There is no doubt that fewer and fewer people are retaining their interest in the European Rally Championship. The events of Eastern Europe are attracting competitors from the rallying centres of the West in ever decreasing numbers, and the recent Polish Rally, once won by Tony Fall for B.M.C., was contested by only one British crew, two ladies from Scotland, Margaret Lowrey and Alice Watson, who brought home the Ladies' Prize in their Ford Escort twin-cam.
But there are clear indications that the C.S.I. of the F.I.A. intend to amend the style of the European Rally Championship, possibly to revert to the time when there was only one champion—not one for each group as at present. This will certainly lend itself to improved and better representative entry lists, although perhaps there should still be some kind of recognition for manufacturers as well as drivers.
There being nothing really pertinent to say about the immediate past, let me turn to the future. And here I am outwitted by printers' schedules which demand that these words should be written several weeks before you read them. Although the Rally of 1,000 Lakes, Finland's classic contribution to the championship, took place in mid-August, I can say little about it as I am presently in an aeroplane bound for Helsinki.
Not one British driver appears in the entry list for the Finnish rally. Cost has much to do with this, but another deterrent is the fact that no one has ever beaten the Scandinavians in Finland. British cars have done well, on the other hand, for Markinen has won in a B.M.C. Cooper in the past three years, an Allard won in 1953 and an Austin Atlantic in 1951 when the rally began. This caution about tackling the Finns on their home ground could well stem from the tortuous roads which the country possesses. Blind brows are as frequent in Finland as stray sheep in Wales, but knowledge of them, gained by reconnaissance runs, does not provide the long-term experience of conditions which the Finns have.
Despite the absence of British names, B.M.C. have two cars and Ford three, all crewed by Scandinavians, and two film units are in evidence from the U.K., one from Castrol, making an addition to its already well-stocked library, and the other from the B.B.C.-2 Wheelbase programme.
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Turning from the European Championship for a moment, I cannot let pass without bringing them to the notice of Motor Sport's readers a series of incidents, completely without precedent, which took place recently in a club rally in the South of England.
Some two years ago, legislation was brought in to control all motor sporting activities on the public roads of Britain. Although, at first, the interpretation of this legislation varied from county to county, reasonable standardisation now exists and there is a workable degree of co-operation between rally organisers, the Police, the R.A.C. and the Ministry of Transport.
But in one county, Kent, that co-operation is completely absent. The police there, after approving the route and time schedules of a rally organised by Maidstone and Mid-Kent Motor Club, mounted a complete offensive against the rally. They sent patrol cars by the dozen, an army of men and as many radar traps as would keep Marconi in business for years.
This was not mere observation for law-breakers; this was victimisation of a most insidious kind, with policemen hiding behind walls and trees and pouncing as children do when they play cowboys and Indians. The worst piece of over-zealousness, to describe it mildly, was the setting up of a radar meter on a straight derestricted road and reporting competitor after competitor for dangerous driving merely because their speeds were in the fifties. I was a competitor in a car which was so "booked" and I can say in all honesty that the charge, if taken to its conclusion, will be completely trumped up. I cannot go into too much detail as it might make our defence known to the other side, but tactics of this kind must be resisted with every effort by the motoring public ere they spread outside the realms of competition driving.
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The publication last month of the regulations for the R.A.C. Rally of Great Britain, which takes place as usual in November, brought to light something which will be of immense interest to Motor Sport readers in general and members of the Brooklands Society in particular. One of the special stages to be used, the first after the start, will be at Brooklands.
Although negotiations with the land owners have not yet been completed, it seems that the organisers wish to lay out special stages which includes parts of the Motor Course, parts of the runway network and some of the private access roads nearby.
Although I must be jolly careful not to express an opinion which will conflict with those of the Editor, who will surely comment on this situation, I cannot help feeling that it will be good to see numbered competition cars, be they even modern ones, circulating at Brooklands once more. Would it be a pipe-dream to suppose that this could be the thin end of a wedge?
The remainder of the rally will be in pretty familiar territory, again using considerable Forestry Commission land, in the West Country, Wales, the Lake District, Yorkshire and Scotland, with additional special stages at Rest-and-be-Thankful, Ingliston, Silverstone and Mallory Park. The overnight stop will be in Edinburgh.
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Unlike racing, where it is possible to bargain for starting money in order to meet expenses, rallying is a sport which must still largely be paid for by its participants, at least, those who are not among the small number of professionals. When a rally is announced with prize money running into the thousands, no entry fee, free hotel accommodation and a contribution towards petrol costs, it is hardly surprising that the demand for entries will be high.
The TAP-Rally has just those attributes. This event was started last year by the Sports Club of the Portuguese National Airline and has this year achieved proportions which equal even the most ambitious of the European Championship events.
With starting points in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Austria and Great Britain, this rally equals the Monte Carlo Rally for route complexity, although the special stages do not begin until the Portuguese border is crossed—apart from one at the Grand Prix Circuit in Jarama.
The British starting point of the TAP-Rally (October 24th-27th) will be at the Skyway Hotel, London Airport, and early indications are that Britain will contribute the greatest number of competitors.
Obviously, such a low-cost event is expensive to organise, if you will forgive the appearance of contradictory terms, but the TAP Sports Club is subsidised heavily by the airline, newspapers, radio and television networks and the Portuguese Tourist Board. Altogether a splendid way to encourage the sport and attract visitors to Portugal.
Sponsorship has wrongly been called concealed commercialism. But if its presence improves the competition and enables drivers to take part in greater numbers then it can only be to the good.—G. P.