1982 Interview George Robinson

This article appeared in CarSport Magazine part way through 1982.

George Robinson from Ballymena is one of the few Northern Ireland drivers at present competing regularly in events across the Irish Sea. In fact George is doing quite nicely, thank you. He is currently leading the ’82 Century Oils/Rallysport Championship and we in Carsport caught up with him between events to find out more about this enterprising rally driver.

George applies all his experience of night driving and NI forest stages as he competes on the 1982 Mewla Stages.

Carsport: Firstly George, did you have much competition experience locally before you embarked on the cross channel series?

George: Yes, I had quite a lot of experience having been champion driver of the car section of the Mid—Antrim Motor Club for 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981. I had also won a class in the Northern Ireland Forestry Championship for four years in a row including a fifth overall in 1980.

Carsport: Is this your first year competing across the water?

George: No, last year I contacted Mr. Bill Quine (Manx Racing Developments), who built the engine for my 1600 Escort in 1977, with regard to competing in an event in England. He put me in touch with Mr. John Billett from Bournemouth and we decided to compete in one of the rounds of the Century Oils/Rallysport Championship and also the Pace Petroleum National Rally in Wales.

The Sort Out Stages in 1981 was one of George’s first events “across the water” and it wouldn’t be long before his event seeding would move into single digits.

Carsport: So how did you first English event go?

George: Well, that turned out to be the Sort-Out Stages Rally. It took in 50 miles of stages on forestry and Ministry of Defence lands. We had a good run all day and finished first in our class and  seventh overall. Naturally we were very pleased with the result.

Carsport: Did that win give you an added incentive when tackling the Welsh event?

George: The Welsh event took place the following weekend and there is no doubt our confidence was high in the wake of our first result. We finished fourth in our class at that event.

George’s commitment on the Welsh forest roads brought him great success and he was leading the 1982 Century Oils Series at the time of the interview.

Carsport: Presumably those two efforts led to your competing in this years series.

George: That’s right, Team Hartwell of Bournemouth, who had helped us on those two events, asked John Billett at the end of 1981 if I would be interested in competing in a Championship during 1982, which of course I was willing to do. We decided to do the Century Oils/Rallysport Championship which consists of eight rounds of events with approximately fifty miles of stages on each round. The car was sent over to Bournemouth to Team Hartwell and there Mr. Ray Pane rebuilt the engine.

Carsport: You must obviously depend on a lot of assistance from others in order to take part in a cross channel series.

George: Obviously the support is essential. My co-driver for this year is John Billett who has co-driven for Colin Malkin and has been as high as fifth overall on the RAC. John has been responsible for organising the deal with Team Hartwell; we also get help from Century Oils, Mintex, K & N Highflow Air Filters, together with my usual back-up from J. Robinson and Sons (Craigs Quarry) and Mr. R. Guy (Builders Supplier). Service on all events is being looked after by Mr. Pete Seels.

Sometimes, like here on the 1982 Marby Stages, the weather was more like Northern Ireland and George excelled in these tough conditions.

Carsport: You have been putting in some good performances in this years Championship. Could you tell us more about the rounds so far?

George: The first event was the Langer Park Stages which was made up of Forest and airfield stages. The rally started and finished in Felixstowe and we finished first in our class and sixth overall. Dave Gowing won that one in his Lotus Sunbeam. That was followed by the Marby Stages in Mine-head. It was an all-forest stage event in which we had our best result to date, finishing first in our class and second overall behind the BDA Escort of Nigel Hutton. That gave us an eight point lead in the Championship. The third round moved to Newtown in mid-Wales which also counted as a round of the Shellsport Welsh Championship.

The stages on this event were very fast and smooth and the best so far. We had two problems: firstly we caught a car with a flat wheel within three miles of the start of the ten mile stage, and because of dust on the stage could not see to get past. This lost us a minute.

The second problem, we discovered was that the servo to the front brakes stopped working and this left us with no front brakes, however, we managed to finish with a class second and sixteenth overall. We then held a six point lead in the Century Oils/ Rallysport Championship.

George works hard to keep at least one wheel on the road at the demanding military range at Salisbury Plain.

Carsport: It would appear that the points system for this series takes note of class performances rather than the overall result.

George: Yes, that’s one encouraging aspect of this series, the fact that if you do well in your particular level the rewards you could still win the championship, regardless of the class in which you are competing.

Carsport: How did things go in the fourth and fifth rounds of the championship?

George: Round four was the worst event of the championship so far. It started in Norwich and consisted of stages on disused airfields and four laps of the Snetterton race circuit. We were leading our class by over half a minute until we got a puncture on stage eight, however, we managed to drive to the end of the stage. Things didn’t improve any on stage nine when I hit a rock with the front wheel damaging the steering rack and this left the car almost impossible to drive.

It was no surprise when we spun off on a slippery corner, this saga losing us at least two minutes. Back at the service area the crew took the rack off and straightened it. Things do happen in three‘s so the bonnet flew up on stage eleven. We lost another 30 seconds eventually finishing seventh in the class. That left us joint leaders of the Championship.

George still managed a Class win on his second visit to the Short Out Stages despite a broken throttle cable, and unusually, a broken steering wheel.

After that I was glad when we did well in the fifth round, the Sort-Out Stages, of which I had good memories from last year. It started at the Highpost Hotel near Salisbury with the first few stages on the legendary plains which had very wide and fast chalk surfaces. There were two stages at the test track at Bagshot finishing at the Country Club, Farnborough. The only trouble we had was on the sixth stage when the throttle cable broke. Then the steering wheel broke. Lucky for us, my wife was watching the rally and had our road car at the finish of the stage, so we took off the steering wheel and left her with the broken one. We finished first in the Class and fifth overall, 92 seconds behind the winning Escort B.D.A. after sixty miles of stages. As a result this left us with a 3 point lead overall in the Championship. With three rounds to go we would like to increase on this lead and try and pull off what would be a very pleasing Championship win.

Carsport: What about the last event?

George: The 6th round of the Championship was the Mewla Stages in South Wales, an all tarmac event run on the Epynt Ranges on pace notes. This was the first tarmac event I had done for two years and the first time using pace notes since they were last used on the Donegal International. We used Pace notes that John had made with Colin Malkin some years ago. Again we started at No. 2.

The 1982 Mewla Stages used the Epynt military ranges and George was able to rely on the experienced note reading of John Billet.

The first three stages were dry so we used slicks. At the service it started to rain, but we decided to keep the slick tyres on, but, when we got to the stages the rain came down very heavily; as a result we lost a lot of time and dropped down to fourth in class. At the next service we changed on to wet racers and we then started putting up better times and pulled back to 2nd in class.

John then made his first mistake of the year on this event by signing us in a minute early at a time control which put one minute on to our stage times. This put us back to 3rd in the Class. This now leaves us with a one point lead overall in the Championship.

Carsport: All we can say is very well done George and we hope you win the Championship. You’ll certainly deserve it.

Post Script: After the interview with CarSport, George and John would indeed go on to win the Championship.

George and John with their Champions Trophy for the 1982 Season.