1984 Castrol Wexford Rally

Richie Heeley dominated the Wexford Rally, leading from start to finish in his powerful Ford Escort RS.

Heeley beats McHale

This report first appeared in Motoring News – 26 Sept. 1984.

BEFORE the start, Austin McHale reckoned Richie Heeley would be his main rival on the Castrol Wexford Rally, and he was proved entirely correct. Heeley, co-driven by Vincent Meade, led from start to finish in his smart Escort RS, and the best efforts of Austin McHale / Christy Farrell only brought them second in the NDT Manta 400.

Mike Pattison / Peter Watts were the best of the British crews, taking third in the Gartrac Escort as well as the lead of the Castrol / Motoring News Stage Championship. Fourth place went to Kenny McKinstry / Brian McNamee in another Escort RS.

A strong entry was headed by the winners for the last two years, Austin McHale and Christy Farrell. They were in the Non Destructive Testing Opel Manta 400, which has been repaired since its Ulster accident, but still had the handicap of its Ulster gearing, which was expected to be a little long for this rally.

Number two went to the first of the Castrol / MN Championship contenders, Bob Fowden / Hywel Thomas in the Castrol/Owens Rover 3500. The car was in good health as usual, but the same could not be said for Fowden, whose arm had grown worse rather than better since he fell off a motor bike the day of the Mewla, and made driving painful and awkward.

His chief rival, Mike Pattison, came next in the EARS backed Escort G3, accompanied by Peter Watts. The West Cork winners, Richie Heeley / Vincent Meade were fourth in the powerful Heeley Motors Escort RS, while the similar, but 2.2-litre version of Bill Connolly / Tom Meaney, sponsored by Red Mills, was number five.

The Hart-engined Escort G3 made a fine sight on the stages, finishing third in the hands of Mike Pattison.

The Monaghan Poultry / Millbrook Quilts Escort RS of Kenny McKinstry / Brian McNamee appeared next, followed by John Price / Mike Bowen in the usual GpB Renault 5 Turbo, supported by Snappy Dry Cleaners. The new lightweight car is unfinished, and will not appear for some while yet. James
McDaid / Rory Kennedy took number eight in the Swilly Homes Ascona 400, pursued by Robert Moffett / Leslie Fanning in the ear splitting Porsche 911. John Burns did not appear, so the 10th starters were Ian Donaldson/David Chennells in the Lotus Sunbeam.

Roger Moran / Derek Fryer brought a GpA RS2OOO, while the 1600 Class included all the usual runners, led by Philip Armstrong/Frank Hussey in their Avenger, whereas Richard Atkinson / Peter Aston were rather poorly seeded (number 73) in the Brymar Electrics Davrian. Brian Nelson / Robert Philpott brought a works Corry Cultra, powered by a naturally aspirated 1600 CVH engine.

The first day’s rallying did not commence until the civilised hour of three in the afternoon, and consisted of a lap of four, fairly short stages, done twice. It gave a total of 35 stage miles, leaving the bulk of the competition for the Sunday.

Derek Skinner / Keith Edwards were unable to wait for the first stage before the excitement began: the interior light shorted and started a fire during the run out, but the crew swiftly extinguished it and the TR7V8 continued, none the worse for its adventure.

Changeable weather conditions made tyre choice difficult, as bright sunshine and heavy showers alternated with alarming rapidity. Both Heeley and McHale chose intermediate fronts and slick rears, which seemed to suit the former best, as he snatched an immediate lead, three seconds faster than McHale on the first stage. Pattison emphasised his challenge by tying with McHale, with Fowden next, five seconds in arrears. However, the Welshman was in trouble, since his shoulder made it difficult to apply lock fast enough, and the Rover had already slid straight on into a bank at a tight bend.

Fowden was not the only one to have visited the scenery, a slippery 90 right outwitting a number of drivers, including Connolly, who spun his Escort off backwards, stoving in the right rear corner and requiring a push from spectators to get going again. He lost nearly half a minute, and thus had McKinstry on his tail by the end of the stage.

McHale took two seconds back on the second stage, leaving himself just one second behind Heeley; McKinstry was equal second with the rally leader, while Pattison was fourth fastest. Fowden went off again for a time, and Nelson/Philpott and Brian Davies/Neil James (Lotus Cortina) did the job permanently on the same junction.

Heeley produced a blistering time on the third stage, nine seconds better than McHale’s, and was another second faster on the short fourth stage, arriving at the service area with an 11s lead. Already the rally seemed to be developing into a battle between these two, with Pattison leading the pursuit in the Hart engined Escort.

Moffett‘s Porsche had always looked somewhat ragged in the unpredictable conditions, and gave up the struggle on the third stage, leaving the road for good. Donaldson failed to complete the first lap either, when his Sunbeam’s engine blew up for the third time this year, in spite of another rebuild prior to this event. Phil Harvey / Chris Allton retired too, depositing their Mini in a ditch.

One and a half miles from the end of the fifth stage, McHale’s fan belt broke, obliging him to slow significantly, losing about 20s to the leader, and dropping down the running order for the rest of the day. It gave Heeley the buffer he needed, and temporarily closed the gap between McHale and Pattison. Fowden ran into trouble too when the Rover started overheating; there was nothing for it but to continue at a reduced pace until service.

Heeley lost some of his lead on SS6 with an overshoot at a junction. Several crews felt the arrowing was slightly inconsistent on the first day, and the Malahide driver was not the only one to miss a slot, for Pattison did the same on the next stage, costing him around 20s, and second place at the end of the first leg.

McKinstry also lost time on the sixth stage when the fuel pump ceased to function, but traced the failure to a blown fuse. He spun on the same stage, losing around 25s in all. By the end of the day, Heeley had stretched his lead to a comfortable 35s, with McHale second and Pattison third. McDaid was not as quick as some had expected, hampered by a lack of recent practice and not having any intermediate tyres. The last two stages had dried off noticeably, although some corners were still slippery. John Joe Synnott/Sean Reid were setting an impressive pace in their GpA RS2OOO, and held 10th place after the eighth stage.

As usual, the 1600 class was closely fought, with Ray Benskin/Oliver Walsh leading in their BDA Escort, 10s ahead of Atkinson/Aston, with Norman Kittle/Dessie Wilson (Sunbeam) and Armstrong/Hussey also within a minute of the class leader.

Peter Rushforth and John Brown had been sharing the driving of the former’s Lotus Sunbeam (the first time Brown had driven on a stage since the 1962 Tulip Rally, when he was called upon to take the wheel of a works TVR!) but retired when oil surge damaged the engine. They completed the stages, but repaired to the bar before serious harm was done.

At service, Fowden changed the Rover’s radiator, but reported that the car was still overheating when he arrived at Parc Ferme in Wexford. He suspected that an airlock was the cause of the trouble.

Positions after eight stages:

  1. Heeley / Meade (Escort) 34m 39s;
  2. McHale / Farrell (Manta) 35m 14s;
  3. Pattison / Watts (Escort) 35m 33s;
  4. McKinstry / McNamee (Escort) 35m 47s;
  5. Fowden / Thomas (Rover) 35m 49s;
  6. Bove / Kehoe (Chevette) 36m 43s.

The rally restarted at noon on Sunday, packing 105 miles of stages in before six o’clock. Once again a lap of four stages was planned, but this time the stages were longer — the longest was 10.4 miles, and three laps were planned, not two. The stages were further north than those used on Saturday, using the roads between New Ross and Enniscorthy.

Heeley soon showed that he had no intention of surrendering to the Manta, beating McHale by seven seconds on the opening stage, Ballywilliam. Pattison also started quickly, sharing fastest time with Heeley. It was the only stage throughout the rally on which anyone other than McHale and Heeley managed to set a quickest time. McHale was still troubled by fan belt problems, and eventually had to change the water pump.

Ron Beecroft won the 1300 class yet again in his Group B Talbot Samba, clinching the Championship class in the process.

Fowden solved his overheating trouble by bleeding the system, which duly cured the suspected air lock. However, he had another worry in the shape of a flapping bonnet, which lifted higher the faster he went (a pair of elasticated ropes was the solution), and had another excursion, costing 30s but no places, on SS12.

McHale beat Heeley on the 11th and 12th stages, but only gained three seconds in the process, and promptly lost two of those on the 10 miler, Adarnstown, so the gap had grown by five seconds in the course of the lap. Certainly no one else could challenge this pair, for Pattison was slowed a little when the Gartrac Escort began to overheat slightly, and a pipe came off the gearbox on the final stage of the lap. P. J. White / Joe Smith never got that far, rolling their Escort heavily on the 11th stage on a fifth gear bend. Sean “the pump” Murphy / Denis Dunne (RS2OOO) had the misfortune to appear on the scene shortly afterwards, losing a minute while the remains were cleared out of the way.

Stuart and Denis Cardell had already departed the fray, having discovered a tightening right-hander on the first stage of the day. Their Cooper “S” landed on its side, and took no further part in the proceedings.

The service area was a narrow lane near New Ross, and was the scene of hectic activity, thanks partly to the congestion at the “in“ control.

Jeremy Barnes / Andrew Lees heard ominous noises from the Camden Hardchrome Lotus Sunbeam’s axle as they completed SS12, and decided to change it on the spot, in spite of the restricted time allowance. The swop was completed in 18 minutes — a fine performance from the service crew. Atkinson / Aston were in more serious trouble: the Davrian had been leaking water, and had already consumed a gallon, yet strangely the leak could not be traced, and after a fruitless attempt to cure it, the car was retired. Benskin still led the 1600 category, but as a result of Atkinson’s retirement, the battle between Armstrong and Kittie grew fiercer still. Kim Blatchley / Richard Wheeler had brought their three-litre Capri and were running well except for the exhaust, which required welding after SS12.

At the front of the field a stalemate was developing, since McHale was unable to make much impression on Heeley. Both cars were running perfectly, and with the Cork 20 only a fortnight away, McHale was disinclined to risk everything to win the Wexford. Further down the field, there was plenty of interest though. Franco Bove, the Irish Italian, had hired Joe McHale’s Chevette and persuaded Eammon Kehoe to co-drive it. He adapted to the car very quickly and was ensconced in sixth place, but only just ahead of Connolly and McDaid, both of whom were making strenuous efforts to close the gap.

Unfortunately, the end was in sight for the Championship leader, Bob Fowden. The Rover’s ignition switch refused to work correctly, rendering the starter inoperative, but the main problem was a puncture. The Welshman clipped a rock on the 15th stage, Bree, pulling up at the next junction with a flat front tyre. A crowd of spectators soon lifted the car, but the crew then discovered that in their hurry to leave the service area, they had left without a spare front wheel. They could only bolt on a rear tyre which did not fit properly, and hope to limp off the stage. The strain was too much for the hub, and the Rover ground to a halt when the wheel studs sheared. Once the studs were replaced. the car was quite healthy, but by then it was comfortably OTL, and the Championship lead was heading Mike Pattison’s way.

McKinstry’s unusually trouble-free run took a dramatic turn when the clutch pipe broke. He completed SS15 without a clutch, but decided against tackling the 10-miler in that state. Accordingly, he punched a new hole in the floor for the metal pipe, and then joined a length of plastic pipe to the other end of the metal pipe connected to the master cylinder. The repair proved highly successful, and the red Escort was fifth quickest on the following stage.

Synnott lives in New Ross, and thus proved very much at home on the Sunday stages, but his enthusiasm nearly got the better of him on SS14, when the RS2000 visited a ditch momentarily. although the driver doubted it cost him any time. Chris De Fortis/Ashley Johnson (Clan Crusader) were less fortunate as they had picked up a puncture on the previous stage. The only spare they carried was a 3½ inch wide Imp Wheel fitted with a crossply, which turned out to be less than compatible with the eight inch Michelin slick on the other side of the car! They drove for three stages with this unusual combination, losing 30s per stage, before reaching the service area.

The 1600 battle had swung in Armstrong’s favour as Kittle”s tappets went out of adjustment and he melted a plug. He was able to deal with the plug himself, but the tappets had to wait until service was permitted after 16 stages.

Frank O’Rourke / David Morley found an interesting 90 right in the course car, a production saloon specification Opel Monza, complete with side exhaust. The approach had become very slippery owing to the amount of rubber laid on it, and they hit the bank on their way past. The top runners had big moments there almost to a man, and the spot was to become a good deal more popular before the evening.

Heeley set another fastest time on the first stage of the last lap, but eased up thereafter, slowing considerably on the last two stages. In the end, he won by 12s – precisely the margin by which McHale beat him last year — taking a convincing and richly deserved victory. In spite of the fast stages, he had beaten off the Manta quite clearly.

Neither McHale nor Pattison was disposed to try hard at this point, as the gaps between them were too large, but McKinstry was still throwing his Escort around in his customary spectacular fashion, even though he had no realistic hope of catching Pattison.

The battle for fifth came to a head on that final lap. McDaid got a puncture and slid off the road, puncturing another tyre as he did so. He lost 50s to Connolly in consequence, and had to borrow a spare to complete the rally. Bove was still safely positioned in fifth, until the very last stage. He put the Chevette off the road almost within sight of the stage start, damaging the suspension and steering and retiring on the spot. It was an ill reward for a fine drive, but Connolly took full advantage of his rivals’ errors. recovering from his earlier indiscretion to collect fifth.

Armstrong spun twice in the later stages, conceding 20s to Kittle on each occasion, and ultimately losing a position to the flying Ulsterman. A combination of light rain and the rubber-coated corner ensured that Bove was not the only victim of the final stage. Price and Murphy were within seconds of one another, and both spun near the finish, but Price kept his place by 24s. Ron Beecroft/John Millington had dominated the 1300 class in the Swift Caravans Samba, which spent the bulk of the rally inside the top 15, but they too spun on O’Rourke’s bend, losing 90s or so. They still won the
class by nearly five minutes.

Barnes misjudged the same corner in his Sunbeam, and limped the best part of two miles to the stage finish without strut or wheel, thus wearing out a brake disc and losing four places. Dave Cox/Ade Jefferies were suffering intercom trouble in the Castrol/Innsworth Tyres Escort RS1600, and overshot a crossroads on the last stage, but with no great loss of time. By the end, the walking wounded included Skinner, whose TR7 V8 had lost first and second gears two stages from home, and Du Fortis, since the Clan’s ignition began cutting out on the final stage.

The rally was a success, the second day attracting particular praise from competitors, for the stages had been fast and testing, and the event had run smoothly enough. If the first day could be lengthened slightly, and the interim results service improved, the Wexford would be better still.

Castrol/Motoring News Stage Championship 1984
Castrol Wexford Rally – September 22-23

  1. Richie Heeley/Vincent Meade (Ford Escort RS) 103m 48s;
  2. Austin McHale/Christy Farrell (Opel Manta 400) 104m 00s;
  3. Mike Pattison/Peter Watts (Ford Escort G3) 105m 11s;
  4. Kenny McKinstry/Brian McNamee (Ford Escort RS) 106m 06s;
  5. Bill Connolly/Tom Meaney (Ford Escort RS) 108m 55s;
  6. James McDaid/Rory Kennedy (Opel Ascona 400) 110m 20s;
  7. John Price/Mike Bowen (Renault 5 Turbo) 111m 31s;
  8. Sean Murphy/Denis Dunne (Ford Escort RS2000) 111m 55s;
  9. John Synnott/Sean Reid (Ford Escort RS2000) 112m 21s;
  10. Ray Benskin/Oliver Walsh (Ford Escort RS1600) 112m 50s;
  11. Norman Kittie/Dessie Wilson (Talbot Sunbeam), 113m 59s;
  12. Philip Armstrong/Frank Hussey (Talbot Avenger) 114m 21s.

Class winners: Benskin/Walsh, Beecroft/Millington (Talbot Samba)