THOSE who had been there before were able to predict with reasonable certainty that August's Brazil Rally would turn out to be a farce. Those who went this year for the first time were not so prepared, and they simply could not believe that what they saw had somehow been accepted by FISA as a qualifier in the World Rally Championship.
Two years ago, when it was being observed as a potential qualifier, its only good feature seemed to be its special stage route, and even that was spoiled by ineffective marshalling and the absence of road closures. Visiting professionals simply burst out laughing when asked their opinions and there was no doubt that it should never have found a place in the World Championship.
But, for some reason known only to FISA and the event's organisers, find one it did, and when this year's Codasur Rally in Argentina was cancelled the scope of the Brazil Rally was even extended to qualify for both series, drivers and makes.
This had the effect of ensuring the presence of both Audi and Opel, for those are the two makes in the running for the current year's laurels, whilst their respective drivers, Michele Mouton and Walter Rӧhrl, are really the only two with any chance of the personal title. Datsun, third in the series and anxious to keep that place, sent a car for Shekhar and Yvonne Mehta.
That was really about the site of it, although entries from Brazil and its neighbours swelled the list to 58. However, the early retirement rate was so incredibly high that one wonders whether the majority were in any way serious about their entries.
A serious squabble among the organisers led to the departure just before the start of the clerk of the course and some of his supporters. Indeed, there were even stories of blows being struck, and this can hardly have inspired confidence among competitors that the event would run without any hitches.
In the first place the scrutineers were less than competent, to be polite, but far more serious was an inability to keep the special stages sealed off from other traffic. There were all manner of encounters with stray vehicles and, for their one safety, drivers could do no more than assume that there was an oncoming truck around every bend.
A special stage is sacred ground to be trodden only by those who have a right to be there, namely the competitors. Failure to ensure this with clinical stringency can only indicate a disregard for the safety of competitors, and those who display such neglect should not be entrusted with the running of a World Championship event, however much FISA might have been persuaded otherwise.
Marshals were frequently not at their posts, but some organising genius managed to produce a are of times from a control which, as it happened, didn't exist. Clocks were being misread all over the place, and some co-drivers took to keeping a record of their accumulated errors rather than penalty times. Indignant that their efficiency should be doubted, many of the marshals refused to show their clocks to competitors, and that created all manner of doubts and tensions.
Midst all this confusion, Hannu Mikkola went into what must have been the lead in his Audi Quartet, only to lose it when he got stuck in mud. The delay was so great that he was out of the event, although it's quite likely that he and Arne Hertz could have argued themselves back in. However, neither was in the mood to prolong the charade and they were very happy to leave Brazil early so that they could begin practice for the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in Finland.
It was Rӧhrl who inherited the teed from Mikkola, but he didn't keep it for long. Michele Mouton wasted no time getting ahead of him, and stayed there even though her Quattro broke a rear halfshaft. Rӧhrl was determined not to be lower than second, and he managed it despite losing time when a plug lead fell off, and yet more time when his Ancona lost a wheel.
Solidly in third place was Shekhar Mehta, comfortably ahead of a trio of Passats and indeed that was about the strength of the event even after only the first leg; all others had gone out.
But a late misfortune stopped the Mehtas' Datsun. Even without having been taxed to its full extent, its engine split apart with a loud crack and gone was the chance for Mehta to add 12 points to his championship score, and 14 to Datsun's.
Differences in scores at the end, between Opel and Audi and between Rӧhrl and Mouton, were minimal, and both teams must be regretting having spent so much on tackling a rally of such low calibre. They must each have had the same thought, "If they go, then we must go too".
Walter Rӧhrl now leads the championship with 99 points to Michele Mouton's 72, whilst next behind is Per Eklund whose second place in New Zealand brought his total up to 40. Rӧhrl has scored seven times and Mouton five, and there are four rounds remaining.
Among the makes, Opel leads with 104 points to Audi's 76, the former total coming from seven scores and the latter five. There are three rounds remaining — G.P.