History of the 1977 London-Sydney Rally.
When it comes to transatlantic rally marathons of the 1960s and 1970s, London-Sydney 1968 and London-Mexico 1970 are first of all remembered. The events of the second edition of London-Sydney are more often left behind the scenes. This race took place nine years later - in August-September 1977 and became one of the most interesting events in the history of motorsport.
The first rally in which a truck started as a full-fledged participant. First race for the works team with diesel cars. The first - and, we believe, the only - exit to the start of the motor home! And this is not counting the deadly complexity of the route, wild organizational fakups, amazing in their impudence, the attempts of the participants to deceive the judges.
Even the team that eventually won the rally tried to belittle its own status right up to the last. Not a race, in a word, but a detective on wheels!
On the football lanes
The resounding success of London-Sydney in 1968, of course, demanded a sequel. Energetic Australian Wilton Dixon had no doubt: the race should be made traditional. In order not to part too much, the next start, like the destination, was timed ... for the World Cup.
That is why in 1970 they went from London to Mexico City, and four years later - to Munich, and not directly, but through ... the Sahara.
What-what, "London-Munich 1974"? Yes, few have heard of this rally. The race took place when the shock of the worldwide fuel crisis had not yet dissipated. Therefore, the enthusiasm of the factory teams, and therefore the press, was minimal.
It seemed like a little bit of good - the time for transcontinental rallies is over. But the resilient Dixon successfully played on nostalgia. Fuck football! To hell with the World Cup and new locations! Let's hit the London-Sydney route again! After all, the first time was so much fun. Can we repeat?
The enterprising Australian infected with his inexhaustible enthusiasm the representatives of Singapore Airlines, which was still little known to the general public, which agreed to become the title sponsor of the event.
The race was officially named the Singapore Airlines Rally London-Sydney and, in honor of the airline's 30th anniversary, was held on the roads of three continents. The symbolism was lacking. In 30 days, participants had to check in at 30 time control points (TC) and in the fight for the main prize of 30 thousand Australian dollars as quickly as possible to overcome 30 thousand kilometers.
The legendary route, scale and status of the event - after all, the longest rally in history! - plus generous prize money did their job. On the morning of August 14, 1977, a very diverse and cheerful car crowd gathered in London's Covent Garden, not far from the Royal Theater.
Separating the London theater and the Sydney Opera 30 thousand kilometers, 69 carriages dared to pass. There were a variety of characters here. Not only serious factory and dealer teams of Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Citroen, but also private pilots, adventurers and just daredevils. The last ones on the starting list, perhaps, were the most.
How else to call the daredevils who decided to rush across three continents on the Mini Moke buggy? To the madness of the brave, as they say ... "Donkey", by the way, was announced for the start by the Coca Cola Australia team. In addition to the smallest car of the rally, she also announced the largest - a 7-ton Leyland Terrier truck with a gasoline V8. By the way, both the giant and the dwarf will eventually reach the finish line!
Experts were preparing to watch with interest the adventures of the FIAT factory team, which equipped two model 131 diesel sedans for a long journey. Among the Scuderia racers, by the way, was ex-Ferrari pilot Giancarlo Baghetti. London-Sydney was also the first - at least one of the first - start at the international rally for Subaru cars.
The private Japanese crew on the Leone 4WD obviously counted on the advantages of the 4x4 formula, in turn, the pilots of the Bedford Auto Sleeper Motorhome simply dreamed of reaching the finish line. The sponsor of the team, the hotel chain Apex Leisure, did not count on more.
Among those who were going on the road not for fun, but for business (that is, to win), we single out the Peugeot and Citroen dealer teams that have secured factory support. Much was expected from Pole Soběsław Zasada's Porsche 911 and a whole litter of all-wheel drive Range Rovers. Well, Mercedes-Benz, of course - where without it!
Mr. Waxenberger's Spy Games
By the way, the Germans were not called the factory team then. They are first and foremost. The preparation of the three-beams for the launch at London-Sydney-1977 is generally a story with elements of a spy novel.
It all started with the initiative of Jonathan Ashman, manager of the British branch of Mercedes-Benz. An active organizer and a good amateur rally driver, he decided to personally go to the start of the transcontinental race as soon as he first heard about it.
At that point, Mercedes-Benz continued to officially ignore motorsport. The echoes of the Le Mans tragedy in 1955 still terrified top managers from Stuttgart. So Jonathan was going to conduct the entire program without noise and dust through the English branch.
He ordered two brand new W123 (280 E) sedans with six-cylinder engines, on mechanics and a suspension reinforced for third world countries. Pulled up sponsors, among others Mobil and Johnsons Rally Wax. And even, having abandoned the idea of driving himself, he became interested in the project of pilots of the level of Andrew Cohen, the winner of the original London-Sydney marathon.
Preparations for the race went on as usual, when Ashman was suddenly urgently called to Stuttgart. It turned out that the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz is aware of both the upcoming rally and the preparation of the British team. The German bosses listened with interest to the young Englishman and asked many questions. However, they did not officially help the project. “Thank you for not banning!” Ashman breathed a sigh of relief on his way home.
In fact, everything has already been decided. Jonathan's project interested the most correct person in Stuttgart - Erich Waxenberger. Waxl, the godfather of the Red Pig 300 SEL AMG 6.8, who loved racing to the point of trembling in his knees, decided to help the glorious Englishman. Even if this help went against the official policy of Mercedes-Benz. For the first time ever...
Waxenberger ordered that the 123s intended for the rally be brought to Stuttgart. Here they were taken apart to the screw and reassembled, essentially turning stock sedans into seasoned marathon runners. Reinforced suspension, subframe and brakes, increased ground clearance, safety cage, aluminum hood and trunk, full bottom protection, plexiglass side windows, main pair, selected to improve acceleration dynamics at a slight loss of maximum speed.
Erich didn't stop there. In an atmosphere of strict secrecy, combat 123s were tested in Iran. Part of the rally route with particularly killer sections took place there. Waxl also insisted on including a third 280E and three light technicians in the team - more or less stock sedans stuffed with spare parts for combat Mercedes.
Finally, Erich agreed with Mobil, and 26 field service points appeared along the route of the rally to Singapore. Here, the pilots of the "three-beam" team were waiting for high-quality gasoline with anti-knock additives. The German had every reason not to trust the quality of fuel, for example, in the same Afghanistan.
At the same time, for the sake of conspiracy, three combat Mercedes-Benz 280Es formally represented three different teams, and even the starting numbers were given to them out of order, but in discord. Just to draw less attention to the project.
In any case, it is impossible to prepare for all the surprises of a multi-day rally marathon. The adventures of the London-Sydney 77 participants began literally immediately after the start. In some cases, the pilots themselves freaked out.
For example, the Singaporean Mini Clubman crew with starting number 3 distinguished itself. From Covent Garden, the guys immediately went ... to the airport to send the car to Madras by air. Singaporeans had the audacity to try to get a mark at the time control point already in India. With an absolutely "poker" facial expression.
Less resourceful participants in the race, who did not guess about such an option as a plane charter, had a harder time. Bad roads, vast distances, disgusting weather in places, wild animals and hitchhikers jumping out into the oncoming lane. Plus, of course, the enthusiasm of the local population. The crews of "London-Sydney" were convinced on their own skin: the rally in the photographs from magazines and the rally in real life are two huge differences.
Here are the typical everyday life of the race participants, when heroism went hand in hand with madness.
Australian Dave Bradford on a Peugeot 504 in Turkey collided with a truck - the navigator Gilbert Davies broke his leg. Instead of a hospital, the guys were sent ... to the police station, where they spent 48 hours. The riders were then released without charge, but the wrongly fused bone had to be broken again. So it goes.
The crew of Frank Johnson in a Mazda RX-4 after a collision with a cow rushed to the finish line without a windshield for 36 hours in a row. As a result, I arrived, by the way, becoming the best of the private traders at the finish line in Sydney.
Argentines Jose Araujo, Oscar Talis and Rialdo Crocenzi scored with a minus sign. The racers managed to… quarrel with each other in the smoke and considered it good to leave the race already at the intermediate finish in Athens.
Or here's another drama. Graham Gilles, co-driver of the Jeep CJ-5, urged the judges to put a mark on the control card even in the absence of the car itself ...
The sporting fate of London-Sydney was decided by the last Australian stage. Here, too, there were adventures and surprises.
Sea transportation of cars from Singapore took two days more than the estimated time. Not so much an accident, but a deliberate sabotage by the carrier, who suddenly decided to make some money on a situational basis. At the same time, the organizers could no longer reschedule the planned finish ceremony.
As a result, the crews who reached Australia were in for a real hell - 13,200 kilometers had to be overcome in seven days and 16 hours! Local organizers also raised problems. They set up ambushes with speedguns and punished speeding crews with penalty minutes. And that's not to mention the kangaroo... Only Andrew Cowen could draw profiles of three downed marsupials on the door of his Mercedes-Benz.
It was in Australia that the victory almost eluded the leading Mercedes-Benz crews almost from the start. Ambush on the Porsche 911 moved to the first line here. It was useless to fight in speed with the Porsche, but the Pole eventually rattled the suspension and rolled far back.
Then Paddy Hopkirk presented his application for general success. The experienced Briton had the best orientation on the Warri Gate section, far ahead of all his pursuers. Here are just mistakes in the preparation of the legend and the stewards, who left the TC before the arrival of all the crews, forced the organizers to cancel the penalty minutes for all participants.
Hopkirk was furious! If not for this controversial decision, the Citroen CX 2400, the former winner of Monte Carlo, would have been the first to drive onto the podium in Sydney. And only third place...
In the end, the London-Sydney crown went to the team that wanted it the most. The works of Erich Waxenberger, who single-handedly turned a semi-amateur team into a first-class factory team, if not in status, then in fact, a team, were not in vain. Two Mercedes-Benz 280 E became the winner and silver medalist of the longest and possibly the most difficult rally in the world.
It's a pity, but the history of transcontinental racing ended there. Just over a year after the London-Sydney 77 finish, the first Paris-Dakar will begin, which will confidently and immediately pull over the blanket of the world's main automotive adventure.
An unusual competition took place in the Netherlands.
Red Bull likes to put on unusual competitions for its athletes, and on the eve of the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort circuit, Japanese Scuderia AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda and reigning world champion Dutchman Max Verstappen from Oracle Red Bull Racing took place. The pilots were put behind the wheel of DAF subcompacts and sent to the race, in which they had to move in reverse. The test proved challenging for riders accustomed to riding the traditional way at much higher speeds.
A feature of the cars was the branded Variomatic gearbox, which the Dutch company developed for its models. The transmission had only two gears - one forward and one reverse - which made it possible to move in both directions with the same maximum speed.
For Yuki Tsunoda and Max Verstappen, the ability to reverse at speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour was an unexpected discovery, since they had never had experience of participating in such competitions. Before the race, a special track was created, which had to be overcome backwards.
“I have never experienced something like this before, it was definitely a special event and I had a lot of fun despite the accident,” Yuki Tsunoda said. “I have never driven in reverse so fast before, of course we all reverse from time to time, but very slowly, so it was a new experience,” said Max Verstappen.
The Dead and the Alive: The story of a rally in which no one made it to the finish line The Bandama Rally is an amazing and forgotten page in the world of motorsport.
Hearing the word "Bandama", most must see a mistake in the name of a fashionable headdress. That's just Bandama - not a headband, but a large river on the West coast of Africa, or rather in Côte d'Ivoire. The Bandama rally has been held here for half a century, one of the most picturesque and difficult on the planet. So difficult that once at the finish of the race there was no one to uncork the victorious champagne ...
With absolute formulations it is not easy. Name, for example, the most difficult car race in history? Any Formula 1 Grand Prix? We do not argue about speeds, technologies and the level of driving skills, but simple mathematics confirms that on average over 80% of the starters reach the finish line. It turns out that everything is not so complicated already ... Exactly for the same reason, the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the modern Dakar cannot be ranked among the most-most tests from the world of motorsport. In any case, at least half of those who started, or even more, receive the go-ahead with a checkered flag.
Compare this to rally racing in the second half of the 20th century. One of the organizers of the multi-day Liege-Rome-Liège rally, the Belgian Marcel Garo, used to say: “The ideal rally is one in which one crew arrives at the finish line!”.
Monsieur Garo did not reach his golden ideal. The "best" result of Liège-Rome-Liège was eight finishing crews in 1961. In the history of motorsport, however, there is a unique chapter that would surely arouse both envy and approval of the Belgian. This is the 1972 Bandama Rally, a race that did not finish at all.
The rallies of the 60s and 70s of the last century are slightly different from the current generally accepted format. Today, the classic rally consists of special stages (they are also SU or special stages) and road sections. On the dope - a section of the road closed to normal traffic, the pilots rush as fast as possible. On the road sections, on the contrary, you should not drive. Here you need to adhere to the pace set by the organizers and check in at the finish line in the minute indicated in the legend. The winner is the one who passes all stages in the shortest time and does not allow penalties on the road sections.
Half a century ago, special stages were rare, and rallies often consisted entirely of road sections. The main thing was to finish the distance without penalties for being late. It would seem, what is the problem? Nothing, of course, unless the organizers set an impossible pace. This, by the way, was famous for the same Monsieur Garo. Add to this the bad roads (and often their absence), difficult weather conditions and very limited technical support. Doesn't the task of the rally drivers of the 60s and 70s seem so easy anymore?
There on the banana lanes...
Fast forward to the 60s of the last century. The most difficult in the world was then considered the "Safari Rally" in Kenya. Huge distances, a landscape that is deadly for cars, sizzling heat, the incredible beauty of Kilimanjaro - well, a very picky cocktail.
Even he seemed rustic to Jean-Claude Bertrand. A Frenchman with a capital F, a desperate adventurer and adventurer, he moved to Côte d'Ivoire in the early 1950s. Driving a Dodge truck, Jean-Claude traveled all over the country and quickly realized that transporting bananas, sweet potatoes and wood is not the most interesting thing that one can think of in local realities. A good rally driver and quick-witted manager, Bertrand decided to arrange a rally in Côte d'Ivoire. Of course, the most difficult and prestigious in the world!
Jean-Claude had no doubts about success. He calculated everything. The main dish should, of course, be the track. Bertrand, who had traveled the length and breadth of the Ivory Coast, knew very well: there are no roads in the usual European view here at all. The locals considered a highway even a narrow dirt road cut by the channels of rivers and streams, on which a couple of cars could hardly pass. The entrances and exits of water barriers are thoroughly broken by the wheels of trucks - it is dangerous to meddle there in a passenger car. "Exactly what is needed!" The Frenchman gleefully rubbed his hands.
But that's not all. Jean-Claude himself, with the help of an off-road vehicle, a machete and a swear word, punched trails in dense thickets of reeds, creating a track in places that still did not know the humiliation of a car tread.
The eyes of the pilots of the Michelin test crews who wrote the legend popped out of their sockets when they realized where the rally participants would have to race. “If it rains, the road will become completely impassable!” they appealed in vain to the voice of reason of the organizers.
Another important ingredient for success is money. Jean-Claude pulled up solid sponsors for the project. The crew of the winners were promised 5 million francs! Very solid money for those times.
And, of course, the romance of adventurism - where without it. “Bandama” (as the rally was named after the largest river of Côte d’Ivoire) was overgrown with legends and myths even before the first start. French journalists dug up the macabre details of the local folklore, and the newspapers came out with chilling headlines along the lines of "Headhunters come at night." Allegedly, there is a belief in local tribes - when an elder dies, you need to calm the evil spirits by sacrificing seven severed heads!
An almost impassable track, very generous prize money, the probability (albeit small) of dying at the hands of local thugs - you must admit, a great idea for a short but intense business trip! On December 6, 1969, almost 60 crews gathered for the start of the first Bandama rally in history. During two exhausting days of the race, the participants were convinced that Monsieur Bertrand really made one of the most picturesque and at the same time tough rally in the world.
We tighten the nuts
Immediately 43 crews at the finish line of the first "Bandama" Jean-Claude took almost as a personal insult. The toughest rally in the world must be tougher! And the judges began to tighten the screws. The following year, only five crews will reach the finish line, in 1971 - eight. Among those who came down that year was even the Renault Alpine A110 of Bertrand himself. But 1972 was still out of competition.
The fourth edition of "Bandama" is already a full-fledged international event, and not small-town rides. The complexity of the route, local exotics and, of course, millions of prize money attracted more and more famous names to Côte d'Ivoire every year.
Take a look at the starting list for the 1972 rally. Henri Pescarolo, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Gerard Larousse, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Timo Mäkinen, Hannu Mikola, Shekhar Mehta - a real festival of motorsport stars of the 70s. Cars, too, as a choice. Among the main favorites is the very fast two-door Citroën DS 21 Proto Group 5 Coupe. Side by side, not so powerful, but incredibly hardy, one might say, almost indestructible Datsun 1600 SSS and Peugeot 504 Ti.
Let's not forget about the whole scattering of Renault 16 - light hatches with front-wheel drive. Until the era of the Audi Quattro, this combination was considered the best for off-road rallying.
To match the stellar company was the organization of the race. This time, Jean-Claude Bertrand decided to hold the rally during the traditional vacation period for Europeans - between Catholic Christmas and the New Year. The start was preceded by a luxurious gala party. Champagne by the river, seafood as much as you want, beauties in bikinis - what else does a racer need on the eve of a grueling adventure, at the finish of which a check for as much as 10 million awaits a lucky couple ?!
If only the members knew what was ahead of them, they might have started packing things right after the welcome party.
If you call a spade a spade, then the organizers of "Banadama-1972" overexaggerated. The standards for passing the route were shocking. It was proposed to cover a distance of almost 4000 km at an average speed of 100 km/h. Nonsense, you say?
First, we are talking about average, not maximum speed. Secondly, remember about the roads of disgusting quality. Thirdly, there was no time for a good rest - the track had to be overcome in one sitting!. When the pilot was exhausted, the navigator replaced him at the wheel. The only indulgence from the organizers was that the navigation on the track itself was quite simple. It's impossible to get lost. But that's kind of a consolation.
“If you go at a relatively comfortable pace and take care of the car, then you get out of the proposed schedule very quickly,” shrugged the colorful bearded man Henri Pescarolo, the future four-time Le Mans winner. - In order not to receive penalty points, you have to drive for all the money on completely broken roads. Dust makes it difficult to navigate, huge stones destroy the suspension. This is a real war with time and nature!
The Chrysler pilot was not exaggerating. Already after the first 600-kilometer lap of the rally from Abidjan along the borders of the Comoe National Park and back, the race missed the Porsche 911 of the French crew of Touroul-Vernet and one of the eight Renault 16s. By that time, only nine of the 52 starting crews met the allotted time and did not receive penalty points!
Then everything was only harder.
Then we began to count the wounds ...
At the finish of the second loop, only four cars were able to meet the limit. And this is after a thousand kilometers - only a quarter of the distance!
The quartet of favorites included two 504 Peugeots - one from Finn Hannu Mikola, the other from Englishman Tony Fall. The Datsun of Kenyan Shekhar Mehta, the unsurpassed ace of African rallies, did not lag behind. Leadership was taken by the 170-horsepower Citroen DS Proto by Robert Neyre, the winner of Bandama-1971.
The guys raced along the narrow paths at a speed of 120–130 km/h. The machines were worn out. From unbearable shaking and hard blows with meat, the suspension arms and engine mounts were pulled out. Local repairs did not help for a long time and not always. When titanic fatigue was added to the difficulties of the track, the number of retirements began to grow like the temperature in a boiled radiator.
“At first I tried to remember the numbers of abandoned cars,” recalled Renault pilot Patrick Vanson, “But then I gave up this idea. Almost every patch of grass on the side of the road stuck out someone's license plate ... ".
Even the organizers realized that they went too far. After the third road section, the participants were given an additional three hours to put their cars in order and get some sleep. All the same, only 11 crews came to the start of the fourth section. And soon those who remained in the race envied those who retired ...
There are two left
Only this was not enough! Suddenly the skies opened up in a tropical downpour. In a matter of minutes, tons of water hit the track. As the Michelin pilots warned, in the rain the Bandama instantly becomes impassable... December in Côte d'Ivoire is generally not the rainy season, but there is an exception to every rule.
The dust has disappeared, although this does not make it easier for the riders - the roads have turned into mud baths. Here's Shekhar Mehta's Datsun, who inherited the top spot after Robert Neyre's Citroen fell asleep at the wheel and missed a corner, gets stuck in a ditch. Tony Fall's Peugeot 504 rushes by. But what is it?.. Although the Englishman is behind the Kenyan in penalty minutes, he still slows down to help his colleague get on the road. Respect!
Only these two remain among the favorites in the race. One of them should receive the prize money of 10 million. For a while, Peugeot and Datsun stick together to help each other out if something happens. But then transmission problems start at Peugeot, and Fall falls behind. Mehta is the champion? No matter how…
Near the coastal town of Taboo, the Datsun's front shock absorber breaks, and the Kenyan loses two hours. With sin in half, the crew of the 240Z repairs the car, gets out onto the main road to Abidjan, just 200 kilometers from the intermediate finish, and discovers ... the time control abandoned by the judges. Tony Fall in a Peugeot with a junk box has already passed here and said that Mehta broke down and, apparently, got off. The judges did not begin to understand what was happening, packed their things and went home.
And the Oscar goes to...
The sports part of Bandama-1972 was over. But the most interesting, as it turned out, was just beginning. Foll's Peugeot was the first to win the rally. He was the only one to reach the last time control point near the city of Man.
True, at that time the Englishman had already exceeded the limit of maximum lateness and, in theory, should have been disqualified. Then the organizers decided to calculate the results of the intermediate result at the earlier HF in Taboo - Fall was indeed in the lead there.
This was not to the liking of the Datsun team, which filed a protest and demanded that the Mane result be announced. It's also logical. If the judges had not left the check point and waited for the Kenyan, then he should have been recognized as the winner - the Datsun crew collected fewer fines than the Peugeot pilot ...
Well, then something amazing happened. In all the fuss, a local noname quite unexpectedly reached the finish line in Abidjan! In disassembling the favorites, they simply forgot about him ...
Thus, the organizers had three potential champions at once. Depending on where to sum up - in Man, Taboo or Abidjan. The race director understood: in any case, someone will be dissatisfied. Therefore, out of three evils, Jean-Claude Bertrand chose ... the fourth: "Since no one could overcome the entire distance of the Bandama-1972 rally, there will be no winner!" The entire prize fund was transferred to the next year's race.