1976 Manx

At last it all came good for the TR7s with Pond finishing third overall and the cars looking and sounding better than ever.

This report is reproduced from Rally Sport Magazine November 1976

Vatanen rescues Ford; Leylands come good.

LEARNING to adapt ones driving style to different surfaces and different driving conditions is all part of the process of growing up into a mature rally driver. Some drivers may take years to learn to drive on the loose after starting to drive on tarmac; others may have difficulty with tarmac if they have been brought up on loose surface special stages. Only the very exceptional driver can make the transition with seemingly little difficulty.

We already knew that Ari Vatanen was an exceptional driver, but if anybody needed convincing then the Castrol Manx International Trophy Rally should have been proof enough. Vatanen adapted to tarmac, adapted to pace notes (though of course he had driven with both before) and simply walked away from the opposition leaving all the best that we have to offer floundering in his wake. Only Russell Brookes provided any challenge, taking the lead in the middle of the night before retiring a few stages later with clutch failure.

Ari Vatanen and Peter Bryant lead the cavalcade of Curley, Pond and Nelson (just visible over the roof of the Jaguar) to the Podium ceremony.

The other major story from the Manx was the almost ‘fairy-tale’ success of the sorely pressed Leyland Cars team. Just when morale must have been hitting rock bottom they came up with the kind of results that everybody dreams of. Tony Pond brought his TR7 home third, Brian Culcheth finished fifth and Pat Ryan drove brilliantly in the Gp1 Dolomite to win the category and finish ninth overall.

Just to prove that Leyland really had it sewn up, Phil Cooper finished fourteenth in his Cooper S showing that there is life in the old beast yet (and in the car!). The TR7s looked and sounded competitive for the first time, and the drivers really rose to the occasion.

All in all it was a rather glorious Manx Rally. The weather was excellent and the sun shone all weekend, avoiding the kind of damp atmosphere that tends to hang over the Isle of Man. A reshuffling of the event meant less night-time driving and this proved popular with drivers and spectators. The only complaint is that the Manx is now rather a long drawn out affair and that for the amateur teams the cost of hotels and food could start to become prohibitive.

Fastest on the “seeding stage” and leader for the early stages was Dennis Easthope. He was Co-driven by Mike Wood but they weren’t using notes.

Scrutineering takes place all day Thursday which tends to mean that you need to be on the island on Wednesday night; the rally starts Friday and finishes on Saturday with prize-giving not until Sunday lunchtime. In fact Friday morning only included one stage and could quite happily have been used for late scrutineering.

Having said all that it is only fair to remark that this was the best organised Manx yet with the only snag being a programming error on the results computer which revealed itself during the night. It seems rather a shame that the overall impression of the rally was rather tainted at the prize-giving when Castrol was forced into confessing that they weren’t going to sponsor the rally again next year. After three years’ they are leaving the rally to stand on its own two feet.

Whether the press have built it up or not, one of the main spectator attractions of the Manx is the battle between the Porsches and the Escorts, and in particular between the camps’ two main protagonists, Cahal Curley and Roger Clark. Curley went out of his way to tell me at the drivers’ briefing that he really thought that Roger was a nice guy, but it wouldn’t stop him knocking the hell out of him on the first stage. Others likely to be leading the battle included Russell Brookes, Billy Coleman, Dessie McCartney and Brian Nelson. Ari Vatanen remained the dark horse who nobody was prepared to write off.

Clark had dramas before the start with two head gaskets blowing in quick succession and a new engine being fitted the night before the rally. But the biggest dramas of all were to come on the sole stage on Friday morning. The actual purpose of this solitary stage just outside Douglas is difficult to determine. The organisers used it to re-seed competitors for the afternoon, but there could be an important political move in that it established the precedent for competition (and closed roads) on the Friday morning.

This must be the absolute limit for an Escort without rolling. Looking like only one wheel on the road, Roger Clark is on his way into the bank.

Whatever the politics, it proved disastrous for more than one team. Tony Fall was the first to go, his Opel locking its back wheels at over 100 mph when something seized in the transmission. It was a very nasty moment indeed, but Tony managed to park the car neatly by the side of the road and had the frustration of watching the others drive past. Just up the road Chris Sclater experienced his own sort of frustration when the engine of the Chrysler Avenger blew up with crankshaft failure. The Avengers were still using standard cranks and the extra power just proved to be too much.

The damage after hitting the bank at Signpost Corner. The suspension was too badly damaged to continue and the car was subsequently written off.

It was Signpost Corner, a dropping right-hander, that caused the real trouble though. Drivers appeared not to have allowed for the crest before it and came over the rise far too fast. Clark threw his Escort sideways in an effort to slow down, but on racing slicks it just flipped up onto two wheels and refused to slide. With an 80 mph roll in the offing, he had no option but to turn hard left into the outside bank destroying the left-hand front of the car completely. Although he made the end of the stage he could go no further.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell seems to be looking over at co-driver Neil Wilson and is perhaps asking what just happened.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell went straight up the bank with all four wheels locked and had to be lifted off whilst Jimmy McRae tried to get his Vauxhall round but hadn’t got the speed to do a wall of death and fell back into the road from where the car was righted by spectators. Per-Inge Walfridsson spun the Stratos right in front of bossman Graham Warner who shut his eyes in horror and from further down the field Derek Crothers put his Mazda through the fence and balanced it on top of a wall.

It seemed that that was that, but then news came through of Tony Fowkes destroying his car on the flying finish of the same stage when a wheel locked and he went over the hedge and rolled into a field.

So it was a depleted field that gathered for the restart of the rally proper at 13.30 on Friday afternoon. Dennis Easthope led away from Dessie McCartney and Brian Nelson for the four stages of the afternoon section. McCartney’s run was not to last much longer though and at the end of the fourth stage he was out with a broken drive belt to the fuel injection pumps. On the same stage Jimmy McRae, his service crew having battled to change the front struts after his first stage accident, retired with a blown engine. It was a blow to his Gp1 hopes after his run in Ulster a few weeks before. Robin Eyre-Maunsell struggled with a misfire whilst Pat Ryan established a clear lead in Gp1.

Further down the field there were some club drivers already in serious trouble. The French driver Michel Copin rolled his Simca on the Druidale section whilst the same stage also claimed the Fiat of Terry Phillips. That was seen parked near the ford with mechanical problems. David Luton rolled his Mini at the end of the fifth stage and Derek Crothers, his Mazda having survived the bank climbing incident, was forced out when the diff failed.

All this helped to establish some class positions with Geoff Birkett leading his in the Opel Kadett and Dave Grainger leading his in his ageing Twin-cam. Godfrey Jones and Rob Roebuck were quite happy with their sixteenth overall so far since they had had no intercom for the first four stages. With McRae out of the running, DTV hopes took another dive when the third member of their team, Steve Rathbone, retired his Sareena Sports Magnum with electrical problems.

The Manx was another great result for Phil Cooper in his 1293cc Cooper S. The engine is still fitted with a five port head.

The night section this year started at 18.00 on the Friday and ran to just after one the next morning. Those who started early had the advantage of some stages in the daylight whilst those who had had problems on the first, seeding stage were stuck with the darkness. Nigel Rockey was the first of the leading Escort drivers to experience any problems when his gearbox started to play up. Sometimes he would have only first and fourth, other times second and third, occasionally just fifth. For the rest of the rally he struggled on, doing well to finish eighth in the final count.

Coleman also had gearbox troubles, but he found that he had time to change his at the end of an early stage, only to have the second gearbox also pack up later in the night. The Irishman had been up in the top five and it was a bitter disappointment to him.

By the time that darkness did fall Dennis Easthope had been eased out of his lead and the rally was becoming a battle between Curley, Brookes and Vatanen in that order. Easthope dropped further back with first one puncture and then a second and finally a third. Thoroughly dis-heartened he decided to call it a day when his jack broke and he spent far too long changing one of the offending wheels.

Curley was the next to suffer from a puncture which let Vatanen and Brookes pass him and broke his rhythm for the rest of the night. From that moment on Brookes and Vatanen just moved further ahead, fighting out their own personal battle. By stage 19 they were dead level and on stage 20 Brookes eased marginally ahead, driving to the limit in the darkness. He held that lead for just four stages, but then the clutch on the Andrews car gave up and he was out. From that moment on Vatanen never looked back.

Also out of the running by that stage was the Chequered Flag Stratos which had shed a wishbone in the narrowest part of the Little London stage, blocking the route and causing the stage to be cancelled whilst Brian Nelson had slowed himself by collecting a gate-post with the Porsche, knocking out the tracking but doing relatively little serious damage. Tony Pond had been off doing minor body damage and Robin Eyre-Maunsell parked his Avenger
permanently off the road which was very inconsiderate since his service mechanics had worked half the evening arranging to put a new head on the engine at the end of the night’s run.

That corner on special stage one again. Per-Inge Walfridsson spins the Stratos, narrowly avoiding the kerbs.

Pentti Airikkala had been having one of the most entertaining rallies of his life, using his forest car still set with forest suspension and waving wheels in every direction. “How many times,” I asked him, “had he frightened co-driver Mike Greasley?” With a broad grin he replied, “No, you should ask how many times has Greasley frightened me?”

There was less humour from the lower runners. For them the strain was beginning to tell. John Coxon, lying second in class in his Mini, had a driveshaft break. Co-driver Nigel Corlett pushed the car about half a mile to the end of the stage and they changed the part there, way down on time. Ron Beecroft had almost the equivalent problem on his Escort when a bush fell out of the bottom arm on his front suspension. They just made it to the end of the stage before the pivot bolt broke and they changed the arm there. Doug Dawe had an oil pipe come away at one stage and then later in the night the tie-bar pulled out so that was the Howell’s Allergro out of the running, whilst the similar car of Dennis Cardell was forced to retire when it was using so much oil that they would have “needed a Castrol tanker as a service crew.

By the start of the final day, much of the heat was gone from the rally. Vatanen had a reasonable lead over Curley, though one puncture could have made all the difference, with the two TR7s lying third and fourth. Everybody seemed to be willing them on to the finish and, when Curley suffered yet another puncture and a broken shock absorber, it looked as though Pond might catch him. Nelson was taking time back off Culcheth though and both Leyland drivers were determined not to make a mistake on those last stages.

In the battle for Gp1 Pat Ryan had a commanding lead with John Coyne holding second place in his Avenger. Henri Inurrieta had had a troubled event in a car built in just four days before the rally and his major problem seemed to be a gear lever which kept coming away in his hand. Coyne threw it all away though when he had a fan belt come off in one stage.

“I was watching the water temperature and didn’t see the corner coming up,” was his excuse as he admitted the error of his ways. He managed to get going again, but was way back down the field.

John Braid rolled his Avenger on one stage, but managed to keep going to bring the team award home to North Wales CC and Godfrey Jones rolled his Preci Escort much to the detriment of the bodywork. He too managed to keep going to finish.

The rather battered Escort of Godfrey Jones and Bob Roebuck which finished 21st, despite a time-consuming roll. This was their first International Rally.

There was furious drama at the lunch halt in Sulby where Pond complained of gear selection difficulties. The Leyland mechanics managed to sort things out. Also in trouble was Geoff Crabtree who coasted into the service area with no drive. A drive-shaft had pulled out of the diff and it took some fast work by his service crew to keep him in the rally. Peter Thompson complained about brake problems but had so far managed to avoid his customary incident packed rally, though he did provide the last drama of the event when his clutch went two stages from the end.

At the end of the event, there was much drinking, celebrating and discussing. Claims for the longest recce were staked with the local press claiming that Dennis Easthope had done over 4,000 miles to memorise every stage Messrs. Pond and Richards ran a close second with 3,500 miles to make their pace-notes which just goes to show just how competitive things are getting these days. Spare a thought though for Derek Boyd who had the misfortune to have a puncture on the very first stage. He was re-seeded as the last car on the road in his Porsche on Friday, climbed up to sixty-third by the end of the afternoon section, was up to fifteenth by the end of the night and actually finished twelfth at the end of the event. He lost track of how many cars he passed on stages to get there.

Let the last word go to Ari Vatanen though. The young Finn evidently enjoyed the night life in the Isle of Man. “This must be the only place where you can close all the roads and open all the bars,” he said in his prize-winners speech. “Having been here last night, I now know why Manxmen need three legs!”


General Classification:

  1. A. Vatanen/P. Bryant (Escort RS1800)..11076
  2. C. Curley/A Frazer (Porsche Carrera)..11276
  3. T. Pond/D Richards (Triumph TR7V8)..11342
  4. B. Nelson/D. Smyth (Porsche Carrera)..11372
  5. B. Culcheth/J. Syer (Triumph TR7V8)..11373
  6. W. Sparrow/R. Crellin (Vauxhall Magnum)..11619
  7. P. Airikkala/M. Greasley (Escort RS1800)..11651
  8. N. Rockey/D Tucker (Escort RS1800)..11808
  9. P. Ryan/F Gallagher (Dolomite Sprint)..11822
  10. P. Barrett/H. Saville (Escort RS1800)..12162

Class 1

  1. M. Hughes/D. Eastwood(Frat 128)
  2. J. Williamson/P. Wheeldon (Mini)
  3. L. Evans/E Holmes(Opel Kadett)

Class 2

  1. J. Coyne/C. Farrell (Avenger GT)
  2. D. Pickup./J. Lowthion (Avenger GT)
  3. D. Evans/S. Rudge (Avenger GT)

Class 3

  1. P. Ryan/F. Gallagher (Dolomite Sprint)
  2. H. Inurrieta/M Whale (Escort RS2000)
  3. R Beecroft/J. Millington (Escort RS2000)

Class 4

  1. P. Cooper/E. Bamford (Mini Cooper S)
  2. C. Veron/P. Huon (Renault R5 Gordini)
  3. S Warrell./J. Hamey(Mini Cooper S)

Class 5

  1. G. Leece/M Quine (Ford Escort)
  2. C. Huddlestone/J. Chalmers (Avenger GT)
  3. D. Wright/L Fannin (Avenger GT)

Class 6

  1. I. Hughes/R. Yates (Ford Escort)
  2. T. Bengry/W Pardoe (Opel Kadett)
  3. D. Pugh/A. Gardiner (Escort RS2000)

Class 7/8

  1. D. Grainger/D. Nicholas (Escort TC)
  2. F. Butcher/M Griggs (Ford Escort)
  3. A. Taylor/J. Watkins (Austin Allegro)