they have this year.
As far as the European Rally Championship has gone this year, it could hardly be said to contain a lot of interest. The division of the championship into three categories immediately splits attention and the very idea of having three champions of a particular branch of the sport is confusing to say the least. At the moment the only interest centres on Group 2 where Bengt Soderstrom, Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen are all within a few points of one another. As Hopkirk is off soon to race and rally in Australia and Aaltonen is not starting in the 1,000 Lakes, Soderstrom must be the present favourite, but as all these drivers will be on the R.A.C. Rally, the title, for what it is worth, looks as though it may be settled there. In Group 3, Vic Elford is so far ahead that he can practically assume the title now while Nasenius looks sure to take the title again for Opel in Group I.
Next year sees a new idea in the Championship with the 17 events being split into two categories; the first category which includes such events as the Monte Carlo Rally, the Acropolis and the Alpine will be for the new manufacturer’s title plus the F.I.A. trophy for the most successful nation of rally drivers, while the other category which includes the R.A.C. Rally, the Tulip Rally and the Swedish Rally will count for the Drivers’ Championship which will incorporate the Coupe Des Dames. This system has the advantage of encouraging manufacturers to send cars to rallies like the Acropolis even if they are not driven by the top crews, in the hope of collecting points for the Manufacturers’ Championship so that works participation and help for the private entrant should increase. It will also be interesting to see how many top drivers will attempt to freelance a bit in order to have the best chance of winning the individual championship. 1 imagine that for example should Pat Moss, who will be leaving Saab at the end of this year, express the desire to drive for the individual title there would be no lack of cars offered by factory teams. In any case, whatever happens, the public will be in a much better position to understand the meaning of the words “European Rally Champion” —a privilege they have been denied for the past two years. J.D.F.D.