RALLYCROSS MAKES A SOGGY START
This article is reproduced from Motorweek, January 17, 1970, from the Edward Fitzgerald collection, to mark the passing of John Bridges on 10th November 2022.
Report and pictures by Richard St. John Young.
With Rallycross attracting huge television audiences every other week at the moment, it was only natural, I suppose, that it should find its way to these shores sooner or later.
In fact it was originally planned to run a couple of Rallycrosses here in Ulster during 1969, but for a variety of reasons they weren’t held, and the honour of running Ireland’s first Rallycross fell to the Irish Motor Racing Club, who ran a successful if wet event at Kilternan, near Bray, last weekend.
The course was laid out in a quarry, and used a variety of surfaces with sand, shale, mud (originally grass), rocks and tarmac. In short, enough to keep any would-be Rallycross star going for weeks. As if the twisty, multi-surface course wasn’t enough, the very fast tarmac section ran along the edge of a rather unpleasant looking lake, and the ever thoughtful organisers had provided a motorboat, a skin diver, and a prize of £25 for the first enterprising type to go swimming.
The event had been well publicised beforehand, and the final entry list, with some 51 names on it, had a wide variety of machinery, ranging from a very strange Renault 4 based special, driven by Barney Manley among others, to the famous “Smartie Mini“ racer driven by Stee Griffin.
The event was held over two days, practice being on the Saturday, with the official runs taking place on Sunday afternoon, but any hopes of a pleasant weekend went right out the window when the rain started halfway through practice, and, in fact, remained until the event was well and truly over.
Despite the inclement weather, however, motoring was enthusiastic in the extreme, and, in fact, practice saw one enterprising gent having a spirited “go” at the main gate when he missed his braking for the bottom hairpin, and although a spectator’s car, which was parked behind said gate, suffered slightly when it was struck by a flying barrier – nobody was hurt.
Thanks to the pre-event publicity, literally thousands of spectators turned up to see Sunday’s fun, and although most of them got well and truly soaked, we didn’t hear too many complaints, the only real nuisance being that, with the circuit taking in the main entrance lane to the quarry, there was no way for spectators to get in once the event had gotten underway, so many latecomers had to be content with a rather bad vantage point from outside the boundary.
This was a minor point, however, and the competitors enjoyed themselves thoroughly, there being plenty of hairy motoring for all. The first runs saw John Bridges make no mistakes with his rally type cooper S, getting his three laps in 3 minutes 25.6 seconds, to manage the fastest time of the day, while second-fastest, some three seconds behind came John Hayes, with a rather older, but nonetheless very rapid Cooper, Steve Griffin brought the racing Mini through the mud and stuff very well to record 3 minutes 34.0 seconds. The quickest non-Mini was Gerry McNamara’s Escort TC, which was seventh fastest with a run in 3 minutes 50.8 seconds.
Several people non-finished, including poor Rosemary Smith, who’s surprisingly standard (both inside and out) looking BMC Maxi suffered from drowned electrics, although it went very well until then. Nobby Reilly also failed to finish in his rapid Anglia TC, as did Jim Fitzgerald’s TVR, which was rather unsuitable anyway. Other sufferers included Paddy Healy’s elderly Fiat Zagato, and Barney Manley in the Renault Special.
In fact, none of the specials were any too impressive, with Peter Jenkins quickest in his Jen-buggy (formally the VW special auto-crossed by Liam Maddock) in 4 minutes 16.6 seconds from Robin Rennicks (whose tire firm sponsored the meeting) driving the GTS trials car.
Although the rear-wheel-drive machinery wasn’t the quickest on the tricky circuit, mainly because of the very slippy mud section, the Escort men were certainly the hairiest with Gerry McNamara, Mick Barry and Charlie Gunn putting on some fine displays of sideways motoring, particularly past the starting line, where, in the middle of a flat out right-hander the surfaced changed from tarmac to sand. Very interesting!
If the escorts were hairy, George Windrum, the only representative from North of the border, outdid them all with his Sunbeam Rapier, and brought great gasps from the crowd with his antics at the “paddock bend”. Surprisingly enough, the rear engined brigade was surprisingly slow, with Larry Mooney (JCB Volkswagen) and Pat Fay (Renault R8 Gordini) only just scraping into the top ten with 9th and 10th fastest times on the first runs.
Although the cars were set off separately due to the very narrow course, ‘pushing and shoving’ was encouraged, after a fashion, and although there was no close racing of the kind seen on the ‘box’ every Saturday, quite a bit of place swapping didn’t go on, particularly among the Escort fraternity, and the soggy spectators certainly got their money’s worth.
The second runs were even more entertaining, although, in the main not so rapid, and the order was generally similar with Bridges again fastest, but this time with Griffin only 0.2 seconds behind him. Conor Linehan was third in his cooper S ahead of the similar car of Des Cullen, and then, three Coopers later, Charlie Gunn’s Escort, Paddy Fay’s Renault R8 Gordini, and Nobby Reilly’s Anglia, which had at last managed to complete a run.
Poor Rosemary Smith again retired with drowned electrics, having caught up with Reilly’s Anglia and got showered with mud. Just to add insult to injury, the windscreen shattered into the bargain.
John Hayes, who went so well in the first runs, did something nasty to his Cooper, while Sean Butler’s GTS and the Reynolds Renault Special both went missing. George Windrum managed to complete 80% of the course on opposite lock, as did Larry Mooney, while Peter Jenkins got the Jen-Buggy motoring really well, and despite apparently having difficulty and seeing where he was going, managed to get round in fractionally over four minutes.
Among the others who were well worth watching, celebrated cabaret entertainer (among other things!) Robin Powderly stood out with his ex-Fitzpatrick Anglia, while Fintain Newport was also impressive, having come all the way from Sligo to have a go with his racing Cooper S.
Afterwards, the main task was getting cars clean, and for this the organisers had thoughtfully provided a high-pressure hose in the paddock, and this was much in demand for de-gunging motorcars. It was also used to cleanse a few people as well, although none of them seem too keen on the idea!
With the fastest time on both runs John Bridges had it “in the bag” as they say, and with the disappearance of Hayes, Steve Griffin moved into second place overall, having the additional honour of recording the fastest individual lap. Connor Linehan made it to 3rd place with his orange coloured Cooper, and John Reid brought his similar car into fourth overall after a very very tidy day’s motoring. Fifth overall was Des Cullen, forsaking his little white Honda for a Cooper S, and Charlie Gunn brought the fastest of the Fords into sixth overall, nearly a minute behind Bridges.
Pat Fay took seventh fastest, with Robert Maharry next up with his Cooper ahead of the similar, but very standard looking, car of Billy Kilroy, while completing the top ten was Larry Mooney’s Volkswagen which seem to lack the steam of the competition.
All in all, a very enjoyable event, despite the atrocious weather, and one which attracted a very wide range of cars and drivers. Spectators were well catered for, although they could do with being banished from the start finish area for future events, there being a couple of occasions when the front row of onlookers had to step back a bit smartly when somebody came through in a hurry.
If the competitors’ views on Rallycross are anything to go by, it looks as though it’s here to stay, and Ulster’s sole representative at the Kilternan event, George Windrum, reckons it’s the greatest! All credit is due to that IMRC, Clerk of the Course Liam Breslin, and Robin Rennicks Ltd for making the first Irish Rallycross a reality. How about Mondello for the next event? Or Kirkistown, or Bishopscourt?
- J. BRIDGES (Cooper S) 7m 00.8s;
- S. GRIFFIN (Cooper S) 7m 09.4s;
- C. LINEHAN (Cooper S) 7m 23.6s;
- J. REID (Cooper S) 7m 35.2s;
- D. CULLEN (Cooper S) 7m 37.0s;
- C. GUNN (Escort TC) 7m 53.2s;
- P. FAY (Renault R8 Gordini) 7m 54.2s;
- R. MAHARRY (Cooper S) 7m 55.2s;
- W. KILROY (Cooper S) 7m 55.8s;
- L. MOONEY (Volkswagen) 7m 59.0s.