Australian Rally History

by Tom Snooks

1981 Australian Rally Championship

1981 Australian Rally Champions – Geoff Portman, Ross Runnalls and Datsun Stanza
1981 Australian Rally Champions – Geoff Portman, Ross Runnalls and Datsun Stanza

1981 CAMS AUSTRALIAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The first thing to note about the 1981 championship series was the change of allocation of points – from the long standing 9, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 system for the first six place-getters to 20, 15, 12, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Under this system 36 crews scored points but the domination of the three Datsuns reaped 45 of those points, leaving 25 points covered by the other 33 place-getters.

The second issue of note was the absence of both Ford and Holden, leaving Datsun as the only factory backed team in the series. Their withdrawal left a vast gap at the top of the sport, with no opposition for the efficient and smooth-running Datsun (now Nissan) team. The championship desperately missed two of the stalwarts of previous years, Colin Bond and Greg Carr. Neither started in any round.

Datsun extended their unbeaten run in the championship to six titles in seven years. However, Datsun was re-appraising its involvement at the end of the year which was to see the team disbanded. The Stanza career as a factory rally car was over and Datsun turned increasingly to circuit racing (with George Fury) to promote its competition image.

In line with downscaling its involvement the Stanzas were fitted with less powerful single cam engines rather than the twin cam four valve units used the previous year against Ford. This had several benefits, including reducing costs for tyres and other running gear and allowed privateers to compete, or at least think they were, on relatively equal terms.

At the start of the year Datsun’s team manager, Howard Marsden, decided that Geoff Portman/Ross Runnalls were to become the Australian champions if they performed well enough. They did, winning four of the five events to score the most convincing championship win in years. The only other crew to win a round was Ross Dunkerton/Jeff Beaumont (Stanza), although George Fury/Monty Suffern were actually second in the championship, being placed second twice and third once.

The series consisted of five events, similar to 1980. However, the general standard of events slipped considerably in 1981, with only the Alpine Rally resisting the trend. The competition also slipped, particularly in comparison with the bumper years 1979 and 1980. Datsun had only one car in the West Australian round (for Dunkerton) and there was no entry for Dunkerton in the Akademos round. Portman was entered for each of the eastern states rounds, and won them. Fury ran in three events but he was being groomed as a race driver and this seemed to be the more likely path for his future involvement in Datsun’s competition plans.

Only one team entered all five events in the series – Doug Thompson/Ron Lugg in their Datsun Stanza. They were dogged with bad luck and mechanical failures ad only showed their true form with a third in the Alpine Rally. They finished sixth in the series.

Fourth place in the series went to Wayne Bell/Col Parry in Parry’s ex-Repco Trial Holden Commodore, which was entered in the last three rounds and finished with 24 points. Victorian Champions Chris/Simon Brown were fifth in the Datsun 180B SSS.

The championship was likely to be different in 1982 with the introduction of Group A to Australian motor sport – both racing and rallying. Group A would see more standard vehicles and this would be the only way of attracting factory support back to the sport, although some competitors saw this as a threat to their involvement with their highly modified vehicles. The various interests need to be balanced out to allow the much needed factory support but rallying was heading for a long drought without factory support and associated promotion and one in which highly modified (‘’Group G’’) cars would dominate and competitors would resist the introduction of Group A, an FIA category – which was altered to Production Rally Cars (PRC) to take into account Australian eligibility and modification conditions.

1981 CAMS AUSTRALIAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

This document includes the summary, details of each of the five rounds of the 1981 ARC and is 7 pages in length. 

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