1985 Ulster Rally

Russell Brookes fought very hard to take the British Midland Ulster Rally, his first international win since 1983. Photo D.Smyth.

British Midland Ulster Rally 1985

Report is reproduced from Motoring News 31st July 1985

The Old Firm Triumphs

There was no shortage of the latest rally technology in Northern Ireland last weekend, with no less than four turbocharged four-wheel drive machines amongst the top 10 starters; yet by the finish, the positions at the head of the field had a more familiar ring. The old firm – in British rallying‘s case Russell Brookes/Mike Broad and Jimmy McRae/Ian Grindrod – had come out on top once again, snatching the Ulster Rally crown back from Audi and taking the first two places. The Manta’s suitability to fast, bumpy Irish tarmac had been emphasised once more. since although the four-wheel drive machines set the pace, they wilted as a superb battle for the lead came to a climax, leaving the spoils to the GM duo.

Both Brookes and McRae had delivered excellent performances, and were just three seconds apart when team orders were issued two stages from home, giving the prize to Brookes. He had never put a wheel wrong, and richly deserted his first Open Championship victory since the 1983 Circuit of Ireland. McRae was a philosophical and highly creditable second. The next two places were taken by two of the best young drivers in the championship, namely Mikael Sundstrom and David Llewellin. The former, co-driven by Paul White in the Peugeot 205T16, led for six stages, and drove very sensibly on his first asphalt rally in the Group B car, dropping to third when a minor mechanical problem and the importance of a finish intervened close to the end.

This time, team orders went against him and Jimmy McRae was forced to settle for second in Northern Ireland, and joint lead in the Open Championship.

Llewellin had his fair share of mechanical ailments too, but he and Phil Short finally collected fourth place in their Quattro, having been as high as second earlier in the event. Bertie Fisher/Austin Frazer were fifth after a troubled rally in the Shell Oils Manta. For the fourth event in succession, Tony Pond/Rob Arthur were the Group A victors in their Rover Vitesse, leading throughout in spite of a few problems, and collecting eighth overall alter a typically professional display.

One should spare a thought for Malcolm Wilson and Nigel Harris though, as they dominated the first half of the rally and built up a 70s lead in their loaned Quattro, only to he sidelined with transmission failure when victory seemed within their grasp.

This year’s Ulster Rally. sponsored by British Midland and the Belfast Telegraph, was to be the last under the direction of Robert Harkness, but unfortunately did not run with its customary smoothness. Most of the problems were not of the organisers’ making, but the fact remains that the event ended up running an hour late during the first half, and two stages had to be cancelled to regain something approaching the original schedule; some idea of the scale of the problem can be gained from the fact that but for the latest FISA ruling that allows stages to be retained in the results even though some competitors have not tackled the stages at all, another five tests might have gone the same way. However, Northern Ireland MC refused to be panicked, and the second half of the event ran like clockwork.

The event had a 530 mile route, of which 250 miles were tarmac stages, describing a clockwise loop of Ulster. It was broadly similar to last year’s but this time there was a concentration of stages round Armagh (which contributed to the delays as it turned out), rather than further West in Fermanagh. Only four of the 28 stages were repeated, so competitors were kept hard at work during the four day practice period. The weather before the rally posed some problems, for torrential rain blocked several roads and swept a good deal of mud and debris onto the stages.

Michele Mouton must be wondering what she did wrong this year. She has had a miserable season in the Shell Oils Open Championship, but nothing has gone quite as badly as the Ulster. The water temperature suggested all was not well with the Sport S1’s engine within miles of the start, and rose steadily higher as soon as the French lady started the first stage, a five and a half miler near Moira. Under the circumstances equal fastest time was pretty creditable, but it was largely academic. By the end of the stage, steam was pouring from beneath the bonnet, and the head gasket had expired, probably because a water pipe had split. The new car was pushed away with no more than a glimpse of its potential revealed.

SS1 (8.5 miles)
Michele Mouton/Fabrizia Pons (Audi Quattro Sport) 5m 11s;
Malcolm Wilson/Nigel Harris (Audi Quattro A2) 5m 11s;
Russell Brookes/Mike Broad (Opel Manta 400) 5m 13s;
David Llewellin/Phil Short (Audi Quattro A2) 5m 13s;
Jimmy McRae/Ian Grindrod (Opel Manta 400) 5m 19s;
Phil Collins/Roger Freeman (Opel Manta 400) 5m 19s.

Wilson was clearly pleased with his borrowed Quattro, which he described as significantly more powerful than his own, and equalled Mouton’s time on the stage, two seconds clear of a tying Brookes and Llewellin, the latter running intermediates on dry roads. McRae was next, six seconds in arrears, while Fisher was two seconds slower still, after a spin.

Driving with commendable restraint, Mikael Sundstrom was still able to lead the Ulster, but ultimately was unable to withstand the Opel onslaught.

Earlier on Friday, Pond had been a worried man, for the Rover’s engine had not been running well, but consultations over the telephone with TWR’s engine expert in Belgium had improved matters when a new microchip was fitted. Pond proved the point by sweeping into a GpA lead he was not to lose, anxious to make a break from the start. Eklund was second in GpA, while Lovell spun the Escort Turbo, and Aitken-Walker deposited the 205 in a ditch. but continued with almost no loss of time.

Her teammate had a dramatic stage too, for the intercooler pipe split two to three miles from the end of the stage, which cost around 20 seconds. Once the car was restored to health, Sundstrom set quickest time on the next stage, which was run on wet roads. Periodic showers were making tyre choice difficult, for the lanes might carry inches of flood water in one place, and be largely dry in another. Most competitors chose wets for the next three stages, and all found conditions very treacherous on the narrow, winding Co Armagh roads.

SS2 (7.18 miles)
Mikael Sundstrom/Paul White (Peugeot 205T16) 7m 15;
Malcolm Wilson/Nigel Harris (Audi Quattro A2) 7m 16s;
David Llewellin/Phil Short (Audi Quattro A2) 7m 24s;
Jimmy McRae/Ian Grindrod (Opel Manta 400) 7m 26s;
Bertie Fisher/Austin Frazer (Opel Manta 400) 7m 27s;
Russell Brookes/Mike Broad (Opel Manta 400) 7m 33s.

Wilson adapted best to the stages, setting second best time on stages two and three, and the fastest again on SS4, arriving at the service area in Armagh itself with a useful 24s lead. He admitted to a few moments though, notably to severe aquaplaning on stage two, when, very briefly, the Quattro had threatened to take over!

Behind him, second place was shared by McRae, who had been quickest on SS3, and Llewellin, who was proving that his Hunsruck performance had been no flash in the pan. Sundstrom was next, adopting a cautious approach having been off into a bank on SS3, bending the light pod but inflicting no other damage to the Peugeot.

SS3 (7.63 miles)
Jimmy McRae/Ian Grindrod (Opel Manta 400) 9m 03::
Malcolm Wilson/Nigel Harris (Audi Quattro A2) 9m 04::
Mikael Sundstrom/Paul White (Peugeot 205T16) 9m 10s;
David Llewellin/Phil Short (Audi Quattro A2) 9m 10:;
Russell Brookes/Mike Broad (Opel Manta 400) 9m 15s;
Austin McHale/Christy Farrell (Opel Manta 400) 9m 19s.

That third stage had posed problems for others as well: poor Fisher‘s chances took a dive when a pin broke in the gearbox. Undaunted, he borrowed a coin from a spectator, levered the cover off the unit, and jammed it into a gear before completing the stage. However, he had to complete the eight miles of SS4 in addition with only second and fourth gears, and reckoned he had dropped two minutes altogether. He also confessed to trying Michelin tyres on occasion rather than his usual Pirellis, finding the moulded Michelins better in the wet, and easier to drive under any circumstances.

Pentti Airikkala/Ronan McNamee thought their British Telecom Astra GTE had swallowed some flood water during the stage, as the engine seemed a good deal less powerful than it had been at first, Pentti believing it might have bent a valve. John Price had hired a Renault 5 Turbo to Ernest Kidney/Peter Scott, but sadly it only lasted as far as the same stage before fuel vaporisation put it out of the rally.

Pond continued to extend his lead in GpA, while Eklund overshot a junction on the fourth stage and had to reverse, losing a few seconds. A fying Andrew Wood had been close behind the Swede, but then lost 30s on the same stage when the gear selectors proved troublesome, demanding a gearbox change in Armagh. He was now under pressure from Aitken-Walker, for Louise had taken the little 205 by the scruff of its neck and was hurling it around with gusto.

Once more the Rover Vitesse and Tony Pond were too much for the Group A opposition, leading the category from start to finish.

Two of the leading Mantas were in need of attention by the time they arrived at service in Armagh. Brookes had discovered that the lightweight car was something of a mixed blessing, for although it cornered well, it leapt around alarmingly on straights; indeed its behaviour was so violent that Broad had looked up on one stage to find out why the car was jumping about, losing his place on the notes momentarily. The tracking was adjusted, and new rear shock absorbers were fitted.

Austin McHale/Christy Farrell were already embroiled in a battle with Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine, but were one second in arrears after four stages, and hampered by an intermittent misfire on the Manta, so the carburettors were replaced. Further down the road, the RS Turbo was receiving a routine driveshaft change, and was not running well in any case. Lovell had been off for a while on the second stage, and complained of poor traction, finding that the car spun its wheels and snatched badly as well.

SS4 (8.32 miles)
Wilson/Harris 7m 31s;
Sundstrom/White 7m 37s;
McRae/Grindrod 7m 38s;
Llewellin/Short 7m 39s;
Brookes/Broad 7m 42s;
Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine (Opel Manta 400) 7m 52:.

Unbeknown to the front runners, the rally was already running a little behind schedule following a bad accident on the first stage. Hugh O’Brien/Flint McCullagh slammed their Escort RS hard into a stone wall, stopping the car dead, and crushing the boot level with the rear windscreen. Both were injured, and were taken to hospital for observation, an ambulance being sent into the stage to fetch them.

Positions after SS4:

  1. Wilson/Harris 29m 02s;
  2. Llewellin/Short 29m 26s;
  3. McRae/Grindrod 29m 26s;
  4. Sundstrom/White 29m 34s;
  5. Brookes/Broad 29m 43s.

Stages three and four were now repeatcd, being followed by a long 12 mile test to the south-west before returning to Armagh. This was where the rally ran into real trouble, when there was another serious accident. This time Alan Johnston/Graham Harris rolled their Corolla heavily on SS5 and blocked the road; a long queue built up, and eventually over half the field was re-routed direct to Armagh, without tackling stages six and seven at all. For a time, there was talk of cancelling all three, but they were eventually retained, and those competitors who had not attempted them were given a time of one of the five slowest cars that had, as permitted by FISA. It was a ploy that would be used again before the night was out.

Wilson continued to extend his lead, being second quickest on all three stages, encountering no problems apart from tyres going off on the seventh stage, a problem that afflicted most of the front runners. Sundstrom was fastest on the fifth and seventh stages, in spite of front brake trouble on the last, and duly moved into second place, whereas Llewellin elbowed his way six seconds ahead of McRae after SS6, but then suffered badly when his tyres went off on the third stage of the loop, hitting a bank and gouging a large chunk out of the nearside front wheel, luckily without collecting a puncture. That left him eight seconds behind the Scotsman, and just one ahead of Brookes.

Terry Kaby was one of the competitors who would have appreciated the cancellation of SS6. The Nissan collected a puncture in mid-stage, and the crew had to stop and change it, losing around three minutes in the process. Others would have preferred the deleting of the next test. Pond lost the spot lights soon after the start, and drove for nine miles with the auxiliary lamps flickering on and off, yet still equalled Eklund’s time, while David Mann/Peter Watts had a minor excursion in the ex-works Corolla, and Aitken-Walker shot up a bank, but lost no time and now held a splendid third place in GpA.

The stage was a disaster for Wood, who ploughed straight on at a junctton, knocking down a gate and landing in a field. Taking a run at the entrance to get out proved a poor idea when the Astra vaulted the road with ease and landed in the ditch on the opposite side! Spectators were very reluctant to help, and a total of six minutes were lost.

SS5 (7.63 miles)
Sundstrom/White 9m 13s;
Wilson/Harris 9m 17s;
Brookes/Broad 9m 25s;
Llewellin/Short 9m 25s;
McRae/Grindrod 9m 30s:
Fisher/Frazer 9m 37s.

SS6 (8.32 miles)
Brookes/Broad 7m 38s:
Wilson/Harris 7m 39s;
Llewellin/Short 7m 40s;
Sundstrom/White 7m 41s;
McRae/Grindrod 7m 42s:
Fisher/Frazer 7m 54s.

Back in Armagh, Pond discovered as he headed for the “out” control that the spot lights were still not working, and McHale changed the distributor in a successful effort to cure the is misfire for good. Meanwhile, Airikkala got a nasty fright when the oil pressure light came on as he left the service area; the service crew soon found that an oil pipe had come adrift, spewing the contents of the sump all over the road. The pipe was jammed back into place, but the burly Finn gained 15 minutes worth of road penalties, and scraped into the next stage just two seconds inside his maximum lateness.

Malcolm Wilson dominated the first half of the Ulster, but the car was unequal to the task, stranding him on a mountainside on Saturday morning. Photo D.Smyth.

As the event headed west, Wilson continued to set the pace; the Cumbrian was in scintillating form, even setting fastest time of SS11 after the front differential broke a mile from the finish. He then had a stroke of luck, for in an effort to get the rally back on schedule, the two stages to the south of Enniskillen were cancelled, and the service halt at St. Angelo’s Airfield extended by an hour, allowing him to change the gearbox without incurring road penalties.

SS7 (12.98 miles)
Sundstrom/White 14m 28s;
Wilson/Harris 14m 37s;
McRae/Grindrod 14m 50s;
Brookes/Broad 14m 51s;
Fisher/Frazer 14m 54s;
Llewellin/Short 15m 05s.

Sundstrom consolidated his second place, and had no problems to report save for a bent rear wishbone which was changed at Enniskillen. No one was sure how or when the part was bent, only that it had occurred before the previous service halt in Armagh!

Life took a dramatic turn for Phil Collins/Roger Freeman on SS7, when they had to stop and change a puncture soon after the start, losing over two minutes. Phil got carried away in an effort to regain time, clouting a bank in the Manta and chewing the bodywork slightly.

SS8 (5.69 miles)
Wilson/Harris 5m 19s;
Brookes/Broad 5m 19s;
McRae/Grindrod 5m 24s:
Llewellin/Short 5m 27s;
Sundstrom/White 5m 28s:
Fisher/Frazer 5m 30s.

The evil conditions outwitted Llewellin on SS8, when he hit a 100 yard flood at 80 mph. The Quattro naturally aquaplaned, so the genial Welshman considered aiming for a gate, deciding against it when he noticed it was metal and might not give easily! He hit the gatepost instead, neatly splitting the wing, but leaving the suspension undamaged, and then reversed out of the bank having lost 15s or so and still set fourth quickest time. His commitment in the big car was a sight to behold, even steering it into a hedge on the downhill approach to a gravelly hairpin on SS1 when he could see there was no other way of
slowing it.

SS9 (9.34 miles):
Wilson/Harris 8m 23s;
Llewellin/Short 8m 24s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 26s;
Brookes/Broad 8m 29s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 33s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 33s.

SS10 (8.25 miles)
Brookes/Broad 7m 31s;
Llewellin/Short 7m 32s;
Sundstrom/White 7m 33s;
McRae/Grindrod 7m 36s;
Wilson/Harris 7m 36s;
Fisher/Frazer 7m 41s.

Fisher was exploring the hedges as well. SS11 passed close to Ballinamallard, his home village, so Bertie was keen to take advantage of his local knowledge. He decided that one right-hander was flat out, and then spent 30 yards slithering through a hedge on discovering that it wasn’t. “I knew the hedge.” he joked afterwards, having emerged unscathed and third fastest despite the loss of fourth gear. The gearbox was replaced again in Enniskiilen.

SS11 (9.01 miles)
Wilson/Harris 7m 58s;
Llewellin/Short 8m 07s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 12s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 13s;
Brookes/Broad 8m 13s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 20s.

By the time the cars reached the airfield, McRae had slumped to fifth, for the Lanark man was not feeling well, and had resorted to tablets supplied by Grindrod. His team mate was now growing accustomed to his new car, and found the tracking remained constant once the machine had settled down.

Pond finally traced the lighting deficiency to a bad earth, much to his relief, as the Vitesse had been a daunting proposition with an incomplete complement of lights. He still led GpA, nearly two minutes ahead of Eklund, while Mike Stuart/Brian Goff had speeded up in the Dee Communications Rover once the rally moved to faster stages, and had snatched third from Aitken-Walker. Other members of the British Junior Team had been exploring the scenery once more: Lovell had skated off the road on SS8 in the same place as Llewellin had hit the water, and was stuck fast in the ditch. He sat there for the best part of an hour, finally escaping after he had stopped a passing farmer in a Land Rover, who duly towed him out! He even avoided road penalties, since half the field had tackled the stage non-competitively. The Escort was undamaged but plagued by an electrical fault traced eventually to the alternator. Wood left the road again on SS10, landing on the grass outside a right-hander. The Astra suddenly snapped to the right, attacking the bank on the opposite side of the road before the Scotsman could regain control. Only 90s were lost this time, but the lights were smashed, costing a further 30s on the next stage, and the chassis was kinked.

Some drunks put a tape across the road on the eighth stage so a good proportion of the field drove that non-competitively. Bearing in mind that several competitors reported meeting ordinary traffic on the stage (Brian Wiggins/Tony Shepherd encountered three cars and a bicycle), it was perhaps just as well.

SS12 (5.69 miles) cancelled.

SS13 (15.41 miles) cancelled.

Wilson was fastest again on SS14, which was largely dry, but had now begun to ease back slightly; a finish was important to his championship aspirations, and he wanted to preserve the Quattro’s suspect transmission on the bumps. His closest challenger, Sundstrom, had lost 20s with a spin on SS14 and dropped to fourth, but was quickest on the next test, and arrive at the rest halt in Omagh second again and 59s behind the leader. His co-driver was not in the best of spirits, having hurt his back on a bump during the course of the night.

SS14 (10.91 miles):
Wilson/Harris 8m 38s;
Llewellin/Short 8m 38s;
Brookes/Broad 8m 41s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 50s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 54s;
Sundstrom/White 9m 08s.

Llewellin was third, only three seconds behind, but was a worried man. The gearbox had started to whine in top gear so it would have to be changed when the car came out of Parc Ferme, and that would almost certainly lead to road penalties.

The third participant in this furious battle was Brookes, who was 16s behind in what the mechanics had christened “The Bendy Bus“. McRae was still feeling somewhat below par, and accordingly retired to bed. Kaby was having a disappointing rally as well, losing time during the night with steering problems; in fact the steering still seemed vague when he arrived in Omagh, outside the top 10 and behind the first two GpA cars.

SS15 (8.9 miles)
Sundstrom/White 8m 58s
Llewellin/Short 9m 08s:
McRae/Grindrod 9m14s;
Wilson/Harris 9m 19s;
Brookes/Broad 9m 19s;
Fisher/Frazer 9m 19s.

Pond had found life a good deal easier with full illumination, and was now 1m 40s ahead of Eklund and the Supra. Stuart was third. having had no problems other than exhaust fumes leaking into the cockpit, and was still keeping a wary eye on Aitken-Walker, who was still balancing her Peugeot on the fine line between spectacle and disaster.

Bolton had gained the upper hand in his struggle with McHale – for the moment at least, but confessed that the pace notes simply hadn‘t worked on SS15 for some reason, when McHale had regained 17s even though he had visited the scenery for a while.

Positions after SS15:

  1. Wilson/Harris 1h 47m 50s;
  2. Sundstrom/White 1h 48m 49s;
  3. Llewellin/Short 1h 48 52s;
  4. Brookes/Broad 1h 49m 09s;
  5. McRaelGrindrod 1h 49m 20s.

The service allowance at the restart was enough for the Audi mechanics to change Llewellin‘s gearbox in a highly creditable 22m, while the TWR team changed Pond’s axle, and the Supra received a new differential. However, there was a nasty surprise in store for the GpA leader when the brakes seized solid on the way to the next stage. Pond loosened off a bleed nipple and drained some fluid, rendering the car mobile again, “I’m good with nipples” he revealed in the next service area; he had lost 20s in road penalties, but had beaten Eklund on all three of the intervening stages, for the rally had now moved to fast. moorland roads, which suited the Rover well.

SS16 (7.58 miles)
Sundstrom/White 6m 30s;
McRae/Grindrod 6m 35s;
Brookes/Broad 6m 38s;
Llewellin/Short 6m 39s;
Wilson/Harris 6m 42s;
Fisher/Frazer 6m 54s.

Pond’s trouble had proved to be no more than a storm in a tea cup, but it had been very different for Dunlop’s other hope, the rally leader. The next three stages on the edge of the Sperrin Mountains are particularly bumpy, and the first of the three had accounted for the Audi’s front differential. Wilson had naturally pressed on, but the strain had proved too great for the gearbox. and it seized altogether during the next stage, stranding the car in the middle of the road. It could not be shifted for some time, so the crew thoughtfully trampled the weeds on the verge, so their rivals knew there was a way through. Suddenly, Wilson’s fortunes had been transformed, for he had looked well on course for victory and a near unassailable lead in the Championship.

David Llewellin is now a force to be reckoned with in any company in the Quattro, and was in the running for victory before the transmission weakened.

This development simultaneously put Sundstrom into the lead, and raised the temperature in what had been the battle for second considerably. Mikael had remained calm, easing off on the 17th and 18th stages as they were especially bumpy, and the 205 would kick its tail in the air on landing from yumps. By the time the crews arrived at the service halt in Draperstown, the Peugeot’s lead was down to 19s, and its main opposition came from the Opels. Brookes had clearly adapted to his car’s behaviour on bumps, for he was quickest on SS17 and 18, while a revitalised McRae was also going well, and had slipped ahead of Llewellin having taken 10s off him on SS18. The Welshman was in trouble, for the replacement gearbox was fitted with a limited slip differential, which he never uses on tarmac or gravel. The Quattro weaved badly on the bumps, and he had slipped back in consequence. A new rear differential and discs were fitted in Draperstown, but he would have to live with the front differential.

SS17 (11.94 miles):
Brookes/Broad 10m 47s;
Sundstrom/White 10m 49s;
McRae/Grindrod 10m 50s:
Fisher/Frazer 11m O6s;
Llewellin/Short 11m 10s;
Bolton/Ervine 11m 18s.

The roads were now drying, and Fisher found his front tyres had gone off after two stages, but as service was not permitted there was nothing for it but to tackle the next stage, which was nearly 11 miles long, with the existing tyres. Steel bracing cords were visible through what remained of the rubber by the end of the stage and Bertie had lost 10s with a spin. Kaby noticed the oil pressure dropping on SS17, but it failed to drop any lower, so he proceeded cautiously to Draperstown, where nothing could be discovered except a water leak! Meanwhile, McHale had lost time when the steering rack came loose on SS16, although he speeded up on the next two having identified the problem, and even took eight seconds off Bolton on SS18.

SS18 (10.72 miles)
Brookes/Broad 8m 22s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 24s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 29s;
Llewellin/Short 8m 34s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 37s;
McHale/Farrell 8m 40s.

The bumps had proved too much for Kenny McKinstry’s exhaust, and the spectacular Ulsterman arrived in Draperstown with an exhaust note to match his driving style. A new manifold and system restored the ex-Vatanen Escort to its usual state. Sadly, these stages had accounted for Collins and Mann, both of whom left the road at speed on S517, Collins hitting a tree and a wall, destroying the front of the Manta and sustaining bruised ankles, while Mann failed to negotiate a sharp left hander, bouncing across the moorland and out of the event.

SS19 (7.86 miles)
McRae/Grindrod 6m 15s;
Sundstrom/White 6m 15s;
Llewellin/Short 6m 15s;
Brookes/Broad 6m 19s;
Fisher/Frazer 6m 21s;
McHale/Farrell 6m 23s.

Airikkala escaped relatively lightly, only losing the power steering and alternator drive belts. He decided to continue without the power steering, reasoning that it cost 6-7 bhp, and that the extra power would be more useful in the engine’s current state! Pond changed the axle again, and reckoned the brake problem had been caused by dirt in a quick release valve.

SS20 (6.78 miles)
Sundstrom/White 5m 35s;
Llewellin/Short 5m 35s;
McRae/Grindrod 5m 37s;
Brookes/Broad 5m 40s;
Fisher/Frazer 5m 44s;
McHale/Farrell 5m 45s.

A move to smoother stages round Maghera suited the four-wfieel drive cars, and Sundstrom smoothly increased his lead to 32s. A charging Llewellin slowly reeled in McRae, and retook third on SS21; McRae himself was flying now, setting equal fastest time with Sundstrom and Llewellin on SS19, and edging ever closer to Brookes. Both Manta drivers complained that their tyres had gone off on the drying roads, and the SB49s were abandoned for SB20s henceforth. With six stages to go the first four were covered by only 36s, and it was still anyone’s rally, even though Sundstrom appeared in control of the situation.

SS21 (6.14 miles)
Llewellin/Short 4m 31s;
Sundstrom/White 4m 35s;
McRae/Grindrod 4m 37s;
Brookes/Broad 4m 39s:
Fisher/Frazer 4m 43s:
Terry Kaby/Kevin Gormley (Nissan240RS) 4m 48s;
McHale/Farrell 4m 48s;
Bolton/Ervine 4m 48s.

As the cars left the Aghadowey service area, a chink emerged in the Peugeot’s armour. The clutch had developed a fault, and Sundstrom had to stop and top up the master cylinder. Nothing else could be done, and he had a little trouble selecting gears on the next two stages, those daunting Ulster classics, Glendun and Orra Lodge, both to be done twice. Both stages are very fast and bumpy, and might be expected to favour the Mantas. They did. Brookes described the car’s handling as “horrible” on the bumps, but that didn’t stop him setting fastest time on Glendun, just one second ahead of McRae, but no less than 13 ahead of Sundstrom. McRae turned the tables on Orra Lodge, taking five seconds off his team-mate (who had eased off twice for sheep) and thus levelling their totals. In the process, they had taken another chunk of time off Sundstrom, and the three were only nine seconds apart when they visited the next service area.

SS22 (11.9 miles) Glendun 1
Brookes/Broad 8m 45s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 46s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 58s;
Kaby/Gormley 9m 17s;
Tony Pond/Rob Arthur (Rover Vitesse) 9m 18s;
McHale/Farrell 9m 23s;
Bolton/Ervine 9m 23s.

SS23 (8.63 miles) Orra Lodge 1
McRae/Grindrod 5m 57s;
Brookes/Broad 6m 02s;
Sundstrom/White 6m 12s;
Kaby/Gormley 6m 18s;
Fisher/Frazer 6m 21s;
McHale/Farrell 6m 22s.

What happened to Llewellin? On Glendun, he had had the misfortune to break the front differential, and limped slowly through the two stages, hoping he would not suffer the same fate as Wilson. The gearbox survived, but he had dropped over three minutes and abandoned all hope of victory. Worse still, the only functioning gearbox left was the one that had been removed from his car earlier that morning, but there was nothing for it but to refit it and go steadily on the bumps. The Audi mechanics excelled themselves, changing the complete unit in just 16m — a new record for a Quattro.

Meanwhile. the Peugeot mechanics were fitting a new clutch slave cylinder and harder rear dampers to the T16 to stabilise the tail on bumps. In the process, Sundstrom collected 20s in road penalties, and thus handed the lead to the Opel men. Llewellin’s problems might have been expected to drop him into Fisher’s clutches, but the Balltnamallard engineer had got a puncture on Glendun, losing a minute and shredding the wheel arch.

Gearbox trouble killed Bertie Fisher’s chances soon after the start, but the Ulsterman pressed on to fifth place at the finish, despite overshooting this junction.

Familiarity with the stages didn’t seem to help Sundstrom, who still found the car nervous on bumps, and dropped 41s to the Mantas. With victory in sight, neither Russell nor Jimmy was conceding an inch. Brookes was fastest on Glendun 2, earning a two second lead and leaving the record for the stage at a shattering 8m 35s – the previous record, set in 1983, had been 9m 02s.

SS24 (11.9 miles) Glendun 2
Brookes/Broad 8m 35s;
McRae/Grindrod 8m 37s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 50s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 56s;
Kaby/Gormley 9m 04s;
Pond/Arthur 9m 10s.

On Orra Lodge 2 McRae took one second back. One couldn’t help remembering a similar fight in 1984, but this time the stakes were higher. Naturally, people wondered if GM would apply team orders as it had on the Circuit of Ireland, but with three stages left, the team manager Mervyn Hodgson felt it was out of the question while the Peugeot was still close.

SS25 (8.63 miles) Orra Lodge 2
McRae/Grindrod 5m 51s;
Brookes/Broad 5m 52s;
Kaby/Gormley 6m 13s;
Fisher/Frazer 6m 14s;
Sundstrom/White 6m 17s;
McHale/Farrell 6m 20s.

Kaby had a split water pump gasket, but was now going much better setting third fastest on Orra 2, and hauling himself into the top 10. Fisher’s bogey stage was clearly Glendun, for on the second attempt the propshaft coupling failed two miles into the stage. The prop-shaft was replaced on the following road section, but he incurred 60s road penalties, and lost all chance of catching Llewellin, even though the latter had lost time with a loose strut on the same stage.

In the excitement. one could overlook an equally tense battle between McHale and Bolton. The Lancastrian beat the Dubliner by three seconds on Glendun 2. but then lost five on the next stage, leaving the gap at 16s with three stages to go, one of them a 14 miler.

Now that the roads were almost completely dry, McRae and Brookes both left the last service area on SB20 slicks. After 14.5 miles of the Sallagh, the gap had grown by another two seconds. Characteristically, Brookes appeared tense and McRae relaxed when thev emerged from the stage, for both knew that three seconds was almost nothing with 15 miles of stages still to go. In fact it was enough. Sundstrom had decided to settle for third rather than risk everything on a last throw of the dice, and ha taken 27s longer to complete the stage than McRae.

SS26 (14.46 miles) Sallagh
Brookes/Broad 10m 49s;
McRae/Grindrod 10m 51s;
Sundstrom/White 11m 18s;
McHale/Farrell 11m 20s;
Bolton/Ervine 11m 21s;
Fisher/Frazer 11m 22s.

Hodgson judged Opel’s victory to be safe, and promptly issued orders to his drivers to slow down and maintain their positions. They were still a good deal quicker than the rest of the field on SS27, but while Brookes was fastest again on the final stage, McRae coasted through to fifth fastest time, leaving Brookes with a 17s margin after a fantastic display of on the limit driving.

SS27 (9.5 miles)
Brookes/Broad 7m 53s;
McRae/Grindrod 7m 57s;
Sundstrom/White 8m 17s;
McHale/Farrell 8m 19s;
Kaby/Gormley 8m 22s;
Fisher/Frazer 8m 24s.

Similarly, Sundstrom, Llewellin and Fisher were all content to hold station by now, but sixth place very nearly changed hands on that final stage. McHale had begun the test 23s to the good, which he considered to be a safe margin with only five miles to go, so he started the stage reasonably gently. A momentary lapse saw him overshoot a junction, and suddenly he knew the pressure was on once more. He drove flat out to the end of the stage, and clung to his place and maximum Tarmac Championship points by only four seconds.

McKinstry had cracked another exhaust manifold on the last stage, but survived to finish 11th. It says something fofi the pace and the reliability of the top cars that a driver of McKinstry’s calibre could finish no higher than 11th after a largely trouble free run. The only other leading driver to encounter any problem on the final two stages was Aitken-Walker, who found three geese waddling across the stage on SS27. As she pointed out, there was no danger of losing her position, so she politely stopped and let them cross the road!

SS28 (6.1 miles)
Brookes/Broad 4m 56s;
Sundstrom/White 5m 00s;
Bolton/Ervine 5m 03s;
Kaby/Gormley 5m 05s;
McRae/Grindrod 5m 08s;
Fisher/Frazer 5m 09s.

In the end, reliability and experience had triumphed again. Both had been put to the test though, and both Sunstrom and Llewellin have reason to be proud of their drives, for Brookes and McRae take a good deal of beating in Ireland. In the end, the tried and tested formula proved successful, but the signs are that it will not be sufficient for much longer. Inevitably, Brookes thought the lightweight car had been a questionable advantage, while McRae badly wants one for the Manx!

McRae and Grindrod had to settle for second place. Photo D.Smyth

Since the National Breakdown hiccup, Tony Pond and the Rover have dominated Gp A with deceptive ease, bringing the driver within reach of the Gp A crown, and making the team the favourite for the Manufacturer’s title. Pond had been able to ease off in the second half, merely testing tyres and making small adjustments to the handling once the second axle had been changed. Eklund was a valiant second, and Stuart a fine third in his privately entered car after another intelligent drive. Aitken-Walker was an impressive fourth, belying the Peugeot’s lack of power and beating the Astras convincingly.

Per Eklund and Dave Whittock were a valiant second to Tony Pond in Group One.
Photo D.Smyth

The best Astra on this occasion was Airikkala’s, the Finn at last finishing an event in the car — some reward for his determination in dragging the ailing Vauxhall to the finish. Lovell’s Escort was improved in the second half, running smoothly after a gearbox change in Omagh, but there is clearly still much work to be done before the car is competitive. There is nothing wrong with its preparation, but the machine will continue to be an embarrassment to Ford until some more money is spent on it.

Considering that the competition itself was so absorbing, it seems a shame that the Ulster should suffer so many problems this year. The organisers were certainly unlucky both in the way in which a series of difficulties combined to thwart their efforts, and in the weather, but one feels they brought problems upon themselves to a degree, firstly by repeating a small number of stages so early in the event, and secondly by using such narrow roads at that point; in the prevailing conditions, it is scarcely surprising that there should have been major accidents, and that roads should have been blocked. Few competitors liked the narrow, twistier stages in any case. Stricter spectator control would also help improve the event, not so much in terms of safety – although that could be improved – but to prevent any repetition of the sort of incident that marred SS8.

Nonetheless, Northern Ireland MC deserve credit for running the event successfully under awkward circumstances, and the rally remains one of the best in the Opera Championship. D.K.W.

Shell Oils Championship
British Midland Ulster Rally – July 26-27

General Classification.

  1. Russell Brookes/Mike Broad (Manta 400) 3h 24m 26s;
  2. Jimmy McRae/Ian Grindrod (Manta 400) 3h 24m 43s;
  3. Mikael Sundstrom/Paul White (205T16) 3h 26m 11s;
  4. David LLewellin/Phil Short (Audi A2) 3h 32m 03s;
  5. Bertie Fisher/Austin Frazer (Manta 400) 3h 33m 45s;
  6. Austin McHale/Christie Farrell (Manta 400) 3h 34m 45s;
  7. Cyril Bolton/Derek Ervine (Manta 400) 3h 34m 49s;
  8. Tony Pond/Rob Arthur (Rover Vitesse) 3h 36m 30s;
  9. Terry Kaby/Kevin Gormley (Nissan 240) 3h 38m 07s;
  10. Per Eklund/Dave Whittock (Toyota Supra) 3h 39m 24s.