1973 FIT Cork 20
This report is reproduced from Autosport, November 15, 1973
A Win for Buckley/Caplice
Taking the lead early on the second day of this two-day event, Gerry Buckley and John Caplice of Kanturk, in the famous ex-Billy Coleman “tatty” Escort, were the surprise winners of the Munster MC&CC “FIT” Cork 20 Rally, held on November 3/4 1973. Coleman himself, now mounted in the ex-Sclater Escort RS, looked a certain victor until he left the road early on Sunday, letting his Cousin score a win on this, one of the richest non-International rallies in Ireland.
Thanks to generous sponsorship from Fit Tyre Services, the total prize fund stood at £850 with £150 to the overall winner, and most of the remainder being distributed among six classes. In addition, there were special bonus awards for the first three Chrysler and Ford cars home.
The rally was the sixth of seven rounds in the Irish Shell-BP National Rally Championship, and third place overall was enough to secure the drivers’ title for BMW-mounted Arnie Poole, the third driver to take the championship during the seven years of its existence. The battle in the navigators section was between five hopefuls, and four of these are still in with a chance going into the final round.
The 82-strong entry was headed by three-times winner Billy Coleman, having his first outing in the ex-Sclater Escort, purchased shortly before the event. This dispelled the strong Carrera rumours which had been in circulation during the previous few weeks. Coleman was accompanied by Frank O’Donoghue, who was one of the five navigators in with a chance of taking the championship.
Dessie McCartney and Drexel Gillespie had their Carrera at number two, this being the car which they took to second place on the Manx, while another Cork crew were behind them – Greg O’Gorman and Leo Whyte in an Escort TC. The newly-built Escort RS of Pat McCourt and Derek Smyth followed, ahead of the similar car of Demmy Fitzgerald and Sean Hanley, with the cheeky Imp entered by Chrysler Dealer Team Ulster for Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Peter Scott at six.
John Keating and Nicky Condon had their Escort RS at seven, followed by the highest BLMC product, the lightweight Cooper S of Ron and Irene Neeley, and then another Escort driven by Mick Dolan and Jimmy Stewart (forsaking their Chevron B8) and the Carrera of Gerry Forde and Joe Reynolds, another maiden outing.
British interests were well represented, with no less than 16 entries from across the water, headed by the Crystals of Hull Escort RS2000 for Harold Morley and Peter Bryant who had been left out of the original seeding list, and were given number 23 when Rory Mulcahy non-started. Malcolm Harvey-Ross and Neil Indigo-Jones were Porsche 911S mounted at 16, while Victor Carlisle and Richard Smith had their Alpina BMW 2002.
The format of the route had 11 forest stages on Saturday afternoon and evening, with the remaining 12 on closed tarmac roads on Sunday. This proved especially popular with the service crews who were thus spared the chore of changing back and forth from racers to forest tyres several times. The start was scheduled for 14:30 on Saturday, and thanks largely to the connection between Fit Tyre Services and Goodyear, no less a person than Ronnie Peterson acted as starter, as well as doing part of the route in a course car.
After some panics in the afternoon Cork traffic, the field found its way to the first test at Watergrasshill, a 4-miler, which was both fast and smooth. Here the day’s first retirement was posted when Greg O’Gorman slid off on a long tightening left-hander, getting the car wedged on top of a tree stump. Best time went to Demmy Fitzgerald, 1 second ahead of Keating and Buckley.
Special Stage 2, Glendine Bridge, was another fast one, but was shortened to 2 miles. Here, Coleman showed that he meant business, but Buckley kept him close company. The same pattern emerged on the third forest, but Coleman had all of 11 seconds to spare this time. This pair proceeded to dominate the next few stages, with Pat McCourt getting an occasional look-in, as did the left-hand-drive Schnitzer BMW2002 of Arnie Poole and Kenny Johnston, who were deeply involved in the National Championship struggle, and Dessie McCartney.
As daylight changed to dusk and then darkness, a blanket of fog descended making things very challenging, and affecting some drivers more than others. McCartney, perhaps conscious of the value of his car, eased right back, as did Gerry Forde, while Robin Eyre-Maunsell’s press-on style was well suited to the conditions. John Tansey and Ray Inglis (Alpina BMW2002) had an off on the sixth stage costing all of 20 minutes, while road penalties began to play a part in the results as crews arrived at the second service area and petrol stop at Killavullen. Gareth Jones and Barry Llewellyn, over from Glamorgan in the Rally Sport Escort RS1700, had to have their exhaust welded, but apart from that were going well.
The final four stages of the first day included two in Ballyhoura, the first of which was taken by Coleman, while the husband and wife team of Mick and Anne O’Connell were fastest on the second by just one second from Harold Morley’s Escort RS2000, which was putting up a consistent series of good times without being spectacular. For the last two stages the fog was, if anything, getting worse and again Coleman and O’Connell were the men to beat.
Sean Campbell and Brendan McConville (Escort RS) were another pair to motor along nicely, appearing in third place on a couple of stages, while some of the faster men had their ups and downs.
Overnight placings were:
- Billy Coleman 951s
- Harold Morley 1017s
- Sean Campbell 1028s
- Ger Buckley 1067s
- Robin Eyre-Maunsell 1092s
- Noel Smith 1108s
Noel Smith (Escort RS) was partnered by Paul Phelan, this being a last-minute arrangement, when Ricky Foott very sportingly stood down in order to give Paul Phelan a seat in a bid to retain his navigator’s title. One of the more surprising aspects of the first day’s run was the low retirement rate, with Greg O’Gorman being the only one gone from the first 15 starters.
For the Sunday run, most people changed to racing tyres, although some were to regret this later as despite the stages being nominally all-tarmac, many of them were liberally coated in places with mud and beet, which has all the adhesive qualities of a sheet of ice! Rain, which varied from light drizzle to heavy showers, did nothing to help the situation and the number of retirements was much higher as a result.
First to go was Demmy Fitzgerald, who burst an oil-pipe on the first stage of the day, while Noel Smith put his Escort on its side on stage 2 at Ballinahina, doing the handling a power of no good, although the actual body damage was amazingly light. The rain of the previous day had caused some minor flooding as well as all the mud, and it was a combination of these two which put the Coleman Escort off the road n the third stage, tearing out a front strut and forcing retirement.
Harold Morley put the Crystal’s Escort off on the same stage, damaging both front corners and losing almost 20 minutes. He later changed back from his Kleber racers to rough tyres and was much happier after this. Just to complete changes to the leaderboard, Sean Campbell chalked up another in his long list of retirements this year, with yet more gearbox problems – this time bent selector forks.
The outcome of all this was that the lead went to Gerry Buckley, whose closest challenge now seemed to come from John Keating. Robin Eyre-Maunsell was finding a persistent misfire in the Imp, which was dropping him gradually back down the field. Greg O’Gorman, out for the special award for the Sunday stages, was going like a rocket, but naturally was not officially still competing.
The fourth stage of the day, at Ballyhillogue, was shortened from 11 to 9 miles, but most of the early numbers were cleaning the amended bogey time. The following stage was also shortened but this didn’t help John Bridges and Brendan Doyle in the ex-Will Sparrow Mini Clubman as they ran out of petrol and were unable to find any within their maximum lateness.
The day’s first service area followed, and saw feverish activity as service crews tried to repair some of the depredation which had occurred to date. The sixth stage of the day, French’s Road, accounted for Mick Dolan’s Escort with clutch thrust bearing failure, while James Doherty put his quick 1300 pushrod Escort off at “Mick Barry’s corner” from a couple of years ago, although some spectators were able to lift him out again.
Arnie Poole was motoring along nicely in the BMW, picking up places during the day, and was making his presence felt on the leaderboard. Noel Smith decided to call it a day after the seventh stage, Nad, as the car could not be made to handle, despite trying various tyre combinations, and in any case the battery had broken in the earlier incident. Next to go was Pat McCourt who had a repetition of Bridges’ complaint when he too ran out of petrol on the ninth stage of the day, Mushera.
The final three stages were comparatively free from retirements, but those who survived were scrapping away among themselves with Poole now into third place and Dessie McCartney shaping up to overtake Mick O‘Connell and Gareth Jones, who had to have his Escort’s exhaust welded again. McCartney had a bit of drama on the final stage, Killinardish, when he met a car coming against him on the stage, but there was a narrow avoidance and no harm was done. Even with this shock, he had a comfortable fastest-time with the long straights suiting the Carrera admirably.
With just 40 of the 73 starters arriving back to Cork for the finish, it proved to be a tough Cork 20, especially as many of the finishers looked somewhat second-hand. Driving very sensibly after Coleman’s retirement, yet still quickly enough to set many fastest stage times, Ger Buckley scored his first major win, a clear 2.5 minutes ahead of fellow Kanturk driver John Keating, while Arnie Poole was doubly pleased to take third place and clinch the drivers’ section of the National Rally Championship.
Ulstermen Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Dessie McCartney were fourth and fifth respectively, the latter losing too much time in the fog on Saturday evening to pose a serious threat for the lead, while the best of the visitors who survived was Gareth Jones.
- G.Buckley/J.Caplice (Escort RS1800) 2044s;
- J.Keating/N.Condon (Escort RS1800) 2192s;
- A.Poole/K.Johnston (BMW2002 1990cc) 2320s;
- R.Eyre-Maunsell/P.Scott (Imp 998cc) 2381s;
- D.McCartney/D.Gillespie (Carrera 2687cc) 2476s;
- M.O’Connell/A.O’Connell (Escort TC 1760cc) 2569s;
- G.Jones/B.Llewellyn (Escort RS1700) 2635s;
- G.Forde/G.Reynolds (Carrera 2687cc) 2704s;
- R.Neely/MissI.Neely (Mini 1395cc) 2821s;
- M.Oxborrow/K.Hogan (Mini 1293cc) 3097s.