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GP Week : Issue 20
RALLYING in Britain took a new turning in November 1960 when Britain’s first special stage was run. High-speed rallyies on closed roads was not new. They were commonplace in Sweden, although they were normally run with the emphasis on class competition so that everybody’s penalty was assessed according to the time of the fastest driver in their class. Even the European Championship Midnight Sun Rally, Sweden’s most important event of that time, used such sections. But the Monument Hill section in Scotland in 1960 was a breakthrough. It became the foundation on which Britain’s most important rally was to be based, ready for the following year when Britain’s Forestry Commission first allowed the privately maintained gravel roads in the nation’s woodlands to be available for motor sport. It gave a brave new alternative to British rallying. The new emphasis on speed rather than navigational excellence was a special development in the British rally sport. Stuart Turner, officially Britain’s first champion co- driver two years previously, tells stories about the way the rallies in Britain, invariably on asphalt surfaces, were run and won in earlier times. “Knowing what the rules said and, especially what they did not say, was the name of the game. And knowing little details of the routes was also vital, in quite a different way than nowadays. “The competitive sections on British rallies often used public roads in moorland areas. Our pre-rally recce would focus on checking out things such as the gates across the road, noting on which side of the road were the gates’ hinges and which way the gates swung open. Getting that right saved a great amount of time on a rally. “Even in 1960 perfection in route finding on road sections on the RAC Rally was still critical. We had to arrive at time controls on the minute. One map reading error would lose you time, and you could never catch that back later in the event”. On special stage rallying, there is always the chance to catch back lost time. The famous Monument Hill special stage lay south west of Dalmally, 40 miles (65km) north of Glasgow, and was run as one of four tight road sections on the Scottish Section of the 1960 RAC Rally. It was scheduled at a greater speed than the normal statutory 30mph (50kph) that applied elsewhere and was the only one on gravel surfaces. The section was two miles long, for which three minutes were allowed. Any time less than three minutes resulted in zero score, any time longer with an appropriate penalty, one mark per 10 seconds lateness. Whereas many crews also covered the other tight sections on time, Erik Carlsson’s two-stroke Saab 96 was the only car to cover this one without penalty. Carlsson’s speed on that section was significant. Running at car 178, nearly three hours behind the leading crews, he had to drive this late afternoon section in darkness. Turner was Carlsson’s co-driver on that occasion: “I remember thinking that somebody was catching us up, because we kept seeing flashes of light behind us. In fact these were sparks caused by the stones hitting the sump- guard under our car!” Nearly every other car on the rally was more powerful, but Erik was one of three top Scandinavian drivers on this event, drivers for whom this sort of terrain was familiar. Carlsson and Turner went on to win the event, covering the rest of the route without time control penalty which, on the first night in the north of Britain, was a major performance which, again, nobody else achieved. In those days penalties on all the special tests counted as tie-decider systems to give a classification to those who had equal road penalties. From that moment onwards, British rally sport went into two directions. Road rallying, albeit progressively being de-tuned, has remained in one form or another and is extremely popular for impecunious clubmen, while every weekend dozens and dozens of special stages on closed roads, normally on private land, are held up and done the country. It is on special stages that the present day pinnacle of British rallying in the form of world championship Wales Rally GB is based. After 1961, high speed on closed roads was no longer simply a tie- deciding exercise – it was the basis on which a rally was won and lost. It became rallying as we know it today. Enter the Special Stage Rallying as we know it today was probably born in 1960, when the first special stage was included in a UK rally. MARTIN HOLMES explains 40