The FIA had originally said that a manufacturer could score its best nine results from the twelve rallies, but they now amended it to just seven.
Thus, Ford reckoned that, with a sixty-one point lead over Fiat and a twenty-six point lead over Datsun part-way through the season, they could afford to miss Sanremo and Corsica since. Even if Fiat won both, they could not catch up and Datsun were unlikely to do well on either event.
And so it turned out. Fiat did not win the Sanremo because Tony Fassina got there first in his Jolly Club Stratos. In fact, he took the lead on the second stage and stayed there to the end. His closest pursuer was Walter Röhrl in an Abarth 131, but the Stratos was still able to emerge from the gravel stages in Tuscany with a six-minute lead over the Fiat.
When Timo Salonen’s Datsun retired, Ford could breathe more freely and even celebrate after gaining twelve points in their absence thanks to Angelo Presotto finishing seventh and winning Group 1 in his private Escort RS2000.
In Corsica, with no works Fords or Datsuns, Fiat should have had it all their own way, but Turin did not enter works cars and thus the job was left to Fiat-France. Andruet retired on the third stage with broken suspension and thus it was Michèle Mouton who upheld Fiat honour by finishing fifth after suffering early punctures and an engine problem.
Out in front was Bernard Darniche with the Chardonnet Stratos and even a few punctures did not prevent him coming home thirty-six minutes ahead of the second-placed car, the R5 Alpine of Jean Ragnotti, that in its turn was followed home by two private Porsches.
The outstanding drivers of the decade, Hannu Mikkola and Björn Waldegård, both topped up their Ford programmes by signing for Mercedes to tackle the events that Ford did not enter. Mercedes took the first four places with their four cars on the end of season Ivory Coast Rally where the lead changed many times between Mikkola, Waldegård and Andrew Cowan.
However, by the end of the second of four legs, Mikkola took the lead and held it to the end. With Waldegård second, a careful calculation showed that, of the fifteen points he had gained there, he could keep nine of them by dropping his six points from the Safari Rally. And that was just enough to make him the very first World Rally Champion Driver.
SELECT YOUR FIVE FAVOURITE MOMENTS BELOW
Sections of this story are excerpts from ‘WRC 50, The Story of the World Rally Championship 1973-2022’, written by Markus Stier. Purchase your copy here.
Cover Photo: © McKlein
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Publish date : 2022-11-06 05:57:11