Autosport 21st October
Any time, any Pace, anywhere...
British debut is first victory for Lancia Rally—Markku Alen’s RAC warmup—Patrick takes maximum points again — Brookes and Blomqvist battle — Group 1 to Wood — Report: KEITH OSWIN — Photography: TONY NORTH.
The 1982 Pace/AUTOSPORT RAC National Rally Championship drew to a close in Aberystwyth at the weekend with the Pace National Rally —- the event that very nearly did not take place at all. As a reward for their efforts in finding new forestry stages, Wolverhampton & South Staffs CC had the honour of hosting the British debut of the sensational Lancia Rally. Driven by Markku Alen and Ilkka Kivimaki, the car led from start to finish, thereby recording the car’s first ever victory.
Russell Brookes and Stig Blomqvist swapped times throughout the day with the Chevette driver holding the advantage at the finish but the debut run of Malcolm Wilson’s new Gartrac G3 Escort was destined to end after eight stages with a broken compression strut.
Of the national crews it was Malcolm Patrick who again took maximum points — he took the top score on each of the six rounds that he finished this year—with Mike Stuart close behind and taking second overall in the series. The Group 1 prize fell for the second event running to Andrew Wood after a close fought battle with David Mann. The Group 1 champion, Louise Aitken was not competing on Saturday having been giving the task of driving the Escort XR3 Turbo that will form the basis of Ford’s new championship next year.
The series that has run in bright sunshine throughout the year finally closed in torrential rain but it could not dampen the spirits of those who stayed for the party at the end.
A cold and blustery Aberystwyth sea front greeted the crews as they arrived on Friday night to do battle in the Pace National Rally — the final round of this year’s National Championship. But with the majority of titles settled on the penultimate round in Cumbria, there was a relaxed atmosphere.
The first car to appear on the promenade was the Ford Escort XR3 Turbo— a car whose identity and purpose had been the subject of much speculation during the preceding weeks. It was to be driven by Louise Aitken, the Group 1 champion, as a course car. What was the reason? Simple — Ford are to produce a bolt-on turbocharger for the Escort range and are planning to promote an Escort Turbo championship at national level during 1983. Saturday's exercise was to promote interest in the series.
"I don’t know how we will do tomorrow,” said the Scots lass who has grown in stature and confidence throughout the year. “It should handle like the Fiesta but we don’t know what will happen over these stages. The organisers have given us a 10 minute start over Markku — they seem worried that we ; won’t stay ahead!”
The Escort was a bonus but the real reason for the many camera wielding spectators—it looked as though a coach had just disgorged its content of American tourists! — was the appearance of the Lancia Rally. This lightweight plastic missile was to be driven by Finland's Markku Alen in preparation for the Lombard RAC Rally in November. This would be the start of a busy week for the team who were to spend two days in Wales after the rally to set up the car for the World Championship round.
The organisers’ deft move in persuading the council to allow cars to be parked on the promenade itself provided the crowds with the opportunity to examine the 280bhp machine at close quarters, prodding the flexible roof and then walking away shaking their heads. How could such a car be safe? The car itself was the one used by Alen in Sanremo and looked somewhat tatty in places but the engine note promised an exciting spectacle—it burbled like its fore-runner, the Stratos.
Parked alongside was the Peugeot Talbot Sport Lotus Sunbeam of Sanremo winner Stig Blomqvist. He too was testing for the RAC Rally, the car now fitted with the latest Lucas electronic injection system. It would be swapped later in the day to compare with the usual carburrettor set up. Stig was almost talkative . . .
Was the car to his liking? “Yes.”
Was he looking forward to the event? “Yes, it is many months since I was last in Wales.”
Would he be able to adapt to the Talbot easily after the Quattro?
“Oh no. It takes me a long time usually. I keep thinking that I have all four wheels driving and it is confusing at first. Never mind (smiling now), it will be good rally, good car and hopefully good result. We test only.” Chatty sort of fellow when he wants to be ...!
Russell Brookes too was testing with the Andrews Heat for Hire Vauxhall Chevette HSR. “We shall change the front dampers at first service, the rear suspension at the next and finally we shall tiy some different tyres,” explained Mike Broad. “For the last stage, if all has gone well, the car should be set up for the RAC and we shall have had a chance to try the new Michelin TRX J2 compound, narrow tyres that should work well in the mud.“
Malcolm Patrick was at four, having won the championship on the previous round but determined to do well. Phil Short was in line for the co-driver’s prize but there was also the important matter of the RAC Rally and a 1983 season to consider. There was a time when the National Championship could almost guarantee himself a ‘works’ drive on the RAC but not so this year. Malcolm has put the Opel up for sale and is open to offers for November. Next year he hopes to join a major team and was naturally keen to show a prospective employer what he is capable of.
Malcolm Wilson arrived with his new Gartrac G3 Escort, gleaming red and a perfect compliment to the similar car of Donald Heggie. The boys from Gartrac were there too to watch the showdown. The last of the star drivers was Andy Dawson with the Team Nissan Europe Silvia Turbo that he used on the Rodgers Carpets Rally earlier in the year. The car had been difficult to handle there and Andy was not confident that it was much better now. “We are using it on the RAC Rally so I will probably run at about number 20 to get the feel of the stages as we will face them when others have been through.”
The rest of the entry was made up of the usual crews who have fought and entertained throughout the year. In there, though, were two other champions. From the Esso Scottish Championship came Ken Wood in the Golden Wonder Triumph TR7 V8, making his first trip to Wales and, from the Esso/BTRDA series twice champion Trevor Smith. They would not admit it but it seemed that there was a point to be made somewhere . . .
The problems in mid-Wales very nearly caused the event to be cancelled completely, earlier in the year, but having announced that the rally could not take place, the organisers found some new mileage and it was back on again. It did mean that the event had a strange look about it. Gone was the classic flowing Dyfi stage — three shorter tests being laid out in the complex. Gone too was the 24 mile stage in Hafren but there were still 12 miles available. Crews started the rally with Hafren before moving to Pantperthog and then the Dyfi complex for three tests. A second ruq through Pantperthog and Dyfi followed with the final stage being a second attempt at Hafren. It was a compact route that made the best use of what was available and was generally well thought of by the competitors. “They are real driver’s stages,” commented Malcolm Patrick and Russell Broookes agreed. “The stages are superb. It is slippery in the forests at the moment but it will be great fun to get into them again.”
Crowds turned up at the start to watch the cars away as spectator areas were few and far between. In fact several groups lined the roads rather than fight their way into the designated area. A group of drivers gathered at the start of the first stage to watch Alen away from the line, the expression on their faces told it all . . . this was a battle for second!
Alen was fastest through the test and immediately took a 14secs lead over Blomqvist. He then complained that the car was down on power! Malcolm Patrick set third fastest but the other Malcolm was struggling. The car could get no traction on the slippery surfaces and he finished the stage 1 min behind Alen. The hard compound Pirellis seemed to be completely wrong and he must have looked enviously at the Lancia service area huge articulated transporter was there, stacked with over 200 tyres — half of which were already on rims.
Mike Stuart was another who had not had the best opening move, lying fifth and regretfully admitting, “I got off to a good start but lost some concentration towards the end of the stage. We shall have to get a move on now—I want to do well for the sponsors.” A large contingent from' Pace Petroleum were out in their six-wheel Range Rover to enjoy the event and cheer “their” driver.
Although the heavy rain showers and slippery conditions were the main cause of some long faces in the service area, where saddest sight of all must have been that of Terry Pankhurst and Roger Freeman. Disaster had struck on the way to the first stage. A suspected broken, valve spring—later diagnosed as a blown head gasket — was making expensive noises. Last year’s* Group 1 Champions decided to call it a day immediately rather than risk further damage with the RAC so near. They would have liked a better day though, as the popular pairing are also looking for drives next year.
Another former champion, Bill Dobie was struggling. A blown clutch on the Ascona had added to his year-long problems with the car and now he was pottering through the stages well down the order. “I was desperate for a good result,” he said, but it became difficult to get any result at all.’
George Hill had discovered that the yump that caught several crews out on the Tour of Cumbria had done more damage than at first thought. A bent when he arrived in Machynlleth. A bent cross member, lack of brakes and an out of balance prop shaft were causing the Chevette to handle very oddly. George, however, was determined to press on. It had not been the happiest year for him, apart from the Lindisfarne win and a good performance in Cumbria but he could still manage a wry smile as he sheltered from the rain. A lack of front brakes were also hampering the progress of Ken Wood’s TR/ V8 and, with a misfire as well, ‘Son of Big Rumbly’ was not living up to its reputation.
Phil Collins’s service crew were busy changing the gearbox after he had selected nothing but neutral on the first stage and it looked as though second place in the championship was slipping away from him.
With Hafren out of the way it was off to Pantperthog and Dyfi for what was considered to be the meat of the rally and a chance to get into the swing of things. George Marshall has had a mixed season with the Chevette, a roll on the Manx and disqualification on the Lindis- farne being the low spots, and luck deserted him again in Wales. Co-driver Ken Wilson booked him out of service early and collected a 2 mins penalty for doing so, spoiling their day completely. Malcolm Patrick was still suffering with the Ascona running very flat. The problem had manifested itself on the Tour of Cumbria and was giving rise to concern again in Wales. “We really don’t know what it is,” he said. “I hoped to be able to have a really good run today but the car is just not right at the moment. We’ve changed the ignition pack.”
The problem had allowed Stig Blomqvist through into third place behind Brookes and the top four places were already decided. Alen was clear of the field—a full minute separating him from second plade Brookes by stage 4. He was, howevever, working hard. The little car a claustrophobic experience for the occupants — would reach the end of the stages, Alen flicking the ‘window’ open and allowing steam to emerge. He was running with sweat, a combination of the effort being put in and the heat from the engine that sits immediately behind the crew. “There are no problems with the car — it is good testing for the RAC. It feels to be down on power though. They tell me it is 280 horsepower — I think not.”
The third stage gave spectators the opportunity to see tne cars in action for tne first time. Crowds turned up chattering excitedly, only to have their comments drowned out as the Lancia approached. The raucous wall of sound echoed around the valley for some minutes before the red, white and blue projectile burst into view. It hurtled down the hill with the tail twitching under braking, scrabbled for grip at the corner before the tyres bit ana thrust the beast away into the distance. The crowds gaped, wide-eyed, as the car disappeared. There are some who doubt the car’s safety but the crowds on Saturday could only marvel at the performances. This was Group B . . .
The fifth stage, Nant Hir, was to cause problems for some crews as it included a short section of road- that had been included to link two sections and make a stage. The surface here was soft and rutted, particularly when it was used again later in the day causing a few cars to flounder and lose time. Russell Brookes’s hopes of a trouble-free test session ended here when the Chevette clipped a rock that was lying on the road and bent the bottom suspension arm into a deep V. Luckily service was next but a true evaluation of the suspension set up was now impossible.
Lunch time saw Alen leading by lm 20s from Brookes and Blomqvist. Patrick, Stuart and Wilson were next, separated by iust 18secs. No-one was prepared to make a mistake on the wet roads that would have a car in the ditch with no effort at all. It looked close on paper but in reality the result was decided.
As the crews prepared to set off for a second run over the previous four stages, Blomqvist chatted merrily. “The car is very good — we are learning a lot for the RAC. I am getting used to just two wheels driving again, but it took most of the morning! We have changed the injection unit now to compare times — we have carburettors again.”
After his earlier gearbox problems, Phil Collins was beginning to make a move up the leader board and was having a close battle with Ken Wood and Trevor Smith.
The Esso/BTRDA Champion had bent a track control arm on the fourth stage but was now going well and the pair were destined to battle it out right to the end, honours being settled in Collins’s favour.
Two stages from the end saw Malcolm Wilson retire with a broken compression strut and an over-heating engine. It was a sad end to his run and although the car had not been in contention for most of the day, it was a satisfying debut run. He now has to prepare himself for the RAC Rally where he should drive the Audi Sport U K Quattro.
Ian Tilke’s birthday was not going well. Currently enjoying a run of good results the Derbyshire driver was, “Having an off day”. He also claimed the unusual distinction of stalling the car on a downhill section! The same piece of road prevented Alen from having a clean sweep of fastest stage times as he too stopped for 30secs, trying to keep the car going in the mud.
Two young drivers that were having good runs were Steve Green and Simon raton, both in Group 4 Escorts. Green was trying the car for the first time and, although nervous at the start and cautious on the early stages, he was growing in confidence as the day progressed ana finished a fine 14th. Paton is a 23-year- old on his first national rally. With a drive of great maturity he ran 14th or 15th throughout the day, until a deceptive bend caught him out in Dyfi, putting the car off the road and out of the event. Final service and the second run through Hafren saw little trouble for the leading crews and so 55 of the 77 starters made it back to Aberystwyth and the final celebrations.
The crowds stayed on to watch the cars return, led by Louise and Ellen in the XR3. They had found the car to be better than the Fiesta and Ellen was basking in the luxury of the plush interior. Markku Alen arrived to warm applause and cold champagne. As co-driver Ilkka Kivimaki sprayed the spectators, Markku grinned and announced: “It has been a long time since we had a win to celebrate. The car has run perfectly through the day. It is good!”
Russell Brookes’s second place brought further cheers and compliments from the crew for the marshals who had braved the elements — the Inkberrow driver is always genuinely grateful to this ‘forgotten breed’.
Stig too was happy with the way the car had gone and Talbot Manager, Paul White admitted, “We have done exactly what we came to do and now know what is needed for the big one.”
For the championship contenders it had been a day of mixed fortunes, Mike Stuart clinching second place in the series ahead of Phil Collins. For Mike the event marked the climax of a season that has improved as it progressed — for Phil the reverse. From being a likely champion, a run of bad fortune dropped him down the points table. Ian Cathcart returned to Aberystwyth to sixth place with the Boleyn-Cattini Opel Ascona 400, the first finish for the quiet Irishman since the Granite City. Francis Tuthill returned with style and finished seventh after a perfect rally. The two visiting champions rounded off the top 10, Wood just snatching a lsec advantage over the final stage having enjoyed his visit.
At the evening prize-giving there was the usual end of season atmosphere with competitors, service crews, officials and press (including a colleague’s pet gibbon rumoured to be driving an Audi Quattro later this year!) joining in the fun. Sadly Stig Blomqvist had to fly out immediately after the rally, leaving Bjorn Cederberg to receive the acclaim Alen and Kivimaki also declining to attend. The rally that nearly didn't happen had proved to be a fitting climax to an excellent series. As a preview to the RAC Rally it had shown that at least one car will set the crowds talking throughout the cold Welsh nights.
7, Francis Tuthill/Roger Jones (Ford Escort RS), 91 m 28s; 8, Phil Collins/John Savage (Ford Escort RS), 92m 19s; 9, Ken Wood/Peter Brown (Triumph TR7 V8), 92m 50s; 10 Trevor Smith/Steve Bond (Ford Escort RS), 92m 51s.