The World Rally Championship didn’t start in easy times. Already on its second year, it was in the middle of a worldwide crisis. After that the calendar seemed to be in constantly changing state as the series was looking for suitable events. The longest events in the history of the series are found from this period.
Cover Image by Jarmo Mäki – JKM(C)Pictures, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
|1||Rally Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||–||–|
|2||Swedish Rally (Sweden)||Snow||–||–|
|3||Rally de Portugal||Gravel/Tarmac||Wed 20th – Sat 23rd Mar||454.00 km|
|4||Safari Rally (Kenya)||Gravel||Thu 11th – Mon 15th Apr||5200 km*|
|5||Rally Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel/Tarmac||–||–|
|6||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 2nd – Sun 4th Aug||363.60 km|
|7||Rallye Sanremo (Italy)||Tarmac/gravel||Wed 2nd – Sat 5th Oct||416.00 km|
|8||Rally of the Rideau Lakes (Canada)||Gravel||Wed 16th – Sun 20th Oct||383.64 km|
|9||Press on Regardless Rally (USA)||Gravel||Wed 30th Oct – Sat 2nd Nov||464.55 km|
|10||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel/Tarmac||Sat 16th – Wed 20th Nov||?|
|11||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Sat 30th Nov – Sun 1st Dec||374.90 km|
The 1974 season was cut short because of the oil crisis. Monte, Sweden and Acropolis were cancelled. In addition, Poland, Austria and Morocco were off the calendar. There were a total of eight events with six best results being counted in.
Despite the cancellations, Canada’s Rally of the Rideau Lakes entered the championship. Here we can see some footage from that event (with even road book boxes as an on-screen graphical element). The rolling forest stages are not that far from something like Scotland.
Motorsport Magazine described the Canadian event being well organized considering how little financial backing they had. Many of the stages were run twice, some of them in different configurations on the second time.
The two North American events were arranged back to back with just two weeks between them. Despite this economical solution, both rallies were off the calendar the following year, and Rally of the Rideau Lakes wouldn’t return onto the calendar again.
A big part of the Press-on-Regardless Rally was canceled due to bad organizing, according to Motorsport Magazine. In addition, the 78 km Carpenter Lake Road stage was canceled because a rainstorm had destroyed a bridge.
Press-on-Regardless Rally 1974 @ rally-maps.com
Meanwhile, 1000 Lakes Rally was the shortest event of the year at just 363 stage kilometres. It was also likely the fastest, with winner’s average speed at 107 km/h, although not all event winner times are on the online archives..
In 1975 the calendar kept getting smaller, although no rallies were canceled anymore. Exceptionally, all ten rounds were counted in the scores. Both the American events were left behind with Morocco returning. RAC Rally became now the closing event as Tour de Corse was arranged one month earlier.
The lengths of 1974 rallies had been understandably short, but for 1975 some events were increasing their mileage considerably. Sweden got up to 800 km and Sanremo all the way to 977 km. Morocco had also massive 1962 kilometres of stages, the longest of them measuring 786 kilometres, more than most whole rallies in one stage!
I liked driving in Morocco, it’s quite a special country. There was one very long stage, on the North side of the Sahara desert, across whole Morocco.– Hannu Mikkola
The concentration run of Monte Carlo was expanded to 4000 kilometres, which the competitors considered boring according to Motorsport Magazine. All the concentration runs from various starting points ended at Gap, before entering a four-stage leg of stages on the way to Monaco. Two of the stages were run on the soil of Italy, familiar from Sanremo’s route. Thus these two stages were run on two rallies during the 1975 season, and same procedure repeated the year after!
Rally Portugal had now introduced its opening tarmac leg in the Sintra area, although it was moved to the end of the rally the year after. The iconic Pena-Sintra junction can be seen here at 4:36, albeit in opposite direction to later decades.
Although some events were now longer, Finland ran its shortest edition so far with only 287 stage kilometres. There were 42 stages and most of them under 10 kilometres in length. In addition, all the night stages were closed from spectators. The route was set East from Jyväskylä with the mid-rally rest halt held remotely in the city of Savonlinna. Almost no stages were run on the West side of Jyväskylä, notably no runs over Ouninpohja. The same structure was also used the following year.
For 1976 all the rallies from the previous year remained on the calendar. The only major change was that Portugal moved from its July slot to March to be the third round of the season. In addition, again only eight best results were counted in.
The competitive length of Sweden shrunk to 722 km, but two of the stages were 70 km long. Sanremo was also down to 780 km, but Tour de Corse reached 630 km.
Acropolis grew also to 716 stage kilometres with 30% on tarmac. It’s also remarkable that they have arranged a 13 km qualifying stage the day before the rally, to determine the starting order!
Looking at overall winner average speeds, Sanremo was the slowest with only 74 km/h. At the other end, Finland was the only one exceeding 100 km/h (although Sweden’s numbers are not known).
The 1977 season had now 11 rounds. However, still only eight best counted.
Morocco was replaced by Canada returning with a new rally, the Critérium du Québec. The itinerary had only 17 stages with half of them under 10 km in length and a 113 km stage driven twice on the final day concluding the event. Some of the average speeds were also very fast, the highest being 137 km/h on SS6.
After a day of comparatively short stages, some on gravel, some on tarmac and one on the Mont Tremblant racing circuit, the rally moved into two eminently competitive legs on wet slimy and often rutted logging tracks in the, forests around and to the West of Mont Tremblant– Motorsport Magazine 11/1977
The biggest addition for 1977 was the introduction of Rally New Zealand. With its mammoth route containing 2211 stage kilometres (roughly 100 km of them cancelled), it’s still the longest special stage event in the history of WRC.
Rally New Zealand had alternated between the country’s two island, 1977 being North island’s turn. The route travelled to new cities every day, starting from Wellington and finishing in Auckland. Four of the stages were paved.
Many rallies in this era were tough for the drivers through long hours in the car, but Rally New Zealand made sure the rest halts were long enough, although most of the driving happened overnight. The rally had five legs, and only the final one lasted over 24 hours, making up 722 stage kilometres alone.
According to Motorsport Magazine, the event was planned to be run without reconnaissance, because the forestry roads are in frequent use. However, especially Italian delegates of the sport’s governing body demanded recce to be made possible, much to the delight of the Fiat factory team.
This was one adventurous rally, even by my standards!– Ari Vatanen
The stage mileages were growing elsewhere as well with Finland being now the only event with less than 500 stage kilometres (it’s also notable that the 1977 Rally Sweden length has been marked incorrectly on some sites as 472 km, the actual length is 736,2 km). Meanwhile, RAC increased their competitive route to 674 km. Similarly, Safari issued its all-time longest edition with 5949 km of driving.
By 1977 all the mountain roads of the region used by the Sanremo Rally were now paved. Thus the season had now two all-tarmac rallies.
The RAC Rally started now on Sunday with a leg consisting only of the spectator-friendly park stages. The forest stages were then contested in two long legs, Wales from Monday to Tuesday and all the Northern stages from Wednesday to Thursday. Driving on weekdays ensured better TV coverage time, since weekend air time was always occupied for other more popular sports.
Although the Oliver’s Mount stage was absent in 1977, new motor circuit stages were introduced on Donington and Oulton Park. On the latter Russell Brookes’s average speed was 156 km/h!
An additional FIA Drivers’ Cup was founded alongside the Manufacturers championship, consisting of all the WRC event plus the ERC events Arctic Rally, Rajd Polski, Rally San Martino di Castrozza, Tour de France Auto and Rally Catalunya, as well as Giro d’Italia Automobilistico, Southern Cross Rally, Rally South Africa and Southern Cross Rally in Australia.
In 1978 The Swedish Rally didn’t have a very thick layer of snow on their roads, exposing the gravel from time to time. This made the tyre decision difficult, but still Motorsport Magazine described it as the best edition of the rally to date. All the forest stages were run twice, including future staples like Sunnemo, Malta and Godåsen. The only single-run stages were the Karlstad trotting track super special and one stage on lake ice.
According to Motorsport Magazine, New Zealand was on the initial 1978 calendar. However, reportedly it was dropped “because it was not difficult enough”, which is difficult to believe. Some sources also believe the teams wanted to drop New Zealand because of their reluctance to allow reconnaissance.
Instead, Bandama Rally in Ivory Coast was added to the calendar. Like Safari, it was run on unclosed roads from time control to another, without designated special stages. Compared to the Kenyan Safari, the roads were often “smaller” and amid more vegetation. Juwra lists the rally as mixed surface, which is plausible since there could have been some paved “liaisons”.
Prevalent Ivory Coast stage was narrow and wet jungle road, even to a point where route was sometimes found to be impossible to follow.– juwra.com
It was a very desolate feeling out there driving in the forests. It felt so far away from anywhere.– Ari Vatanen
Another kind of difference, mentioned by Motorsport Magazine was that Safari was more well-known and appreciated event within the locals to clear away from the high-speeding rally cars. Meanwhile, in Ivory Coast collisions with trucks and other civil traffic were more frequent.
1000 Lakes Rally broke a record when Pentti Airikkala reached an average speed of 134 km/h on the Rikkaranta stage. 123 km/h was also reached on the Urria stage, but most stages were still around moderate average speeds.
1000 Lakes Rally 1978 @ rally-maps.com
The 1978 FIA Drivers Cup had all the same events as in 1977, except South Africa and Giro d’Italia were dropped, replaced by the Scottish Rally and the now non-WRC Rally New Zealand.
The year 1979 would bring more value for the drivers, ultimately boosting the success of the series.
UPDATED 9.3.2021: added notes about FIA Drivers Cup 1977-1978
UPDATED 12.3.2021: added notes about motor circuits in RAC 1977