Rally review

Argentina

Salonen's Fourth Win of the Year

There seems to be no stopping Peugeot. In the eight events of the current World Championship so far held (at time of writing) only twice have they failed to secure outright wins, and on one of those occasions they were second. Audi, on the other hand, has to be content with four seconds, two thirds and two no scores, the totals being such that no-one is going to blame Peugeot for starting to arrange its end-of-year championship victory celebrations.

Timo Salonen is having an equally notable string of successes, and the Argentine Rally provided him with his fourth win of the year, and the third in succession. He can still be overtaken by second man Stig Blomqvist, but again there are few who would risk a bet that the affable Finn, round of countenance and of spectacle, will not be World Champion this year.

When Peugeot began its regular outings with the 205 T16, it was Ari Vatanen who scored win after win, but after the first two events of 1985 those wins stopped dramatically. The infinitesimally fine line dividing outstanding success from total failure seemed to have been crossed.

Vatanen had four successive retirements prior to his second place in New Zealand, and some of them have been due to quite dramatic accidents. In Argentina he crashed again, this time very seriously indeed and both he and co-driver Terry Harryman were taken to hospital in the team's helicopter and later flown to Europe in a chartered casevac jet, Harryman to a hospital in Belfast and Vatanen to Helsinki.

Their Peugeot 205 T16 leapt into the air after hitting a dip in the road awkwardly and at very high speed, landed on its nose and rolled over and over. Harryman suffered a fractured cervical vertebra, but with no spinal cord damage, and injuries to arm and forearm, whilst Vatanen broke several ribs, a lumber vertebra, and both bones of his right leg just below the knee. We were pleased to learn that both are expected to recover, although it will be a long process.

Success in rallying has been very much a case of getting as close as possible to the absolute limit of adhesion without actually crossing it. This could be said of racing too, but it's much more difficult to judge that limit on dirt, gravel or mud, through dips and hairpins and over jumps than it is on a sterile racing circuit.

But with the new sophistication of rally cars have come huge increases in power and speed, better traction and grip, and more sensitivity. They have also become less forgiving, even though they may handle better than their forerunners, and their drivers need to use far more precision than before. On the rough and tumble of a special Stage, with all manner of unexpected hazards possible at any time, that's not at all easy, and the distance between the winners' rostrum and the retirement list is often too small even to be measured.

One wonders whether design and performance optima have already been reached for cars subjected to such punishment, and whether further development will do no more than stretch the elastic band to breaking point.

When the Peugeot team had recomposed itself after Vatanen's accident, all got back to supporting Salonen, who promptly stayed calmly out in front to win. Stig Blomqvist's Audi Sport, helped by high gear ratios, was much faster than the Peugeot, but Salonen was able to make up on the twisty roads what he was losing on the straights - and that was quite a lot considering that the difference in top speed claims for the two cars was all of 30 mph, reduced to half that figure when Blomqvist chose to change gearbox (and with it the ratios) after the first leg.

The first leg had covered the 590 miles between Buenos Aires and Cordoba during the Tuesday night, only four special stages making up just less than a fifth of that distance. Thereafter, the rally remained based at Cordoba for the remaining three legs, and finished there on the Saturday afternoon. Total distance was 1,625 miles, of which nearly 600 miles were made up by the 23 special stages, some twisty and interesting, some flat and featureless, with those tricky bumps always there to send the unwary skywards.

At the start of the second leg Salonen's lead over Blomqvist was just over two and a half minutes, but it nearly vanished when, having just driven past a Peugeot emergency service crew positioned in the middle of a long stage he became aware of a deflating front tyre and stopped to change the wheel, very quickly being joined by airborne mechanics who ran from their helicopter to take over the job.

The moment the work was completed, Salonen was waved on his way, but this was the precise moment that Blomqvist appeared on the scene at high speed, and the arriving Audi all but collided with the departing Peugeot, the Swedish driver deciding to drop back, despite the dust, rather than attempt to pass and risk side­swiping.

Not long after, Blomqvist, getting more accustomed by the minute to a car which differed substantially to the Audi Sport seen in previous events, all but knocked off a wing in a nudge with a bridge parapet which also smashed his lights on that side. But this was of little significance compared with oil pressure which first fluctuated, then dropped, then disappeared altogether.

He completed the stage in a cloud of blue smoke, whereupon mechanics descended upon the car. As they worked, a domestic difference of opinion developed within the Audi management, one man wanting the car withdrawn so that the cause of the failed oil pressure could be traced, and another wanting it to continue as long as the wheels could be made to turn.

The "no surrender" argument won, and even though it was giving out an ominous big end rattle, off went the car. Alas, it didn't get very far; there were even worse noises and the engine blew up very finally.

Here it's worth dealing a little with the considerable changes which had been made to the Audi. First of all, the battery and radiator have been moved from the front to the boot, the radiator being combined with the oil cooler which has been moved from the outside to the inside. A hydraulically­driven alternator has also been mounted in the boot, away from the engine heat.

Not only did this lessen underbonnet congestion, allowing for modified inlet and exhaust manifolding which improved the distribution of inlet gas to the cylinders and made exhaust gas flow more efficient (all of which improved both torque and throttle response) but it also changed the front I rear weight distribution. Previously, 60% was at the front, but with the new arrangement this was reduced to 51%.

Air ducting under the rear wing takes air, helped by two fans, to the combined oil / water radiator, whilst interior ventilation is improved by two fresh air ducts cunningly concealed in the exterior mirrors. An opening rear window provides access to the spare wheel, now mounted inside the car.

Aerodynamically, car the is car also improved. New designs of front and rear spoilers provide additional down force, whilst another crib from the aviation industry (will they ever end?) is the use of aircraft quality electrical connectors so that the entire dashboard can be disconnected from the central electrical system simply by removing one plug from its socket.

It was a vastly improved machine, making its first World Championship appearance, and despite its retirement in Argentina the Audi people were confident of being re able to match Peugeot in the remaining rounds. Blomqvist's retirement meant that Salonen could relax, for behind him the two Nissan 240RSs of Shekhar Mehta and Jayant Shah, privately entered and supported by mechanics from Kenya, were having bad trouble with contaminated fuel and were suffering an even greater power disadvantage than usual. Nevertheless they displayed typical East African tenacity and managed to finish fourth and seventh respectively.

One of the surprises of the rally was the way in which Austrian privateer Wilfried Wiedner managed to keep among the leaders in his Audi Quattro, although when Blomqvist went out the Audi turned their attentions to him and gave him full support. He finished a fine second - and it was his first World Championship event.

Carlos Reutemann was tempted out of retirement by the offer of a Peugeot 205 T16 a shrewd move by team manager Todt, for the local hero commands a vast following of fans and much of the consequent publicity, of which there was an enormous amount, rubbed off on the car. Even though he was not familiar with pace notes, and drove mostly without even listening to them, he finished third.

There were 40.finishers from 138 starters, that high degree of support coming largely from local competitors-in locally built cars which FISA had agreed to allow into Group A. Had they been co-piloting elsewhere, they would probably have fallen foul of the scrutineers. In any event, the retirement rate was very much on the high side.

Four events remain in the Drivers' Championship and three in that for makes, the next round (for both series) being Finland's Rally of the Thousand Lakes which will actually have taken place just before this issue of Motor Sport appears. After that will come the Sanremo Rally (both), the. Ivory Coast Rally (drivers only) and Britain's Lombard RAC Rally in Novembber, based this year at Nottingham.

Results:

1st: T. Salonen/S. Harjanne (Peugeotn 205 T16, GpB) 10 hr 04 min 33 sec
2nd: W. Wiedner/F. Zehetner (Audi Quattro, GpB) 10 hr 18 min 29 sec
3rd: C. Reutemann/J-F. Fauchille (Peugeot 205 T16, GpB) 10 hr 34 min 47 sec

World Rally Championship positions

Drivers (After 8 rounds)
Timo Salonen (SF) 108 pts
Stig Blomqvist (S) 60 pts
Ari Vatanen (SF) 55 pts

Makes (After 8 rounds)
Peugeot 130 pts
Audi 92 pts
Nissan 50 pts

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Although some months have passed since the Amerathon, that enormous event which was to have traversed both the Americas, it is nevertheless worth recording that the event actually took place in June, bfit in a form much shorter than originally planned.

All of four years were taken up by the complexities of trying to run a major rally through no less than thirteen countries, and we imagine that the route planning must have been straightforward compared with the diplomatic negotiations, not to mention the logistical headaches presented by moving a convoy of competitors across so many borders and endeavouring to stick to some kind of timetable.
Entries were thin on the ground, due partly, we suspect, to postponements and partly to the high cost of competing in such a long event which was unsponsored and drew its organisational costs from entry fees. After 19,400 miles spanning Canada, Mexico and the USA, the cavalcade was about to move off from Anaheim, California, to Miami, for shipment to Caracas, when a message from the Venezuelan authorities advised that the planned arrival by sea would result in a long delay, and that arrival via a land frontier would be preferable.

The Hong Kong-Peking Rally, born from the ashes of what was to have been the China Rally and now backed by 555 Cigarettes, seems to have benefited from the increasing western awareness evident in China, the odd situation of the leasehold colony, and the tremendous groundwork made by Wylton Dickson in his efforts to bring about the Peking to Paris Challenge; efforts which were scotched by FISA's Balestre who wanted to run it himself but has so far failed.

This 75 hour event is 1,500 km long, with 23 special stages, but it is by no means a straightforward rally. China has so many restrictions on imports and internal travel that competitors have to make all manner of advance arrangements which they would not expect on other events.

Practice is not allowed, naturally, but a video tape of the stage roads, made during the organisers' recce, has been made available to those taking part. Service cars and their crews have to be named and listed, and things as payment meals made and in accommodation visas and permits, temporary China Driving Licence (an IDP is not accepted there), tours, and flight from Peking back to Hong Kong.

It won't be an easy event. Although the organisers have presented a comprehensive information package, there is no substitute for seeing for yourself, and many factors will remain unknown until the rally actually starts.

Finally, the Oman Rally will be another to attract European competitors to its mountainous terrain at the south-easterly tip of the Arabian Peninsula. This is no desert event like others in the Middle East series, but something far more demanding than just pointing a car across a featureless plain. It will have 23 stages totalling 415 km, and because some stages are used twice, the distance to be covered by recce is just 250 km.

Previously used fast sections have been dropped in favour of more twisty roads which although on dirt and gravel, are smooth and clearly defined - again unlike desert tracks.

The Omani people are friendly, honest and enthusiastic; English is widely spoken, whilst Swahili is as common a national language as Arabic. The rally takes place during Thursday and Friday, September 26 and 27 and each of the three sections starts and finishes at Seeb, just outside Muscat.