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GP Week : Issue 162
35 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The IRC breaks fresh ground this weekend in heading off to Romania for the Sibiu Rally (July 20-22), the eighth round of their series. Based in the centre of the country some 300km up-country from the capital Bucharest, Sibiu is in the legendary region of Transylvania and the rally stages are run in the Cibin Mountains which are part of the Carpathian range. This is fresh ground not only for the IRC, as the Sibiu Rally presents a whole new opportunity for the sport in Romania. There have also been many years of difficulties for organisers and competitors in Romania as they suffered from delays in receiving international recognition after the change of national federation authority in the country. The traditional centre of international rally sport in Romania was the Danube Rally, which came and went in the international championship calendar. From 1967 till 1971 and then ‘73 and ‘74, the European championship qualifier was a top-line event in the sport, with winners including Pauli Toivonen (Porsche) and Walter Rohrl (twice with Opel Ascona). Then the event settled down as a qualifying round in the now secondary European and the regional Peace and Friendship series before changing its name in 1991 to Romania Rally. This new name followed a change of location to the north of the country in Baia Mare where there were asphalt stages. The forty-odd year story of the Danube and Romania Rallies ended in 2006. Romania has recently remained in the centre of rally attention, firstly on account of the work of Renault who had plans, which did not proceed, to develop and run a Super 2000 car under the name of their Romanian associated Dacia Logan company. Then the former WRC driver, Francois Delecour, formed a commercial contact with Romanian authorities initially competing in national Dacia cup events and then with sponsorship for competing on the Monte Carlo Rally. The Sibiu Rally is considered the best gravel event in the country, and uses some stages formerly used on the old Danube Rally. The two-day event also features a superspecial in the streets of Sibiu on each day, and a two stage night section on the Friday evening, with one stage on asphalt and one controversially on gravel. The central service park is in the biggest square in the city! The finish is in early Saturday evening. The leading Romanian resident rally driver is the Italian driver, Marco Tempestini, the former FIA Zone champion Peugeot driver who has contested this year’s IRC series in an Impreza R4 but who runs a Skoda Fabia on this occasion. Predictably the majority of the private drivers will compete in Dacia Logan cars. The story of the Vampires and their activities in Transylvania is well known, immortalised by the film Dracula, but the story of the Crabs has been largely forgotten. The 2012 Sibiu Rally commemorates the 45th anniversary of the first official international championship rally in the country, the 1967 Danube Rally which provided the only important rally victory for one of the BMC team’s lesser known cars. The Austin and Morris 1800s had been around the workshops from 1966 till the closure of the rally team at the end of 1968, only spasmodically being used in competition. For the 1967 European championship Danube Rally there were several different starting cities but the BMC team chose to start from Prague, in the then Czechoslovakia. For the team the rally was nearly a disaster. When the rally reached the border into Romania, the BMC’s lead driver Rauno Aaltonen, in a Mini, was refused entry to the country for lack of a visa, which he had been told wasn’t required for a Finnish national, leaving only their number two driver, Tony Fall in the 1800, to continue. The stages were rough, but the special hydrolastic suspension system of the 1800 worked well. Meanwhile the main rival team Renault lost two of their three cars. Fall won the event and a Renault was second. The only other major result for the model was second place on the 1968 London-Sydney, the first of the new-style marathon rallies. The 1800 looked and in some ways behaved like a big Mini, but it was not an agile car. One observer said that the way it moved slowly sideways round corners was rather like a land crab. The Land Crab name stuck. Romania was the only place the rally crab was able to use its claws to good effect. – MARTIN HOLMES RALLY >>> IRC PREVIEW Journey to the Land of Vampires and Crabs Austrian driver Franz Wittmann (Opel Kadett GT/E) winning the 1978 Danube Rally