South American Double
Summertime, or rather the weeks between mid-June and mid-August during which High. Summer is supposed to prevail, has for some years been a relatively quiet period for international rallying. The sport knows no real close season, but since local authorities and organisers began to realise that a fast moving rally cavalcade mixed with tourist traffic, as oil did with water, summertime rallies in popular holiday areas became fewer and fewer.
The famous Alpine Rally, for instance, moved to various places in the calendar before finally vanishing altogether under the demands of prefectures in the French Alps. There are exceptions, of course, and on the holiday island of Madeira, for instance, the Portuguese authorities see the annual Madeira Rally, held in July, as a complement to tourism rather than a hindrance.
Other exceptions are in countries where the climate follows a pattern opposed to that of Europe, where holiday seasons bring no appreciable increase in tourist traffic, or where a particular rally forms a traditional and integral part of a holiday - the Safari Rally over the Easter weekend in Kenya, for instance.
Another pair of exceptions were in June and July this year, the Codasur Rally in Argentina and the Brazil Rally, both qualifiers in the World Championship for Drivers but only the Codasur in the manufacturers' category as well.
It had been the FISA's declared policy to ration, geographically, the non-European World Championship qualifiers by having just one in Africa, one in South America, one in the Pacific region, etc, but, like other dictatorships, FISA quite readily makes exceptions to its own rules.
This year there is no qualifier in the Pacific, the Motogard Rally having quite unjustly been excluded once again, but two in Africa and two in South America.
It would be unthinkable to drop the Safari from the World Championship, but the French have strong affiliations to the Ivory Coast so we have two qualifiers in Africa. There seems also to be connections between Paris and South America, so both Brazil and Argentina have events in the series.
The greater the distance of a rally from a team's base, the greater the cost of taking part, and every outfit has to consider its budget carefully before shipping an entourage from one continent to another. In some cases, a rally generates its own publicity and is so well known that it can stand on its own feet without the prop of a championship on which to lean. Such an event is the Safari, the Monte-Carlo Rally too, and nowadays Britain's RAC Rally. To win those single events is ample reward for the outlay of participating.
Other rallies gather entries merely because they are part of a series in which some competitors are seeking points, and there can be no doubt that this was the reason for European participation in the two South American qualifiers of the 1981 World Championship. As they were only some ten days apart, the two rallies could be tackled in one sortie, and most long-distance visitors to one stayed on for the other.
Talbot could not afford to miss the two events, for Guy Frequelin was leading the championship and Talbot the manufacturers' category, but neither by an advantage sufficient to survive a double victory by a rival driver and team, unless Frequelin and Talbot were there to chase points as well.
Datsun has declared its intention of tackling the championship as a whole this year, and before South America the Japanese team was just seven points behind Talbot. What is more, Shekhar Mehta was fourth, his 18 point margin from Frequelin being less than the score from just one win. The makes series matters most to Datsun, and four cars were actually taken, one for Mehta in both events, one for Timo Salonen in just the Codasur, and two for local drivers.
Ford has no championship ambitions this year, for the team has stopped rallying until the new front-engined, rear-driven, rear-gearboxed Escort makes its debut next year, but the Rothmans team still uses the old Escort, as competitive as ever, and is striving to get Ari Vatanen on the Champion's rostrum. Rothmans went to both events, joining a two-part triangular fight in which they hoped for driver points, Datsun hoped mainly for manufacturer points and Talbot hoped for both.
The Codasur began at Buenos Aires, but the initial sections were no more than a very boring 750 miles prelude to get the cars to the city of Tucuman where the rally was thereafter based for the seventeen rather long special stages. Vatanen had a troublesome start, for his front-rear brake balance was completely wrong and he had to endure it until time could be found for the 45 minute replacement of the pedal box, in which a loose circlip was found to have jammed the balance bar by which front-rear adjustment can be made from the driver's seat.
Later, the Escort's crankshaft pulley broke and a huge chunk of time was lost whilst mechanics ran into the stage to replace it. By this time hopes of a win had all but gone, and they disappeared completely when Vatanen hit a bump when driving in thick dust, left the road and rolled, causing extensive body and other damage.
Salonen and Frequelin were the two who contested the lead, first the one getting ahead and then the other. Salonen lost his brakes when a leak developed in the front left wheel cylinder, but Frequelin was slowed after a hefty jolt on a bump aggravated an old neck injury, an affliction suffered by many present and former rally competitors, and caused intense pain and
restriction of movement for the remainder of the rally. Salonen caught up with Frequelin on a long stage but the Frenchman was determined to stay ahead and keep his dust-free advantage. Although temperatures were pretty low, to the surprise of European visitors, the countryside was dry and stage roads were very much on the dusty side.
Salonen got ahead when Frequelin stopped to deal with two punctures, but it all came to nothing for the Finn just three stages from the end when his Datsun's scavenge pump stopped working. Although the engine was being fed with oil, it wasn't being returned to the tank for circulation, and the outcome was stoppage of the engine. Some makeshift by-passing might have got the car going, but perhaps Salonen wasn't to know that.
Frequelin therefore took maximum points, both for himself and his team, but Datsun also scored highly by virtue of Mehta's second place, the Kenyan driver, again partnered by his wife Yvonne, elevating himself to second place in the championship, 23 points behind the Frenchman.
Then came the Brazilian event, for which Rothmans had a new bodyshcll flown to South America so that Vatanen's Escort could be made good again. This time the Finn made no mistakes, and although Frequelin used his first starting place to stay ahead in the dust, when the stages became longer Vatanen got ahead and stayed there to win.
Frequelin stayed in second place, scoring enough pomts to keep his own lead in the championship, and his team's, but Mehta's Datsun stopped with a blown cylinder head gasket and he lost his second championship place to Vatanen. However, Datsun is still second in the
makes series, Argentinian driver Recalde having got his Datsun to fourth place in Brazil.
Next round of the series is and the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in Finland and since it does not finish until the last day of August we are unable to publish its results in this issue of Motor Sport.
Rothmans may well send Vatanen to each remaining round of the series to chase personal points, and this will make certain of at least a three-cornered contest in Finland, Italy, the Ivory Coast and Britain, but his Finnish team-mate Henri Toivonen will have been there for Talbot, not to mention Markku Alen who could be a difficult buffer for the rest of the year. - GP.