1965 RIAC Championship

1965 Rally Champion Noel Smith with Navigator Des Bradley in his 1275cc Austin-Cooper S at the start of the MG Night Trial.

Article reproduced from WHEEL Magazine 28th May 1966
Report by Des Bradley

JIM O’BRIEN (Ford Cortina GT), a comparative newcomer from Athlone, wins the Thomond Rally – Brian Kehoe (Cortina GT) from Carlow retaliates with a win on the MG Night Trial – Ronnie McCartney and Mike Hart win the TCD Safari over flood-damaged roads – McCartney wins Double Diamond Rally for the third time and leads Ulstermen to first seven places – Gunn and Harryman win Circuit of Leinster and second car disqualified – Gunn wins again in wet Cork 20 – Gerry McNamara gives the ex-Vard Cortina GT a baptism of fire and wins Circuit of Monaghan.

These could have been the headlines of the seven rounds of new Rally Championship (under the auspices of the R.I.A.C.), but nowhere is there any mention of the new Champion, for Noel Smith won the title without even winning a premium award during the entire series. Jim O’Brien of Athlone, who was indeed a comparative newcomer in the Limerick MC’s Thomond Rally, got off to a great start in the series by finishing 1st and 2nd in the first two rounds and made a name for himself by holding this lead all the way through the season until the very last event — the Circuit of Monaghan.

Brian Coomber from Cork was a raw novice in October last when he first entered an Imp in the Thomond but he very quickly got the message and finished third overall in the series.

Charlie Gunn did not get into the struggle until after Christmas but with a characteristic dash, he retired with suspension trouble in the Double Diamond, won the Circuit of Leinster and the Cork 20 and finished third in the Circuit of Monaghan, all of which gave him 4th place.

At the start of the season, there was speculation as to whether anyone could win both the Hewison and Rally titles. Dermot Carnegie came nearest to this by finishing 2nd in the Hewison and 5th in the Rally Championship.

Brian Coomber finished third in the Rally Championship in a Hillman Imp. The Corkman only started rallying last October.

And what of the poor navigators? “King” Harryman navigated two wins: Kehoe in the MG Night Trial and Gunn in the Circuit of Leinster, as well as piloting Kehoe into the second berth in the Thomond. Another Ulsterman, Mike Hart, brought Ronnie McCartney to victory in the Safari and the Double Diamond, and a third Ulsterman, Norman Henderson, was Gunn’s navigator in the Cork 20. Phil Deegan (Thomond Rally) and Brian Cusack (Circuit of Monaghan) were the only Southern navigators to win Premiers and it is interesting to note that these were the only two events showing any clean sheets at the finish.

The MG Night Trial and the Thomond Rally were the only two which did not include Special Stages and the Circuit of Monaghan was the only one where the stages were vital. The others all had a very fair balance in importance between stages and navigation.

Let’s take Jim O‘Brien and follow his progress through the season. With Phil Deegan of the Limerick Club as his navigator, he returned the only clean sheet in the Thomond Rally and won the event in front Brian Kehoe. The Kehoe/Harryman Cortina had a broken windscreen at the start and the car was driven open all night through the 120 miles and only dropped the vital marks on a navigation trick at the end of the event. The Smith/Foott Cooper had been going strong until the universal coupling packed up within 20 miles of the finish.

Tony Wilson navigated the O’Brien Cortina in the MG Night Trial when the club threw straight-line-Tulip into the navigation and foxed everyone. This was the first time that straight line stuff was used in this part of the country and most of the field were left floundering. This was a real navigation event with uncharted roads around Allen creating havoc amongst the field on the other half. The Kehoe/Harryman Cortina came first with a loss of 8 minutes, followed by O‘Brien/Wilson (13) minutes) and Noel Smith with yours truly 3rd, having lost 14 minutes on the normal navigation after setting the best performance on the unusual straight line losing only 1 minute. 20 finished out of 36.

This meant that O’Brien and Kehoe were tied for the lead in the championship and the East Coast Safari, now backed by Carlsberg, was held over a course ravaged by diabolical weather. Kehoe had Leo Conway as his navigator but the pair retired before the half-way stage with a combination of clutch, brake, and car sickness trouble and that ended Kehoe’s’ challenge for he went into “retirement” immediately afterwards.

Jim O’Brien and Tony Wilson got stuck in some of the no-goers that had sprung up all over Co. Wicklow after flooding and finished only 12th, but this was enough to take the title lead. Again Mike Hart was playing a blinder and guided McCartney around all the trouble spots bar one, to loose only 3 marks on the road. He won the Premier from Noel Smith/Rickie Foott, and Leslie Fitzpatrick/Brian Cusack (MGB). Jack Fildes and yours truly scraped into fourth place just ahead of Mick Ivis/Ralph Meyer, both in Austin-Coopers.

Jim O’Brien of Athlone who was second in the Rally Championship after leading for so long in his Cortina G.T.

Then came a long break until the Double Diamond in mid-January and the well-intentioned IMRC again ran into trouble in the organisation of their 20-hour event. In this, I was navigating Noel Smith and our hydrolastic collapsed on the Austin-Cooper after the supper stop. But we were not the only ones in trouble – we spotted an oil streak and after 3 miles there was Jim O’Brien sitting there with a very blown up engine. Charlie Gunn retired with steering trouble before supper, Cecil Vard had dynamo bothers, Jack Fildes broke the sump on his Riley 1500, Des Flanagan hit a fallen branch on a stage, and the writing was on the wall for the Southerners as Ronnie McCartney and Mike Hart lead eight Ulster cars to the top. Cathal Curley/Norman Henderson (Cortina), Adrian Boyd/Beatty Crawford (Anglia Super), Robert McBurney/Esler Crawford (VW) and Robin Steenson/Jack Long (Morris-Cooper S) followed close behind. Tom Burke/Reg Tilson were the best Southern crew in 9th place…and by a twist of fate, Jim O’Brien still led the championship table.

Charlie Gunn/Terry Harryman won the DU Circuit of Leinster over navigation and stages. The schemozzle over results which had been “the straw” at the Double Diamond cropped up again after the “Leinster” too, and the Clerk of the Course had quite a few protests to deal with.

The first drama was the disqualification of Des Flanagan from 2nd place on a charge of driving without due care, and then a tricky departure from T.P. 40 which caught most of the field was also marked against Larry Mooney. This made the finishing order Gunn—Smith—O’Brien. O’Brien‘s car had not been repaired after the DD but he shared the driving of Mick Dolan’s similar car and since he was the nominated driver he collected the championship points. This clever move meant that he still held the lead although Smith was now closing fast, making up for his drop in the Thomond.

Navigation marks were lost on all sides in the Cork 20 and the finishing order was Gunn-Smith—Coomber. O’Brien had arrived at the start sans navigator and local man Louis Dillon filled the seat but not for long because they came into violent contact with a stone wall and retired. And still O’Brien led the table, for Smith was now only tying with him, and there was one event to go – The Circuit of Monaghan.

O’Brien for Premier Award and Smith outside the first 11 would give O’Brien the title. His car was just ready after the Cork incident, and behold Terry Harryman was drafted in as O’Brien’s navigator. Ian Turkington from Ulster was with Smith and they dropped some checks when they could not find the letters at unmanned points. This had worried Smith . . then came word that O’Brien and Harryman had cleaned the navigation. With 1 stage to go it was anybody’s championship until O’Brien’s Cortina ran out of petrol. As Jim ran back to the start for petrol (which he got from Smith) his championship bid was over, but he finished a good second.

The final position in the RIAC National Rally Championship 1965/6

  1. N. T. Smith (Austin Cooper S), Greystones 63 marks;
  2. J. O’Brien (Ford Cortina GT) Athlone, 52 marks;
  3. B. S. Coomber (Hillman Imp) Cork, 44.5 marks;
  4. C. A. Gunn (Ford Cortina GT) Dublin 43 marks;
  5. D. Carnegie (Austin Cooper S), Dublin, 41 marks;
  6. L. Mooney (Volkswagen), Dublin, 35.5 marks;
  7. P. O’Callaghan (Volkswagen), Kanturk, 33 marks;
  8. W. B. Kehoe (Ford Cortina GT) Carlow, 29 marks;
  9. W. J. Pryor (Austin Cooper S) Malahide, 28 marks;
  10. M. Dolan (Ford Cortina GT), Moate 27 marks;
  11. T. Burke (Volkswagen), Cork, 27 marks;
  12. D. Flanagan (Austin Cooper), 26 marks.