1975 Circuit of Ireland

Photo: Esler Crawford
Cool and disciplined, Billy Coleman won the Circuit of Ireland after pacing himself over the five days with superb judgement.
Ernest Kidney and Roy Cathcart look on as Dessie McCartney presses on despite brake issues. He would take his customary runner-up spot at the finish. Photo “Internet”.

This article is reproduced from Autosport Magazine 10 April 1975
Report by Peter Newton.
Photos by Esler Crawford.

Coleman’s Electric Circuit

The professional touch is a hard-won quality in rallying, manifesting itself after years of experience, determination and disappointment.  There are few who acquire the status of a ‘professional’ in the game, but Billy Coleman graphically illustrated the style over Easter weekend when he won the war of attrition on the Benson and Hedges Circuit of Ireland. He badly wanted to win this one and he accomplished it with a cool and disciplined performance that had more than a touch of inevitability about it.  While others fell by the wayside around him, he timed his move to the head of the field without ever seriously extending himself, and proceeded around Ireland pursued by the cries of his many supporters, only once seriously challenged.

That this challenge should come from Will Sparrow in the G2 DTV Magnum is perhaps surprising in view of an entry list boasting a Lancia Stratos and Porsche Carreras, but the story of this event, toughened up considerably since last year as the organisers had intended, was one of the retirements, and Will himself became a pedestrian on Sunday after a characteristically memorable drive that must have provided a great morale boost to DTV’s G2 efforts. Dessie McCartney, always in the top five, could never really get on terms with the various leaders, hampered as he was by persistent braking problems, and at the last, was all but caught by a determined Brian Evans, who after a fine performance here last year, overcame many bothers to finish a strong third.

This year’s Circuit was, as usual, the scenario of several superb individual performances that came to nought. Two which did not, however, came from Adrian Boyd and Russell Brookes. Adrian, driving a standard (no really!) R16 TS engined Alpine, was, without commercial pressures and obligations or mechanical failure to dog his progress, little short of sensational, and it was a heart-warming sight to see the little blue car flitting through the lanes and passes in such inimitable spirited style. With this performance, he put broad smiles back on the faces of his countless supporters, not to mention his own. Russell was his usual ebullient self.  The tougher the contest, the better he likes it, and yet again he demonstrated how it should be done in G1 while coping with a multitude of troubles that would have sidelined all but the most determined; putting red faces on many of those behind him, and capping one of his finest performances by setting fastest time on the last of the 61 special stages.

Russell Brookes drove such an impressive rally he has been voted Ford “Rallyman of the Month”.

With 15 minutes of road lateness and a ten-second penalty for every minute late, there was not too much margin for error or servicing, a factor which, on paper at any rate, favoured the Porsches, whose train-like reliability has time and again been proved. Unlike the modern G2 car which requires constant cossetting to keep it happy, there is normally very little to play with on the Porsche. Servicing regulations were also of a very stringent nature. so that Malcolm Neill and his highly efficient organisational entourage were looking forward to some very taxing rallying. This is to be Malcolm’s last year as Clerk of the Course (unless the combined efforts of all his team have the desired effect) and he has reluctantly decided to stand down from his year-long ‘after hours’ job owing to pressure of business.

Since he has taken over the reins. he has watched the rally grow in stature to its present highly respected level. This year the event was graced with the presence of that other charismatic figure of rally organisation, Mauri Lindell, who took time off from his duties with the 1000 Lakes, to act in an official capacity as Circuit CSI Inspector; the organisers hoping to upgrade the rally’s International status further next year.

One imagines that he did not come away disappointed, for as usual planning was meticulous and everything ran smoothly. Only one stage was cancelled owing to the non-appearance of the necessary number of marshals (they appeared to be all out watching on the Tim Healey pass), and another due to wrist watch timing but in general there were no problems. besides a certain indifference to road opening on behalf of some marshals and spectators, a factor which was somewhat disquieting for the results team, or “bin men” as it was decided to christen them this year. (Apparently last year’s “Streakers” was frowned upon by higher authority).

The 61 stages bore witness to the work that the organisers have put into the event since last year, for there were several testing new miles as well as many of the old classics. In all there were 18 new stages ranging from the spectacular scenery of Turners Rock (second stage of the Sunday run) and the desolation of Cullenagh Lake, to the sweeping bends of Old Kildimo and Ballynalough.

One of the “men of the event” – Brian Evans set top times between bothers slowing his Porsche

Competitors had a real treat in store right the way through the event, particularly on Sunday, for though there was no Slea Head on the agenda to greet them, many of the classics were waiting, including Molls Gap (a certain kill-or-cure for hangovers), the unbelievable ‘amphitheatre’ of the Tim Healey pass and the breathtaking scenery of Cods Head and Ardgroom; all of which must have provided excellent views for student co-drivers new to the splendour of the Allihies peninsula.

The average stage length was just under nine miles so there was plenty of time to ‘get in the groove’, and the infamous Sally Gap. tackled in the early hours of Tuesday morning, had been lengthened to a staggering 29 miles. It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that with only seven stages left to cover on Tuesday morning after five hard competitive days, crews still had to complete a similar stage mileage to that of an average British national event before getting to Larne — food for thought!

Last year the rally was held under the constant cloud of political strife; however this year the main threats to the event were not of a violent extremist nature, but rather of an agricultural one, as the farmers were planning a demonstration which would have involved the blocking of stages with tractors and farm machinery. In addition the fishermen were alleged to be poised to blockade the ports. The former threat was thankfully averted and the latter did not affect the arrival of crews so all was well at the start. After setting off from the Manor House Hotel, Enniskillen, last year, this year‘s venue for the ‘off’ was the Showground at Ballymena. a situation which met with a mixed reception. but one which at least provided a very impressive auditorium for the massed ranks of kaleidoscopic rally cars which were fanned out around. Undoubtedly, the star of this particular show was car number 1, the striking black and white Lancia Stratos of the Chequered Flag, driven by Cathal Curley/Austin Frazer.

All remaining memories of the previous year’s ‘Indian summer’ were rapidly dispelled on the morning of Friday. After days of bitter weather, the air temperature was rather more reminiscent of Siberia. than of temperate latitudes, and between short spells of hesitant watery sunshine, fierce snowstorms swept the hills, which were
already very icy from previous days’ treatments.

The ill-fated Stratos of the Chequered Flag provided promise of things to come while it lasted.

Scrutineering was totally without incident and 120 starters began to make ready for departure which was scheduled for 13.00. As the minutes clicked away and crews began appearing to man the silent cars, so the temperature began to rise and it was confidently predicted by the pundits that the snow, of which there had been at one time that day something in the region of 1½ inches, was disappearing quickly, and was now only seriously affecting the first stage, Orra Lodge, a high, exposed moorland road.

The Porsche Carrera has been the car to beat in Irish tarmac rallying for some time now so it came as something of a surprise to see only two such examples in the top ten, Dessie McCartney/Terry Harryman at seven, and David Agnew/Robert Harkness at nine. At one of course, and making its rally debut, was the beautifully turned out Chequered Flag Stratos for last year’s winner, Cathal Curley/Austin Frazer. After prolonged testing and a recent influx of hand-cut racers from Pirelli, the crew were happy with the handling of the car, and comprehensive service arrangements would ensure its well being. This was only the second time that we have ever seen a competition Stratos in the UK and predictably it created something of a minor sensation.

Second off the ramp was the first of Boreham’s three-car ‘works’ team. OOO 96M, the ex-Roger Clark Escort driven by RAC rally champion, Billy Coleman, and co-driven on this occasion by Paul Phelan. Both Tony Mason and Peter Ashcroft were in attendance to see their charges, and Tony had earlier negotiated sponsorship for the team from the Sunday World, one of Dublin’s prominent newspapers. The reason that this had been necessary was that at number four, a surprise last-minute entry, were the familiar faces of Roger Clark and Jim Porter in an “experimental” car fitted with a brand new Brian Hart motor.

Ford were apparently anxious to learn more about how to set up their cars for tarmac, especially with the new model in mind, so, after a break of five years, the hat trick winner of the circuit was back. Sandwiched between these two Fords was the lightweight BMW of Brian Nelson/Drexel Gillespie.   Last-minute hold-ups with the new ex-works 16 valve car, including the non-appearance of the special Castrol oil that the factory insist must be used with the complex engine (apparently frothing occurs with any other type resulting in con-rod failure) meant that Brian was in his own car as usual. He was not too unhappy about this however as he would have had little or no chance to carry out any testing of the ex-works 16-valver, which should by now have arrived in Ireland, and will almost certainly be making its debut in Donegal.

After a splendid result on last year’s Manx (his first event using racers on tarmac) it was unfortunate that Tony Pond and DOT were unable to make the journey to Ballymena. The cost for the whole operation was apparently prohibitive; but at six came the third member of the Ford team, Nigel Rockey, with the experienced Peter Scott to show him the way. Nigel was running in the colours of his new sponsors (Gateway Supermarkets — “we’re in the pink”) taking something of a gamble as he did not actually know at that stage either whether the season’s projected deal was on, or whether he would get any, financial assistance for doing the event. Happily things have turned out well for him.

After a brilliant run, Nigel Rockey and Peter Scott were sidelined with a blown engine.

The first of the Porsche Carreras came next, driven by a smiling Dessie McCartney and Terry Harryman. Behind them in the ex-Geoff Sheppard Alpine A110 were Adrian Boyd and Frank Main. Adrian was in a jovial relaxed mood, and though he had only one spare set of wheels (he had had them on order from the factory in Dieppe since January) he was in irrepressible humour. The car was as last seen in Galway earlier in the year.  It’s engine is, besides the induction and exhaust, absolutely standard Renault 16TX, so not even the cognoscenti were prepared for what was to come.  Behind them were David Agnew/Robert Hark- ness in their Porsche Carrera, while at 10 was the G2 (and therefore 1600cc) 16-valve Chrysler Avenger of Colin Malkin/ Paul White, who despite their perennial horsepower disadvantage, were expected to go well.

Will Sparrow/Ron Crellin, making their second outing the DTV G2 Magnum, were next up, followed by the Pye TV entered Carrera of Brian Evans/Roger Roderick-Jones, who went so well here last year. Adrian Boyd’s brother, Derek, has now bought the ex-Ford (France) racer that Adrian drove into fourth place after so many problems last year; it has been completely rebuilt with a new David Wood engine, but was still running under the R. E. Hamilton banner with service provided by Robert Taylor et al.

Other fancied runners in the top twenty included Sean Campbell/Brendon McConville in the Northern Excavators/Lindsay cars Escort RS at 15. Sean had been having trouble with the oil scavenge pump and the gearbox but had sorted these, only to be afflicted by a misfire in the upper rev range. He confidently predicted that he wasn’t going to be hampered by the latter in the snowy conditions, however!  A pensive George Hill followed, with regular partner Phil Short in the G2 Blyndenstein-engined Martins Magnum. He had 12 tyres from Goodyear but had cut five of them for the snow, expecting the worst.  As Marek Gierowski has now sold his Carrera, there was only Harold Morley’s short-wave-radio-equipped version remaining to complete the top twenty.

The G1 contingent had sadly lost the Mazda RX3 of Ronnie McCartney/Ron Neely. In testing, prior to the event, something had apparently broken on a straight piece of road. and the car had attacked every bit of countryside in sight.  When it all came to rest, the floor pan was allegedly keeping the four wheels off the ground.

However there was still a wealth of competition provided here by Russell Brookes/John Brown, in the Andrews Heat/Birmingham Post RS2000 having what will probably prove to be their last outing in G1; Robin Eyre-Maunsell/Neil Wilson in the Chrysler Avenger, and Ian Gemmell/Frew Bryden in the Machonochies of Kilmarnock example; while at 33 was the DTV G1 entry for Paul Faulkner and Monty Peters, the pair making their first excursion on to Irish soil.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell beat all the critics – the car broke without going “off”.

The continentals were quite thick on the ground and most well known of them was John Haugland in the Dealer Team Skoda entered, 120s. Scandinavia was particularly well represented, and as ‘after hours’ events proved, they certainly enjoyed themselves. Talk at the start was naturally all tyres, and the scene was reminiscent of some GP starts as all eyes glanced skywards to catch the latest visual assessment of the fickle weather conditions. Most were putting on a brave face although there was clearly some apprehension, and Dessie McCartney summed up the mood neatly when he laughingly declared that “slow tyres are the answer”.

The first series of stages were clearly going to be very interesting as Cathal Curley led away towards the North Antrim coastline. In fact although there was some quantity of snow at Orra Lodge, (the first 10 miles were well covered)’ the worst problem encountered here was with the access road, which quickly became hopelessly blocked as herds of spectators, having seen the first few cars through the stage, returned to their vehicles and attempted to depart against the rally traffic.

‘Perm’ times were the order of the day here while everything was cleared up. Not surprisingly most were taking it gingerly here but there were casualties nonetheless as Gregg O’Gorman rolled his Alpine, and Willie Crawford, really keen after his long lay-off while his car was rebuilt, had the newly assembled motor let go; a sickening disappointment after months of preparation. Willie reckoned that he caught it in time to save some of the expensive Broadspeed bits, but it will need a reground crank at the very least; so with oil appearing in large quantities out of the crankcase breather, he set himself a new task, namely enjoying himself, and was subsequently to be seen in Killarney night spots at very late hours, as well as in Larne at the finish, vowing to return to take Ireland by storm.

Indeed the first few stages provided a retirement rate which decimated the front runners to an unprecedented degree, and shock news quickly filtered through that the Stratos had gone with a dropped valve leading to a holed piston on the road section after stage 3. After a cautious start, Cathal had found the handling of the car to be first class, and despite severe bottoming on the wild yumps of Torr Head, had set fastest time there. On the next stage he was equal fastest with Clark, and all looked set for a battle of the giants. Sadly this was not to be, and the equipe retreated towards Derry to nurse their disappointment. Despite the shortest possible of debuts, the team are now far from downhearted, and are looking forward to the Welsh.

Friday was turning into a beautiful evening, and as the order settled down for a hard night of rallying, Nigel Rockey forged his way to the head of the field, chased by Dessie McCartney who was experiencing the first touches of a rally-long problem with an “inconsistent brake pedal”. The competition was certainly fierce right through the field, and George Hill, having his first taste of Irish tarmac rallying, was heard to remark with a wry grin that “its f***ing quick over here isn’t it!”

The engine oil seals were giving trouble but he was handily placed in eighth position, and thoroughly enjoying himself. Billy Coleman, just out of the top ten, was not at all happy about the tyres and service he was having to make do with, running both the second and third stages on knobblies and losing a lot of time in the process.

As the sun set over the hills, Roger Clark began reeling in Rockey. The latter, driving well within himself, was quite content to let this happen for the present, and a fascinating night’s competition began.

Down the field there was excitement too, as the Irvine Tannahill/Trevor Fleming Mini rolled spectacularly on Glendun, nearly collecting a police car that was parked near the bridge, Bengt Lungstrom, driving a smart G2 Toyota Celica GT with Fred Gallagher, bent a steering arm on a yump over Torr Head. They tried to straighten it with the help of a friendly farmer’s welding gear, but went OTL and reserved their remaining energies for Killarney’s extra-terrestrial activities, and of course the Sunday run. Meanwhile Michael Neubauer, a German journalist, and co-pilot in a Porsche 91 1S driven by Werna Thoma, rang up the Lough Key 20-minute halt, trying to sell the car.

After having an accident on the first night last year and spending most of the weekend in hospital, he reportedly nearly joined the trawlers fishing off Torr Head this year. . . “Ve go up in air after a yump, ze car go round and round and zen . . BOOM!” Undeterred, Michael swears he will be back next year to break the Friday jinx.’ Meanwhile Harold Morley was reliably reported to have been two-wheeling his Porsche Carrera.

Lough Key was bitterly cold and if the locally ‘grown venison stew was good, there was certainly very little time to savour it as the ‘rest’ halt embraced just twenty minutes. Marshalling here was a trying process, for though the cold could be staved off by suitable applications of Irish Comfort, the marauding swarms of eager spectators could not be dissuaded from over-running each car as it came and went. At this point in time Nigel Rockey led by just under two minutes from a still agitated Billy Coleman, who had made great strides forward despite handicaps over the previous six stages.. David Agnew in third place, held a tenuous lead over a charging Will Sparrow, who was pulling up fast after a spectacular spin on Orra Lodge. Dessie McCartney had dropped back to sixth behind Brian Evans, and the former was now on level par with George Hill, who had stopped to change an anti-roll bar but was nevertheless going very well indeed.

What had happened? Where was Roger? Clark had been wondering about the nationality of his car, finally coming to the conclusion that “its Danish you know”. He had several reservations about the handling, but it was not this that let him down; in the end it was the engine, which blew a head gasket after 11 stages. Meanwhile Rockey was being inexorably caught by Coleman. An ‘O’ ring to the carburettors had blown and the engine was sounding very flat indeed, yet still he clung onto his slender lead. Will Sparrow had lost his service crew over the early part of the evening and had in consequence to run three stages on bald rear racers, the DTV Bedford Blitz having itself become a mechanical casualty. Meanwhile both Brian Evans and Sean Campbell had lost time over Syonfin with spins in the same place . . . it was
certainly tough at the top.

This was not Vauxhall’s rally – George Hill on the first day.

Both Russell Brookes and Adrian Boyd were already in the top ten. With eight stages still to cover before the breakfast halt at Ennis, John Haugland had gone OTL with the gear lever stuck in third gear (it took three hours to free it) after numerous overheating bothers. The crew were to return on Sunday to take top honours on the Sunday run. Soon after leaving Lough Key, Nigel Rockey felt his engine begin to die. He had earlier felt it hesitate just as Clark had moved over to let him by on Altagowlan. He thought at first it was a simple manifold blow, but gradually the car got slower and slower, eventually hardly being able to get off the line without a push. He at last sadly called it a dav after breakfast, having been passed on a stage. The manifold had gone between nos. two and three cylinders, and there was no compression on these two. He will now need a new block and cylinder head at the least. An unfortunate end to a fine drive which impressed the Ford camp greatly, and was also the first time he had ever led an Intemational event.

These pre-breakfast stages saw Billy Coleman attain the lead he was never to lose; his new challenger however was Will Sparrow, who at Ennis was just 2 minutes behind, and beginning to close on the leader. Saturday dawned cold but clear and after breakfast the rally route wound its way towards Killarney via six further stages including four classics: Gallows Hill, Sugar Hill, Desmonds Grave, and Lough Caragh; the latter normally used on the Sunday run. These stages were the scene of more carnage, principal of which was a horrendous accident which befell Brian Nelson/Drexel Gillespie on Sugar Hill. Despite a lack of power Brian had been going superbly and was lying eighth. He had just changed up to fifth at about 90mph over some vicious bumps when the car got out of shape and performed a series of end-over-end rolls that reduced the Donald McAnenany prepared BMW to a few scraps of glassfibre and a roll cage. Both men were lucky to escape with their lives let alone without a scratch.

Other notable casualties in this section were Sean Campbell who called it a day at Ennis. After changing a disc and suffering two punctures, he could stand the agonising noises from the back of the car no longer. Gerry Buckley too had to give up the struggle in the ex-Billy Coleman RS. He had been coping manfully with chronic handling problems from the start. Simply put, the car would not steer, and self-adjusted its toe-out after virtually every stage, pirouetting about the road in decidedly hairy fashion.  A head gasket finally blew on Desmonds Grave, but Gerry won’t be driving this chassis again, having given himself two many frights for comfort.

Russell Brookes was having an eventful night. He had been trying “different cures” almost from the start for continual overheating including replacing the radiator, water pump, fan and head gasket, the latter as a result of it.  He was still losing water at a tremendous rate however, yet was setting times in G1 that prompted Monty Peters to remark that “he’s not even in the same week as we are!”  Colin Malkin retired on stage 19, Hollymount. He had been suffering low oil pressure and gearbox ailments for some time previously, but it was a piston failure which finally ground another fine drive to a halt. Meanwhile Robin Eyre-Maunsell had had a couple of minor offs, but was still going strongly in 15th position.

By the time the weary crews staggered into the haven of Killarney shortly after one o’clock, it was clear that the night had taken a grim toll of the entries. Billy Coleman led by less than two minutes from Will Sparrow, with the three Porsches of Evans, Agnew and McCartney occupying the next three places respectively.  Comfortably in sixth, despite a disconnected throttle cable on Glenwilliam, necessitating driving three-quarters of the eight-mile stage on the key, was a relaxed George Hill, who was really getting into the swing of Irish rallying. Noel Smith’s Carrera was next up after a fraught night grappling with shock absorbers, while only 19 seconds behind him was the incredible Brookes.

The Sunday dawned wet and bleak with leaden clouds hurrying in from the Western approaches, but someone upstairs seemed to be watching the breathtaking stages as well because as the day wore on, so the weather improved, and by the time the cars tackled Tim Healey, there was pleasant sunshine to greet them. Most drivers had gone to ground on the Saturday, but a jubilant Adrian Boyd found time to regale those in the Great Southern with some accounts of his adventures. A mile from the finish of Sugar Hill he had had a giant 80 mph spin in a tightening left-hander, but had managed to miss all the scenery and carried on. Frank Main had been impressed with the “Boyder’s” progress over Lake Caragh, a stage they both enjoyed immensely. Besides slight oil leaks and too much bump-steer owing to the short suspension travel of the car, your man was very happy . . .

A: “the engine cost me £300!”
F: “we reckon we could blow up ten of them for the price of a good BDA!”
A: “working on the same theory, I’ve been going a lot better since the rev counter stopped working!”

Adrian Boyd and Frank Main aviated their low-powered Alpine A110 to an incredible 4th place overall.

Partly due to the early weather conditions (Molls Gap at 06.30 was no place for the faint-hearted or the sore-headed) and partly due the perntianance of everyone’s ills, a mere handful of crews came out for the Sunday run. The first casualty of the day was Roger Cree, who had the differential of his Mini seize just half-a-mile into Molls, pitching him off the road in a semi-permanent fashion.

And so it continued; a day of unforgettable memories, of disappointments and jubilation, staggering scenery and stirring stage miles.  Lungstrom modified the nearside rear of his Toyota after attempting to avoid two cars on the stop line of a stage which had its flying finish too close . . . a philosophical David Agnew stopped on Cods Head with an ‘exploded’ front strut . . . He was joined a moment later by Robin Eyre Maunsell whose driveshaft broke just down the road.

Will Sparrow, catching Coleman, retired on Mount Prospect with a sheared oil pump drive, a fault which necessitates removal of the inlet manifold to rectify. Noel Smith had a giant accident on Castle Donovan; he lost it, and apparently over-corrected; the Porsche got a bit of grip and shot into space, hitting the ground three times on its 75-foot orbit into a wall, which it despatched and carried on down a bank. Co-driver Ian Turkington’s belts apparently broke, and he will be in hospital for a week with chest injuries. Noel missed his first Circuit finish for many years to go and see him. Russell Brookes had an axle shaft break off in the differential, smashing it to fragments. Having changed it he arrived at a control 17 minutes late . . . but two minutes of ‘perm’ time saved him by the closest possible margin. He was now using a gallon of water every ten to fifteen miles, something which continued all the way to the finish. How did he like the road timing? . . ..fabulous isn’t it?” Definitely a rhetorical question.

In catching Derek Boyd on Ardgroom, George Hill, who had been driving superbly all day, got a bit carried away in his excitement and assaulted a wall; losing five minutes but not his position. Ardgroom provided an amazing finale to a superlative day with its unique blend of deceptive brows, dips and tighteners . . . you knew you had really done some work after finishing this one.  Roughty River caused competitors perhaps the worst bother of the day, and provided what should have been the award of a ‘CDM’, or similar distinction for effort, to Tommy Tennant in the ex-Eyre Maunsell Avenger 1500. He reached the control at the end of the stage clattering along on the wheel rim. Other damage to his car included a bent rear axle, bent track rods, steering and bodywork, but after a few minutes frantic repairs including borrowing a wheel from a lady spectator, he lurched on to Killmakillogue, burning tyres against the body on the way; only to stop soon after the start of Tim Healey with a severed fuel line.  Perhaps it was as well.

Lurking rocks on Roughty River put paid to many competitors’ rally including Herbie Bossence/Billy Skelton whose BMW finished with both front wheels awry;  and there were punctures galore.  Killarney that evening was as always bursting to the seams, and the legendary carousing carried on far into the Monday morning.

After a leisurely 14.00 hours start on Monday, the survivors took in eight stages on their way to the supper halt at Kilkenny. Derek Boyd finally finished a frustrating rally on one of them, Moan Vaun, when the steering wheel came off in his hands as he was braking from 90 to 30 mph for a corner and the Escort finished up perched on the bank.  He had never really been in the hunt, finding trouble from the word go when he collected a maximum on Glendun, after a punctured front tyre and tube wrapped itself around the disc and bearing, bringing everything to a halt.  He also had a slight off here, bending the steering geometry. Thereafter he was plagued with persistent problems surrounding the Watts linkage which in the end required a co-driver/welder to keep in one piece, something that Robert Taylor didn’t have.

Cruel luck for the hard-trying Will Sparrow who retired the DTV Magnum with no oil pressure.

Thirteen and a half miles into Gortnagane, pulling 6,000 rpm in third, the crankshaft snapped on the Martins Magnum. George, who at the time was lying a strong fourth, looked certain for a top three placing, such was the assured style of his driving.  The break appeared to be around No 1 cylinder as the crank pulley was angled drunkenly at 35 degrees to the vertical. The belt, of course, came off, immediately ruining all the valves and turning the engine into scrap.  This unit had already done the Dales, and many were surprised that it had lasted so long.  George however thoroughly enjoyed himself; he had been in the top ten right from the word ‘go’, and deserved better reward for such a hard and consistent drive.  He will be back.

During the afternoon Brian Evans broke a clutch cable and had to be content with a slackening of pace, and Ian Gemmell solved his gearbox problems by a simple change of lever.   He was having a great run and was quietly confident of a good result.  The order at supper thus was Coleman, leading by a comfortable seven minutes from Dessie McCartney, who in turn had two minutes over Brian Evans.   Adrian Boyd was fourth a further twelve minutes behind, and he had five minutes over Harold Morley, whose ‘waiting game’ appeared to have paid handsome dividends. Brookes however — “bubbling away nicely” — was just 14 seconds behind him.  Morley had had his tyres pinched in Killarney but had now managed to find some more.   There was just the final night and 150 stage miles to go!  Boyd had had the header tank come away from the GRP, but it would take much more than that to quench his spirits.

Adrian Boyd and Frank Main surprised everybody in their Renault Alpine A110 with a standard engine.

It was a hard cold night, and as the rally wound North so the cold deepened. For songwriter turned rally-driver, Phil Coulter, however, it was all over on Flagmount, as an anti-roll bar in the ex-Russell Brookes RS2000 broke, pitching him into a wall.  The crew had been having fabulous fun and “surprised ourselves” favourably.

Stages were slippery with hoar frost that night, and poor Joe Pat O’Kane came to grief on one of the most treacherous of them all, Great Freffans, when on the first corner, the Carrera darted on and found itself a Carrera-sized hole to lie in. Roy Sloan, his co-driver was quite badly cut and had to have medical attention.

As the rally neared Dublin so the number of spectators increased despite the freezing conditions. The sight of the lights of Dublin from the top of Sally Gap was just another incomparable bonus to sightseers and co-drivers.

Brian Evans had had his clutch fixed and now embarked on a fervent chase of McCartney. He may well have succeeded had not a puncture four stages from home cost him two whole minutes. As the grey light of dawn crept over the landscape, the faces of the crews matched the drab colours of the sky . . . it had been a hard night. Somewhere in the early hours of Tuesday the DTV service barge again cried enough and the inmates found themselves outside an Army post clutching sub-machine guns behind a Saladin . . . the rally was well and truly back in the North. Paul Faulkner/Monty Peters finished 10th, with even more respect for Will Sparrow than they already had, and looking forward to a return to Ireland.

Coleman had done it without a hint of mechanical trouble. The clutch was bled just once on Saturday night, and he had only given Paul Phelan two moments, both on stage 10, Altagowlan, just after they had changed on to dry racers.  It was as convincing a victory as it was undisputed. The Circuit had been as enjoyable as it had been unpredictable, and even a prominent ‘Bin Man‘ was heard to utter an oath on the Tuesday morning air: “if it wasn’t for the competitors, you could really get to enjoy this event!“ The festivities, restored to Larne after a brief sojourn in Newcastle last year, were a fitting finale to a fine event. Only 11 months to go . . .

Benson and Hedges Circuit of Ireland
28th March – 1st April 1975

l. Billy Coleman/Paul Phelan (Escort RS) 591.36;
2, Dessie McCartney/Terry Harryman (Porsche Carrera) 596.04,
3, Brian Evans/Roger Roderick-Jones (Porsche Carrera) 599.52;
4, Adrian Boyd/ Frank Main (Alpine A110) 615.56;
5, Russell Brookes/John Brown (RS 2000) 617.09;
6. Harold Morley/Rupert Saunders (Porsche Carrera) 617.22;
7. Brendan Fagan/Kenny Johnston (Escort RS) 635.34;
8. Ian Gemmell/Frew Bryden (Avenger) 652.01;
9. Charlie Gunn/Harry McEvoy (RS 2000) 653.09;
10. Paul Faulkner/Monty Peters (Vauxhall Magnum) 655.0

Group 1: Russell Brookes/John Brown, Ian Gemmell/Frew Bryden, Charlie Gunn/Harry McEvoy.