Rally Review, September 1973
Although we mentioned the Polish Rally briefly in last month’s MOTOR SPORT we consider that some further comment is necessary. That it was a completely demoralising event goes without saying, for any rally which taxes competitors to the full and then puts them on the retirement list simply because they have been unable to maintain the stupidly high overall average speed is far from being a morale booster. High speed is something of which no rally driver will complain, but on public road transport sections it is sheer madness to subject normal road users to the dangers of mixing it with competition cars being driven fast.
All too often these days complaints (many of them unjustified) are levelled against rallies and those who drive in them because of high speeds on open public roads. Organisers themselves complain about the actions of competitors in their own events, but when something like the Polish Rally comes along it must be perfectly clear to all that some organisers are entirely to blame for creating the situation from which complaints arise. It is all very well to say that competitors should abide by speed limits; organisers should set low averages where road situations and traffic conditions demand them and leave the high speed sections to roads of a suitable character.
Fortunately there are few rallies nowadays which create their own unnecessary dangers. The Polish Rally was certainly one of them and if the Automobilklub Krakowski hopes to run a World Championship qualifier again then it must put its house in order and prove that it is capable of sensible routeing and timing.
It would have been exactly the same situation had the organisers of the Targa Florio decided that the circuit should be open to two-way normal traffic during the race, and any competitor failing to maintain a certain minimum average speed would be excluded. They could either drive with the thought of oncoming traffic in mind and risk going beyond their maximum lateness, or pull out the stops to stay in the race and risk the drastic consequences of a high speed collision. It’s not a choice which any competition driver should have to make, for rallies should be won by skill and not by the sheer good fortune of having no truck coming around that critical corner at the critical time.
In Poland the organisers were quite open about their attempt to create a Polish Safari. Within the organisational camp there was a strong division of opinions and we understand that there were many heated discussions as to how the event should be timed. But the day was won by those who were in favour of a road race, and there must now he many farmers, truck drivers, carthorse drivers, pedestrians and tram passengers whose idea of a rally is a few days of dodging noisy rally cars as they roar through the streets and over the mountains. That is certainly not a situation to be proud of. The teams holding first and second positioins in the World Rally Championship, Alpine and Fiat, were the only western outfits to send cars to Poland, the French team sending just one car for Jean-Luc Therier / Alain Mahe and the Italians two 124 Abarth Spiders for Achim Warmbold /Jean Todt and Alcide Paganelli / Nino Russo. The teams of Polski-Fiat, Wartburg and Moskvich were the other factory runners, the bulk of the entry being made up of privateers from Poland and other eastern countries, with a few from Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
In all there were 65 starters, just 15 more than the minimum required by the FIA in order that the event might remain in the World Championship for Makes. It hadn’t been intended that the rally should be in that series, for although it was on the short list most members of the selection committee were against it. Internationally it does not have a very high reputation, but the Polish delegate at the CSI meeting last year created such a commotion when he realised that the majority of his fellow committee men were against his country’s premier event being in the championship that the rally was grudgingly put in, more to keep the peace than anything else. This year there was an FIA observer in Poland and a total of seven members of the Rally Pilots Association. It seems that they were unanimous that the event fell far below the accepted standards of the championship, was detrimental to the good name of the sport and should without question be dropped from the series for next year.
Apart from the impossibly high road averages there were other shortcomings including inaccurate timekeeping (the ultimate sin of any rally organiser), poor marshalling and a completely non-existant results service. Not once during the entire event were any individual stage times available which must have been bitterly frustrating for competitors, team managers, pressmen and others. The organisers themselves just couldn’t understand why people wanted their times so quickly, which rather indicates their low level of comprehension of how a well organised event operates. Fortunately for Fiat and Alpine their cars completely dominated the event and it was only necessary for their team managers to compare the times given to them by their drivers in order to know the lead positions. Unfortunately, official times were sometimes at variance with those recorded by co-drivers on their own watches, so there was no guarantee that team managers’ unofficial calculations would agree with those of the organisers when the event was over.
Without any exaggeration, the timekeeping and results systems were a complete shambles compared with the slick, unflurried, accurate and speedy results systems operated by rallies such as Austria’s Alpenfahrt and Finland’s Rally of the Thousand Lakes. Another bad feature of the event was the use of unnecessarily rough roads. It’s all very well to have rough roads in Morocco or in East Africa, where everyone expects them and prepares accordingly, but to do, it in Poland and then to set such high averages that you either break your car or run out of time trying to preserve it is asking too much. Poland has plenty of loose surfaced roads which are not car breakers and it would havebeen far better to have had more of these roads as stages and to have cut out all the rough stuff. It would also have been better for everyone’s peace of mind had the special stages, 55 in all though some were cancelled, been closed to other traffic.
Special stages, like racing circuits, should be regarded as sacred and should be completely sealed off from all non-competing traffic. In Poland this was not the case and there were several tales of high speed encounters with trucks, horse-drawn carts and the like. Many stages passed through a number of junctions and hardly any of them appeared to be blocked. When one is driving on full pace notes at ten tenths one uses the whole of the road with no allowance for oncoming traffic. In Poland drivers did that at their own risk, for although most people make allowances for the unexpected there is nothing which can really be done about a truck suddenly appearing around a corner on a very narrow road along which your car is being driven at something like 100 m.p.h.
We are prompted by no political motives whatever, but we find it difficult to think of an event in Eastern Europe which is of sufficiently high standard to be included in the World Championship. At the moment, to quote the words of the Rally Pilots Association, the Vltava Rally is the “least bad”, but with distant events such as New Zealand’s Heatway Rally and Canada’s Rally of the Rideau Lakes knocking at the door of the CSI, the Polish Rally and the events of neighbouring countries rally need to give themselves a complete new look before they can even think of being considered for the major series of the world.
Early last month it was announced in Jyväskylä, the town in Central Finland where the Rally of the Thousand Lakes is based, that Marlboro would be sponsoring the 1974 Tunturiralli, or Arctic Rally as it is more popularly called. This rally, held entirely on snow and ice each winter, takes place to the north of the Arctic Circle and is based at Lapland’s major town, Rovaniemi.
In the land of twenty-hour winter nights, temperatures which drop at times to 40°C below zero, reindeer, elk, wolf, vodka-drinking woodsmen, sauna addicts who wallow naked in snowdrifts, and drivers to whom sideways motoring is the most natural thing in the world, the Arctic Rally is more than just a great motoring event; it is a splendid adventure which adds a sparkle to the actual competition which few other events can match.
Lack of finances threatened to force the organisers of the Arctic Rally to abandon the event for 1974, but Marlboro has stepped in to guarantee the event’s financial obligations rather than to put up a fixed sum. Thus the organisers are now in the position of having a generous and sensible benefactor to pick up the tabs, being free to run an excellent rally, as well they know how, with no monetary worries.
Finland is a land of extremes—cold in the winter and hot sunshine in the short summer. The people display similar characteristics, working really hard during the dark, cold months and setting aside time for enjoyment between June and September.
In the month of August the sport which catches the imagination of all Finland is Rallying, for in the early part of that month all eyes are turned towards Jyväskylä, the Central Finland town which is the base of the Rally of the Thousand Lakes. This event has always been an example of smooth, efficient organisation and tough, fast competition, but it wasn’t until this year that it was given World Championship status. Foreign visitors have always been few in the past, perhaps because of the high degree of skill displayed by even the average Finnish rally driver, but this year it attracted quite a number of foreign competitors, from Sweden, Germany, Kenya, France, Belgium, USA, Canada, Ivory Coast, Britain, Denmark, East Germany and Russia.
To beat the Finns in Finland has always been one of the legendary “impossibles” of rallying, but perhaps because Sweden’s big Blomqvist managed it in 1971 other professionals have been persuaded to try their hands. There were works entries from Saab Sweden, Saab Finland, Ford, Volvo Finland, British Leyland, Chrysler Finland, Fiat, Opel Finland, Moskvich, Skoda Finland, Porsche Finland, Wartburg and Trabant, and these, combined with the generous measure of competitive privateers, made the event one of considerable interest.
In the first half, making a loop to the west of Jyväskylä, Stig Blomqvist in a works Saab forged ahead, the faster Porsche of Leo Kinnunen being outstripped firstly because of a few minor problems, secondly because Kinnunen himself became a little depressed because he couldn’t keep up with the Saab and thirdly simply because of Blomqvist’s outstanding ability.
But in the second half Blomqvist stopped with his crankshaft broken. Hard on his heels at the time was Timo Mäkinen in a works Escort RS and he moved immediately into the lead which he kept to the end. Achim Warmbold, in the only factory Fiat – entered at the eleventh hour to see championship points following the German driver’s win in Poland – was quite startled by the fine performance of Finnish drivers and for the first time was complaining that his car wasn’t providing him with quite as much power as he needed.
Markku Alen is a name which will not be familiar to MOTOR SPORT readers, yet in Finland he is already as respected a rally driver as Mikkola, Lampinen or Mäkinen.
He drives for Volvo Finland, and this year he pushed his heavy 142 right up to second place, a performance worthy of the highest praise. It isn’t often that we are given to speak highly of young drivers too soon in their sporting careers, but in Alen’s case an exception must be made. Given the right opportunities, he will go far.
Another impressive drive was made by Brian Culcheth in an Abingdon Marina 1.3 entered by the Finnish importer. He was having his first experience of the fast, undulating, Finnish roads and he started cautiously and began to get faster, gradually. He and Saaristo in a Skoda 120S began having a tremendous fight for their class, the Finnish driver eventually finishing 15th, just 14 sec. ahead of the Englishman. – G. P.