Rally review - Marathon madness?, September 1978

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Ten years have passed since publicists gathered all the superlatives they could muster to describe a rally which spanned the world, the London-Sydney Marathon. This monster event attracted the attentions of works teams, for it looked like being a massive publicity-catcher, but many had cause to regret taking part in this long, highly expensive competition. It consumed so much of their budget allocations that there was nothing left in the kitty to pay for sorties to regular rallies. These events suffered diminished entry lists, and when the Marathon was all over there were plaintive cries of “never again” from many a competition department.

Even the old Rootes Group were totally unprepared, as a company, for the success of their Hillman Hunter. Although the rally team pulled off an amazing success, the rest of the company was completely unready for it, as though it wasn’t believed possible, and failed miserably to cash in on a golden publicity Opportunity.

Not so the Ford Motor Company a few Years later, when they won the second such longdistance event. the London to Mexico World Cup Rally. They saw the mistake that Rootes had made, prepared all their success publicity beforehand and went all-out to win, which they did. But it cost a fearsome sum of money, and even though it may have been recouped by sales of what became the Ford Escort Mexico, it did mean that the company’s competitions department had to be very careful with its expenditure from then on.

Four years later there was another World Cup Rally, this time from London to Munich via the Sahara. It was a disaster in many respects. In the first place it attracted hardly any attention from factory teams, who by then had learned lessons the hard way; in the second it was rather hurriedly organised and left its route finalisation so late that it was almost impossible to make advance recce trips in sufficient time to plan service arrangements etc. It had been planned to go through Russia, but that was scrapped; it was then decided to cross North Africa from east to west and cross the Red Sea from Port Sudan into the Middle East, but that was also scrapped. But at least it did cross the Sahara.

When that event was over many people felt that the days of long-distance marathons had come, and gone; and that their elements of adventure were more than outweighed by their organisational difficulties and high competing costs. What is more, the BPICA, the international organisation of car manufacturers, had already decided among themselves that they would require at least a year and a half of notice before their members’ teams would consider competing in any future long-distance event, that notice being from the time the route was finalised. This put a big onus on future organisers to begin their work at least a couple of years in advance, and that’s no easy matter. We know from our own experience that what may be a perfectly feasible route across difficult terrain one week may have disappeared altogether the next. What is more, formalities at border crossing points vary tremendously, both from place to place and from day to day, and what might take a few minutes and a cursory glance at passports on one day might deteriorate overnight into a full car strip-down and a three-day wait. Worse, borders may be closed altogether.

Yet all this did not deter those who wanted to produce long rallies bigger and better than the last. From the Ivory Coast a long-distance event was arranged to link the Bandama Rally with the Monte-Carlo Rally, and in 1977 there was yet another rally from London to Sydney, although it attracted hardly any interest from regular factory teams. However, it did bring out some works-prepared cars from Mercedes-Benz, and their first and second places did give rise to an entry from that factory in the 1978 Safari Rally.

Purists tend not to recognise these longdistance events as proper rallies, their opinions being based partly on the harmful effect the earlier events had on regular, annual rallies. But in these days of strict controls and confinement of action to series of short “forest races”, perhaps the long events do provide more adventure than rallies such as the Monte-Carlo, Thousand lakes, RAC and the like. There are exceptions, of course, and no-one will deny the Safari Rally has a tremendous adventure ingredient. However, there are people who prefer adventure to competition, and for these the occasional long-distance event satisfies a demand.

But of late the supply seems to be exceeding that demand, and at the time of writing we have information on no less than six long-distance events to take place in the next twelve months. Some of them even have date clashes and we hardly think that they will all attract the kind of entry which will make them successful.

By the time this issue of Motor Sport is published, a grand tour of South America organised by the Automovil Club Argentino will be about over. It attracted quite a number of local competitors, but the only crews of significance were those of the Mercedes team, that company seemingly having rekindled its competitive interest, although they are sufficiently canny to stick to events in which reliablity, tenacity, strength and endurance are far more important than sheer performance.

Whilst that event was going on, a French organised adventure called a “Rallye-Raid” was on the move from Paris to Sidi Ifni and back to Toulon. It was part overland drive and part rally, for whilst its overall timetable was reasonably slack it did not have special stages incorporated in the route.

The French seem to have succumbed to the long-distance bug in a big way. Their treks to North Africa for young drivers have been held for some years, notably by the Citroen company, but of late a rush of long rallies has sprung up, some even clashing directly on the calendar. Jean-Claude Bertrand, former organiser of the Bandama Rally, has devoted himself to running live rallies, one in each of five consecutive years, each in a different continent. This year, in November and December, it is the turn of the Americas, and he has set a most imaginative but optimistic enterprise to take a cruise liner containing all competitors, their cars, mechanics and followers from Nice to New Orleans where the rally itself will start. As cars make their was down through Central America to finish at Caracas, so the ship will steam through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, calling at ports through which the rally will pass to provide a floating hotel for the rest stops. So far, we have not seen a full, authentic entry list for this very expensive enterprise.

At the same time, another French concern is planning to run a complete tour of the Mediterranean, circling that sea in a clockwise direction and travelling overland all the way save for a voyage from Beirut to Alexandria to avoid Middle Eastern trouble spots and, of course, another across the Straits of Gibraltar.

As if two directly clashing events organised from the same country were not enough, yet another French concern is planning a long trip in December, this time from Paris to Dakar, and whether all three will gather enough support to run remains to be seen. Perhaps there’s a ease tOr amalgamation; perhaps at least two of them will find such a move necessary.

When last year’s London-Sydney Rally took place there was no doubt that the least prepared sections of the route were those in Australia, and when competitors left London there was still no roadbook in existence for the Australian route. That drew considerable criticism, and as if to prove that they can run such events without any help from the Northern Hemisphere, a group of Australians have got together to run a 13 day event across that continent in August 1979.

A full Calendar of regular rallies spread all over the world but each confined to one country can easily be sustained by high competitor interest, but six long, costly, time-consuming marathons in the space of a year is quite another matter. Far be it from us to suggest that any organiser should be prevented from running the event he chooses to organise, but there is always a danger that a worthwhile sponsor will be alienated towards the sport by backing an event which is poorly supported and unsuccessful.

A major criticism of long-distance events is that nearly all of them have given precious little notice to allow prospective entrants to prepare, but even the 18-month rule proposed by the BPICA and supported by the CSI will be satisfied by the notice which will be given by a long-distance event which is presently being planned for a future date. It will be organised from Britain, supported by the RAC and will probably run the whole length of North and South America.

Another major event still in the planning stage, though at an advanced state of diplomatic negotiation, is one which will certainly endear itself to readersof Motor Sport. Since an Itala won that memorable race from Paris to Peking, many attempts have been made to revive that contest, but all failed presumably due to the near-impenetrable nature of diplomatic barriers. But it seems very probable that, after many attempts, one man has succeeded. If that is the case, there will be a return run from Peking to Paris before many years go by. At this stage we can say no more, but readers will be kept informed as more details come to hand. – G.P.

TR7 parts

Leyland ST now offer a pretty wide range of equipment for the company’s troubled (at the time of announcement they were deciding whether to make it at all!) TR7. Meanwhile the people at Competitions have produced a fine tarmac rally car by inserting a dry-sump version of the Rover V8 engine. They do not call the result a ‘IRS as the Americans are still waiting with great patience for the road-going version of this model.

All the major aspects of the four-cylinder TR7 are catered for up to a full competition standard, including the components of the five-speed SD1 gearbox which might make a useful alternative to the expensive ZF one day. Speaking of which, you may have noticed that Rod Quaife, better known for his motorcycle gearboxes and other engineering work on two wheels, has entered into a marketing agreement that allows his 5-speed design for Ford Escorts to be sold for considerably less than the widely used ZF.

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