1977 Circuit of Ireland Rally

Russell Brookes maintained a vice-like grip on the event confirming his increasing popularity in Ireland.

This article is reproduced from Autosport Magazine 21 April 1977 with added photographs from Autosport 14 April and RallySport magazine May 1977.

Brookes leads tough event throughout — Chequered Flag team improve greatly — Coleman onslaught hindered by mechanical problems — impressive drives by Ove Andersson and Will Sparrow — Report: PETER NEWTON – Photography: TONY NORTH and others named.

One of the most daunting tasks facing the motoring journalist each year is an attempt to convey in cold print the enormity of the challenge presented by the Circuit of Ireland. This rally is not just another international residing peacefully and inconsequentially in the British calendar but a marathon of effort and endurance which, despite frequent annual visits, never fails to astonish those who experience it. Without a doubt, the Circuit of Ireland is the toughest (if not the most prestigious) rally in the British calendar.

Such a statement, however, is tantamount to damning with faint praise for, such is the esoteric atmosphere of this event, it swallows up contestants, organisers, spectators et al, binding them irrevocably together for five days and creating an artificial environment in which time ceases to perform its punctuating function, and days and nights revolve around miles of glistening, ever-changing tarmac surfaces; breathtaking scenery comes and goes; the changing whims of the elements subject themselves on the company and bouts of intense carousing, infinite fatigue, adrenalin producing special stages, and that awesome feeling of never-ending competition dominate participants’ conscious thoughts.

Winner of the previous two Circuits, Cork’s Billy Coleman nursed the ailing Stratos into second place.

By today’s standards, over 500 all- tarmac special stage miles represents a major trial of car and driver. However, this is merely a statistic to which must be added both the nature of the environment itself and the timing of the event, which lends it that unique remorseless quality so markedly absent in most of our major events. Fifteen minutes lateness at time controls is all that teams have to play with. Road timing is rigidly enforced, therefore servicing arrangements must be meticulously planned and executed.

There are very few road sections long enough to support a major service and thus mechanical problems nearly always spell some form of penalty, if not overall exclusion. Winning the Circuit of Ireland, therefore, is a major achievement not just for the driver and co-driver, but for the car and those who built and serviced it.

Who more fitting then to win this year, than that most determined and hardy of competitors, Russell Brookes. He has been trying to accomplish this for some time of course. Last year he had to give best to the works RS1800 of Billy Coleman, and prior to that he had won Group One and astonished everyone with his tenacity. As far as Russell is concerned, the Circuit comes nearer to his ideal of a rally than any other in the British calendar. The harder life becomes the better, it seems, Russell revelling in the challenge and adventure of it all. During his frequent visits to Ireland Brookes has won the admiration of the enthusiastic community in plenty. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that he has now established for himself a niche in Irish rallying folklore.

Russell is remembered with nostalgia thanks to that most stirring performance two years ago when he brought an ailing RS2000 home fifth overall and first in Group One, a storming performance during which he seemed to have poured almost the entire contents of Lough Erne into the radiator. He has been winning friends and admirers at a prodigious rate ever since. His presence now demands the sort of attention and spontaneous emotion reserved exclusively hitherto for that archetype Irish folk hero, Billy Coleman. To say that the smiling, jovial, Russell was a popular figure in Ireland would be a complete understatement of the case.

Russell Brookes had a faultless winning drive in a far from healthy car.

This year, together with his new tarmac RS1800, the best and fastest he has ever driven, he dominated proceedings from the start and always retained control. Even on the long journey north while overcoming serious transmission failures, he maintained a vice-like grip on the event which Billy Coleman and the Chequered Flag Lancia were (thanks to their own maladies) unable to prise apart. The expected Coleman onslaught, scheduled for Sunday on the latter’s home ground, was nullified by mechanical and psychological factors, and Russell was able to contain the Stratos without serious recourse to excess speed. This was nevertheless a fine result for Graham Warner’s private team and their much-improved car.

The Stratos split the works Fords and beat a works Toyota in the process, all this despite what must have been a heart-breaking series of niggling ailments, doggedly overcome by New Zealander Don Fenwick and the hard-working crew under the calm direction of Graham himself who seemed to be everywhere at once (thanks to Derek Smyth on the maps), encouraging and directing with experienced guidance which totally belied his comparative lack of experience in this brand of competition. The Chequered Flag team are most certainly “on the up.”

For other highlights of this gargantuan struggle, two men stand head and shoulders above the rest. These are Ove Andersson and Will Sparrow. Ove came to Ireland for the first time and gave us all a demonstration of professionalism and consistency which must have disheartened those in pursuit. Like Russell he revelled in the conditions. He came to Ireland with misgivings and left in a state of euphoria, a convinced Circuit of Ireland fanatic.

The Celica was, as usual, driven virtually faultlessly—to the undisguised admiration of his Irish co-driver, Paul Phelan. Importers Neville Johnston, at whose instigation Ove arrived, must have been highly delighted. For Ove’s part, he was typically modest about his performance, mentioning with his usual self-effacing manner that “I wish I was a little younger, a little faster!” He was actually disappointed! One wonders what the young bloods would do if he were to be 30 years old again. . . .

Winner of Group One Will Sparrow and Trevor Hughes used their experience and guile to the full.

Finally to Will Sparrow, another favourite with Circuit of Ireland crowds, always quick on tarmac, vastly experienced. There may be some truth in the assumption that Will is more at home extracting the utmost from underpowered cars rather than driving fast ones to their limits. Whatever the reasons, the ex-Motoring News road rally champion showed all his skill in the wet and greasy conditions. The longer the event lasted the more certain it became that he would succeed while other faster cars hurled themselves into the scenery. Will was as relaxed and happy as we have seen him in years. His Chrysler never missed a beat and required routine maintenance only. His was a fascinating struggle and somehow, as the darkness and the rain closed in to create a foreboding finale on Monday evening, one had the impression that Will was going to triumph.

Before the RIAC’s ruling on practice events in Ireland, this year’s Circuit had been planned as a pace note event. In accordance with this, it was planned that several stages should be visited on the traditional journeys both to and from Killarney in the south-west to facilitate practising and cut down costs as far as possible. The UAC also took heed of some of the comments made last year by CSI observer Alexander Dardouf who suggested that a cut in duration and overall mileage might be a sensible move.

Thus for this year the rally “adopted a much more direct route to the south-west, describing a line almost exactly bisecting the country, north-east to south-west. The effect of this move was to cut down road mileage considerably but it also denied the rally some of its most famous and flowing stages like Sally Gap. The replacements were often very narrow and tight featuring abrupt changes of character within their considerable lengths. They perhaps owed more to the character of Galway than to the Circuit of old with its fast and flowing tests, yet they provided every bit as much of a challenge.

Brian Nelson’s Porsche was simply out-paced and he came home in fifth place.

Porsche drivers found them especially difficult to master while Group One cars frequently set astonishingly fast overall times, especially in the fog, low cloud, poor visibility and even snow! Kinnitty was shrouded in dense fog and was covered with half an inch of snow. Only the very brave and/or the Group One contenders achieved anything here.

Perhaps the Circuit had thus lost something of its character, although the Sunday run featured most of the classics like Tim Healy, Caragh Lake, Cod’s Head, Ardgroom and Molls Gap but there was also a feeling that it might have lost the razor edge of its organisational control. There is little real evidence to support such an allegation apart from a series of delays on the final night and a general feeling that some timekeepers and stage commanders seemed rather vague as to their exact responsibilities. Sunday was marred by ever-growing crowds who, if left to their own devices, will eventually threaten the existence of the Sunday run itself and there were one or two lapses which resulted in leading cars catching 00 runners on stages. However, what organisational lapses there were, seldom revealed themselves to competitors.

It seems that the Circuit can virtually run itself at times, those involved have been performing their arduous tasks for so long, and Clerk of the Course Terry Ingles is as aware of the problems as anyone. This was his first year following in the footsteps of Malcolm Neill and Peter Allen – a difficult combination to equal let alone improve upon. If the Circuit lacked something in cohesion this year, then certainly Terry is more than capable of instigating improvements. The atmosphere at the finish was somewhat diluted by a split finish and party venue (an eventuality that was all but inevitable in Bangor) and one wonders how long the rally can continue to visit Killarney. The situation in the town and surrounding countryside has now reached such a crowded state that movements of rally cars now pose serious problems. It seems as though the entire population of Ireland spend their Easter in Killarney and the effects of such congestion now threaten the organisation.


Each year the UAC do their best to attract a foreign entry of genuine status. With Ove Andersson and a Team Toyota Europe Celica, they were not disappointed, The car was little modified since its previous outing (third place in Portugal) and the engine had not been touched! With no anti-roll bar at the rear, Ove found the car a little too soft. It was geared to pull about 110mph. The Celica has the effect of looking bulkier than it really is but it nevertheless made a striking sight in its red and white livery. Ove had viewed his visit to Ireland with some misgivings which were somewhat reinforced when a small child chose to be ill over him during a rather turbulent and dramatic flight to Belfast! However, five days of competition in Ireland works wonders and he would frequently appear at the finish of a stage, smoke pouring from glowing red brake discs, thick layers of black dust clinging to the wheel rims, his face wreathed in a giant grin. He certainly enjoyed himself and both the reliability of the car and the efficiency of its mentors presented a most impressive spectacle.

The Toyota was in fact the car that Billy Coleman would have driven had he accepted a one-off deal in favour of a guaranteed season with the Chequered Flag. The Stratos had undergone a major re-preparation session involving an almost total rebuild during which no less than 3501b were shaved from its all-up weight. The various layers of paintwork had been rubbed down and a new colour scheme sporting blue stripes had been introduced.

Billy Coleman and Peter Scott survived all their problems to bring the Stratos home ahead of the Toyota of Andersson.

Weight had also been saved in the doors and at either end of the glass fibre shell. The Racing Services V6 still gave “only” 226bhp (this is a virtually standard Dino unit fitted with larger 48 IDF Weber induction) but Warner is currently having an engine built up by Maglioli in Italy which should give nearer the 250bhp enjoyed by Darniche and others. The team are now benefitting from considerable (verbal) factory assistance and the car was fitted with entirely new suspension units featuring relocated rear links which effectively lengthened the wheelbase. The driveshafts are now at right angles to the rear wheels for the first time. Never had they been so confident and never had the car’s prospects looked so bright. The two smart DTV/Castrol Chevettes were fitted with Salisbury axles, apparently similar to those used in Bedford CF vans(!) They were geared rather too high as it turned out, on 4.2 to 1 final drive ratios, They also boasted new higher ratio steering racks, one of which was to fail on Pentti Airikkala during the very first stage in a most alarming manner. The incident did not help Chris Sclater’s or Gerry Johnstone’s peace of mind during the next two days.

Lined up against these three makes the various Fords were all fitted with something a little different. Russell Brookes brought his full tarmac specification car, almost exactly as it had completed the Cambrian Rally. Pre-event testing at Long Marston had led to a disquieting discovery when the clutch failed to clear and loose flywheel bolts were eventually diagnosed. Otherwise, the Andrews/Castrol equipe seemed in good spirits. The now-familiar lowered front compression strut, rear single leaf spring and Panhard rod arrangement was unchanged but the latest lowered front roll centre had been perfected from the initial Roger Clark Galway settings by heat treatment and bending of the steering arms. Russell, who was suffering from a bout of ’flu, commented that he could drive the car very quickly with just one hand if necessary – a sharp contrast to his previous experience and a sure sign that the geometry was now sorted. The car is immaculately prepared and is a credit to Peter Harrison who built it and to Allan Wilkinson, Boreham’s new development engineer, who took considerable interest in its creation.

Andy Dawson blast past the fishing village on Killmakilloge during the fabulous Sunday Run.

Andy Dawson’s works-assisted Escort proved to have a totally different setup. Andy had fitted a Watts linkage to the leaf spring rear end. However, he had left the front in almost exact forestry specification apart from heavier shims. The Watts linkage had the effect of lowering the rear roll centre and Andy was well pleased with it, He was to spend most of his rally trying to negate the understeer which the new rear end had promoted, however. He rapidly discovered that the front wheels were moving back as much as 3 inches under braking—there were tyre marks on the back of the wheel-arches to prove it. Andy looked easily the most spectacular of the RS1800 drivers, being consistently more sideways but, as he said, he was merely compensating for the deficiencies of the front end.

Nigel Rockey, co-driven by Austin Frazer, had also left his car in near-standard forestry specification, with 1901b springs and very little else altered. He was still not convinced that the tarmac suspension kit is fully sorted but, in the event, it was of no consequence. John Taylor’s Haynes of Maidstone car had a similar suspension system to that of Russell Brookes and identical to Roger Clark’s in Galway, but without the special steering arm modifications. The effort he was forced to put in just to steer the car was obvious to all. He was determined to finish this event, having had accidents in his three previous international appearances. Regrettably, another was on the cards for John, although this one was emphatically not his fault.

Thanks to some typically inspired action by yet another section of Britain’s “workforce” most people experienced some dramas of greater or lesser magnitude in reaching Ireland. However, no one who should have been there failed to make the journey and the battle between the assorted specification Fords, the Lancia and the Toyota promised to be interesting. One wondered (but doubted) whether the Porsches could really shine in such company. These cars suffer desperately from lack of factory development, just as Fords and others shine for that very reason. Perhaps this year’s Circuit marked the end of an era for Irish Porsches showing well in international company?


Friday-Saturday: Bangor to Emo, 14 stages, 117 stage miles

Bangor was bitterly cold and snow was in the air. Pentti Airikkala was the first to go, This was a most alarming steering failure which happened in some slow left/right esses near the finish of the very short first stage. It appears that the rack stripped the teeth as Pentti turned on to full left lock and the broken metal parts jammed it there which had the effect of steering the Chevette round in a tight circle on to the grass. Had large numbers of spectators been at the exact spot or had the incident occurred when Pentti was travelling fast, the outcome could have been disastrous. As it was the DTV service crew went into the stage and changed the rack. When they had finished Pentti was left with the impossible task of driving 30 miles in 16 minutes to stay in the rally. His time on the stage was 57 minutes and he was a little put out to have the cause diagnosed by a friendly Irish voice as follows: “Oh surr, it’s de steering lock y’know; ye’ll be forgettin’ to turn de key in the ignition surr!” Pentti was OTL at the start of SS2 but continued until the border where he reluctantly agreed to retire. The incident was a source of worry throughout the night fior both Gerry and Chris.

The DTV/Castrol Chevettes both retired but not before Chris Sclater had entertained the crowds.

The first 14 stages accounted for over 30 runners. They were wet, slippery, tight and deceptive. Having lifted his right foot for a succession of brows on the second stage, Nigel Rockey determined to take the next one “flat.” The results were lurid and catastrophic as the road tightened into a corner just beyond the blind brow. The RS1800 landed on one wheel at around 80mph and cartwheeled end-over-end down into a field 10 feet below the road, albeit on its wheels. An army of spectators descended on the stricken car and had it back on the road in 30 seconds allowing Nigel to struggle on to the finish, during which time he was overtaken by two further cars. No service had been arranged after this test so the Escort staggered into Hamilton’s Folly which it completed before retiring with severe front suspension maladies. The anti-roll bar and TCAs were broken, the front wheels drunkenly lying akimbo. A sad early demise for the Castrol/AUTOSPORT leader. The body of the car is, however, repairable although the doors wouldn’t open and a wing was badly battered. An accident also befell Sean Campbell’s Porsche on Bohill which accounted for his demise and John Coyne also rolled his Chrysler Avenger, only to retire five stages later with differential failure.

John Haugland pictured on the first special stage. He was as high as ninth before retiring with differential failure.

Already competitors were realising what the Circuit really involved and those with scant respect for it paid the penalty. Brookes was already in the process of carving out a lead on Billy Coleman, the latter already beginning to experience the first inkling of clutch thrust bearing failure with which he would be forced to live until Monday afternoon. The team drilled a hole in the dry bearing and pumped it with grease, hoping it would last and Coleman used the clutch as sparingly as possible. At breakfast, Warner telephoned the only man that he knew would be able to help him. At 06.45 Dan O’Sullivan was awakened in London with news of the team’s plight. (The bearing was a composite of parts made up especially to fit the new triple plate clutch assembly first fitted for this event.) Dan rapidly agreed to a plan involving a deliberate break-in to the Flag’s premises in Chiswick, a flight to Dublin and a hire car journey to Killarney!

Chris Sclater lost about 3.5 minutes on Babylon Hill with a puncture. The tube was turning inside the tyre and refused to allow him to drive the car uphill, forcing a tyre change in the stage and Dawson lost the same amount of time on the very next stage when he put the front wheel into a ditch beside the very narrow road; spectators were required to bodily lift the car back on to the road, In Group One Sparrow now led handsomely while the “new boys” played themselves in. Jim McRae went off into a farmyard for 1.5 minutes in the fog on Hamilton’s Folly while Malcolm Wilson changed the gearbox after Nuthill whereupon the throttle cable immediately broke. He was yet to commence his demolition job on the car’s body panels. Elsmore was playing himself in quietly…a sensible move. At breakfast in Emo, that cold, damp Saturday morning, over 30 cars were absent and there was only one Porsche, that of Nelson, lying in the top 10. Dessie McCartney’s PR Reilly STP Carrera had broken its differential on Nuthill, having been stuck in third gear for the previous stage. In many cases, this was already a rally of attrition. The stages certainly didn’t suit Porsches despite weight saving in Nelson’s car which Malcolm Neill described thus: “the car has shed 62 pounds this season, 32 of which are a personal contribution from myself!”

BeSidJ€’S the Stratos running on Pirelli P7 tyres, most leading Dunlop runners had found the CR82 intermediate a much more progressive tyre in the wet but abrasive conditions than the wet compounds themselves. Brookes, however, used A2s almost exclusively while Porsche drivers found to their frustration that suitable compounds in 15in sizes were simply not available. It was a situation which most certainly cramped their style for the entire weekend. They were forced -to make do with some very old compounds—the alternative being to use P7s at £100 per cover….

The order at breakfast was as follows:

Brookes 125.32;
Coleman 126.31;
Andersson 129.37;
Taylor 132.48;
Nelson 133.15;
Dawson 133.26;
Ryan 133.28;
Sclater 133.48;
Sparrow 134.46;
McRae 135.45.

The two Boyds had already departed the scene, Adrian with an early head-gasket failure, and brother Derek having to be lifted from the Porsche after being repeatedly ill during the early stages.

Saturday: Emo to Killarney, eight stages, 72 stage miles

This section, in gradually drying weather, saw the demise of Pat Ryan who, by the time of his departure, had worked the Dolomite up to an incredible sixth overall, Chris Sclater, Noel Smith and a number of other notables.

Noel had been battling with a mysterious misfire which refused all ministrations but was eventually traced to a faulty fuel injection pump. He had also suffered an electrical fire which resulted in a somewhat inglorious exit, Noel baling out of the car instantly, leaving Ian Turkiinton to sort out the details from the passenger seat! The rally was now approaching Coleman country and, sure enough, on Billy’s home stage, Gortnagane, the Stratos set a shattering time, 23 seconds quicker than Brookes to serve as a warning of what the latter might expect the following day. Russell had been trying to build up a useful time “cushion” to compensate for Coleman’s “local knowledge” of the Cork/Kerry stages and felt sure the latter would take considerable time out of him on the Sunday, thrust bearing or no.

Dawson – most spectacular RS1800.

Dawson was beginning to enjoy himself having taken all the negative camber he could off the front wheels; but it was in Group One where most drama occurred. On the final stage of the day, Gortagane, Pat Ryan had a monumental accident which wrote off the Dolomite Sprint. After a long series of flat-out kinks, the road ahead turned into a deceptively tightening left-hander. Pat misread the bend and came in some 40mph too fast. When he realised his mistake he slung the car sideways but the car got away from him on some conveniently placed mud and the Triumph hit the bank very hard on the off-side front wing, coming to rest among some willow trees, well off the road—a sad end to what promised to be a brilliant run with a more powerful car. It was ironic that Jim McRae lost seven minutes on this same test with a mysterious fuel pump blockage. . . , Gortnagane was also the final test for the sole remaining Chevette. It appears that a valve may have stuck for the oil pressure surged before dropping to zero as Chris hurriedly switched off. It was an afternoon “of real driving” to quote Ove Andersson.

With 18 miles of Moan Vaun and 14.5 miles of Gortnagane before Killarney, crews were treated to tarmac special stages at their best. That evening Don Fenwick rushed the new thrust bearing to Billy Coleman’s workshops in Millstreet where it was fettled to fit the triple plate clutch. The team felt that it would be at least a 40-minute job to replace and they doubted that the time could be found during the Sunday run. Meanwhile Billy had been prolonging the life of the bearing by often changing gear without a clutch and engaging gear only a scant second before the stage start itself. It seemed that it would now last at least until Sunday evening.

Sunday: Killarney to Killarney, ten stages, 102 stage miles

Sunday should have belonged to Billy but for a variety of reasons it did not. There were the stones in the jets of the carburettors on Borlin which gave him a misfire from the outset; he was on dry tyres for the first four wet stages, and then vice versa; there was the local’s car which he met coming towards him on Ardgroom – a most unsettling affair — and then there was the business with the 00 cars; but perhaps it was the suspension which really held him back. The hard-working team changed the entire front and rear suspension of the car just before parc fermé on Sunday evening in response to Billy’s requests. It took them a total of 35 minutes work and the release bearing would have to wait until Monday. The car is certainly very sensitive to track and toe-out on the front wheels and Billy never came to grips with it at a time when he should have been hauling in Brookes.

The Chequered Flag Stratos with Billy Coleman on home ground split the works Fords and beat a works Toyota.

In fact the latter considerably increased his lead in a day of superb tarmac driving but, by the end of the day, he was a worried man. He had completed the final four stages of the day with slicks on the rear and CR 82s on the front when it was discovered that the slicks would not fit on the front wheels but it was a mysterious series of starter motor failures which gave cause for concern. He had changed the first one after four stages when the teeth stripped. The second one lasted just three starts and the third had been fitted only moments before parc fermé. Were the flywheel bolts once again coming loose? If so the car would not last long. Russell had also lost the effects of the LSD early during the day but this failure did not seem to slow him down all that much.

Sunday marked the demise of both John Taylor and Robin Eyre-Maunsell. Both had accidents. John had been driving more and more quickly in his attempts to catch the elusive Andersson who had fallen closer into his clutches on the second stage that morning (Borlin) when he acquired a puncture and lost over a minute to the pursuing RS1800. However, on Been Hill, the single throttle return spring broke soon after Taylor had started the stage, giving him about half throttle at a theoretical idle. He had been driving with this handicap for a while when the throttle suddenly jammed wide open coming into a left-hand bend-exactly the wrong moment! The car reared up the bank on the inside of the bend befiore bouncing off and dashing down into a river bed on the inside of the comer, There were 12,000rpm on the tachometer telltale! Fortunately, the car was not badly damaged, but there remained the small matter of extracting it from its perch in the river….

Jimmy McRae – second in Group One.

Robin had already gone. “Belfast’s oldest teenager” had been making little headway with the G4 Avenger. Having analysed the position it was felt that he was losing out to others in the braking department, Sunday was therefore reserved for a late (and no) braking experiments. It was while involved in this line of development that Robin crested a brow in Ardgroom, his right foot planted firmly on the accelerator. The car landed among some rocks in a field having flown over a four foot stone wall. Looking down from his perch 20 feet above the wreckage Neil Wilson watched as a small army of ageing stalwarts put the bits back on the road. “and all because the lady loves Milk Tray” he murmured philosophically….

The Group One battle hotted up remarkably during the day as Elsmore remorselessly caught Will Sparrow to lead the Group by evening. Will was far from finished, however, and looked forward to Monday night, hoping it would rain. Malcolm Wilson was now driving with only one tramp bar fitted to his back axle but all the men new to Ireland were enjoying every moment of it.

Monday: Killarney to Emo. seven stages, 75 stage miles

Monday is normally a quiet day on the Circuit. Scores have often been settled and a procession is often the result. Not this year. It all happened on Monday. The weather, after a brief respite on Sunday, closed in again to persistent drizzle and lowering clouds. Monday night was going to be a hard one for all the crews.

Graham Elsmore was up with the Group One leaders until he left the road on the last night.

It began in dramatic fashion as both Graham Elsmore and Malcolm Wilson rolled on the very first stage of the day, Gortnagane — costing them three and four minutes respectively. Graham managed a leap over a four-foot wall landing upside down in a field ten feet from the road. Together with an old farmer they righted the car, cleared some boulders from a gateway and drove back out on to the stage—all in a very short space of time. Malcolm ran out of grip half a mile farther on, hit a wall with the near-side front corner and flipped the car over on to the driver’s side. This inversion cost him four more minutes and probably as many new panels.

Coleman was again fastest on his home stage, despite an overshoot, but real drama among the leaders was brewing At Tipperary some time could be found for major servicing. The Chequered Flag lost no time in changing all they could including the clutch release bearing, alternator, wheels, tyres, brake pads and oils. The entire job was completed in 55 minutes but in Moan Vaun, a wet, cold and fog-bound horror, the radio crackled into life to inform the service crew that the car was in trouble. The Lancia had begun misfiring in the stage and cut out completely at the finish. A new battery was hurriedly substituted amid the pandemonium at the end of the stage, but the electrics remained obstinately dead.

The crew worked feverishly to change the starter motor (a job which demands the dismantling of one bank of exhausts), failing in the scant time available (a nut proved impossible to shift) and leaving Billy 14 miles to cover in 14 minutes to avoid road penalties. With no starter motor, Billy dared not stall and water was finding its way into the distributor, causing misfires. Suddenly it seemed as though a mountain of trouble would drown the Chequered Flag’s great efforts. The old bugbears were returning and on Devilsbit Mountain that old chestnut, the jammed gearbox, returned to plague them. The starter motor proved to be faulty and was changed before parc ferme at Emo where road penalties were inevitable and Coleman dropped away from Brookes and nearer the clutches of another battle which was in full swing between Dawson and Andersson; the latter allowing him to catch up and then setting one or two quick times to keep the threat at bay. The starter motor was changed between Devilsbit Mountain and Molljoys hill, it cost eight minutes of road time—80s.

Malcolm Wilson’s RS2000 finished third in Group 1, but there was hardly an unbent panel on the car at the finish.

Ironically after such a trouble-free run south, Brookes’ maladies proved equally serious. In Gortnagane he lost the clutch withdrawal mechanism, seemingly caused by a washer on its pivot arm. He soldiered on towards Tipperary, the clutch adjusted up as a temporary measure, and had a major service when, with the help of John Taylor, he changed front struts, rear dampers and the entire clutch mechanism, Peter Harrison making up a new withdrawal unit. The entire job took 55 minutes and then the clutch failed again when a circlip on the slave cylinder, tightened in haste, came loose. Worse happened however as Russell yumped the car very heavily in Moan Vaun and the impact of landing moved the engine on its mountings bringing the steering rack into contact with the starter motor and jamming the steering at the end of the stage. With the help of a jack from the equally pre-occupied Chequered Flag team, Russell himself loosened the starter motor and there now remained over 150 stage miles still to complete, all of which would have to be driven without a starter. Should the car slide off, stall, or become stuck, there would be no means of re-starting…. It must have been something of a worry for Russell but fortunately, he was able to see off Coleman as the Lancia’s problems were virtually as serious and, in any case, it appeared as though Billy was now intent on trying to persuade the car to finish.

Will Sparrow was now 2m 46s ahead in Group One. McRae had also joined the ranks of the Gortnagane benders and tweaked the front suspension there, while Malcolm Wilson broke another throttle cable on Molljoys Hill.

Monday: Emo to Bangor, 14 stages. 128 stage miles

Slievebloom, SS40, certainly caused many problems. Willie McVicker totalled his new Kadett GT/E;  Brian Nelson lost four minutes with a number of offs in the fog; Elsmore went off again and the reliable Ken Shields also went off, perhaps at the sight of catching Nelson on the stage, and he broke a front strut and an oil pipe in the process. Brian found conditions almost hopeless for the three stages out of Emo. He had already understeered into a gate on Molljoys Hill from which spectators showered down around the car.

One lady spectator is reliably reported to have landed on the bonnet, legs apart and facing an irate Malcolm Neill, his strangled expletive best not reproduced in print. Brian then went off twice, once in Knockmanny Forest when Malcolm called a staggered junction as “flat.” They had been falling into the clutches of Will Sparrow during the night, however, co-driver Trevor Hughes apparently fell asleep in a service point and incurred 80s of road penalties, thus giving the Tuca Tiles Porsche something of a breathing space.

Graham Elsmore finished his rally on the last corner of the 20 miles of Arigna Mountains. The RS2000 nosed over the edge of a short drop on to a river bed and there it stayed. The Stratos once more stuck in gear, this time it was fourth and the entire distance of Toberdan and Bracknagh were driven in this gear. Brookes changed the gearbox as a precautionary measure after Slievebawm and reluctantly the dawn dragged itself above the eastern horizon. There were few who were not very glad to see it,

Benson and Hedges
Circuit of Ireland Rally
ECR Coefficient 3
Motor/RAC Round
April 8/12, 1977

1. R. Brookes/J. Brown (Ford Escort. RS1800) 516m 52s;
2. B. Coleman/P. Scott (Lancia Stratos) 526.03;
3. O. Andersson/P. Phelan (Toyota Celica GT) 527.45;
4. A. Dawson/R. Spokes (RS1800) 529.05;
5. B. Nelson/M. Neill (Porsche Carrera) 543.35;
6. W. Sparrow/T. Hughes (Chrysler Avenger GT) 546.09;
7. J. McRae/D, Brown (Vauxhall Magnum) 550.59;
8. D. Agnew/R. Harkness (BMW 2002 Tii) 557.38;
9, K. Shields/P. Lyster (Porsche Carrera) 563.47;
10 M. Wilson/J, Davies (RS2000) 568.34.

Group One

1. W. Sparrow/T. Hughes (Chrysler Avenger GT) 546.09;
2. J. McRae/D Brown (Vauxhall Magnum) 550 59,
3. M. Wilson/J Davies (RS2000) 568 34,
4. J. Logan/P. Ervine (RS2000) 572.55,
5. T. Cathers/D. Wilson (Chrysler Avenger GT) 588.30.

Leading Retirements:

Pentti Airikkala watches while mechanics change the steering rack, but it was too late and they went OTL.

Pentti Airikkala (Vauxhall Chevette) had his steering rack jam on SS1 (Bangor Castle) and went off the road. His service crew had to go into the stage to help him change the rack, but he lost a lot of time and was OTL at SS2 (Bohill). Pentti carried on for six more stages but then was persuaded‘ to retire by DTV, as they want to get the car ready for the Granite City.

Dessie McCartney (Porsche Carrera RS) broke the differential on the ex-Cathal Curley 3-litre car on SS5 (Nuthill).

Chris Sclater (Chevette) had his oil pressure release valve stick shut on SS20 (Brenagh River 1), and retired when the pressure went to zero so as not to run the bearings.

Gerry Buckley blew the head gasket on his RSl800 on SSl0 (Tonyowen).

Robin Eyre-Maunsell (Chrysler Avenger) wrote his car off on SS26 (Ardgroom) when he went straight on after a brow where the road went left, and hit a brick wall.

John Taylor (RS1800) had his fourth successive accident in four internationals when the throttle return spring broke and jammed the throttle open, and he ended up in a river bed on SS31 (Been Hill).

Pat Ryan (Dolomite Sprint) had a very big accident on SS21 (Gortnagane I) when lying sixth overall and leading Group 1 by a large margin. He lost the car on a muddy patch and hit a bank head-on, writing the car off.

Derek Boyd (Porsche Carrera) was taken ill soon after the start of the rally and retired on SS8 (Raferagh), having to be lifted out of his car with an undiagnosed malady.

Adrian Boyd had engine problems with his Renault Alpine and retired on SS4 (Lough Aghery).

Henry Inurrieta (RS2000) retired after SS7 (Ouvry) with another blown head gasket.

Sean Campbell (Porsche Carrera) retired after an accident on SS4 (Lough Aghery).

Gavin Waugh (Avenger) and Fred Henderson (Toyota Corolla) both also retired early on.

Graham Elsmore rolled his RS2000 on SS33 (Gortnagane II) but carried on. He finally crashed out of the event on SS45 (Arigna Mountains) when he went off on the last corner of a very wet and slippery stage; as he was trying to get back on the road, with two wheels over the edge of a river bed, Mike O’Connell spun his RS1800 on the same corner and pushed Elsmore 12ft into the river bed below.

John Haugland (Skoda l30RS) had his gearbox break on SS43 (Bracknagh) and went OTL on the next stage after changing it.

One notable retirement by a non-competing car was that of a Victor Estate driven by DTV’s Gerry Johnstone. Just before the Emo supper halt, the throttle stuck open on the car and in the ensuing accident the Vauxhall was written off. Luckily neither Gerry nor his passenger, Jean Ames, was hurt.