Rally review, September 1970

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Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a country where ice racing is possible, wintertime represent the close season for motor racing. In rallying there is no really seasonal lay-off, for it is a sport in which extra natural hazards are more welcomed than avoided. But it is fair to say that, at least in the highly populated countries, more rallies take place in the winter than in the summer.

The major reason for this is the amount of tourist traffic using the roads in the holiday season. Rally organisers are the last to run risks involving non-competing traffic, and they usually choose quiet periods for their events. The Alpine Rally organisers round it so difficult to find a suitable date this year after the French Authorities saw fit to question the wisdom of continuing to run the event in early September that the rally has been cancelled.

For the smaller events in Britain traffic is avoided by running them at night. In fact, daytime rallies which use public roads other than simply to get from one private road to the next are pretty well shunned by experienced rally people who are always anxious not to risk antagonising the public. Winter nights are longer than summer nights–another reason for avoiding the mid-year months.

In Western Europe, international rallies tend to avoid the summer months. Even the Geneva Rally, which takes place in June, has to run the gauntlet of officialdom before it is allowed by the authorities. In July, the only events of any importance are the three European Drivers’ Championship qualifiers in Eastern Europe, the Moldau, Polish and Danube Rallies, these using routes in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, Austria and Hungary. In August there is the Rally of the Thousand Lakes, premiere event of a country in which rallying is a national sport –Finland. But that is an event similar in style to the RAC Rally, in which all the hard competition is on private roads closed to all other traffic, which open public roads being used merely to get competing cars from one forest track to another.

Thus the rallying year is divided, more or less, into two phases. The first phase of 1970 was disrupted by the World Cup Rally which diverted so much time, effort and money from regular programmes. But the second phase promises to be as lively as ever.

After the cancellation of the Alpine the only remaining qualifier in the International Championship for Constructors is the RAC Rally of Great Britain in November. There are several Drivers’ Championship qualifiers left, and others of individual attraction, but the culmination of the year will undoubtedly be the British event in November, when Porsche and Alpine will be fighting each other for the Championship and against other manufacturers for outright victory and the team award. It will probably be the last time the rally will start and finish in London, at least for a while, for it is planned that the 1971 event should be based at Harrogate, the idea being to move nearer the areas of greatest forest concentration so that competitors will not be faced with boring runs along main roads.

Earlier in the year I heard some talk that perhaps the British start of the 1971 Monte Carlo Rally would be taken back to Glasgow. This I found difficult to believe, for it seemed hardly worth it just to cater for such a small handful of cars as there were starting at Dover last January. The probability is that there will be no British start at all next year, a sad departure from tradition, but one for which the AC de Monaco cannot really be blamed.

In the past decade there has been a distinct falling off of British interest in the Monte. Diehard regulars have gradually given up their annual sporting holiday, and the new generation of competitors seem to have a preference for more concentrated events. Today’s Monte Carlo Rally is not the cheapest of events –for the varied surfaces which can be expected, tyres alone can represent a big outlay–and when other highly sponsored rallies creep into the calendar it is understandable that attentions should change course.

The factories retain their interest in Monte Carlo, of course, but private entrants seem to be paying more attention to rallies elsewhere, particularly in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany. Spain’s Firestone Rally, which began in 1967 to commemorate the opening of a new tyre factory at Burgos, has always attracted its fair share of British people, and the airline-sponsored TAP Rally in Portugal is another, The latter has “grown up” rather quickly, and it its fourth year is now a qualifier for the European Drivers’ Championship. It will run in the first week of October and several factory entries are expected, including some from Britain.

French rally teams have been well known for their nationalistic approach to choosing drivers. One cannot but admire them for this, for how much more impact can be gained by winning if the car, drivers, fuel, tyres, mechanics et al are all bred from the same root. But winning at all is the first consideration, and the French casting net is now being waved farther afield.

The Finnish pair, Jorma Lusenius and Seppo Halme, have driven for Alpine-Renault several times, and Welshman David Stone has co-driven dome of the team’s French drivers on a number of occasions this year.

The team is obviously making a big effort for this year’s RAC Rally, for several approaches have been made in Sweden. A bid to secure the services of Harry Källström and Gunnar Häggbom, winners of the last RAC Rally and European Champions in 1969, apparently failed. But it seems they have managed to sign up Ove Andersson, a former member of both Lancia and Ford teams. It could be that his co-driver in November will be his wife Liz (nee Nystrom), who was once Pat Carlsson’s regular partner.

Another Swede who will drive an Alpine in November is Häkan Lindberg. He has driven Renaults in the past, but his most recent association has bene with Saab, although he did drive a factory Fiat on the Acropolis this year. He works for Pirelli in Sweden –hence his connection with the Italian firm. Andruet and Vinatier will be engaged with the Tour de Corse in November, so the team’s French drivers will be Jean-Pierre Nicolas, a very capable man indeed on rough roads, and Jean-Luc Therier, winner of both Sanremo and Acropolis Rallies this year.

The tougher a rally the better competitors usually like it, provided of course that it doesn’t go beyond the bounds of reason and reduce a hundred-strong field to a single finisher. When a hard rally is attended by pleasant surroundings, a fine social atmosphere among all those associated with it, and hospitality of the best kind from the people of its host town, it cannot help but becoming popular.

So it has been with the Scottish Rally, an international event which traditionally starts at Glasgow, spends a day, a night and a day out on the road and thereafter confines its competition to the daytime, returning to a small Highland town each evening for a break.

Grantown-on-Spey has nothing really distinctive about it, but it welcomes Scottish Rally with such a sincere enthusiasm that it has endeared itself to countless rally people. We are dismayed to learn of a possibility that the association between the people of this town and the International Scottish Rally may have ended.

The organisers of a rally are faced, generally, with greater financial problems than those of a race, for there is no gate money to help them along, nor such weighty contracts involving those who take part. The Royal Scottish Automobile Club faces the annual cost of transporting an entire organising team from Glasgow to the highlands and maintaining it there for an entire week. Although both Shell and Lombank support the vent, the club has been obliged to seek ways of cutting expenditure. To do this it has been suggested that the event been given a completely new style.

The “New—Look2 Sottish, if it comes about, will start at Ingliston Circuit and its route will be compressed into two legs separated by a single night halt–similar to the RAC Rally, in fact, although it won’t be as long.

The same hard competition will prevail; indeed, it could even by harder with the reduction in the amount of time available for rest. But for many the event will have completely lost its character, and that is important these days. There is more to rallying than just driving a car at high speed through the woods.

If the Scottish club does find it necessary to dismantle their premier event and reassemble it on completely different lines there are many people who will not thank them at all for it. The club knows this full well, of course. Equally, competitors know that there can be no substitute for hard cash and their sympathies will be with the RSAC.

Shell and Lombank are obviously pleased with their investment in the Scottish Rally for they continue to support it year after year. But they must surely realise that such changes, however necessary, will not be at all popular. Perhaps between the organisers send their two main sponsors a means will be found of both saving and making money long before the time when they must choose whether to change or not to change. G. P.

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