From our Archives - Rally Review, September 1998

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Why not a World Rally Championship for Drivers?

In December’s Motor Sport, when writing of the Tour of Corsica, we mentioned briefly the result of the World Rally Championship for Makes, and the events leading up to Fiat’s taking the laurels after a stirring fight with Ford. This issue appears just after the first of the 1978 qualifiers, the Monte Carlo Rally, takes place, but it is still worth reflecting again on the 1977 series.

How would tennis fans react, we wonder, if the Wimbledon final were billed as a contest between Dunlop and Slazenger? Or the nation’s football followers to a Cup Final between boot manufacturers? Just as nonsensical to rally enthusiasts is a World Rally Championship which has no champion. True that points are given to car makers, but the drivers get nothing and the sport is left without a figurehead. Even the non-enthusiast public knows who is the Champion Grand Prix driver each year, but there is no such person as a Champion Rally Driver for them to get to know.

Instead, the laurels are stretched to the limit over the shoulders of an inanimate company. No-one will deny Fiat any of its spoils of victory after the hardest-fought championship since the series began, but you can’t shake hands with a motor car, nor interview it on television. Time after time representations have been made to the CSI to set up a proper World Rally Championship for Drivers but they steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, some of their members remarking privately that the manufacturers are against it. Some of them may be, on the grounds that publicity for a driver would detract from publicity for the car, but we know that others are not. Among the latter are the sensible ones who realise that acclaim for a driver would certainly rub off on the car he drives.

No one wants the Manufacturers Championship to be dropped, for it would be a ridiculously easy job to run two series based on the same string of qualifying events, as it is done in Grand Prix racing. It would take no more effort than merely to keep track of an extra set of simple scores, even simpler, in fact, than the present manufacturers series which combines overall points with group points.

For 1977, the CSI threw a few crumbs to those who saw that rallying had a vast hole in its side by not having a champion driver, in the form of a trophy called the FIA Cup for Rally Drivers. It was based on a ridiculously complicated series of rallies, including all the qualifiers of the World Championship, all the qualifiers of the European Championship and four other extra events making a total of 55 rallies in all. Such a top-heavy list was stupidly ponderous, and hardly anyone took an interest in it save for the Italians when it was learned that Sandro Munari would be having a serious attempt at winning it. He had no challengers and he won it comfortably. But he was not called World Champion, a title which the CSI had the had grace to refrain from using.

In the absence of a proper World Championship for Drivers, our weekly sister journal Motoring News some years ago announced one of its own, basing the points scoring system on that of the manufacturers series and using the same events. Encouragingly, other publications took it up, even overseas, but not even a flicker of interest manifested itself outside the ivory tower of the CSI.

Although it was Fiat which won the World Championship for Makes, it was not a Fiat driver who became unofficial World Rally Champion, for Fiat’s five wins in the series were accomplished with five different drivers. In fact, the only driver to have won more than one event in the series was Bjorn Waldegard who took first the Safari Rally, then the Acropolis Rally and finally the RAC Rally. In all three events he was driving a Ford Escort with his regular partner Hans Thorszelius, and together they are unquestionably World Rally Champions of 1977 in their own categories.

As significant as Waldegard and Thorszelius coming out on top with three outright wins was the second place of Simo Lampinen and Solve Andreasson without a single win at all. They indulged in no win-or-bust tactics during the year and showed that reliability can achieve results as well as performance pressed into the floorboards. With team-mates striving all the time for wins, their dependability was a valuable asset to the Fiat team.

Whilst the World Championship was for manufacturers, at least the European Championship was for drivers, though overburdened as usual by no less than 40 rallies, each graded at one of four coefficients. Overlapping, especially of the pre-rally practice periods, would have caused headaches for anyone determined to tackle as many as possible, but the few drivers who did were selective and only chose those rallies in which they had the best chances of success and which had the highest coefficients to give them the greatest number of points.

The most successful driver in the series, both at winning and at selecting the right events, was Frenchman Bernard Damiche who, with his co-driver Alain Mahe, drove a 1.ancia Stratus prepared and entered by the French importer, Andre Chardonnet. They won the total comfortably, but we should mention that runners-up were French girls Michele Mouton and Francoise Conconi who put up a most impressive performance.

For 1978 the CSI’s Championships remain largely unchanged, although that FIA Cup for Drivers seems to have been dropped. The World Championship for Makes keeps the same list of qualifying events and the long string of European Championship qualifiers keeps its coefficient system. As we have said, there is to be no official World Rally Champion Driver yet again. GP