Germany is one of the most powerful countries in Europe. It has a thriving motor industry and a populace which seems to be enthusiastic about rallying. Yet it has no qualifier in the World Rally Championship. The USA is in a similar position, although for a different reason. In the USA the public simply do not understand rallying. To them, a motor competition, whether it is a race, rally, slalom or treasure hunt, is a contest in which the first driver over the line is the winner. The niceties of special stages, aggregates and pace notes are complications which they don’t comprehend, and the two inroads into the WRC by American events have accordingly both failed, largely due to lack of public support and the corresponding disinterest of sponsors and publicity makers.
In Germany, things are quite different. The enthusiast population is certainly there, but the average roadside dweller seems to be intolerant and prone to complain — unlike Welsh farmers of years past who complained if a rally was not routed past their front doors! Equally intolerant, almost obstructive, are the local authorities, and it is a very difficult task indeed to secure permission to run an event. If it proposes to use forest roads — and there are certainly plenty of them — then it is nigh impossible.
A working party in Germany has been considering the future of the country’s rallying, and the outcome so far has not been too good. In fact, it seems to have come down in favour of single-venue events on private land, playing right into the hands of the FISA (and FOCA) moguls who want to reduce the sport to a series of TV spectacles capable of attracting lucrative fees for television rights.
Already it has been declared by FISA that any TV outfit wishing to film a World Championship rally has to apply for a pass, not from the rally organisers, but from an organisation called International Sporting Communicators Limited, a UK based concern which just happens to have the same address and telephone number as FOCA. This has caused a furore among people who have been filming rallies almost since the days of Eolites, and we feel that their experience and standing with rally organisers who have known them for many years will outweigh any demands and limitations which ISC attempt to impose. Indeed, some organisers have displayed as much revulsion for ISC as the film makers, and they feel very much aggrieved at being told to whom they should issue passes and to whom they should not.
In our book the matter is simple. If you want to write about a rally, you simply go there. If you want to photograph or film it, you do likewise. If the rally organisers are worth their salt, as most are, then you will have no problems.
Returning to the forest question, an exception to the German reluctance to authorise forest events took place eighteen years ago when a consortium decided to run a rally in conjunction with the 1972 Olympic Games. Due to the affiliation with the games, central and local government gave support, the military provided all the road-closing marshals required, and forest authorities readily agreed to the use of forest roads.
The result was a memorable Olympia Rally, the event in which Walter Röhrl first came to international prominence at the wheel of a Capri, but it was very much a solitary, one-time rally. Pressure, both from within and outside Germany, was exerted in the hope that it could be made an annual event, but there was no chance, and when that 1972 event was over, it was the last of the Olympia Rally. It was a great shame, but nothing could persuade the authorities to relent.
Since then, the World Rally Championship has come into being, and we have heard several remarks that Germany, as one of Europe’s leading car makers, deserves to have a qualifying event in the series. We agree, but unless the event chosen is of a sufficient standard, it cannot really be done, for the overall quality of the series should not be compromised for the sake of either political or geographic convenience.
More than one German event has declared an intention of applying for inclusion in the World Championship, but none as seriously as the ADAC Rally, a coefficient 20 European Championship qualifier which this year broke new ground by moving to the region of the Eifel Mountains and establishing its base at the rebuilt and revamped Nürburgring.
Loose road stages are out of the question for a German event aiming for the world series. Military areas have no character whatsoever, and good quality forest roads are simply not available. The only alternative was to establish an event which ran entirely on tarmac, and that is precisely what was done by the sporting section of ADAC.
Around the Eifel region the twisty, mountain roads have tarmac surfaces of billiard table quality, unlike those of Corsica which can have potholes, gravel and films of mud in as much abundance as a quarry access. What is more, they are all within easy striking distance of the excellent Nürburg facilities so that the whole lot can be linked and controlled very easily. The only problem there is accommodation. The one hotel seemed to be able to accommodate the event without any difficulty, but were it a World Championship qualifier it would be quite another matter.
As one would expect of a European Championship qualifier, the ADAC Rally’s leading competitors were confined to the few tackling that series as a whole, plus national championship hopefuls. Robert Droogmans came from Belgium in an Opel Kadett, Ingvar Carlsson from Sweden in a BMW M3 (quite a change from the Mazda he drove to second place in New Zealand), and Kalle Grundel from Sweden in a somewhat underpowered Peugeot 309 GTI. Finland’s Sebastian Lindholm had a Lancia Delta Integrate and Sweden’s Mats Jonsson a Toyota Celica GT4.
Centred at the Niirburgring, the rally was divided into three parts and contained 37 special stages, all of them on smooth tarmac except a “rallycross” affair at the circuit itself. The tarmac was very smooth, and in the very hot weather there were some problems with tyres overheating and wearing out too fast, and indeed with a melting road surface. Another feature was the repeated use of the circuit, with its fast straights, demanding gear ratio changes of anyone who wanted to achieve reasonable speeds without sending rpm gauges into the red.
In the first leg, Schwarz opened out a comfortable lead in his Toyota, which he said was being used as a last-minute mobile test bed for some new components to assist TTE’s efforts in the Argentina Rally just a few days after the German event. Droogmans was there merely to consolidate his position at the head of the European Championship table, not particularly to win, but he wasn’t expecting the problem which dropped him to eighth place in the first leg. First a turbocharger pipe came off, and after this was put right, the car ran on just three cylinders for a while.
Demuth was Schwarz’ initial challenger, but a malfunctioning water thermometer (feeding information to the engine computer) cost him some time and Carlsson found himself in second place after the first leg, ahead of Lindholm, Jonsson and Holzer.
The second leg brought changes, caused by no greater reason than the ambient temperature. Schwarz’ Toyota spluttered to a stop due to fuel evaporation, and it was some time before cold fuel could be poured into his tank to get the engine running again. However, Schwarz had lost something approaching half an hour, and all chances of success.
Meanwhile Droogmans had made up for his first leg delay and had got up to second place, ready to take over when Schwarz lost the lead. For a man who claimed not to be driving at 100%, he was certainly going rather quickly.
Demuth had to run for some time without his sump-guard, simply because there had been no time to refit it after service the previous evening, and in the morning it missed its rendezvous because a service car became ditched. John Bosch damaged the rear of his BMW M3 and decided later to withdraw rather than continue to be a tail-end finisher. In any case, he needed time to repair the car in readiness for the forthcoming Madeira Rally.
The third day was even hotter than the first two, Droogmans starting with just a slender 23 second lead over Demuth. Initially, Demuth began to whittle down that lead, especially when the leader lost his handbrake and had to use reverse gear a few times to get around hairpins. It seemed likely that Demuth would take the lead, as Droogmans was taking no chances of losing championship points, but the Mitsubishi driver suffered wishbone failure and dropped back again.
Third place came as a pleasant surprise for Mats Jonsson, for he was driving his Celica on tarmac only for the second time, whilst Holzer was lucky to finish at all, let alone make fourth place. In a heavy landing after a jump, one of his Lancia’s gearbox bolts sheared, and from there to the finish it was kept going by virtue of constant oil replenishments and liberal applications of mastic sealant.
As a tarmac event, the ADAC Rally has potential, but some of its stages were very much on the fast side and it would certainly benefit from a route reshuffle to include more twisty stages and fewer long straights.