Rally review, September 1983

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Cheat, or Criminal?

Dealing cards from the bottom of the pack is breaking the rules, in most cases quite harmless but nevertheless disreputable and is called cheating. Stealing is also breaking the rules, but this time it is more than just cheating; it is a criminal act. A forward pass on the rugby field is again a breach of the rules, but this has no stigma and is neither cheating nor a crime.

Break the rules of a simple game and your forfeit will be no more than something linked to the terms of play. Break the law of the land and you are considered to have committed a crime against society and your punishment is more severe.

Somewhere among these extremes is the case of the rally competitor or team manager who breaks the rules, gets away with it and accepts an award for a place which he did not deserve. Is he just cheating, breaking only the rules of the game, or is he guilty of a more sinister deception which could bring the weight of the law to his collar?

Can a short cut on a special stage really lead to appearance in a criminal court? Can an altered time card result in an arrest, or the use of an unauthorised component bring about imprisonment?

Some defaults result from genuine mistakes; others are premeditated deceptions. There are wiles which have their funny sides, and those which are maliciously fraudulent. The spectrum is broad and not at all well defined, so before considering the questions let’s recall a few incidents from the past. In the mid-sixties members of a factory rally team were relaxing at their hotel during the halfway stop of a prominent rally of the time. Spirits were high, for one of their cars was well in the lead, obviously superior to its rivals, and the crew on top form. But when the team manager and chief engineer went to their room their dialogue, opened by the engineer, went something like this: 

“I hope we don’t win.”  “What the hell do you mean?”  “We’ve got the wrong chokes in the carburetters”.  “Change ’em, then.”  ‘We don’t have any of the right ones.”

The conversation stopped for a while. They both knew that the wirming car would be stripped and subjected to strict inspection under the expressionless gaze of that portly commissaire technique with the broad-brimmed hat. Oversized chokes would be spotted immediately. Then came the solution. Down in the bar at the time was the team’s engine expert, just returned from a course at the Weber factory in Bologna, and in a very short time he and the manager were driving through the night to Bologna to collect a box of chokes of the correct size.

They got back soon enough to have them fitted to the car before the end of the rally, but in those days road time was not as plentiful as it is today and there was very little opportunity for the job. However, they decided on the best place and when the car arrived mechanics fell upon it to replace the offending parts.

The two front chokes came out easily and were replaced, but the rear two were stubborn, perhaps due to the heat, and would not budge. The clock ticked around and eventually the snap decision had to be taken to put everything back and send the car on its way with two legal chokes and two illegal.

The car won, and all was rejoicing. Then it went off for scrutiny and pits of stomachs immediately began to twitch. The radiator was drained, various parts removed and examined, and then they came to the carburetters. Monsieur “Big Hat” watched in stony silence as the two front chokes were taken out and measured. When they came to the rear chokes those stomachs began to twitch even more. The officials were obviously not going to stop at just two.

Then the manager’s eyes fell on the bucket filled with water drained from the radiator, and he acted spontaneously. With a deft kick he toppled the bucket and sent its dirty contents over the sparkling white trouser legs of Monsieur “Big Hat”.

For a few seconds there was chaos. Tools were dropped and scattered, mechanics backed off and hid their grins, and a gent in white trousers with brown legs hopped around the corner of the workshop, filling the air with French curses.

When the commotion died down there was little interest in probing further into that car. They had checked just about everything anyway, and “Big Hat” was risking no more mishaps. The scrutiny sheet was signed and the team went away to collect their awards and celebrate.

Looking back, all concerned recall the incident with amusement even though the technical rules were broken, for it resulted from an error rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive.

But not all such cases end happily. In 1966 Vic Elford won the Rally of the Flowers quite decisively in a Ford Cortina, but things turned sour when scrutineers discovered that the number of teeth on a gear pinion was not the number shown on the homologation form. Disqualification was the result, and during the ensuing protest hearing Elford, using his knowledge as an engineer, proved mathematically that the figure on the form was not correct since it did not correspond to the gear ratio.

Elford’s proof was conclusive, indicating that there had probably been a typing eror at Boreham. The stewards agreed, but they would nevertheless accept only what was printed on the CST-approved form, whether it had been proved wrong or not. A British driver in a British car was therefore thrown out in favour of an Italian driver in an Italian car. In any case, the scrutineers had found something wrong with the weight of the Cortina’s pistons, having weighed them on the scales of a sweet shop around the corner!

Not all cases ‘ of irregularity are unpremeditated. Fitting non-homologated parts, especially in the depths of engines or other complex assemblies, used to be considered anything but dishonourable. “All the others do it, so why shouldn’t we?” was the accepted justification. Components were not always beefed up by increasing their proportions. Strong, expensive metals were sometimes used instead of the weaker, standard material, and we well remember a scrutineer attempting to drill a hole for a seal prior to the Safari Rally, only to scratch his head in amazement after bit after bit snapped without making any impression on the component.

Complete engine replacements have taken place occasionally, once in the all-concealing interior of a furniture truck and once, so the story goes, after a new engine had been swung out by helicopter to a remote part of a remote country.

More sinister breaches of the rules are not mechanical at all, but tactical; taking a short-cut on a special stage or tight road section, for instance, perhaps not as common now as it used to be, or even positioning an accomplice to move an arrow at the appropriate moment to divert a rival.

Another reason for moving arrows was to cause so much confusion that the stage would be cancelled, thus removing any extra Penalty which a particular car might have incurred due to a puncture or some other failure. Another trick for the same purpose was to swing the tail of the car when it arnved at the control so that the table would be hit “accidentally” and clock and documents scattered, rendering further timekeeping impossible. Another was to cause an argument when two cars arrived together, distracting officials from the task of timing those who followed. It must be said, of course, that some officials were pretty poor at timekeeping, and not all cancellations were due to the ploys of competitors.

Servicing in places not allowed by regulations is another common misdemeanour, even on the RAC Rally. Unmarked cars carrying team managers, but with mechanics and spare parts also on board, regularly prowl prohibited areas, and we can think of at least one past winner who might never have won at all had the regulations been enforced.

Altering time cards used to be another heinous practice, and still may be where printing clocks are not used and there is little or no back-up record. Some co-drivers used to carry collections of pens of all colours and shades, whilst we remember one who was equipped with a John Bull printing outfit!

The misdeeds of competitors, however, are nothing compared with those of some team managers with more resources at their disposal to perpetrate their crimes.

At a major international rally some years ago the leading car just before halfway was that of a factory team bent (!) on victory. The car was in a bad state and needed comprehensive repair to get it ready for the second half, a job needing much more than the 15 minutes which would be available. Although inexperienced, the organisers would never agree to mechanics working in the overnight closed park, but perhaps they would be sufficiently green not to expect blatant confidence trickery from a supposedly reputable works team. The scheme was quickly arranged and when the rally car was driven into the garage earmarked for service, and the doors locked behind it, mechanics immediately removed its boot, bonnet and doors, each bearing rally plates and numbers, and fitted them to a practice car which had already been denuded.

Thus transformed, off went the practice car to the closed park for the night, leaving the rally car in the garage to be worked on at leisure. Next morning after the restart, the counterfeit car was taken straight back to the garage where a reversal of the switch left the crew with virtually a brand new car in which to continue the rally. The deceit was not officially discovered, but justice was served when the car failed to finish for quite another reason.

Breaking the rules is far removed from finding loopholes in them, and one team manager used to consider a contest started when its regulations arrived on his desk. But when Fiat went to the New Zealand Rally in 1977 they looked for more than just loopholes and seemed to regard the organisers as hill-billies. That they were not became evident very quickly indeed.

The rules prohibited the carriage of two-way radios in competing cars but the organisers, working with the NZ Post Office, discovered that this rule was being broken. A secret passage control was net up and cars searched. Behold, beneath the seat of the first Fiat through was a powerful VHF walkie-talkie. Unfortunately it was not confiscated, only photographed, and later team manager Audetto dismissed the allegation with a broad grin and the claim that “. . . ees only a toy ‘ee buy in ‘ong Kong for ‘ees keeds”.

These instances are no more than imperceptible scratches on the surface of all the intrigue which the sport of rallying has engendered, but they suffice to ask how acts of deviousness, not just practical jokery, rate on the criminal scale. The dividing line between rallymanship and cheating is very thin, but how thin is the line between cheating and criminal deception?

Stealing is described as the dishonest retention of the property of another. The old “taking and carrying away” requirement has gone, and the criminal deception can be deliberate or just reckless, by words or by conduct. Doesn’t this appear to cover the case of an award going to the wrong person, no matter for what reason?

False accounting may also be worth looking into, for it is unlawful to destroy, conceal or falsify any record or document made for an accounting purpose. Is a time card such a document, and is the information in a computer memory such a record?

Even more sweeping is the law which declares it to be Unlawful for any person, in furnishing information for any purpose, to produce a misleading document which may be deceptive in any material particular. Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Geraint Phillips