CHAMPIONS PROVE THEIR POINT
Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer driving their usual Escort Twin Cam were the easy winners of last weekend’s Texaco Rally. Curley thus repeated his success of last year and with a succession of fastest times left the opposition standing even though he was without his auxiliary lights for most of the night stages and had some engine trouble on the Saturday morning forest stages. In second place overall were Ronnie White and Harold Hagan in their ill-fated Circuit Cooper S which served them better this time.
Third were Mervyn Johnston and Paul Phelan and Mervyn thus continued his run of success of the past number of months. A very good winner of class 2 was the John Kerr/Drexel Gillespie “veteran” Lotus Cortina which was driven with great gusto, and Class 3 went to Ken Bolton/ Robert McCormick in a Cooper S.
Nearly 140 cars, the biggest ever entry in an Irish rally apart from the Gallagher Circuit of Ireland, assembled for the 8.30 p.m. start in Carrickfergus on Friday. Ahead of them was a 400-mile route containing 165 miles of special stages of which 135 were on closed roads with the rest in forests. The first car was due back at the finish in Larne at 12.50 p.m. the next day. Curley was seeded number one and after some last-minute work on the vicious-looking Escort he led the cavalcade on the longish run-in to the first special stage which ran from Magherahoney, near Armoy, right down the Glendun valley almost to Cushendun.
The reigning Ulster Rally Champion showed his intentions right from the start and despite a fair bit of fog on high ground took only 10 mins. 55 secs. for the 11 miles. Next best was Mervyn Johnston (Cooper S) 11-17, Brian Boyd (Cooper S) 11-20, Ronnie White 11-25 and Mick Barry and David Agnew (BMW 2002TI) who shared 11-47. To the surprise of most people Ronnie McCartney appeared in the ex-McKeag Escort Twin Cam – he was entered in a Cortina Lotus – and although he seemed to be very fast he was not in the top six. Curley proceeded to win stage two, Torr Head, despite a most unusual incident. He struck a bank with the front of the car, reversed away and then 100 yards later all the spotlights and foglights fell off! Boyd showed something of his better-known cousin’s ability and was only five seconds slower than Curley with Ronnie Nesbitt (Cooper S), Ronnie Wilson (ex-McCartney – Cooper S), McCartney himself and White completing the leader board. John Kerr had a very good time in this stage being seventh-fastest, only five seconds behind White.
Torr Head took a heavy toll with Malcolm Pedlow being worst off, his Cooper being reduced to scrap after a multiple roll. Less drastic reasons caused the disappearance of Agnew, Robin Powderely, James Reid, Brian Mitchell and Jim Greenwood. Brian Boyd continued his good form on stage three over Orra Lodge which was in very foggy condition. He was followed by Nesbitt and White with Curley, taking it easy no doubt in these conditions with only headlights to rely on, Ron Smith from Scotland and Johnston completing the fastest six. Here the fog was the cause of many retirements and among those who went irretrievably off were Billy Andrews, David Powell, Peter Shannon and Dan Foxe. Jim Beggs had particularly bad luck – he put his Lotus off very gently only for another car to land on top of him and do a considerable amount of damage.
There was then a fairly leisurely stop for petrol at McGregor’s Corner, Rathkenny before having a second go at all three previous stages. Curley was again fastest on the first two of these with Ronnie Wilson, going like a bomb, winning Orra Lodge 11 while Brian Boyd continued to put up the sort of times which looked like placing him second overall if he could keep it up. The later numbers had a long hold-up on Torr Head the second time while an ambulance was sent to investigate the Pedlow prang – luckily both he and his navigator were perfectly O.K. Several more cars disappeared on this loop with John O’Neill and Trevor Noble going out on Glendun and Ronnie Nesbitt (who lost a wheel) and Will Farren coming to a stop on Torr Head.
A fairly long cross country run via Portglenone and Maghera took the cars to the second group of road stages – four this time and again to be covered twice each. The first of these was Slieve Gallion with all its various classes of roads and here Curley fairly demolished the opposition being over half a minute faster than second man Boyd. Terry Harryman also did a bit of demolishing, unfortunately this time it was the car although he and Donald Grieve escaped unscathed from a very second-hand looking NSU.
Among the semi-experts local man Alastair McConnell put up a phenomenal time in his very quiet Cortina GT and was fourth fastest overall and Derek Russell of the Novices also had an excellent time in his Mini. Lough Fea followed next and here fastest time was credited to Semi-Expert Jimmy Bovill. And it might not be prudent to question this time for on this group of stages Bovill went consistently well in his Escort Twin Cam after starting so late that he had to miss the first three stages of the rally. Anyway, a fellow who rebuilds his engine on the afternoon of an event deserves a bit of luck! On this stage the times were very close among the Experts with only two seconds covering Curley, White, Boyd and Ronnie Wilson.
On to Craigard where Bovill did it again! Obviously a man to watch. Here he took 5-14 followed by White and Boyd while Kerr was keeping up a consistently fast pace and appearing regularly in the top Semi-Expert times. On the 15 miles Glenlark stage, the longest of the rally, Curley was able at last to put Bovill in his place but only by 19 seconds with a time of 17-13. Johnston was next, then Ronnie McCartney who was starting to get the hang of rear-wheel drive, while McConnell put up another good time in his Cortina. This section took a surprisingly light toll and there were not too many more cars missing at the Draperstown petrol halt. However, John Chambers, making a comeback to competition had disappeared as had the Kemp/Flint Army Mini which went over the steepest drop on Glenlark, the crew being taken to hospital. Fortunately, they dealt themselves no serious damage although the Mini was a sorry sight after rolling the best part of 100 yards – in an almost vertical direction!
Then with daylight firmly broken the cars headed back through the four stages again while the Clerk of the Course wondered what to do about class three who were running very late after the Torr Head hold-up.
At first, it was thought that they would have to miss the second run because of the proximity of the road-opening but after most of them arrived at Draperstown on time it was decided to let them carry on. However, be that as it may, it was Curley who set the pace on Slieve Gallion the second time with Kerr doing very well indeed to equal Ronnie White’s time, with Novice Ken Bolton also doing very well. Monaghan crew TP Smith and Malcolm Totten slipped off the road here and lost at least 6 minutes getting themselves out. It was Curley again on Lough Fea with Ronnie McCartney tagging along behind while Alastair McConnell was still going like a rocket in his own back yard. Brian Harknett was less fortunate and his VW had to be towed home.
It was Escorts one, two and three on Craigard 11 in the hands of Curley, Barry and McCartney with Ronnie White just preventing Jimmy Bovill making it a foursome. Again Bolton went well in class 3 and Paul Davey was also doing some good times in this class with a 1600E. In broad daylight Curley was able to unleash his car properly on Glenlark11 and was nearly three-quarters of a minute faster than McCartney. Two fast Coopers which did not appear again after this were those of John McClean and Michael Ford-Hutchinson.
This was the end of the road stages but there were now two forests before breakfast – Glenshane, a last-minute replacement for Banagher, and Cam. Barry was fastest on the roughish Glenshane from Curley, Barry certainly seemed much faster on the loose than the tarmac.
White was third with David McCullough getting among the front runners in class two with his Imp and Tim Buckler headed class three. On Cam Curley took over again from Barry with Boyd just behind while Kerr and Bolton headed their respective classes.
Among those whose rally ended in this forest were Kenny Graham (Imp), Hugh O’Brien whose Renault broke a drive shaft and Lexie Hughes who coasted his Lotus to the finish with a broken half-shaft then after a very long night it was a short run to breakfast at the Brown Trout, Aghadowey, but for many crews this was only an opportunity to tend to sick motor cars. Even Curley was in trouble as his Twin Cam developed a very nasty engine noise just after Cam and a damaged piston was feared, Curley sat very stoically in the car while Donald McEnaney checked things over and decided that it was only carburettor trouble. However this proved very elusive to trace and the leader’s car sounded very rough as it set off again. Brian Boyd was also in trouble with a suspected blown head gasket and his good run which must have put him in second place looked as if it might soon come to an end. Ronnie Wilson also had the same trouble and missed the three stages before breakfast but resumed sounding quite healthy after that.
Springwell Forest was the first stage after breakfast and McCartney really got into his stride with the fastest time ahead of White and Barry with Curley’s unhappy sounding Escort only sixth. Kerr was still motoring on in fine style in the big Lotus and Walter Thompson got his name at the top of the Novice leader-board.
The tarmac Ballycastle Forest was to have been next but the time-keepers were late in arriving and the field moved straight on to Ballypatrick. Here Curley’s car mysteriously cured itself just as suddenly as the trouble had appeared. It later transpired that an O- ring had been misbehaving. This fast forest was an Escort benefit with Barry, Curley and McCartney heading White, Jim Campbell’s Imp and Ron Smith’s Imp.
Clinty Quarry was another last-minute cancellation due to road works and this only left the fairly long haul to Ballyboley and the last stage of the rally. And it was quite enough for Ronnie White’s Cooper which came through sounding very rough as did Boyd’s car which had a broken suspension to add to its troubles. Curley finished off with a ﬂourish with the fastest time followed by Barry with Ronnie Wilson’s car sounding as well as ever it did.
And that was that. Once again Cahal Curley had proved himself “King of the Texaco” but next year the organisers, Larne and Mid-Antrim Motor Clubs, will be hoping for more cross-channel opposition to test the local boys. Maybe a change of date away from the Welsh and Manx rallies would help the situation?
1st C. B. Curley/A. Frazer, Escort TC, 178 min. 18 secs;
2nd R. White/W. H. Hagan, Cooper S, 184 min. 28 secs.
3rd M. Johnston/P. Phelan, Cooper S, 186 min. 18 secs.
4th M. Barry/D. Kavanagh, Escort TC, 188 min. 29 secs.
5th J. B. Boyd/N. Smith. Cooper S, 190 min. 12 secs.
6th R. J. Smith/D. B. Smith, Imp, 191 min. 32 secs.
7th R. McCartney/R. Pollock, Escort TC, 193 min. 32 secs.
8th J. J. Campbell/B Dorman, Imp, 194 mins. 54 secs.
9th R. Lyons/J. Lyons, Cooper S, 196 .min. 37 secs.
10th O. Wilson, Riley Elf, 197min. 08 secs.
11th R. Reid/A. Burnett, Imp, 197 min. 25 secs.
12th K. Shields/P. Lyster, Sprite, 198 min. 08 secs.
1st J. Kerr/D. Gillespie, Cortina Lotus, 195 min. 24 secs.
2nd H. Cathcart/G. Morrison, Cooper S, 196 min. 59 secs.
3rd D. McCullough/S. Carphin, Imp, 198 min. 45 secs.
4th A. McConnell/P. Liddie, Cortina GT, 199 min. 12 secs.
5th W. J. Ferguson, Escort GT, 199 min. 41 secs.
6th F. G. Boyle/W. Duncan, MG Midget, 202 mins. 53 secs.
1st K. Bolton/R. McCormick, Cooper S, 186 min. 56 secs.
2nd D. Russell/B. Russell, Mini, 187. min. 38 secs.
3rd W. M. H. Brown/B. O’Kane, Cooper S, 193 min. 32 secs.
4th J. E. Ogg/J. R. G. Henry, Cooper S, 194 min. 10 secs.
5th G. T. Buckler, Cooper, 194 min. 17 secs.
6th B. Stewart/D. Gray, Cortina TC, 194 min. 22 sec
*Did not do Glenlark II.