Big win for Sparrow and Raeburn Group 6 Mini
This report by Martin Holmes appeared in Autosport May 14, 1970. Photos Hugh Bishop.
The irrepressible Sparrow and Raeburn duo took surprise honours last weekend on the Fram International Welsh Rally, driving Will’s home-built G6 Mini-Cooper S which has brought him two consecutive wins on Castrol-MN rallies already this year. With World Cup heroes arriving at Rio de Janeiro, what potential foreign entrants there would have been were otherwise engaged, and the non-British contingent came from Eire alone. The status and consequent importance remained, however, and as ever with British forest rallying the competition was close from start to finish.
After delays, first through leaving the road when his lights went out, and then through fog, Chris Sclater once again scored a second with a Group 2 Escort TC, a minute ahead of a badly seeded Chris Knowles-Fitton, who eventually found that the time he lost through baulking roughly balanced the better conditions that back-markers enjoyed.
You have to be someone pretty special not to own a Ford and still be in with a chance, but rally followers have come to rate Will Sparrow highly this year, through his Uniroyal and CCC magazine support, and then by nearly scoring a hat-trick on one-nighters. To succeed on the Uniroyals, the knobbly version of which is of cross-ply construction, must surely be a tremendous achievement, and John Toogood was present to see for himself the growing numbers of Uniroyal-assisted rallymen who entered.
Incredibly, this car was the only British Leyland car with any conceivable chance of success, and he must have reckoned those pretty low as he scanned all the Twin Cams lined up at the start at Cardiff. Denis Cardell had his Cooper S and he featured in the stage times a couple of times, but that was all.
The other intruder into Ford Country was Robin Eyre-Maunsell’s Rallye Imp, a private entry that was driven quicker and quicker by the young Irishman throughout the event, and which went like a train. Not even a doughnut was changed — only one silencer, and that because the first one was getting a little noisy. This car had an ordinary 998 engine and Dunlop SP44s.
To most observers it was not a question of what type of car would win, but rather which Twin-Cam it would be. Chris Sclater, fresh from second place and best non-professional on the Circuit of Ireland (who was also second and best non-professional on last year’s Welsh) then in a four year old Lotus) was seeded Number 1, and thus voted Escort man most likely to succeed. For Chris it was tough: if he won, it was only to be expected, if he was beaten then he was slipping. The car was his usual ex-works one, David Wood engine, 5.1 diff’, High Speeds and Ultragrips, prepared as carefully as ever. This car has never yet let him down; how many can say this of Escorts?
Barry Lee was most people’s threat to Chris, using High Speeds, Ultragrips and racers, with a 1600 cc engine this time. The shell was a very old one, but after the Circuit of Ireland and the Tour of Dean a needle match between him and Sclater was very much on the cards. Roy Fidler had the Withers Twin Cam, teaming with Sclater, who was Withers-sponsored, and Bob Bean as usual with his immaculate red and gold car. Billy Coleman entered in his incredible “bitza” TC, as shocking as it was when it first met the gaze of the rallying world a year ago, but still reliable.
John Heppenstall appeared in the ex-Makinen Twin Cam entered by the Clarke & Simpson rally team, while other fancied TC owners included Mark Ridout, who made a storming finish to last year’s Welsh, Jeff Churchill in his Westover-Safari David Wood car, Chris Beynon the Bristowe winner with more DW power, and Jimmy Bullough, current Castrol-MN leader in possibly his last appearance under the Westune banner. Bullough came badly suited with High Speeds only on the strength of the dry weather that preceded the Welsh these may well have suited him fine, but the rain that started only hours before the start put paid to that plan.
The seeding was not the strongest point on the Welsh, vide Knowles-Fitton at 72, Peter Hall at 64, Geoff Kay at 73 and so on, but there is always difficulty in seeding road-rally drivers on forestry events.
Lotus Cortinas never die, at any rate Tony Fowkes’ six-year-old Mk1 never seems to. Once again it made one final appearance (thinks – he and Pierson should found a museum) and to quote navigator O’Gorman, it started unprepared and finished in perfect condition. Mike Brown, the Jeff Uren protege from last year, turned up with an ex-Marathon Mk 2 prepared and driven by himself and entered by Tech Del, now branching out into competitive rallying. Andrew King quietly brought his Mk 2 along, no fuss, and Mike Goldsworthy suddenly found Randal Morgan for a navigator after a frantic last-minute competition licence trouble. Down at 105 was Peter Hilliard, a Formula 4 racer who impressed at the Tour of Dean by lying fourth until near the end; he is yet~another Wood customer.
Eight Eppynt stages.
The form of the Welsh was traditional, two nights with a relaxed day in between. Of 30 stages, eight were held at Epynt, so giving tarmac as well as forest lovers a chance. With the route known to competitors a week before, tyre changes were easily planned. Racers were few, partly because of the success of High Speeds, also because water hangs around Epynt perilously: the roll of honour of those who have crashed there through aquaplaning is endless. Famous names as well! Spectators were actively discouraged, though inevitably local folk knew where to see the fun. It is a shame that a mass entry of enthusiasts gives the Forestry Commission such headaches, but even on the grounds of litter alone this can be understood.
As usual, Epynt was first on the list of stages, with moisture in the air that was typical of the area. Fog drifted periodically across the stage, with numbers in the 30s doing best. Jeff Churchill put his foot on the floor down the long straight to the dual carriageway and kept it there through the fog and took BTD at an average of 65 mph, which would have been passable even in clear daylight. Barry Lee had water in his fuel and started a very miserable night which killed his battle with Sclater before it began. Epynt II was the same shortie used last year: up virtually straight for 1.5 miles, then into Crychan forest and back down the loose. Jimmy Bullough was given falsely a clean time, later corrected, and fastest went to the Mike Brown Tech Del Lotus.
Crychan was long and used several recently-resurfaced tracks, being far smoother than of late, though the rough ascent to the start was as bad as ever. Graeme John, back from the Tulip, had a maximum here, stuck across a junction having had trouble following a dodgy arrow, not the only such instance in the rally, Bill Weeks, the leading LCAMC driver, found forests a bit more daunting by putting a huge dent in the side of his Lotus – the very first Mk 2 to be rallied, by Toby Sheppard on the ’67 Tulip — while Russell Brookes, his fantastic little Mini now with a 998 cc engine, was baulked for six out of the seven miles by a Lotus.
Bean forges ahead.
At the Nantgaredig control Churchill was holding a lead, but Bean was gathering steam and before the night was out the Granite City and Seven Dales winner was to forge ahead. In Bechfa, Sclater went well over a stage of which half was new to most, Brookes losing no more than a door handle against one of the infamous gates. At Llambed, Churchill again did a ﬂyer, and people began wondering how long he could keep it up. Jeff admits a dislike to even one-night events, and already the first night was nearly over.
Epynt III was enjoyed in daylight by later cars, although at least the earlier cars had fairly clear weather. An arrow caused havoc here, for Tony Fowkes lost about four minutes travelling a mile or so off-route and a mile or so back, and Peter McDowell actually had his Twin Cam’s con-rod appear through the side of his block while off-route due to this drooping sign! Sclater ﬂew off when all his lights suddenly failed, landing luckily on his wheels and off the road, but unluckily bogged down and unable to regain the road for a couple of minutes. Fastest time went to number 135, Roger Drummond-Walker.
Finally, before the first Prynnes time control was a run over the B-road past Drovers, in fact this was the Nutcracker final selective, but in reverse, where again later numbers did well. Peter Hall took 9 secs in the dawn light from Sclater, who was second. Chris Beynon soared over the hairpin by the gate where the stage often ends, being irrevocable for some time.
Three more stages followed before breakfast, firstly Radnor, where Sclater, Bullough and Eyre-Maunsell took at least two minutes longer than their rivals through fog which suddenly lifted. Later numbers were confused over one arrow that the front-runners hardly even saw. Mick Telford ditched his Saab and was collected by John Barter’s 1800 GT Escort, while BTD went to Gareth Jones in a 1600 GT Escort. Long live Group 6, even though the RAC still enforce the dual-brakes rule. Kerry was another late-number beneﬁt, David Williams 850 Mini losing four or five minutes in a hole which practically engulfed it, while Scotsman Don Heggie went off for a maximum at Sarnau. This was held in the daylight for all, and Will Sparrow began to get to grips with the rally with a really excellent run.
Positions at breakfast at Llandrindod Wells were:
- Bob Bean (Escort TC) 18 m 6 s;
- Will Sparrow (Mini-Cooper S), 18 m 22 s;
- Nigel Hollier (Escort TC) 18 m 55 s;
- Jeff Churchill (Escort TC) 19 m 8 s;
- Denis Cardell (Mini-Cooper S) 19 m 34 s;
- Roy Fidler (Escort TC) 20 m 15 s;
- Chris Knowles-Fitton (Escort TC) 20 m 28 s;
- Peter Hilliard (Lotus Cortina) 20 m 30 s;
- Chris Sclater (Escort TC), 20 m 31 s.
From here until the evening the rally pace was relaxed, with reduced averages between stages and no lateness at controls in any case. Barry Lee was understandably very despondent with hardly a decent run all night, and there was no sign of the Booths as their Westune TC was last seen on ﬁre back at Epynt. Mark Ridout’s TC ‘had the steering rack push the sump on to the conrods, but he was continuing without concern, but Terry Pond’s Pye Records-loaned Jolly Club Lancia (in yellow pain‘t!) went out with clutch failure.
Tony Fowkes was recovering from a bout of ﬂu which, on top of his Epynt disappointment, did his morale no good. Jill Robinson, out for the ladies’ award twice in two years, had Clarke & Simpson men with her timing gear in pieces, having fitted a new rack to the guvnor’s TC with one borrowed from Barry Lee.
The route through to Hafren was an easy main road run, and consequently crews arrived at the stage with plenty of time to spare. Sclater put this one over Sparrow, but the TC man had a puncture on the second Hafren stage, which was shorter than expected, and on which the organisers amended the bogey (as they reserved the right to do), so saving the stage from being wasted.
The second stage was largely over new forest roads in mist, and Nigel Hollier, driving his usual old TC which he has recently sold to his navigator (!), followed the line of two parallel trenches and found too late that it wasn’t the road. John Price (Escort 1300GT) was even unluckier, retiring with an anti-roll bar torn off.
Lunch at Bala, where Peta Hall changed his Escort’s clutch, preceded the Clocaenog stages, where Sclater went well to pull another 14 secs from Sparrow. So far as the Mini Man was concerned, Sclater might win if he continued at this rate, although Bean was an enigma. How that Mini went so well over stages so basically favouring power was amazing. Clocaenog held its terrors, though, for Mark Ridout saw one of the “SO” signs after a junction (which meant “follow the road,” rather than “straight on”) and went end over end — one more for navigator Peter Valentine’s Collection of Accidents.
David Sutton broke a halfshaft despite using narrower tyres than usual to reduce transmission strain. Ridout towed Sutton and Giles out afterwards on a rope that could hardly have been more than a few inches long, causing David to complain of the embarrassment to Mark afterwards. “You shouldn’t have driven so fast, you know,” said Sutton, “my navigator never knew cars could go so fast in forests!”
Continuing the tour of North Wales forests, Penmachno was as frightening as ever, with almost as many “Danger” signs as at Sarnau, although taken this year in reverse. Beddgelert was again a mixture of fast curves and little twisty stretches, and saw the departure of Hilliard’s Lotus – far, far off the road. Robin Eyre-Maunsell began to enter into the swing of things, with times excellent for someone not used to these stages.
The middle section of the rally had three more stages, starting with Coed-y-Brenin, where a long wait for the stage to open did little to improve the natural access problem up the road from the stone bridge. It was here that Bean went missing, his axle broken and the rear wheels at drunken angles to each other. The car was towed into Dolgellau but nobody was around late on a Saturday evening, and he was out. Toby Shepipard’s BMW 2002 (his own car, though entered and serviced by Autoextras) was going welil, but shortly he was to he slowed by a. broken rear suspension. Mick Brown’s Lotus was no more, valve gear deranged, and Roy Fidler, having refitted a burned exhaust valve, went out apparently with brake trouble.
From Coed-y-Brenin it was something of a race down to Dovey, so that as much of the long stage could be taken in daylight as possible. Again a long queue formed, so that only a few of the first cars achieved this objective.
Churchill suddenly had trouble. Firstly the dynamo stopped charging and left him driving Dovey without spots, then at nearby Pantperthog, another long stage, a rock so distorted the floor that he could not press the clutch, leaving him in second gear only.
By now Sparrow had really made his claim, taking 13 secs off Sclater at Dovey when Chris straddled a junction and very nearly stuck. Both had clear runs at Pantperthog and took equal times. For Sparrow it was the sort of situation that veterans fear — a moment’s lapse and victory would be lost — but few things bolster confidence like winning, and he took this in his big stride.
Driving completely in the dark on both stages, Knowles-Fitton was not far behind, either. After an hour’s halt at Machynlleth only four more forests remained, short stages at that, starting with Taliesin, the shorter stage, a downhill sprint at Rheidol, a shortened stage at Myherin and Ystwyth, on which the fast stretch just above the main road was used for once in a while. All through the rally something was odd about the arrowing: at Myherin there was another “SO” right in front of a firebreak, when the track went sharp right, yet the only visible warning of the nasty, unguarded bridge at Rheiirdol were a few spectators waving cars down. Back at Prynnes for another control, and it was time for the racers to come out again, since the remaining stages were at Epynt and Llandow.
For Tony Fowkes, Ystwyth was the end of the dream of being the best Cortina home on three home internationals running when he sailed into the trees on a 90-1eft, giving himself a maximum penalty. He was driving on three Uniroyals and one Dunlop at the time, incidentally. . . .
Chris Knowles-Fitton had clear runs over the three Epynt stages, with two fastests and one second in his ex-Toney Cox car, which gave Toney a year of constant headache and Chris a trouble-free career. Strange, isn’t it? Denis Cardell really blotted his copybook by rolling his Mini at the first sharp corner of Epynt VI, only finishing the rally after incurring a penalty for not finishing the stage.
Llandow, South Wales AC’s racetrack, was once more pressed into service for ending the Welsh, only this time the timing was organised and there were not the usual complaints about the organisation which traditionally lead to the test being scrubbed. John Heppenstall buzzed round to score his only appearance on the stage charts, while Robin Eyre-Maunsell threw away a certain fourth place, first by spinning off at the treacherous Devils Elbow and then by doing one too many laps!
Jerry Dodd, the popular South Wales Twin Cam driver, thrilled the crowds by going off backwards, and Fowkes, having held Sparrow up for a couple of laps, spun off. Sparrow was just about to enjoy the freedom of the track when his clutch fluid boiled and he had to stay in third gear. The winning car was ignominiously pushed away from the finish line into “the paddock”, but it did not matter; the rally ended at that finish line, and a fabulous drive was rewarded in victory.
At the promised hour the awards were distributed, although this was ten hours after the last proper special stage. Maybe another year the Llandow test could follow the rally naturally, and thus save a lot of waiting around, The beauty of the Welsh is that ordinary working mortals can enjoy an International, and this popularity with the true clubmen is its great point.
Any event fought hard from beginning to end like the Welsh must be a success, and this year’s certainly was. Sparrow is taking a well-earned rest from the rally scene for a few months getting married into the bargain, while Sclater is back at Queens Gate Place Mews preparing for the Scottish and waking in fright at night dreaming about little red Group 6 Minis. The only thing the Welsh really lacks are the foreigners.
Fram International Welsh Rally .
May 8 to 10 1970
Will Sparrow/Nigel Raeburn (1.4 Mini-Cooper S) 52m 30s;
Chris Sclater/Martin Holmes (1.6 Ford Escort TC) 55m 09s;
Chris Knowles-Fitton/Chris Nash (1.6 Ford Escort TC), 56m 08s;
Jimmy Bullough/Don Barrow (1.6. Ford Escort TC) 62m 14s;
Robin Eyre-Maunsell/Norman Henderson (1.0 Rallye Imp) 63m 23s;
Jeff Churchill/John Thomas (1.6 Ford Escort TC) 64m 06s;
Barry Lee/John Coles (1.6 Ford Escort TC) 65m 56s;
Mike Bennett/Eddy Bamford (1.3 Mini-Cooper S) 66m 37s;
Colin Fisher/Duncan Spence (1.6 Ford Cortina GT) 67m 49s;
Billy Coleman/Donal O’ Suilleabhain (1.6 Ford Escort TC) 69m 14s.
David Williams/E. P. Williams (850 Mini) 108m 25s;
Russell Brookes/David Hayward (1.0 Mini-Cooper) 73m 46s;
Chris Sclater/Martin Holmes (1.6 Ford Escort TC) 55m 09s;
David Thompson/Moss Isey (2.0 Vauxhall Viva GT) 71m 39s;
Will Sparrow/Nigel Raeburn (1.4 Mini-Cooper S) 52m 30s;
Ladies: Jill Robinson/Frances Cobb (1.6 Ford Escort TC)
Club team: Sutton and Chealmsford M/C Ford team (Sclater, Lee and Tony Fawkes/Peter O’G-orman (Lotus-Cortina TC).
Private team: Fowkes/O’Gorman, Peter Hall/Ian Bendall (1.6 Ford Escort TC), Conal O’Sullivan/John Billett (Triumph 2.5 Pl).
Currant RAC Rally Championship positions:
- Will Sparrow. 18 pts;
- Chris Sclater, 12;
- Equal – Jimmy McRae, Bob Bean and Jimmy Bullough, 9;
- Equal – Alistair McRae and Chris Knowles-Fitton. 7.