Rally Review, September 1974

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Rally of the 1000 Lakes: There was a time when no-one would take on the Finns on their home ground. They were good anywhere in the world, but in the country which they knew, where they acquired all their skills at early ages, they were unbeatable. That theory has been disproved of course, for Sweden’s Stig Blomqvist has won international rallies in Finland both in winter and in summer, but even though it has been proved that the Finns can be beaten in their own country, home defeats are indeed rarities and it takes a very good man in a very good motor car to show them an exhaust pipe.

The strong local opposition used to be the deterrent which kept foreign competitors, other than holidaying private entrants, out of Finland; the top seeds at the head of the entry list were not the only ones hard to beat, for further, sometimes much further, down the list amateur drivers would be putting up very creditable performances indeed and it wouldn’t do at all for a professional driver from outside Finland to be beaten by one of these fast-moving privateers. There is an old, almost boring, cliche about what you should do “if you can’t beat ’em”, and this is precisely what many non-Finnish rally teams have done. Simo Lampinen once drove for Triumph and later for Lancia; Rauno Aaltonen has driven for more teams than he probably cares to remember; Timo Makinen switched from BMC to Ford and has even driven for Peugeot; Pauli Toivonen drove for Citroen; Hannu Mikkola has driven for Datsun, Lancia, Ford and Peugeot; Markku Alen includes Ford and Fiat among his present commitments, the Italian team having even signed Leo Kinnunen and Antti Ojanen for this year’s Thousand Lakes. Even Britain’s Dealer Team Vauxhall, once the preserve of the best of British club drivers, looked to Finland this year and signed up Pentti Airikkala to drive for them, at least for the Thousand Lakes.

Finnish talent is in demand all the time and we feel that it is only cost, availability and probability which prevented a lot more teams hiring drivers from across the Gulf of Bothnia. “His travel costs will be too high and he isn’t likely to want to drive for me when he can earn a lot more by driving for more established teams” is what several team managers have thought. It isn’t like that at all, really. Way back in the late sixties when BMC closed its competitions department, Clarke & Simpson, Ford dealers in London, made a bid to secure the services of Timo Makinen to drive their own Ford Escort in the RAC Rally. For such a small concern to enter what was previously the preserves only of factory teams was considered almost impertinent, but it succeeded and not long after Makinen joined the Ford works team as a contracted driver. Last year, David Sutton, a director of the same garage, brought Markku Alen over for the RAC Rally and was rewarded by an amazing performance. Alen has since driven works cars of both Ford and Fiat. Dealer Team Vauxhall hired Pentti Airikkala, as we said . . . and so it goes on. The talent is there, but no team manager will ever have it working for him unless he goes out and makes a bid for it.

Having talked of using Finnish talent outside Finland, now to non-Finnish talent (and we have not intended to imply that there is a shortage of it) tackling the Finns at home. The Saab team goes to the Rally of the Thousand Lakes each year and this year they took two V4-engined 96s with Swedish drivers Blomqvist and Eklund. There is also a Saab factory in Finland and from there came three blue and white 96s (contrasting with the Swedish yellow) driven by Lampinen, Rainio and Jari Vilkas, son of Finnish veteran Onni Vilkas.

BMW sent one 2002 for German driver Warmbold, BL International a 1.3 Marina for British driver Culcheth, Datsun a 16-valve 160J for Swede Kallstrom and the Swedish Opel Team, making their first visit to the Thousand Lakes since 1967, a trio of Asconas for Kullang, Danielsson and WaIdegard, the latter having his first drive in an Ascona. There were five Moskvich saloons from the factory and five Lada 1200s from the factory which Fiat set up in the Soviet Union. From East Germany came a trio of works Wartburgs and four of the diminutive Trabant P60I’s which are regular visitors to the Thousand Lakes. There were also Simcas from France, one driven by Frenchman Fiorentino and another by Finn Toivonen.

Fiat originally entered six cars but cut it to five by dropping Barbasio, later putting him back in to replace Pinto who broke two fingers in the propeller of a model aeroplane. Fiat must have been very pleased with Markku Alen’s performance in the TAP Rally, for Barbasio had only one Italian colleague, Paganelli; the other three cars were driven by Finns, Alen, Kinnunen and Ojanen. Of the five cars, two were to be fitted with 16-valve engines giving some 30 b.h.p. more than the 170 of the engines with conventional valve arrangement. Kinnunen and Barbasio were the two drivers selected to use these engines, but when Barbasio’s failed on the eve of the start it was replaced by an 8-valve engine, leaving Kinnunen the only driver to have the more powerful unit.

The Ford team consisted of two Escorts with 233 b.h.p., 2-litre, 16-valve engines. Last year Makinen expressed the opinion that the cars would be better able to put the power on the ground if they had bigger wheels so this year the works Escorts were running on 15-inch wheels for the first time. Drivers were Timo Makinen and Hannu Mikkola, partnered respectively by the English co-drivers Henry Liddon and John Davenport.

Nearly all Finnish rallies prohibit reconnaissance and keep their routes secret until the time of the start. The Rally of the Thousand Lakes is an exception, and in no other rally in the world can note-making be as vital as it is in this event. In open country with plenty of forward vision, pace notes are not absolutely essential, but in the undulating, thickly wooded Finnish countryside they are vital. The gravel roads through the forests have an abundance of blind crests and the man who knows what is beyond each of these will be far quicker than he who does not. Those who have no notes and who take chances don’t survive very long. Thus practising is taken very seriously indeed by competitors in the Thousand Lakes and many of them take anything up to a month to make and to perfect their detailed notes of the 36 special stages. To lessen the chances of annoying the people in summer occupation of their country cottages, a speed limit of 60 k.p.h. is applied to all roads used as special stages. Even so, there were people who took exception to unexpected traffic invading their privacy and there are presently discussions concerning the possible transfer of the event from its traditional August date to one outside the summer holiday period.

During the rally, which lasted from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, the two Ford Escorts from Boreham had the edge over the other competitors. Makinen was fractionally quicker than Mikkola, but a 50 second penalty for exceeding a 60 k.p.h. speed limit by 3 k.p.h. reversed that order. Speed limits are taken very seriously by the organisers who accept the evidence of police radar equipment even when excesses are so fine that they come within the margins of acceptable speedometer error. A recording error on the part of a marshal later appeared to relegate Mikkola back to second place, but the mistake was discovered and put right so that Mikkola held his lead to the end, eventually beating Makinen by a mere 31 seconds.

The Fiats had mixed fortunes, for Barbasio was suffering from flu and Paganelli from depression after spending some time off the road. Kinnunen was driving really hard, but not hard enough to stay ahead of team-mate Alen who eventually took third place. Saab’s Stig Blomqvist was all set to take this third place, but a badly damaged front suspension three stages from the end slowed him enough for Alen to get ahead by just ten seconds. Eklund, in the other Swedish Saab, rolled his car at very high speed and completely wrecked it, fortunately without serious hurt to its occupants.

Warmbold’s BMW didn’t figure very prominently at all, but the Finnish Saabs of Lampinen and Rainio were well enough to stay among the leaders throughout and finish 5th and 7th respectively, divided by Kinnunen’s Fiat and followed by KuIlang’s Ascona. Britain’s Brian Culcheth won his class comfortably in his works Marina 1.3, whilst DTV’s Magnum was a very worthy Group I winner in the capable hands of Airikkala. A brisk newcomer called Ari Vatanen, who had been second to Mikkola in a Finnish rally some weeks before, was well up among the leaders in his private Ascona but a broken driveshaft (not to mention possible disqualification for exceeding that rigidly enforced speed limit) put him out before the end.

A short event by most standards, the Rally of the Thousand Lakes remains outstandingly well organised, furiously exciting and demanding to the extreme on car and crew.—G.P.

Results (top five):

1st: H. Mikkola/J.Davenport (Ford Escort RS)…..11,502 sec.

2nd: T.Makinen/H.Liddon (Ford Escort RS)………11,533 sec.

3rd: M.Alen/I.Kivimaki (Fiat 124 Abarth)…………. 11,632 sec.

4th: S.Blomqvist/H.Sylwan (Saab 96 V4)………….11,642 sec.

5th: S.Lampinen/J.Markkanen (Saab 96 V4) …….11,853 sec.

118 starters, 88 finishers