1969 Circuit – Triple C

Article reproduced from CARS and CAR CONVERSIONS – July 1969.

EASTER with the little people.

Report by Richard Hudson-Evans, Photos by Esler Crawford.

EVERY Easter that unique motoring event – The Gallaher Circuit of Ireland – attracts a large horde of mainland clubmen across the water to answer its challenge. This year’s event was the fastest one yet held, and we just had to be over there fighting with a Triple C entry.

For many, the excursion is not only an introduction to rallying abroad but also serves as an ideal motor sporting holiday too. It’s the whole occasion of the Circuit with its closed public roads that makes it the best of the home Internationals — an event in keeping with many of the classic European ones.

There are some forestry sections, and these are rough by any standards, but they represent a very small measure in the cocktail. Thankfully this is an International that you at least stand a chance at getting through without having to replace the entire underside of your motor car (that is as long as the Fairies don’t have you off the road). The vast majority of the going is on smoothish closed-off public roads with the junction and horror hazards all marked (you hope!) with caution boards and arrows. Believe you me it’s an awful lot of fun thrashing absolutely harry-flatters through a village and cannoning through the cottages with tyres screeching, like one only wished one could back home, where similar speedy progress would very rapidly earn one the instant disqualification stamp.

Roger Clark and Jim Porter would take their second win in as many years and were a full 16 minutes clear of the field by the finish.

It’s even more fun, in a wicked sort of way, when those ‘Gents in Blue‘ actually wave you on enthusiastically, are visibly upset if you don’t get the tyres smoking on take-off, and are very critical if you err from Paddy’s line through their particular piece of route. It takes a bit of getting used to not lifting for crossroads where major roads cross one’s bows. Everything seems to stop for the passage of the Circuit, wheelies in the Main Street are ‘in’.

Starting at Gallaher’s factory in Ballymena, Northern Ireland and finishing at Larne on the coast nearby, the route seems to take in most of the interesting bendery and all the classic roads both in the North as well as Eire. The base for operations for a couple of nights is Killarney, Co. Kerry, and the infamous ‘Sunday Run’ from here is a classic with all daylight go-go over some of the best Stages that you could find in Europe. All night, motoring occurs on the night of the start, and finally again on the last night’s dash round North Western pastures of the Donegal variety prior to landing up for even more festivities at Larne again.

Whether one drives, navigates, marshals or spectates it’s a very hectic Friday/Tuesday. Organised by the Ulster Auto- mobile Club, made financially possible by Gallaher’s tobacco firm, and supported by a capacity entry of 150, consisting mainly of privateers, it’s to be hoped that soon this event will be supported by some of the European Competition Departments. This year Ford and British Leyland had Saab to contend with, but rather surprisingly Rootes did not appear. Saab had a disappointing time with all three team cars dropping out. But no doubt they now know what to do next time — WIN? all the weekly mags have long since done the news bit, but suffice it to say that not even the ultra-lightweight seamless Mini from British Leyland Comps for Hopkirk could get near Roger Clark’s ultimate Escort projectile.

Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford in their full Group 6 Cooper S were best private entrants and were third place overall.

The Circuit Escort Twin Cam proved to be invincible with its full race big-bore Twinkers mill and coil spring suspenders all round — to say nothing of crewmen Roger Clark and Jim Porter’s performance.

So I’ll base my account on personal experiences gained in Group 2 action in my re-shelled 3000 KV, crewed on this occasion by myself and Mick Sones of Walsall, the servicing being carried out by David Hirons and Andy Ayres of Lasoi in Studley with their very evil-looking Lotus Cortina.

For me the rally really started weeks before with a major refit onto a new bodyshell after February’s 432 Motor Club Grand National, or Rally of the Tests. As usual with such a mammoth task as building a rally-finishing device from scratch (after all the motoring car was getting a little long in the tooth . . . or should I say short of them!), we cut things traditionally fine. We were not able to relax until we were through scrutineering with all systems in legal operation, and had escalated the starter’s ramp (in front of all those people too!) without breaking anything. But then the pressure was well and truly on for both rally car as well as service car. This year, the Organisers had on the one hand increased the time allowed on the road section linking the stages, but on the other hand had made the maximum ‘Stay in the Rally’ lateness a mere fifteen minutes at any timing point.

Not even a very special lightweight Cooper S could keep Hopkirk on the pace of Roger Clark.

Their idea was to cut down the very major advantage that so often occurs with factory teams being able to service (or rather rebuild) their charges and yet be able to stay in the event. So this year, there was hardly any time for doing anything but basic checking over, major jobs could only really take place in official penalty-free servicing periods prior to a car being deposited in Parc Ferme at Main Controls, or the overnight halts at Killarney.

The result was the tightest Circuit on the road for many a year. Service crews were doing jobs, because they had to, in times that would be considered quite impossible by your local garage. And then, no tea break, but on to the next rendezvous at often an even higher average speed than for the rally cars themselves. Tack on the trade support vehicles — and you have a very interesting fast-moving fleet of Circuiters who saw most of Ireland over the Easter holiday. Judging by the crowds, Ireland saw most of them too.

Normally it tends to rain like crazy in Ireland during a Circuit — but not this time. It was fine all the way, and so tyres and brake materials took a beating. Because of the exorbitant cost of racing tyres, which many incredibly seemed to be able to afford this year, 3000 KV had to put up with what was left over in stock from sundry forestry events, namely half-worn 44s, which, although a little drummy on tarmac, were not all that bad. At least there was still plenty of rubber on them which is always a comforting thought.

Our trusty steed brought us home in 17th place overall but it was a close thing!

But by the end, would you believe, they were getting to be rather slick like which made things ‘vairry hairy’. Ideally, private owners need a compromise tyre like a Kelly radial, or something similar, that will do for all surfaces. It was rather amusing to see some folk going to a great deal of trouble laying on the right tyres at the right places, and slaving away in the heat changing tyres, when to be perfectly honest, their speeds on the Stages didn’t warrant this factory-type activity.

Ferodo’s Alan Campbell attends to the brake pads on our Cooper S.

Because of the unusually high speeds this year, brake pads on my S took a real hammering. One contrived (thanks to a stone getting into the cooling groove) to break up completely. All of a sudden there was an almighty screeching from one of the discs, coupled with violent pulling and juddering to one side under anchoring up. Further use of the brakes was necessary through a couple more Stages until the halt at Killarney was reached, simply because there wasn’t enough time to even take a wheel off to have a look.

Thankfully, the disc was undamaged although there was no pad material there at all. Once another set of Ferodo DS 11s were installed, there was no further trouble, although the first Stage the next morning was spent bedding them in. The linings at the rear also needed a change a little further on, and amazingly it was noted that some pebbles had found their way inside the brake drums doing the drum surface no good at all. At least with DS 11s at the front and VG 95sat the back, the days of 850 fade are over, and this on my S was all the more extraordinary when we finished one Stage in the dead of night with the discs glowing like a pair of hot plates (all very domesticated . . .).

A Vauxhall Viva is a competitive car in the hands of Ken Shields. A place inside the top ten would be an impressive result for the Belfast driver with Peter Lyster navigating.

So tough was all the sliding on tarmac on the ball pins that there was quite a lot of play by the end in top and bottom on both sides. Wheel bearings too needed a tweak up at several places round the route, and using max revs for so long the fan belt stretched every so often. But the worst of our troubles was a progressively blowing exhaust manifold/inlet manifold gasket which apart from gassing us in easy stages tended to sap a certain amount of power from the taps. When this blow caused rocky getaways and chronic misfiring if the motor got hot on the line, we knew it was losing us time. So a change had to be enacted before a chunk of the inlet manifold gasket side of things ruined the mixture completely and we stalled for good, not being able to restart or get away from the line. The problem was – when to do this job?

It involved getting enough clearance somehow to slide a new gasket in place. And with the sump guard very firmly holding the bottom of the manifold in place it was almost impossible to lever the manifold away from the head face to even get the remains of the old gasket out. It was also the sort of job that once started you jolly well had to see it through. So, once the dreaded nuts had been undone, there was no going back. The job just had to be done. All this drama happened in the penalty-free period prior to booking the car into Parc Ferme at Killarney after the classic Sunday run.

The minutes ticked away, and we were very soon using up the fifteen minutes of lateness as well. With just over a minute to spare before exclusion, a very relieved Messrs. Ayres and Hirons crammed the bonnet down, and I did a flat out blind through the crowds to the booking-in table. The car had to pass the Officials under its own steam. The gasket sealed the gases in the plumbing. Full power had returned. We were still very much in the hunt.

Magnificent, standard, and new – the Porsche 911 of Cecil Vard, 6th place overall.

We tucked the car up into the Parc Ferme and retired for some much needed liquid refreshment — we were, after all, mighty thirsty. But there was still the long haul back up North to go, and we had to refrain from sampling too much bottled local hospitality for fear of boobing the last night’s Donegal horrors. Apart from worrying about our class lead which had, with our time loss doing the gasket, taken a knocking.

Things passed uneventfully until it was time to put the headlights on….no main beams. Somewhere a wire had parted company. Again the time available was not sufficient to effect a cure, so it was dippies and spots for the last night. We were therefore never more surprised to find that we had made a fifth fastest on Truskmore, which was a very undulating Lake District Pass type of Stage. I suppose the straight-cut second gear on the S was absolutely ideal for this one, or else everyone was easing up to conserve their cars. Still very encouraging, the car was singing well, even if I couldn’t see where to squirt it.

During the last night things got incredibly hectic. The brakes needed clicking up at the back end . . . but there simply wasn’t the time to do anything about it. Even finding time to slop some more Castrol GTX in was hard. Our service vehicle succumbed to the scenery and plummeted through a wall and out of things. Luckily nobody was hurt in the crunch, but Heath-Robinson get-it-going with chicken wire, bribes to the locals and grafting on an old lorry radiator took way into the next day. From this point on we were looked after by the John Jago/Helen Walford service crew who were thankfully everywhere where they were most needed.

Tragically eliminated by a road accident, the 3.5-litre Rover of Howell.

It was with great relief that we found ourselves lined up for the twenty-one miler of Torr Head in bright daylight in Co. Antrim. This Grand-Daddy of a Stage finished the Circuit off in fine style, and is about as fast as anyone would want anything that is after all unseen. It’s really great to be turned on for this one, especially as it’s the last Stage of all. Needless to say, all our joyful yumps were not entirely without incident and near the end, the engine note changed dramatically to that of a rather sick Formula One car. The exhaust manifold had fractured through in a place that was absolutely impossible to fix in time for the final scrutineering so we were just resigned to being done the equivalent of 15 road minutes for excess noise.

Just up the road from the Final Time Control, we made all our bulbs light up, and thundered into the final Parc a very relieved crew indeed. We had won the up to 1300cc Groups 1 and 2 class for Triple C, and from the 147 starters had come home 17th which was all very satisfying.

The Top 20 were:

  1. Clark/Porter (Escort TC)
  2. Hopkirk/Nash (1.3 Group 6 Cooper S)
  3. Adrian Boyd/Beatty Crawford (1.3 Group 6 Cooper S)
  4. Ronnie White/Harold Hagan (1.3 Group 5 Cooper S).
  5. Curley/Fraser (Escort TC),
  6. Vard/Reynolds (Porsche 911S).
  7. Fidler/Hughes (BMW 2002 Ti),
  8. Lee/Coles (Escort TC),
  9. Shields/Lyster (Vauxhall Viva GT),
  10. Sheppard/Taylor (Escort TC),
  11. Lawrence/Muddiman (1.3 Group 6 Cooper S),
  12. Sparrow/Raeburn (1.3 Group 6 Cooper S),
  13. Allard/Fisk (Escort TC),
  14. Shiner/Davis (Escort TC).
  15. Burke/Jolly (Escort TC),
  16. Cox/Salt (Escort TC),
  17. RH-Evans/Sones (1.3 Group 2 Cooper S),
  18. Bridges/Murphy (1.3 Group 5 Cooper S),
  19. Jones/Gittins (Escort TC),
  20. Mullenger/Mathews (Escort TC).
Sensation of the rally was Billy Coleman and Dan O’Sullivan.

That’s the top twenty with 59 crews managing to finish. But undoubtedly the drive of the rally was put in by Wild Bill Coleman and Desperate Dan O’Sullivan who sprang into the elite class of Special Stage FTD Men by pinching several fastest times from Clark and Company. Their incredibly tatty Escort build-up put up a tremendous show and was the talking point of the Rally. Their fine run came to an end in a bog at Fanad Head with only the last night to do. They were overhauling Hopkirk and Boyd at the time which was causing several members of the establishment to get more than a little worried. When one looked at their chariot which could not have cost more than £400 complete with road tyres, their performance was all the more creditable.

As long as such a private low-budget challenger can get a look in, UK International Rallying is still very worthy of any amateur’s attentions.