1972 Circuit of Galway Rally

Ronnie and Dessie McCartney took a fine win on the 1972 Circuit of Galway as the more fancied runners fell by the wayside.

This report is reproduced from Motoring News February 1972

Report by Mike Greasley, Photos by various unknown.

Rally of attrition: British crews sent home.

In the history of rallying, there cannot have been a more dramatic event than the three-day STP sponsored International Circuit of Galway which started on Friday February 4th.  The action began even before the Galway Motor Club organised event started when Clerk of the Course, Eamonn Cotter, received a written warning that any British crews who took part would be “dealt with”.  So it was a very rapid about-face for the ten British crews who made it to Galway.  As far as the rally itself was concerned the lead changed hands on no less than five times, with brothers Ronnie and Dessie McCartney  finally taking the honours in their “shopping” Triumph 2.5PI Mk1.  Second overall were Charlie Gunn and Harry McEvoy in a Ford Escort TC, while third place overall went to the Escort TC of Pat McCourt, who had MN’s Northern Ireland rally correspondent, Peter Scott, in the hot seat.

This second International Circuit of Galway proved to be a far tougher event than Many had anticipated, with only 55 out of the 144 starters making it to the Galway finish on Sunday afternoon.  Only five of the first forty seeded crews managed to finish.  Among those who dropped by the wayside during the 600-mile event were Adrian Boyd/Beatty Crawford, last year’s winners Cahal Curley/Austin Frazer, Billy Coleman/Dan O’Suilleabhain and Mervyn Johnston/Harry Johnston.

Following the success of the first STP International Circuit of Galway, the 100 strong Galway Motor Club had mad a big effort to ensure that this year’s rally would be even better.  The 1971 Galway had offered two days competition over a 400-mile route with 200 miles of special stages on closed roads.  This year the rally gave competitors three days of competition (two overnight stops) with a 600-mile route containing 340 stage miles in total.  Promotional activities were also stepped up for 1972 and members of Galway Motor Club came over to the RAC Rally in N November in an attempt to encourage more British entries.

Top seeded crew were Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford in the R.E.Hamilton ex-works Escort. After chasing a misfire all weekend, their rally would end with a broken driveshaft.

STP also gave the Galway a big push and there wasn’t a small boy, car or building to be seen that did not c carry at least one of the company’s decals – in fact by good public relations they get as much out of the Galway as they put in.

Seeded number one were 1971 Circuit of Ireland winners Adrian Boyd and Doctor Beatty Crawford in the R. E. Hamilton ex-works Escort RS1600.  Brooded over by Robert “Passionflower” Taylor, the left-hand-drive Escort has a 1700cc dry-sump BDA engine and five-speed ZF gearbox.  Due to start at number two was the Ford Works entered Escort RS for Jean Francois Piot and Jim Porter, who won the touring car category on the recent Monte Carlo Rally.  Unfortunately, due to the Irish situation, the entry had been withdrawn on the Wednesday before the start.  There was much speculation as to why Ford should enter Piot/Porter for the Galway, and one of the more interesting rumours was that the Escort was to have been fitted with a certain 2-litre aluminium block engine.

The aggressive BMW 2002 of past-winners Cahal Curley/Austin Frazer was at number three.  The BMW, built by Donald McEnaney, is basically a “racer on the road” with its Autoextra-built 175 bhp engine and 16.5 cwt all-glass-fibre bodywork.  The suspension has, of course, been uprated for rallying purposes and the car sports a BMW five-speed gearbox.  The Escort which Curley drove to victory last year was being driven by third placed crew Pat McCourt/Peter Scott.

Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer in the lightweight BMW were leading the rally on Sunday when a wheel fell off.

Behind the BMW in the seeding was the well-known Alpine Renault of Billy Coleman and Donal O’Suilleabhain (yes, the same person as Dan O’Sullivan) which wasn’t as badly damaged as was at first thought on the Tour of Dean accident.  Ireland’s answer to Will Sparrow, 1970 Galway winner Mervyn Johnston, was next up in his now-1293cc Cooper S.  Mervyn had his namesake Harry Johnston in the co-driver’s seat.  The Mini started the rally on split-Webers, but after discovering that the power came in a lump at the top end, these were changed for a single 45 DCOE Weber which alleviated the problem.

At number six was the W. P. Higgins Ltd. entered David Wood-engined Escort of locals Mick Barry/Leo White, followed by the Gerry McNamara/Paddy HoganTC and the ex-Mattie McNamara racing Holbay-BDA engined Escort of Noel Smith/Ricky Foott.  Rounding off the first ten was the Escort of Southern Irish Autumn Rally Champion John Bridges, accompanied by Brendan Doyle, and the Cooper S of Ashley Armstrong.

There was a wealth of interesting entries throughout the list and despite the 33.3% Southern Ireland import duty on cars, the quality was really quite high.  However, worthy of special mention was the 200 bhp BMW-Alpina of David Agnew and the Escort TC of STP importer Nobby Reilly.

The winning Triumph actually started at No19; Ronnie McCartney still uses the car as his own personal transport.  Haulage contractor McCartney, in fact, bought the car 18 months ago when he went into semi-retirement from rallying.  However, the rallying bug proved too strong for him, and he was soon in competition again after fitting an ex-British Leyland World Cup cylinder head and manifold.  The output is in the region of 145 bhp, and besides a modified suspension, the bodywork and interior is standard.  The McCartney brothers entered the Galway for “the fun of it” and only brought along two spare wheels.  They didn’t have a service crew throughout the rally!

Of the British entries, Martin Clark/Paul Stephens were at number 16 in their Transworld Importers Ltd. Escort, but they failed to make it to Eire, as did Andy Dawson/Pauline Gullick in the Zenith Imp.  However, there still was a fairly strong British contingent who crossed the Irish Sea on the Thursday night prior to the start.  

It was a great performance from young “Flat Pat” McCourt in the ex-Curley Escort TC. He and Peter Scott took third place overall from a seeding of 41.

Those who took the overnight Liverpool/Dublin boat were Tony Rix/Tony Mitchell (Mini), Terry Huntley/John Corner (Escort 1800), John Moore/Dave Hutchings (Cooper S), George Beever/Mike Knutton (Escort TC), Keith Billows/John Gittins (Escort TC), Terry Douce/Roger Sammows (Cortina), Mark Perry/Brian Shipway (Imp) and the ex-World Cup Escort of “Look Twice” pop group members Roger Stubbs and Dave Birlenhead.  The “pop” Escort had in fact been in trouble when the drive-shaft studs sheared on the Wednesday.  This was fixed by Lloyds of Stafford, but between Dublin and Galway a wheel bearing went on their trailer and they had to drive the rally car the rest of the way!  However, much worse was to come.

The eight British crews arrived in Galway after lunch on Thursday to be met by a very despondent Eamonn Cotter.  That morning, a letter had been delivered to the Galway Motor Club headquarters, stating that if any British crews took part in the rally there would be trouble and the English competitors would be brought to a halt.  The letter had come from six members of the Gaelic football Club at Moycullen, and the organisers had ascertained that those concerned were deadly serious in their threat.  In fact, when three crews took their cars to the local Ford dealers to have some work done, an anonymous phone call was received to say that if the cars weren’t removed, the garage would be blown up!

As the rally would pass through the village on the first day, and be completely centred around the Moycullen area on the last day, Cotter and the Galway Motor Club had no option but to advise the British crews to return home as quickly as possible.

All concerned agreed that this was the only action that could be taken, and the eight early arrivals returned home that evening.  No one would disagree that Cotter’s decision was the correct one, but the Galway incident could well have far-reaching effects on rallying in Ireland.

Dungannon crew Jimmy Conlon and Brian Quinn, complete with suits and ties, roll off the ramp in Eyre Square to tackle the Friday stages.

Two more British crews arrived later that evening – the Devon crews of John and Graham Booth (Escort) and Derek Swann/Ian Woodruff (Comanche Capri) – and were told the bad news.  They returned home on Friday afternoon.

Scrutineering was held in two sessions just off Galway’s Eyre Square.  The first session was held on Thursday evening, and the other on Friday morning.  It made a nice change to see that no one bothered with noise regulations, and indeed many of the cars would have blown the innards out of any noise-meters within a ten mile radius!

With 99% of the Galway Rally being on tarmac nearly all the competitors were using high-speed or racing tyres with Dunlop and Goodyear being very much in evidence – particularly the former who had a good supply of racers for Escorts and Minis.  No doubt the quantities of rubber that were available would have trebled if Mr. Piot had turned out.

Friday’s opening format was a 12.00 noon start from Eyre Square in Galway City, followed by ten stages to the North West of the City, and a 6.30pm finish back in Eyre Square with Parc ferme in a nearby cattle market.  As it turned out, all the ten stages were quite “yumpy” with many crews spending more time aviating than actually on terra forma.  Rather oddly, the cars had to drive right around the square and leave by the exit only a few yards from the ramp.  Needless to say, the large crowd, shopping traffic and rally traffic all got terribly mixed up and a number of cars only drove a few yards before coming to a complete stop.  However, the confusion eventually cleared and crews had a clear run out to the first special stage – the 13.5-miler at Oughterard.

Boyd/Crawford immediately took command in their Escort with an 11m 10s, with next fastest being McNamara/Hogan 20s behind.  An unfortunate retirement on this opening stage was the Escort of STP’s Nobby Reilly who came to a halt with a broken differential.  Also bring their rally to a premature end were Burns/Kehoe who rolled their 1598cc Escort on that first stage.  Slightly luckier was Kevin Towmey who went into a bog with his Escort TC, but was bale to get going again.

Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford would be fast out of the traps but a series of woes befell them, including a time consuming “off”, and they eventually retired.

By the end of the second stage at Camus Hill, Boyd/Crawford had already opened up a 27 second lead over McNamara/Hogan, who were in turn 10s ahead of the McCartney Triumph.  However, although it appeared on paper that Boyd had everything in control, he was experiencing a mysterious misfire.  Throughout the day they were changing plugs and the coil to no good effect and the misfire would still come in above 7000 rpm – Boyd usually uses 8000.

The leading crew also had a moment on the second stage when they met a lorry coming the other way.  Fortunately the incident occurred on a straight and the R.E. Hamilton crew was able to flag the driver down.

The 5.86-mile Derryrush stage saw the demise of the very interesting Duggan Morris Minor which was fitted with a full-race 120 bhp engine.  Unfortunately the car came off a “yump” a bit too fast and the heavy landing broke both standard driveshafts.  The Escort TC of Oliver Hadden also went out on this stage with a broken engine mounting, a similar fate being suffered by John Bridges/Brendan Doyle.

At the halfway mark, Boyd/Crawford had increased their lead even further, being 1m 13s ahead of McNamara/Hogan.  Still holding on to third place was the McCartney Triumph, while Curley/Frazer had finally got to grips with the new BMW and shot up from an early 14th to fourth place overall.  Among the retirements at this point was the Jimmy Reid Mini which went out with a blown head gasket.

After stage five (Lough Inagh) the route took competitors over the same stages they had covered earlier.  These were run in the same direction, and in fact this policy of using all stages twice was used throughout the rally.  Therefore, in effect, there were only five new stages on the first day.

Special Stage six, back at Oughterard, caught out Ashley Armstrong in a big way this second time around and he did his Cooper S no good at all when he hit a bridge.

Towards the end of the Friday runs, Gunn/McEvoy had a stroke of good luck when they broke a half-shaft on a stage.  Fortunately their service crew were not far away and the shaft was replaced.  Also saved by this service crew was Mick Barry who broke a tramp-bar on his Escort.

Provisional placings at the end of the Friday stages were:

  1. Boyd/Crawford 80:36;
  2. Barry/White 81:58;
  3. Keating/Keating 82:51;
  4. McNamara/Hogan 82:59;
  5. Curley/Frazer 84:03

In all, the ten Friday stages had claimed 23 competitors, but worse was to follow on Saturday with  the field being decimated during the 18 stages to the South East of Galway.  Saturday contained the real meat of the rally and, although the stages were not as “yumpy” as the previous day, the very solid Galway stone walls were in abundance.  The organisers had arranged a party for the Friday night, but many of the crews went to bed early to ready themselves for the 7.00 am start.  A number of Escorts were reluctant to fire up, including Mick Barry’s and the organisers had to re-seed a couple of the lower numbers who had been held up.  The Imp of Richard and Diane St John Young was in trouble with broken gearbox mountings and no service e crew, but they managed to keep going.

Saturday’s first stage, the four-miler at Thoorballylee, saw the beginning of the end for Boyd/Crawford when they put the Escort off on a left-hander.  This excursion damaged the offside front wing and as a result they could not get full lock on right hand bends.  This continued for three more stages before they could get the wing taken off the wheel by their service crew.  It was also decided to have another attempt at curing the mis-fire and the points were changed.  However, the Escort refused to start, so they put the old points back in and in doing so, discovered the cause of the trouble – a weak spring!

Donegal crew Robert Ward (Left) and Phonsie McElwee would bring their Cooper S into 9th place overall

All this cost them dearly and at the next Time Control they had lost 12m on the road.  This was to no avail, for just as the Escort was on full song, on the nine-mile Stage 19 (Ballybuck), one of Ford’s new “unbreakable” driveshafts broke two miles before the end.  There was no spare as Ford had assured them that the new Atlas driveshaft was unbreakable!  Despite the breakage Boyd still managed to set fastest time on the stage, although it was later cancelled due to a very nasty accident involving David Agnew’s BMW.  The BMW was extensively damaged and Agnew was taken to hospital.  Fortunately his injuries were confined to a badly gashed knee.

Second placed man, Mick Barry/Leo White, also came to a halt after SS19 with a burst oil pipe.  They were spotted by Boyd/Crawford who were being towed back to Galway, and the oil pipe on the Hamilton car was fitted to Barry’s Escort.  However, by the time the car was re-started they were beyond the organiser’s 15m maximum lateness on the road.

These two major retirements immediately put Curley/Frazer into first place in their BMW and the McCartney Triumph in second, 2m 29s behind.  The Mini of Mervyn and Harry Johnston were now in third place.  The Porsche of Cecil Vard also retired during Saturday after he had side-swiped a bank and bent the steering rack.

Billy Coleman/Dan O’Sullivan had been driving their Alpine to good effect during Saturday and were steadily picking up places.  However, on the second time around the infamous 21-mile Corkscrew (SS26) the Alpine came to a stop with driveshaft failure.

The Corkscrew was the most favourite stage with Mervyn Johnston who had gone off during the morning run, and had a throttle cable break in the afternoon.  However, he was still holding on to third place overall and was in better shape than many of the remaining 69 competitors who made it back to Galway.

Leader Curley was another in trouble on his way back to the Saturday finish when it was discovered that the rear wishbone was breaking up.  It was too late to do anything before the last stage – Ballybuck – so he drove slowly over it and had it welded up before driving into Galway and Parc ferme.

End of Saturday placings:

  1. Curley/Frazer 296:09;
  2. McCartney/McCartney 300:51;
  3. Johnston/Johnston 303:39.

After the strains of the day, many crews let off steam at the Great Southern Hotel in Galway City centre on Saturday night, knowing full well that the re-start was not until 12:47 on Sunday.

Twelve stages were planned for the final day, all of which were centred around the village of Moycullen.  This in itself presented a number of problems, mainly with the vast number of spectators who turned up and all but brought the Tullykyne stages (34 and 40) to a halt when the blocked the timekeepers’ view of the time flag marshal.  However, in an effort to avert this problem on the second run, the organisers wisely moved the finish a mile into the stage.

“Wee” Mervyn Johnston tends to his Mini Cooper S as co-driver Harry looks on at this roadside service. Curley’s BMW gets the same treatment. A few stages later, both would be out.

The Galway-Moycullen main road also became heavily congested, and at one stage the road was completely blocked by parked cars.  The Garda and marshals did a good job in clearing the jams and the road was clear in time for the competitors.

By stage 31 (Killaguile) the leading car of Curley and Frazer had retired when a wheel came off on the stage.  Apparently a mechanic had forgotten to do up the wheel nuts, and by the time Curley got the spare wheel on he was beyond the 15m lateness.  Curley/Frazer had in fact intended to take things easy on this last day, being convinced that they could hold their 4m 42s lead over McCartney.

With the Curley retirement, the McCartney Triumph took the lead, but by SS37 (second run over Killaguile) they had their first place taken from them by Mervyn Johnston’s Cooper S which was really flying.  The Mini had eased out a 20s lead, but it all ended in disaster on the penultimate stage  when Mervyn got the car all out of phase on some loose “yumping” and rolled it.  Fortunately both crew members were unhurt.

Victory therefore went to the McCartney Triumph 2.5 PI, which is perhaps a little too large for the Galway lanes.  However, the brothers handle the car extremely well, and it is a treat to see them throw it about in between the Galway walls.  Charlie Gunn/Harry McEvoy drove sensibly and consistently into second place in their Escort TC, and Gunn’s Galway placing marks his first finish in an international event for two years.

As far as third place men “Flat Pat” McCourt and Peter Scott go, the result is more than gratifying as the Galway Rally was McCourt’s first International.  It is also interesting to note that the Mini still lives as far as Irish rallying is concerned with Cooper Ss taking six places in the top ten.

As far as the rally itself was concerned, the organisation and timing were well up to international standards.  It is a great pity that the action of a minority should cast an ugly shadow over an otherwise first-class event.

M.R.G.

STP International Circuit of Galway Rally 1972

General Classification

  1. R. McCartney/D. McCartney (Triumph 2.5PI) 391m 08s;
  2. C. Gunn/H. McEvoy (Ford Escort TC) 395m 34s;
  3. P. McCourt/P. Scott  (Ford Escort TC) 398m 14s;
  4. A. Poole/K. Johnston (Mini Cooper S) 400m 00s;
  5. W. Ferguson/E. Clarke (Ford Escort TC) 406m 48s;
  6. D. Cullen/P. Ryan (Mini Cooper S) 409m 00s;
  7. T. Lawther/H. Brown (Mini Cooper S) 410m 02s;
  8. J. Keaney/G. Oliver (Mini Cooper S) 411m 06s;
  9. R. Ward/P. McElwee (Mini Cooper S) 415m 28s;
  10. G. Grier/R. Bruton (Mini Cooper S) 418m 04s.