I CAN SEE IT NOW - THE AD features a picture of Jim Clark looking sheepish and standing beside his rally Ford Lotus Cortina. Below is the legend 'They laughed when I sat down to play my Lotus Cortina - BUT. . .
The RAC Rally, way back in November, might indeed have gone to crafty Bengt Soderstrom of the Ford team who played the softly-softly game which paid off in the end when the front runners one by one crumbled into immobility. But overshadowing the chubby Swede's victory was the performance of Jim Clark, who wasn't given much of a chance by anyone not even the RAC, who relegated him to running amongst the telly-cars at the front and before the real experts were let loose. Right from the start he began to throw the Lotus Cortina around as though he was back on Oulton Park, and by the time he arrived in his native Scotland he was going a dream and galloping up through the top 10 like you-know-what off a shovel. Considering he hadn't done this sort of thing before and international rally drivers have, through the years, built around them a mystique verging on the ethereal, Clark's one (and probably only) stab at it has left its mark in a pile of shattered egos.
If you don't believe me, ask Brian Melia who drove with him. I don't intend to dwell on the RAC, frankly, for it didn't throw up any significantfy new aspects of international rallying.
Later this month, though, comes the Monte and all its controversies. Something tells me the organiser, Jacques Taffe, must have been born on the wrong side of the tracks and has been trying to get even ever since. Not content with springing his modified regulations last year, he put forward an initial set of rules this year which the CSI just wouldn't accept. In essence Taffe stated that private entrants could run cars of Groups One, Two or Three provided they were modified to Group One specification. Now if you know what that means please tell the CSI ; they couldn't work it out, and neither can I. In essence it was like saying you could run a Group Three 1000cc Imp provided you used a Group One 850cc engine with a single carburettor - but if you think that's odd, just wait. On this year's Monte a private entrant is a man who runs the special stages at the end with only four spare tyres and enters the car himself. For this sacrifice he gets a better coefficient; and the Croix de Guerre for bravery one also assumes! In any case we are going to see a number of factory drivers running private and risking the tyre penalty. At the moment of writing I don't have the entry list, but Marcus Chambers told me Peter Harper, was definitely going to run privately in a Hillman Hunter and Stuart Turner opined that Makinen would possibly do the same in a Mini. Huh!
All this mucking about with the regulations must create friction. Sure enough, shortly after the entry list opened there were telephone calls between manufacturers such as Renault, Saab and BMC. Talk of a mass boycott was being bandied about. In the end, though, the lure of the Monte will drag most manufacturers back, for whilst it may not be the best rally in the world it has become an institution, is well covered by the press and accepted by the big ignorant public as the toughest thing since Hannibal took the elephants ~ over the Alps. "