1972 Killarney Easter Stages

A rare photo from the 1972 Killarney Easter Stages Rally, in this case Tom Burke and Derek Jolly.

Killarney win for Curley

This report is reproduced from Motoring News, 13 April 1972, kindly provided by Dave Price from his personal collection.

Despite the fears of some people that the Killarney Easter Rally would turn out to be a shambles due to the very short time available for its organisation, the event, held over the traditional Gallaher Circuit of Ireland Sunday run on Easter Sunday, went off without a hitch. Both Limerick and Munster Motor Clubs, who co-promoted the rally, deserved full marks for their efforts, which were compressed into just seven weeks. Eventual winners were Cathal Curley/Austin Frazer (Autoextra-powered BMW2002) after a terrific battle with the luckless Billy Coleman/Dan O’Suilleabhain whose Renault Alpine put a big-end bolt through the block while leading on the final special stage.

Although some of the expected Ulster names had not entered, there was a good quality entry with a 121 of the 126 hopefuls starting. Coleman’s repainted and generally tidied up Alpine was first away, and despite rumours of a 1.8 motor, the car was still fitted with a fusion 1.6 power unit. Curley/Frazer were next off, hoping to make up for their Galway retirement while leading, with the 1.8 BDA engined Escort of Mick Barry/Paddy Kavanagh at three.  Gerry McNamara/Paddy Hogan were next in a 1.6 Escort TC entered by Zoppas, ahead of Mick Dolan/Jimmy Stewart (1.8 Escort TC) and the 1.6 version of John Bridges/Brendan Doyle.

Highest seeded Cooper S was that of Jimmy Reid/Jim Cusack at seven, followed by the new BMW 2002 of David Agnew/Robert Harkness, built from the remains of the car written off in Galway.  At number nine came the Steinmetz-tuned team Castrol Opel Manta of Rosemary Smith (making her first Irish rally appearance for almost 2 years) and Joe Newman. John and Dick Keating filled 10th spot in their Escort, with the BDA engine being replaced by an almost standard twin cam unit at the last minute.  Number 11 was the Porsche 911S of Cecil Vard, who has been doing the Circuit for the past 25 years, and Paul Phelan, while the first dozen was completed by the 1.6 David Wood engined twin cam of Corkmen Gregg O’Gorman and Leo Whyte.

Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer, seen here on the 1973 Circuit of Ireland, were hot favourites for the Killarney win.

Scrutiny, on good Friday night and Saturday morning, was uneventful, and the first car was flagged off at 13.00 to set out for the first special stage at Knockacullig.  Best on this 6 1/2 miler was Curley (8m 10s) with Dolan just two seconds behind, then O’Gorman (8m 13s).  Coleman had his customary slow start, and only managed 8m 30s.  Barry was in trouble already, demolishing a gate and dropping two minutes in the process. Hugh O’Brien from Omagh put a rod out in his ex-Sclater Escort TC.

Special stage two was a modified version of last years Mount Eagle. This time, Barry stayed on the road, setting best time at 9m 07s, followed by Dolan 9m 11s, Curley 9m 13s, and O’Gorman 9m 21s.  The third stage was at Breanagh River but watch trouble forced cancellation later in the evening. However this was a little consolation for Gerry McNamara whose Escort slid off on a patch of oil on the approach to “Ytterbring’s Bridge” and was too badly damaged to continue.

A longish drive brought the field to the fourth stage, Gortnagane, which is regarded as Billy Coleman’s private property, starting as it does in his hometown of Millstreet. Sure enough, he was best on this 13.8 mile section, by no less than 43 seconds from Curley, thereby taking the lead. O’Gorman was third quickest, a further 10 seconds in arrears on 15.04, with Dolan 15.17, and the Cooper S of Arnie Poole/Kenny Johnston completing the leaderboard with 15.19.  This proved to be an eventful stage with Jimmy Reid rolling the Cooper out of the rally and Terry Power/Liam Breslin retiring their Escort TC with front end damage. Charlie Gunn narrowly avoided the banks and walls during a spin, and Mick Barry had another short off. John Dempsey/Ray Murphy retired the ex-Smith, ex-Cotter Hornet when a drive shaft broke on landing after a jump, having already been off a couple of times and suffered a petrol fire.

Special stage five was a repeat of Knockacullig, and again Curley was on top (7.59) by a mere second from Coleman. O’Gorman maintained the pressure keeping in touch with at 8.04.  After the stage, a generous time allowance and an official service area gave ample opportunity to get cars back into fighting trim before going into Parc Fermé for the night.  Placings with five stages completed (although only 4 to count) out of the 16 scheduled were as follows:

  1. Coleman/O’Suilleabhain (40.09);
  2. Curley/Frazer (40.16);
  3. O’Gorman/Whyte (40.42);
  4. Dolan/Stewart (41.06);
  5. Poole/Johnston (41.21)
  6. Gunn/McEvoy (41.18)
  7. D Fitzgerald/M Daly (41.38)

Agnew’s BMW and the Twin Cams of Maurice and Gerry Forde followed.

Highest placed group one car was the BMW 2002 Tii of STP Circuit of Galway organiser Eamonn Cotter/Mick Healy, while Vard’s Porsche had a 31 second advantage over the 2.2 Litre 911T of Alec Poole. Poole elected to drive the Porsche after deciding that the ex-Bill Shaw racing “Auntie” Rover 3500 was not quite suitable.

After the traditional Saturday night festivities, the early Sunday start had crews leaving Parc Fermé  at 07:25am and heading for Moll’s Gap. The bright sunshine of Saturday had unfortunately been replaced by torrential rain and low clouds, making things very unpleasant. Up Moll’s Gap, Greg O’Gorman showed what an advantage local knowledge is by passing two cars and setting a non-approachable 16.34.  Mick Dolan, who always likes this stage, had 16.47, while Coleman, who had been delayed 10 minutes before the start with an electrical fire in the dash wiring, did 16.56. 

An excellent performance was that of Dermot O’Sullivan, who was fourth best overall in his Anglia TC, only two seconds behind the Alpine. Curley trailed way behind with 17.37, dropping to 3rd place. Joan and Mary Murphy, who had been chasing hard for second place in the ladies’ category in their group one Clubman GT, rolled near the end of the stage, escaping unhurt and with amazingly little damage to the car.

Pat McCourt and Peter Scott, seen here earlier in the year at Galway, stepped up the pace in the second half of the event to finish a fine 5th place overall.

Kilmakillogue came next and was also taken by O’Gorman (7.04) from Coleman (7.08) and Barry (7.09). Again, Curley dropped a place, this time to Dolan. The stages around the Cod’s Head Peninsula were covered in the opposite direction to last year. The first of these, 12.3 miles of Ardgroom, with all its blind brows, saw the Cooper S of Arnie Poole/Johnston fastest, with 16.07, a clear 10 seconds up on Curley, with Coleman on 16.20.  Curley pulled back 4 seconds on Coleman on special stage nine, Cod’s Head, but he was still 36 seconds behind O’Gorman, who was also best on the following Knockoura stage.

Ardgroom saw the demise of Gerry Forde, whose car went straight at a brow which didn’t!  Paddy Maguire’s Lotus Cortina, which had been threatening Cotter for group one honours, spent almost 8 minutes off the road at the next corner.

The famous Healy pass was special stage 11, and featured the well-known hairpins uphill being run from South to North. The Alpine was easily quickest at 8.37 for the 7.6 miles, compared to O’Gorman (8.52), with Curley taking 8.55.  A long run back through Kenmare and service area four, where Dunlop changed Rosemary Smith’s Manta’s tyres from dry racers to SP Sports, led to Borlin, which had been lengthened to 12 miles. Greg O’Gorman repeated his Moll’s Gap performance by setting best time of the day in 14.30, 22 seconds better than Charlie Gunn.

Coleman and Curley recorded 14.54 and 14.56 respectively. O’Gorman’s tremendous time was enough to give the Escort driver the lead, five seconds ahead of Coleman, with Curley now over a minute behind. Arnie Poole’s drive came to an abrupt end about 3 miles from the start when the car aquaplaned off the road doing considerable damage, but without injury to the crew.  John Bridges had been changing wheels around for most of the day in an effort to eliminate an elusive  steering shutter, but this was only cured when he changed back to SP44s.

The 6.4 mile Lough Allua stage had not been used for some years, and this fast tarmac section kept he leading positions the same, with Curley’s BMW beating Coleman and O’Gorman by four seconds.  It proved unlucky for Mick Barry, who again put the Escort off the road, this time permanently, damaging the steering and breaking a rear spring. A short run led to the only new stage of the rally, Graigue Bridge.  This was another 6.4-miler, quite twisting, and gave Coleman has second “fastest time of the day” with 8.53. Clurley had 8.55 while O’Gorman trailed somewhat with a 9.12, losing his short-lived lead.

Dolan’s good drive came to an end when he hit a rock with the rear of the Escort, breaking a wheel. This was changed, but the half shaft broke a couple of miles later and he had no spare aboard.  Pat McCourt/Peter Scott we’re having an uneventful steady drive in the ex-Curley Escort TC, duelling with Maurice Ford/Donal McSorley for sixth place. 

The longest stage of the rally, Fahiry (14.8 miles) saw Curley pull back 19 seconds of Coleman’s advantage, reducing this to 43 seconds, although O’Gorman was only 31 seconds behind the leader.  David Agnew was slowed considerably when a pin came adrift from the gear linkage, leaving him only third gear for much of the stage. His service crew were able to rectify the problem before the final stage, although this would cost 2 road minutes.  Ulster Rally Champion Sydney Meeke (J E Coulter – Irish Racing Cars RS1600) had a visit to the scenery on Fahiry, but only lost one minute.

The final stage at Mullaghanish was shortened from 10 miles to 7.3 due to the large crowd of spectators, and it seemed to be a mere formality for Coleman and O’Suillieabhain to complete the stage and the 21 mile run back to Killarney.  However, fate thought differently, and the Alpine stopped 1 1/2 miles from the start with a broken big-end bolt which came out through the block. This should have promoted Greg O’Gorman to the lead, but a terrific last-minute effort from Curley was enough to convert the Corkman’s 12 second advantage into a 12 second deficit.

The BMW in fact pulled back 60 seconds during the last two stages on the Escort, to score a well deserved, if unexpected, win.  Charlie Gunn emphasised his recent return to good form after several years of consistent ill-luck, with a fine third place. David Agnew took fourth overall, and secured the team award with Curley and Eamonn Cotter.  

McCourt/Scott finished ahead of Forde/McSorley for fifth, while the Porsche battle was decided in favour of Vard, who had 42 seconds to spare over Alec Poole. Cotter’s BMW took the group one category and 11th place overall, to his huge delight. This is the first time he has finished a rally at Easter after eight years of trying!

Rosemary Smith took the Ladies’ Award in the Manta, although Sue Sinclair/Kathy Sampson (ex-works Cooper S) were in fact quicker on Sunday, but could not make back their Saturday deficit. Racing driver John Keaney took a class win in George Oliver’s group 5 Cooper S, and then headed off to drive his FF Crosslé at Mondello the next day!

The only black mark on the organisation was the prizegiving, which seemed very disorganised, and didn’t start until almost 2 am on Monday morning. Apart from this, Limerick Motor Club, Munster Motorcycle and Car Club, the Killarney traders, who sponsored the rally, and Clerk of the Course John Leonard, all deserves the highest praise for accomplishing so much in such a short period of time. Whilst everyone hopes that there will be a Gallaher Circuit of Ireland in 1973, if for any reason there is not, this rally has the makings of a worthy substitute.

Paul Phelan.

Results Overall:

  1. C Curley/A Frazer (BMW2002), 162m 12s;
  2. G O’Gorman/L Whyte (Escort TC) 162m 24s;
  3. C Gunn/H McEvoy (Escort TC) 167m 13s;
  4. D Agnew/R Harkness (BMW2002) 169m 31s;
  5. P McCourt/P Scott (Escort TC) 170m 21s;
  6. M Forde/D McSorley (Escort TC) 170m 55s;
  7. C Vard/P Phelan (Porsche 911S) 171m 01s;
  8. A K Poole/F Fennell (Porsche 911T) 171m 43s;
  9. S Meeke/S Meeke (Escort RS1600) 171m 59s;
  10. J Keaney/G Oliver (Cooper S) 173m 28s.