This article is reproduced from Carsport March 1993
Report by Sammy Hamill, photos by Esler Crawford unless otherwise stated.
The message from Galway was loud and clear – Austin McHale is back. Both Kenny McKinstry and Bertie Fisher, the dominant drivers of 1992, acknowledged the fact that, after two lean years, the three-times Tarmac Champion is a major force again.
With Fisher’s Galway bogey striking again and the reigning Dunlop Tarmac champion out of contention following a blown turbo on his Toughmac Subaru, and McKinstry failing to withstand a devastating second-day charge by McHale, it gave the Dublin driver a record fourth Galway International win.
It is a result which neutral supporters will see as good for Irish rallying. McHale is a major player, a powerful figure in the sport on this side of the Irish Sea, and his decline over the past two years – the last of his 10 international wins was, again, in Galway in 1991 — left a gaping hole in the “potential winners” category.
The reasons had more to do with the machinery than any lack of determination or will to win. He sold his BMW M3 literally on the eve of Donegal 1991 and it wasn’t until the end of the season that he found a replacement – the ex-Sainz Toyota Celica GT4.
For a long time it didn’t look like a wise move, the complicated car proving difficult to run, hard to maintain and, crucially, not quite on the pace of the Subarus. It wasn’t until December and the rally of the Lakes in Killarney that McHale began to look comfortable in it but even then he was some way short of Fisher’s pace.
But Galway brought an apparent transformation. McHale, despite a possible touch of food poisoning, was running hard from the start and only a handful of seconds behind McKinstry’s Kaliber Subaru at the end of the first leg.
Kenny held him off for as long as he could but conceded: “I was going as hard as I could and a bit more. There was nothing more I could do.”
So what changed for McHale? Modifications to the cooling system had increased the power output but perhaps the most important factor was tyres. Not necessarily the fact that he ran on wider 10-inch rubber, which was the cause of so much argument before the event, but the switch from Dunlop to Pirelli.
McHale had felt for some time that the lower profile Dunlops were not ideally suited to the Toyota and its suspension set up. He felt that this was where the car’s handling problems started.
In Galway, he had Pirelli’s 1992-style tyres and they made a difference – especially when he changed on Sunday to hand-out thermal slicks even though the roads were still damp and very slippery.
It might have been seen as a gamble but Fisher was already using the narrower nine-inch version and had reeled off three fastest times on the opening loop of Sunday stages as he clawed his way back up the leaderboard after his Saturday disasters.
Fisher, who had ended a 10-year association with Shell to sign with Mobil just a matter of days before the start, has never won in Galway but was in a confident mood as he took the lead on the first run over the Saturday loop of stages around Gort. But then on stage four he put a wheel too close to the edge of the road and clipped a rock at close to 100 mph and instantly lost a front tyre. The run to the end of the stage cost him most of the wheel and around half-a-minute.
Stage five brought another puncture and then on stage six the turbo blew, the first time such a problem has affected his Subaru. He had to stop and disconnect the oil feed before proceeding to the end of the stage and assistance.
“It cost about four minutes in time lost in the stage and road penalties plus about another minute in motivation,” he said afterwards. ”Once it had happened I couldn’t get myself ﬁred up again.”
The motivation factor wasn’t helped either by the discovery that a change of gearbox as a precaution after the puncture had left him with an inoperative centre differential. By the end of Saturday he was up to sixth again but still more than four minutes behind the McKinstry-McHale duel for the lead.
He quickly picked off Price and Meagher, the latter ﬁnding the move to four-wheel-drive AND left-hand-drive all at the same time to be some task, especially as the ex-Gordon Spooner car suffered various transmission difficulties as well as being too lowly geared for tarmac. Now Fisher had Nolan in his sights.
McHale, meanwhile, was homing in on McKinstry. He cut Kenny’s lead to half over those three stages despite spinning and then picking up a puncture two miles from the end of stage 15. McHale was on a charge and no mistake.
Second time over the loop and the lead changed hands. This time, McHale was 16 seconds faster than McKinstry and Kenny admitted there wasn’t a lot he could do about it although he wasn’t about to give up.
But it was all over for Kenny when, on the penultimate stage, at close to 100 mph, he was confronted by a black bullock in the middle of the road. The Subaru struck it a glancing blow and although McKinstry said the incident didn’t cost him any time, it unsettled him and rattled his concentration. McHale was home and dry, eventually extending his winning margin to more than 50 seconds
Having overtaken Meagher for fourth place, Fisher immediately found himself in third when Nolan crashed out. The Cosworth, suffering from brake problems, skated straight on at a tight right on stage 18 and went slithering over a bank. Exit Nolan after another strong showing. Meagher moved up to fourth followed by Price and the Group N winner Bob Fowden who was over two minutes clear of arch-rival Trevor Cathers. The Tyrone driver, in fact, was battling over seventh place with Nesbitt’s BMW which had lost its clutch with just five stages remaining.
Then Andrew Nesbitt overshot a junction and dropped to eighth but a desperate charge over the last stage saw him oust Cathers from seventh place – by just one second.
John Gilleece, another driver running a 4×4 Sapphire for the first time, battled his way up the leaderboard to take ninth place and the top 10 was rounded off by Frank O’Mahony in one of the Price Metros.
Greer’s rally meanwhile was going from bad to worse. He was 29th overnight, blew a turbo on the first loop, lost the clutch on the last stage and landed on top of a wall when he arrived into a corner in neutral. He did finish – 30th – but must be hoping he used up a whole season’s bad luck in a single weekend.
In contrast, McHale and co-driver Dermot O’Gorman will see this victory as a turning point in their relationship with the Tom Hogan Toyota. On this occasion, it performed faultlessly and ran at a pace which may cause McKinstry and Fisher one or two attacks of anxiety between now and the Circuit of Ireland at Easter.
McHale, of course, has said he won’t be doing the Circuit but the Galway result may help him have second thoughts.
1 Austin McHale/Dermot O’Gorman (Toyota Celica GT4) 2-56.14;
2 Kenny McKinstry/Robbie Philpott (Subaru Legacy) 2-57.09;
3 Bertie Fisher/Rory Kennedy (Subaru Legacy) 3-01.00;
4 Frank Meagher/Michael Maher (Ford Sapphire Cosworth) 3-01.34;
5 John Price/Anne Marie Smith (Metro 6R4) 3-03.05;
6 Bob Fowden/Jerry Hynes (Ford Sapphire Cosworth, Group N) 3-04.10;
7 Andrew Nesbitt/Brian Murphy (BMW M3) 3-06.44;
8 Trevor Cathers/Gordon Noble (Sapphire Cosworth, Group N) 3-06.45;
9 John Gilleece/Stephen Roswell (Ford Sapphire Cosworth) 3-07.49;
10 Frank O’Mahony/Hugh McPhillips (Metro 6R4) 3-10.36.