1969 Gallaher Circuit

Coorleagh - Roger Clark


This report by Michael O’Carroll is reproduced from “Motor Sport – Ireland’s only Motorsport Magazine”

ITS all over bar the shouting! What could be termed the fastest, toughest and best subscribed Circuit of Ireland International ever, ended in a blaze of glory for Roger Clark and Jim Porter in the ‘Works’ Escort Twin-Cam—Group 6. After five days and 1,500 miles of driving, nobody but nobody got near to challenging the Ford.

But let’s go back the the very beginning. The rally started at the Gallaher factory, Ballymena at 8.30 on Good Friday evening. There was a huge crowd of spectators and 147 crews ready for the off. Clark was first away followed by Hopkirk, Timo Makinen, Tom Trana, Adrian Boyd, Charlie Gunn, Roy Fidler and Rosemary Smith. Rosemary was the first to make a ‘story’ in the rally when one of the plugs jumped out of the cylinder block on the first stage. She lost four minutes.

Doug Lockyear of Britain, driving a semi-works Saab, pranged on this same stage and he went out. Next to go out of the rally was Pat Fay who shunted the Renault Alpine because of a blow-out on the left back wheel. Leslie Fitzpatrick was next in trouble with the Triumph 2.5 PI. A damaged radiator was to put him out before the rally was three hours old.

Coorleagh – Paddy Hopkirk

Up in front, Clark was trouncing Hopkirk and Timo Makinen in the Clark and Simpson Group 2 Escort. Paddy Hopkirk in the British Leyland had tried special racing tyres and threw them away after six slow stages. Even Adrian Boyd in his Group 6 Mini was beating Hopkirk.

Melanie Fitzgerald-Smith/Kris Frazer in the Cork based Imp went out at Glenasmole with transmission trouble and at Sally Gap John L’Amie left the road in a spectacular fashion and had to sit and watch the cars go by.


By Blessington the order was:

  1. Clark (51.9 marks lost);
  2. Boyd (81.9);
  3. Hopkirk (87.2);
  4. Ronnie White (92.8);
  5. Fidler (95.1);
  6. Makinen (95.1);
  7. Cahal Curley (98.7);
  8. Cecil Vard (100.7);
  9. Reggie McSpadden (102.9);
  10. Dessie McCartney (103.3).

Makinen had broken a differential on Sally Gap. Mike Wood, his navigator, got a lift to Blessington with Ford competitions leader Bill Barnett and checked in without the car. When the officials discovered what had happened they had no option but to throw them out of the rally once they reached Killarney.

Hamilton’s Folly – John Bridges Cooper S

Breakfast over, the cars set off again. On the way to Killarney Charlie Gunn damaged the front suspension of his Escort t/c at Callen Wood and he retired. Demi Fitzgerald broke a fuel line in his Escort t/c and because the damage took place inside the bulkhead time was not available to get at it. On this stage Clark pulled further ahead and Tom Trana in the Saab got to grips with things and pulled closer to Hopkirk.

With Timo out, Hopkirk was in second place as Boyd had taken it easy during daylight. The results office were mildly surprised with the times being put up by number 115 — Billy Coleman – in his Millstreet built Escortina t/c. By my reckoning Coleman was fourth overall by the time the cars arrived in the Kerry beauty spot. Clark, Hopkirk, Boyd, Coleman, Trana, McSpadden (Robert McBurney seemed to be doing most of the driving), Curley. Fidler. McCartney, White and Cecil Vard was the order. Crawford Harkness in the works Saab and Ernie McMillan in his Cooper S had both “wrong-slotted” and were victims of the fifteen minute rule.


Again the sun was shining on Sunday morning as the first cars left the Parc Ferme for a 200 mile run (eleven stages). Clark was quickest on Moll’s Gap and again on Borlinn. Tom Trana ran out of road on Moll’s Gap and that’s where his rally ended. “Just as I was getting ready to have a go” as he said himself. Bronwyn Burrell/Joan Pink didn’t leave Killarney despite hard work by their service crew.

Spinans Hill – Billy Coleman Escortina

Billy Coleman was always in the top four on Sunday and returned fastest time on SS 27 – Cod’s Head. Paddy Hopkirk had a mysterious lack of oil pressure and he told me at Kenmare that he feared he would not finish. At the same time Roger Clark’s rear suspension was breaking up. Clark, however, was fastest on the Sunday stage and Hopkirk was third behind Boyd. Billy Coleman was fourth and Cecil Vard had seemingly got really wound up to be fifth. These were also the overall placings.

Mike Dolan from Moate in the Escort t/c and Gerry McNamara in a similar car were coming on to the leaderboard. Graham Wilkinson was out back the road after running out of brakes and even though she was still going Rosemary Smith was by no means happy in the Auto-Extra Lotus Cortina. But, Billy Coleman was the man of the rally as far as Killarney was concerned. On Sunday night Killarney was full to the brim with enthusiasts and parties were the order of the day — or I mean night!


The first stage out of Killarney, Billy Coleman was quickest, beating both Clark and Hopkirk by a second and Adrian Boyd by 20 seconds. Then came disaster for both Coleman and Rosemary Smith. Billy dropped over four minutes at Moan Vaun, near Cappawhite, and Rosemary Smith met a non-competing car on a stage and lost over 12 minutes to Clark. This was to ruin her chance of finishing in the top ten, something she was very likely to do the way she was going up to then.

Lake Carragh – Rosemary Smith – Lotus Cortina.

It was quite obvious from here on in, that Clark was going to drive as slow as he dared. Hopkirk got him in several stages, but just by seconds, and Boyd was losing his battle to beat Hopkirk. By early afternoon Cecil Vard had moved into fourth place. Ronnie White and Cahal Curley were really having a go and Roy Fidler lost a lot of time with broken engine mounts.

By tea time at Killadeas, Vard was slipping because of a slow puncture and Billy Coleman had made up lost ground returning to fourth overall behind Clark, Hopkirk and the most consistent driver in the rally, Adrian Boyd. Dessie McCartney gave up the ghost in Roscommon. Mike Dolan was losing oil from the differential and John O’Gorman had a broken throttle cable. All three ended their rally by supper.

Berlin – Cecil Vard Porsche 911S


It was quite obvious by this stage that Roger Clark was going to give Ford its second Circuit of Ireland win. All he had to do was keep going. Lough Eske was won by Hopkirk, Cole- man was second. At Rosbeg Rosemary Smith was quickest with Coleman second. Next stage at Doochary, Coleman was incredibly fast and broke his exhaust system. He was 9 seconds quicker than the second man — Hopkirk.

Coleman was now a hairsbreadth behind Boyd. But disaster struck for him at Glen. Exhaust fumes got the better of him and his car went off the road and he was out of the rally. What a pity! Around the same time Gerry McNamara’s chances of a class win ended when he thumped something and Paddy Maguire of Ballycumber did more or less likewise. McSpadden’s BMW transmission gave out in Donegal.

Hamilton’s Folly – David Agnew Lancia Fulvia

Cecil Vard, having his best circuit for some years, seemed to ease off in the Porsche. Cahal Curley from Derry in the Escort and Ronnie White from Dungannon in his Cooper S were moving towards fourth position. Adrian Boyd was home and dry for the Private entrants’ award of £200. And so it ended. The only incidents over the last few hours being that John Jago and Helen Walford rolled their Lotus Cortina at Bannagher and still they finished. Noel Smith in his Bostik Cooper S broke an idling gear two miles in on the last stage and did not make Larne. And so to next year and another Circuit of Ireland.


  1. R. Clark/J. Porter (Ford Escort t/c), 428.8 marks lost;
  2. P. Hopkirk/T. Nash (Mini Cooper), 529.6;
  3. A. J. L. Boyd/B. Crawford (Mini Cooper), 547.2;
  4. R. White/H. Hagan (Mini Cooper), 611.9;
  5. C. Curley/A. Frazer (Ford Escort t/c), 627.7;
  6. C. Vard/D. Reynolds (Porsche), 645.5;
  7. R. Fidler/B. Hughes (B.M.W.), 682.9;
  8. B. Lee/J. Coles (Escort t/c), 702.5;
  9. K. Shields/P. Lyster (Vauxhall Viva), 712.3;
  10. A. Shepherd/I. Taylor (Escort t/C), 777.3.


Class 1 – J. A. Eakin/F. P. P. Johnston (B.M.C. Mini), 981.3.
Class 2 – W. R. Johnstone/R. I. McCutcheon (Wartburg), 1,364.
Class 3 – G. R. Hudson-Evans/M. Sones (B.M.C. Cooper), 892.2.
Class 4 – A. D. Shephard/I. V. Taylor (Escort), 777.3.
Class 5 – R. Fidler/E, Hughes (B.M.W.), 682.9.
Class 6 – R. White/H. Hagan (B.M.C. Cooper), 611.9.
Class 7 – C. Curley/A. Fraser (Escort t/c), 627.7.
Class 8 – B. Mitchell/B. Pinkerton (Sprite).
Class 9 – C. Vard/D. Reynolds (Porsche), 645.5.
Class 10 — R. Clarke/J. Porter (Escort t/c), 428.8.

The Gallaher Trophy for the best private entrant was won by A. J. L. Boyd/B. Crawford (B.M.C. Cooper).
Castlereagh Trophy (Best crew from Republic) — C. Vard/D. Reynolds.
The Ladies’ Trophy was won by Miss Rosemary Smith/Mrs. A. Watson (Lotus Cortina).

No one-make team or club team finished intact.

A total of 58 cars of the 148 which started completed the rally.