1985 Donegal Rally

Billy Coleman snatched the win with just two stages to go and ended just one second ahead of McHale.

This report is reproduced from Motoring News Wednesday, June 26, 1985.

Coleman still king

AUSTIN McHALE’S jinx remains unbroken. He has still to beat Billy Coleman. After a superb battle that lasted throughout the rally, the rapid Dubliner took second on the Shell Donegal Rally, finishing just one second behind Billy Coleman’s Porsche, which grabbed the lead on the penultimate stage. The last stage was then cancelled, leaving the Porsche man the victor by the narrowest of margins. He had put in an excellent performance, overcoming a 90s deficit after going off, and has certainly acquired the knack of Porsche driving. McHale had also driven impressively, and never put a wheel wrong. There was a close struggle for third place, which was won by Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine in their Manta, only eight seconds ahead of Phil Collins/Roger Freeman in a similar car, while Vincent Bonner/Seamus McGettigan were fifth in an Ascona 400. Tony Pond/Rob Arthur had led initially in the Metro 6R4, only to be stopped by an engine problem when comfortably in the lead.

The rally was a great success, for it was the scene of some fine competition. However. there were one or two weaknesses in the organisation, notably in the procedure required at stage starts and at controls generally. James Cullen/Seamus Gormley were involved in a protest over an incorrect approach to a control, and may yet be excluded as a result.

The event began with a loop of stages to the south of Letterkenny, at a highly civilised 13.30 on Friday. As expected, Pond jumped into the lead in the Metro. The first stage, a slippery 10-miler was ideal for the intermediate-shod MG, and it was 19s quicker than Austin McHale and the Manta. Coleman was just one second further in arrears, and Bertie Fisher/Austin Frazer began cautiously, being next quickest on the test.

Tony Pond, after a blistering start, reverting to course car for Saturday after engine problems sidelined them on Friday..

Pond extended his lead by less spectacular margins on the next two stages, while the drying conditions prompted several competitors to swop to slicks, at the risk of a 10m penalty. Sadly, the event came to a premature end for Fisher. On the road section following SS3, the Manta ground to a halt with a seized axle. Subsequent inspection revealed that a 20p rubber breather pipe had become blocked, and the resulting build up of pressure had blown the gasket and allowed all the oil to escape.

The fourth stage, Glendowan, was the longest and the fastest of the rally. Pond completed the 14 miles in a shattering 8m 40s, and discovered for the first time what the Metro’s tarmac handling was like at 150 mph. Coleman was only nine seconds in arrears however, and had now passed McHale, who got a front puncture on Glendowan and lost around 20s. Coleman himself had to attempt the next three stages without a sump guard, having bent it on a jump. Pattison was in more serious trouble, for the fast, bumpy roads had proved too much for the Hart-powered Escort’s exhaust manifold, which cracked under the strain. By the time the Macclesfield driver reached service, one branch had disappeared altogether, and had damaged the wiring in the process. Undaunted, Pattison succeeded in obtaining an RS2000 manifold, which he sawed up and welded into place! Kenny McKinstry was making use of welding equipment as well, as his seat had broken on SS4.

Hugh O’Brien/Flint McCullagh changed their Escort’s rear axle, but incurred four minutes‘ worth of road penalties as a result, while Richie Heeley/Vincent Meade changed their Escort RS Turbo‘s driveshafts. There was nothing wrong with the old ones, but after Mark Lovell‘s adventures on the Scottish, the Malahide driver was taking no chances.

Having started at little cautiously, Pond now speeded up, and had established a commanding lead of 1m 45s after another two stages. His closest rival was now a flying McHale. The quiet Dubliner was trying a new pace note system, and seemed much more confident than on some recent outings. Coleman was badly slowed by the absence of the sump guard, and had dropped 30s behind McHale by the time the crews returned to the anarchic service area near Finntown.

Pattison had had further problems, the Escort stopping altogether just before the start of SS5. The trouble was traced to the damaged wiring, which Pattison himself ripped apart and re-assembled between the stage arrival control and the stage start. To his relief, the car fired up first time, and he was still very much in the hunt, albeit now behind two Donegal drivers. Vincent Bonner and James Cullen. Pat Kirk/Godfrey Crawford found time for an excursion on that fifth stage, Ballinamore, but although the Nissan looked messy, there was no serious damage and the time loss was minimal.

Pat Kirk and Godfrey Crawford press on in their damaged Nissan after an exciting trip along the top of a Donegal hedge. A steering rack change was required on Saturday.

Sadly, a second run at Glendowan prove too much for the Metro, which blew its engine towards the finish, ARG discovered the throttle was jammed wide open, but whether that was the cause of the problem or merely one of its consequences was not clear. The 6R4 had made an impressive sight while it lasted, but had not really participated long enough to permit a worthwhile assessment of its tarmac pace.

Glendowan accounted for O’Brien as well, because the Escort’s wheel studs sheared and a wheel fell off, taking a driveshaft with it. The Ulsterman continued on the brake disc for a while, but decided it was inflicting too much damage, and wisely pulled up.

Mike Dunnion/Robert Philpott had been suffering from a curious intercom fault that amplified noise inside the car, but it all became academic on SS7, as the Chevette’s oil pump wilted under the strain, and was shortly followed by the engine. Heeley had a minor electrical problem, which later turned out to be a relay, while Sammy Fisher/Kevin Kiely removed a brake pipe from the back of their 1450 Mini on a yump, although Fisher commented that the stage was so fast that it scarcely mattered.

Several of the leading crews required remedial attention on their return to Finntown. Coleman refitted the sump guard, McHale changed a front ball joint that had been damaged when he drove on the puncture, and Phil Collins replaced a broken clutch cable on the Manta.

Coleman regained 10s on the final three stages of the Friday run, although it was initially thought that he had retaken the lead until a wrong time issued to McHale was traced. The most dramatic developments were happening further down the field though, Pattison bent the steering rack on a yump, and had to change it on returning to Letterkenny, slowing on the two stages in between.

Queuing for the start of SS9, Cloghan, Cullen noticed oil leaking from the Tony Kelly Escort. It turned out that the oil pump had almost fallen off, so the former Clerk of the Course promptly booked into the arrival control, and then spent the best part of 20m re-attaching it. With only 15m of maximum lateness, he would have been OTL attempting the job anywhere else, but having repaired the car in dead time, he didn’t even get road penalties. The pump needed retightening at a small garage after the stage finish, and then the exhaust manifold broke on SS1O, but the painting contractor was still in sixth place at the end of the first leg, having slipped behind Pattison and Collins.

The last group of stages had been too much for John Venier/Victor Hales, who had rolled their new Fiat 131TC heavily on SS8, luckily without serious injury to either crew member. Back in Letterkenny, James McDaid (who was holding seventh place ahead of Cyril Bolton), repaired the back brakes and suspension, and Lawrence and Roy Gibson welded a broken shock absorber mounting on their ex-works TR7 V8.

Positions after SS10:

  1. McHale/Farrell. 1h 05m 53s;
  2. Coleman/Morgan 1h 06m 33s;
  3. Bonner/McGettigan, 1h 07m 26s;
  4. Pattison/Taylor, 1h 08m 11s;
  5. Collins/Freeman, 1h 08m 43s;
  6. Cullen/Gormley, 1h 08m 56s.

The Saturday leg promised to be the toughest of the event, offering 98 miles of stages in nine hours rallying. The organisers gained two additional course cars in the shape of Pond’s Metro and Fisher‘s Manta, both conducting a little suspension testing. Most of the front runners chose intermediates for the first three stages, which included two Donegal classics, Derrylaggy and Atlantic Drive. The choice was a mistake, for although the sky was overcast, the roads were dry. Coleman gained a second from McHale on Derrylaggy, but then hit a rock on Atlantic Drive.

The Porsche sustained a puncture, a bent strut, and a bent track-rod, dropping 40s on the stage and then another 50s in road penalties. For the time being McHale was safe, but there was a suggestion for a while that he might himself be docked 30s in road penalties for receiving a push start in Parc Ferme. Fortunately for him, he had persuaded the Manta to fire up by the time he had passed the control, and that was enough to avoid being penalised. However. Coleman put in a protest that evening, which was ultimately rejected.

Coleman was not alone in collecting a puncture, since Bonner had also wrecked a tyre on Atlantic Drive, and reckoned he had lost 30s or so. He then lost the fan belt on SS13 but without dropping any time.

Heeley had vanished by now, the Escort breaking its clutch on the way to the first Saturday stage. He had driven circumspectly in the car, which was quite different from anything he has driven previously. Pat Dunnion had been going well in his Lotus Sunbeam, but spun twice on Atlantic Drive and then went off altogether. Unfortunately there were only four pensioners standing at that spot, so it took some while to regain the road. Meanwhile. Collins collected 10s in road penalties when he stopped to change a puncture, and Frank Fennell/Tom Callanan were delayed when their DOTI Kadett began to misfire.

Austin McHale drove superbly all weekend, but lost his lead with just two stages to go and had to settle for second, albeit by only one second.

After service in Milford, the rally headed north-east for three stages on the Fanad Peninsula. Coleman was flying now, hurling the Porsche over the dry tarmac and looking very much at home in the 911. In spite of an occasional misfire, he slashed McHale’s margin by 40s in less than 21 miles of stages. McHale had eased off a little, and was also bothered by a leaking brake fluid reservoir, which allowed fluid to run down onto the pedals.

Bolton was putting in a charge now, and was gradually reeling in Collins, who was in turn catching Pattison. They were all catching Bonner, who landed very hard after the yump at the end of Kindrum, wrecking the Ascona’s oil pump. The Dungloe man then lost 40s in road penalties while the car was fixed, which dropped him to the back of the battle for third. He had escaped from Kindrum more lightly than McDaid though, for the latter had an enormous accident at the same spot, destroying the Ascona; he and Rory Kennedy emerged unhurt happily.

McKinstry had been a little subdued on Friday, suffering from suspected food poisoning, but although he felt better on Saturday, the car did not. It broke a spring hanger in Kindrum. and there was not enough time to repair the damage at the following service halt, so he had to tackle the same three Stages with distinctly peculiar handling.

It was at this point that Cullen came unstuck. He approached the service area from the wrong direction, and although nothing was done at the time, there were to be serious repercussions later. Fisher ceased to act as course car nat this service point, as his Manta was raided to keep various other Opels going. McHale had already acquired the starter motor, but the oil Pump was now given to Bonner, and then Cyril Bolton temporarily borrowed the front tyres. Coleman fitted new injectors to one bank of cylinders on the Porsche.

Several crews hit unforgiving parts of the Donegal countryside on the second loop. Damien Campbell rolled Robin Lyons‘ Sunbeam into a river on Knockalla, and was joined shortly afterwards by Pat Callaghan‘s Chevette. Kindrum claimed more victims too, both Stanley Orr (driving a two-litre Sunbeam) and Dan Daly in his Nissan leaving the fray. The stage held no terrors for John Lyons in his standard Honda CRX, who managed an incredible sixth fastest overall in the 1500cc machine! Bonner had lost a minute with a puncture, unwittingly delaying Coleman slightly as he limped out of the stage.

Saturday’s rallying was completed by two laps of three stages to the south of Milford. Coleman’s run of fastest times continued, even though rain affected two of the stages on the second lap, but the gap was still 37s by the end of the leg. The Porsche was entirely reliable, only the plugs requiring replacement back in Milford. McHale lost a few seconds by picking hard slicks for these stages. Bolton seized third place, while Pattison was slowed by intercom trouble on SS20 and by a slight drop in fuel pressure. Collins taped a loose intercom wire on his helmet, only to have the roll of tank tape fall into his footwell on the stage. Concentrating on kicking it away from the pedals, he paid too little attention to Freeman, and promptly climbed a bank on SS20. He also found the time for a brief excursion on the next stage, Trentagh, in the same place he crashed last year!

He was not the only one exploring the scenery: Cullen rolled his Escort on the same stage on the following lap. The damage was not too severe, but he had lost nearly 10m and was out of the running. Later on he was excluded for his earlier wrong approach – which should perhaps have been done before he was given the chance to crash, but he tackled the final day nonetheless. His protest was rejected, whereupon he appealed to the RIAC.

Position after SS25:

  1. McHale/Farrell 2h 32m 37s;
  2. Coleman/Morgan 2h 33m 14s;
  3. Bolton/Ervine 2h 37m 54s;
  4. Bonner/McGettigan 2h 38m 23s;
  5. Collins/Freeman 2h 38m 27s.

Barely 40 miles of competitive motoring were scheduled for the final day, in the form of a four stage lap close to Letterkenny, done twice. McHale, surely, had enough of a lead with so little mileage left, but Coleman obviously would not give up, and none of the four crews in contention for third were ready to settle for a finish either.

Coleman was driving like a man possessed, taking eight seconds off McHale on the fast 6.8 miles of Killydonnell, another four on Leitir, then one and four on the other stages of the loop. He was aided by McHale‘s tyre choice, for the Dubliner had chosen intermediates for what turned out to be bone dry roads. The Corkman had used hand cut slick through the day.

Collins was in fine fettle too (in spite of a very convivial evening on Saturday), finding the Yokohamas ideal for the slippery conditions. He soon swept past Bonner, although he lost 10s with a little off on SS27 — in the same place that Vincent himself left the road momentarily.

For the second lap, both of the top contenders used slicks. Still the gap came down. On Killydonnel Coleman gained another 10s. On Leitir the difference was only two seconds, but then McHale overshot a junction on Garrgharry, and suddenly Coleman had snatched another 9 seconds and taken the lead by a solitary second. Clearly no quarter would be given on the final stage. The situation was the same in the battle for third, where Collins was only eight seconds behind Bolton, and had a real chance of taking third position. Sadly, spectator problems obliged the organisers to cancel the test, so Coleman — who had been fastest on the previous 15 stages – was rewarded with his third Donegal victory. One could not help feeling sorry for McHale, who had certainly deserved a win, but had not been able to match the acknowledged master of Irish rallying, Billy Coleman.

Bolton naturally kept his third place and his STP Tarmac Championship lead after a well judged drive, while Collins was a fine fourth, and Bonner upheld Donegal honour in fifth place. It had been an event that epitomised all that is best about Irish rallying, and most of those involved are looking forward eagerly to next year.

STP Tarmac Championship
Shell Donegal Rally – June 21-23, 1985

  1. Billy Coleman/Ronan Morgan, (Porsche 911SC RS), 3h 00m 45s;
  2. Austin MeHale/Christy Farrell, (Opel Manta 400), 3h 00m 46s;
  3. Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine, (Opel Manta), 3h 07m 23s;
  4. Phil Collins/Roger Freeman, (Opal Manta 400), 3h 07m 31s
  5. Vincent Bonner/Seamus McGettigan, (Opel Ascona 400) 3h 07m 57s;
  6. Mike Pattison/David Taylor, (Ford Escort G3), 3h 09m 05s;
  7. Ken McKinstry/Mark Crowe, (Ford Escort RS), 3h 11m 57s;
  8. Pat Dunnion/Neil Fitzsimmons, (Talbot Sunbeam), 3h 12m 38s;
  9. Pat Kirk/Godfrey Crawford, (Nissan 24ORS), 3h 14m 58s;
  10. Stephen Emerson/Ken McEntee, (Ford Escort), 3h 19m 02s

Top 20 Starters

  1. Billy Coleman/Ronan Morgan………Porsche 911SC RS
  2. Tony Pond/Rob Arthur……………MG Metro 6R4
  3. Non-Starter
  4. Austin McHale/Christy Farrell……Opel Manta 400
  5. Phil Collins/Roger Freeman ……..0pel Manta 400
  6. Vincent Bonner/Seamus McGettigan…Ascona 400
  7. Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine……….0pel Manta 400
  8. James Cullen/Seamus Gormley……..Ford Escort RS
  9. Ken McKinstry/Mark Crowe………..Ford Escort RS
  10. Mike Pattison/David Taylor………Ford Escort G3
  11. James McDaid/Rory Kennedy……….0pel Ascona 400
  12. Richie Heeley/Vincent Meade……..Ford Escort RS Turbo
  13. Unassigned
  14. Non-Starter
  15. Pat Dunnion/Neil Fitzsimmons…….Lotus Sunbeam
  16. Non-Starter
  17. Pat Kirk/Godfrey Crawford……….Nissan 240RS
  18. Robert Moffet/Cathal McGettigan….Ford Escort
  19. Non-Starter
  20. Damien Campbell/David Gray………Lotus Sunbeam
  21. Dan Daly/Bill Moffett…………..Nissan 240RS
  22. Hugh 0’Brien/Flint McCullagh…….Ford Escort RS
  23. Mike Dunnion/Robert Philpott…….Vauxhall Chevette HSR
  24. John Connor/Gerry Gallagher……..Vauxhall Chevette HSR
  25. Pat White/Joe Smith…………….Nissan 240RS