ALL THE WAY TO GALWAY
Circuit of Ireland Retro Rally.
This report is reproduced from Irish Vintage and Classic Magazine – Winter 1995/96
This year’s Circuit of Ireland Retrospective Rally ended up as a battle between two County Tyrone drivers‘. Eric Patterson, who has won the Retro the last two years, and Sam Bowden, a well known Autotest champion, often share an MG Midget in Autotests, but were dicing with each other for the Rally title. Eric was in his usual 1967 Riley Elf, whilst Sam was competing in a 1971 Mini Clubman.
Throughout the three day event, the two drivers tried to outdo each other both in the navigation sections and the autotests. Almost all the other rally drivers were out-classed as these two expert crews set a stiff pace and some very quick times around the many autotests. Eric held a short lead almost all the way through the rally but was finally just pipped at the post by Sam Bowden.
This, the 10th “Retro” rally, started on the Friday afternoon in Bangor, Co. Down on Friday 13th October and headed west through Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh. After the supper halt at Lisnarick it was up into the Sperrins for the night navigation section which led the competitors across the border into Eire on roads which until just recently were “unapproved” border crossing roads. During the early hours of Saturday morning the cars drove on to the overnight halt in Bundoran, Co. Donegal.
After the restart on Saturday the competitors navigated and autotested south through Counties Sligo and Mayo to Galway City. Both Sunday start and Rally finish were in Galway City but the day’s events took the teams through the rough limestone country of the Burren in Co. Clare.
Many drivers knew their limitations and who they were up against and were content to aim for a “class” win and hope for a good overall result. Amongst the very competitive drivers, drawn from all over Europe, there were many out just for the fun of the event for which it has become famous.
Although the Rally is for pre-74 vehicles there is no leniency for a car’s age, the Retro is as hard as the Easter Circuit of Ireland Rally, also organised by the Ulster Automobile Club. The first Autotest was hardly started when one car became a Rally casualty. A Frog-eye Sprite driven by Lowry Scarlett broke a lever-arm shock absorber and just limped home, within a short time a replacement had been sought and fitted and the blue Sprite was ready for the rest of the weekend. Later in the evening, during the special navigation section, an MG TF was damaged when it met other competitors in a Volvo head on, and although the car was damaged when it went into a ditch, the occupants were alright, but retired early. Later during the tough night navigation section one driver managed to take his car sideways down a twenty foot bank, the car was severely damaged and the driver suffered cracked ribs and bruises and spent the rest of Friday night in Enniskillen Hospital.
Saturday passed without any serious incidents but a few teams succumbed to car mechanical failure. Many teams lost points on the Regularity sections but there were only five autotests during the day so the going was easy. As Sunday started the drivers had a determination to make up for any mistakes of the previous two days. All went well for many until the autotest at Aillwee Caves just before lunch. As the cars had a short hillclimb before seeing the test, many of the teams didn’t correctly observe the test course and were given maximum points for going the wrong way. A long navigation section took the rally along the Atlantic seaboard and then back inland to finish with one last autotest at Rally HQ. Many cars which had lasted until then just gave up and let the teams down on the last test. Some of the cars actually said “enough” as their drivers started the test!
Special mention must go to Mark Beer and Matt Domin of Essex in a Triumph GT6, by Sunday morning they had a damaged exhaust, one rear shock broken and were down to first, second and reverse gears. They continued on to the end, but by the time they entered the final autotest they had lost all electrics and only had first gear.
Many of the competitors had penalty scores running into the thousands, while the top class drivers managed to keep theirs down to the few hundreds. Sam Bowden and his navigator Derek Smyth won with a final tally of 29 points, Eric Patterson and Gordon Noble were second with 37 points and third overall was Eamonn Byrne and Paul Phelan of Wicklow in a 1964 Cooper S with 66.8 points.
- Sam Bowden/Derek Smyth (Mini Clubman) 29.0 pts
- Eric Patterson/Gordon Noble (Riley Elf) 37.0
- Eamonn Byrne/Paul Phelan (Mini Cooper S) 66.8
- Peter Lynch/Rory Dooley (Ford Cortina Mk1) 116.6
- William Tobin/Liam McGuinness (Sunbeam Stiletto) 163.4
- Robert Holmes/ Malcolm Thompson (Austin 1300 GT) 195.2
- Nick Ward/Will Heaney
- Philip Surtees/John Bayliss
- John O’Kane/Bryan Gray
- Peter Bassi/Anthony Rowland
- Sam Bowden/Derek Smyth
- Eric Patterson/Gordon Noble
- Eamonn Byrne/Paul Phelan
- Robert Bolton/Steven Bolton
- Peter Lynch/Rory Dooley
- Frank Fennell/Keith Ferry
- Bryan Mutch/Ken McEntee
- Richard McAllister/Joe McAllister
- Geoffrey Long/Brendan McCoy
- Michael Gabbett/Michael Jackson
- M. Stevenson/M. Chambers
- Billy Crosbie/Chris McNally
- William Tobin/Liam McGuinness
- Robert Holmes/Malcolm Thompson
- Conor Falvey/Vincent Fagan
- Reggie McSpadden/Brian Rowan
- Pat Johnson/W. Percival-Price
- Harvey McWhir/Mark Hewitt
- Patricia Cochrane/Maria Pritchard
- Ian Sampson/Derek Ogle
- Noel Cochrane/Michael Magee
- Ian McCullough/Ross McCullough
- Dermot Johnson/Jony McVeigh
- Paul Jennings/Graeme Jennings