Llewellin proves his worth.
This report was first published in Motoring News, April 3, 1986.
DAVID LLEWELLIN proved beyond any doubt that he has joined the ranks of Britain’s foremost rally drivers with a brilliant victory on the Rothmans Circuit of Ireland over Easter. Teamed with Phil Short, who also won the event in 1973, he battled with Jimmy McRae from the start, and forged ahead when the Scotsman’s similar Metro 6R4 struck trouble on the Sunday Run. The 25-year-old Welshman scarcely put a wheel wrong, and came home to a conclusive nine minute victory. It was not only the first international win for the driver and the car, but also for the team, RED, whose preparation could not be faulted.
Russell Brookes was a valiant second in his Manta with Mike Broad, recovering well from a setback during the first leg, while Austin McHale/Christy Farrell emerged just on top of a hectic battle for third with Mark Lovell/Pete Davis, who brought their RS200 into a good fourth. There were faults in the organisation of this year’s Circuit, but generally speaking it was a well organised, tough event, and the organisers deserve particular commendation for their handling of the spectator safety problem which was vastly reduced in comparison with previous Irish rallies.
Most of the top crews had done a good deal of mileage before the rally had even started, having practised the 1,534 mile route for a week before the rally itself. Some thought that the practice period should have been extended further, but Russell Brookes — one of the most experienced Circuit competitors – thought that just another half day would have been worthwhile, giving time to practise each stage twice in comfort.
Any further increase would have encouraged crews to try covering a stage a third time, thus increasing the pressure still further. As it was, several competitors admitted to having to drive briskly to manage the stages twice in the time available.
BELFAST TO BELFAST
The event got under way at 09:00 on Good Friday with a 10 stage loop of Northern Ireland. This time the Ulster AC had planned a somewhat wider loop than in 1985 in an effort to cut down traffic problems, but in the event, the level of interest meant that travelling was still a time consuming process.
Jimmy McRae had had some useful test sessions in the Metro before the rally at MIRA and Gaydon, and he soon made it clear that he had put that experience to good use, taking six seconds off Kalle Grundel (who was second quickest) on SS1, Purdy‘s Close, and 14s off David Llewellin in the works, RED run, Metro. By the time the crews reached first service on the edge of Dungannon, the Scot was just 11s up on the works Metro, for Llewellin had soon begun to match his times.
By then, the speed of the Metros wasn‘t the only topic of conversation: Hannu Mikkola‘s Circuit had gotten off to a characteristically appalling start. Halfway through the first stage, the Audi UK “short” Quattro had ground to a halt with the clutch jammed. Mikkola stopped halfway down a straight to investigate and began pulling wires apart, suspecting the electronics were to blame. That made no difference, and eventually he found that a slave cylinder piston was stuck. Having unscrewed it, he completed the stage, but it had taken him 22m whereas McRae had taken 9m 47s, and already he was out of contention.
That left Grundel running first on the road, the “A” seeded Swede running second on the road originally, even though he was carrying the number 17. Soon after the start of the stage, he came over a brow to find spectators, evidently unaware that the stage had started, standing in the road. Grundel aimed to the right, only for a 15-year-old boy to change his mind and try to run back to that side of the road. Kalle had no chance of missing him, hitting him with the right hand side of the car and throwing him high into the air. Happily, the Rothmans helicopter was soon on the scene and he was swiftly ﬂown to hospital in Portadown. His condition was reported to be serious, having sustained chest and leg injuries, but thankfully it was not critical. Grundel stopped at the scene, losing 12m and driving on with a cracked windscreen and damaged bonnet. The stage had not been blocked, and other cars had proceeded through it normally.
Naturally one wouldn’t wish such an incident on anyone, but it did seem particularly hard that Ford, of all teams, should have been involved in the freak accident, and so soon after the Portuguese disaster as well. The question of a Ford withdrawal was immediately raised, but as spectator control was generally good, Ford stayed in the event. “I don’t think it’s fair to the organisation or to the Ford team to make a major incident of it.”
“Naturally we’re very sorry for the boy,“ stated Ford’s team manager, Peter Ashcroft. The publicity attending the incident can’t have helped Ford’s feelings: a film of the accident was shown once on News at Ten, and three times on Ulster TV, while a front-page story in the Belfast Telegraph even omitted to mention that the boy was standing on the road. One felt that rallying and Ford had deserved better.
The accident overshadowed the rest of the proceedings, although everyone was delighted when it emerged that the boy was not in danger of succumbing to his injuries. Mikkola and the Metros were clearly running well, although both had had a certain amount of brake trouble on the dry roads, Llewellin curing his by de-glazing the pads. McRae also raised the front suspension at Dungannon as the lip of the front spoiler was rubbing on the bumps.
Mikkola’s rally was still proving an almost unqualified disaster. He got a front puncture three miles from the end of the third stage, having touched a rock, ripping the greater part of the front wing off by the time he completed the test. On a positive note, he felt the car handled well, remarking, “I can keep to full power on the bumps now”.
Mikael Sundstrom managed to crack the bonnet on the first stage, but had moved into a smooth and trouble free third place by Dungannon, but already 48s down on the Metros, while Billy Coleman and Russell Brookes tied for fourth place. Coleman was delighted with his new Porsche, while still believing its behaviour on bumps left something to be desired, but Brookes was less happy, finding that the Manta’s new suspension was ideal in the wet, but not so good in the prevailing dry conditions.
Austin McHale was in a similar position in his Manta 400 and changed the rear springs at Dugannon as the Opel was very “hoppy” at the back. He was still beating two of the young pretenders, Harri Toivonen and Mark Lovell. Both had had punctures on SS3 and lost a minute, Harri driving on a deflated front tyre, while Lovell had had to contend with three tyres for over four miles. The other RS200 was in trouble as well for the gearbox was becoming notchy, so it was swapped at Dungannon before it gave further trouble.
Pentti Airikkala found his new Astra an immense improvement on the old and was now leading GpA from the works Astra of Andrew Wood. Behind them, a battle had commenced between David Metcalfe, Brian Wiggins. and Frank Fennell, making GpA a GM whitewash at this stage.
Crews now headed north towards the Glens of Antrim, via stages at Slieve Gallion, Banty Bridge, and Tullykeeran Bridge. At once Llewellin took the lead as McRae hit steering trouble. The Rothmans team had changed the position of the steering arms, and that had almost worn them through as there were no spacers on the rack, with the result that McRae dropped 22s to his Welsh rival on the stage. He regained three seconds on the next test (although Sundstrom was quickest a further five seconds faster), but lost a second on the next stage.
A service halt at Ballymoney was followed by the dauntingly fast stages over Glendun and Orra Lodge. Brookes was quickest on the first, where Jimmy took eight seconds off Llewellin, but then the Scotsman set a blistering time of 6m 13s on the next, a stage of more than nine miles, beating Llewellin by a further five seconds. The latter was impressed with the Metro’s stability on the bumps, and was now thinking of easing off. The Metro men now shared the lead, but neither liked the idea of being first on the road for the tricky stages in the early hours of Saturday morning and were quite happy to permit the other the distinction of leading overnight.
Sundstrom was now fourth, although he had set a slow time on Orra Lodge, and after service at Ballymena, Coleman had moved up to a good third. having lost badly on the last two mountain stages through choosing wets for dry roads. Brookes had set some good times, equal fastest with Llewellin on Slieve Gallion, and four seconds clear of anyone on Glendun, despite the new suspension, but suffered a major setback on Glendun. The Manta landed heavily after a yump near the finish – on a stage where Russell also caught the course car – and arrived at Ballymena with a bent steering rack, but still in third place.
Manta racks are not the most accessible part of the car, but the job was completed without road penalties until Brookes was on the point of leaving the service area. Then he discovered that the steering jammed on full lock. Instantly the GM Dealer Sport mechanics dived underneath the car. It turned out that a bolt was fouling on an engine mounting, because, in the words of the team engineer David Whitehead, the front of the car was “slightly deranged”.
Eventually, grinding a little metal off the bolt removed the impediment, but by then the Manta was 14 minutes late, and Brookes charged off to the Sallagh only one minute inside his maximum lateness. He had thus dropped 1m 40s in road penalties, which left him in fifth place.
Brookes’ misfortune played into Coleman’s hands and the Irishman was swopping times with Sundstrom, McHale was now sixth, much happier with the Manta once older rear springs were fitted, with Saeed
Al Hajri next. He had nudged a bank in the morning on SS3, losing little time. More seriously, a plug had been oiling up on Glendun and Orra Lodge, causing a misfire.
Both Fords were in trouble on the two long stages. Lovell got stuck in second gear, thus losing an estimated six minutes by the time the offending unit was replaced at Ballymena, and Grundel, who had been setting some encouraging stage times, broke a driveshaft near the start of SS7, completing the two stages with three wheel drive. A new windscreen was fitted at the same time. Mikkola was also starting to set good stage times to little avail in spite of trouble with the brake cooling system, which for some reason kept burning out the water pump motor.
Cyril Bolton had been quietly learning the technique of driving a Metro, but was then excluded at the end of the day following an incident at the start of SS5. The exhaust was loose, so he fixed it himself to avoid its falling off during the next stage, using tools in the car. However, he hadn‘t asked the marshals permission before working on the car in a control area. so he was ejected for illegal servicing. No doubt the organisers were correct, although it is hard to imagine anyone being excluded for mending an exhaust in any other part of Britain, but it seemed a rather pedantic decision. The Lancastrian had completed the other five stages on the first leg before being told of the decision.
Airikkala’s lead in GpA was now much more secure. Wood had rolled on Slieve Gallion. The centre of a wheel had sheared in mid-corner and he was powerless to prevent the car rolling, landing on his wheels and still in the road. Nevertheless, he lost 10m by the time he had changed the wheel and completed the stage, and virtually all prospect of challenging Airikkala had evaporated with 47 stages still to go. “At least it wasn‘t the driver’s fault” he reflected. The team was at a loss to account for the sudden collapse of the wheel.
Just two stages remained before the night halt back in Belfast. The RS200s came to the fore on both of them, as Grundel and Lovell were at the top of the list on SS9, while the Swede tied with McRae on the short stage at Boyds Autodrome. Both of the leading Metro men had eased off, leaving Llewellin with a three second lead overnight – or so it was thought at the time. Llewellin had had an exciting run over Sallagh, easing off or no, having tackled the stage on slicks, only to be greeted by heavy rain.
Most of the leading runners changed to mud and snow type tyres for Boyd’s Autodrome as the surface was very muddy, although some, including Coleman, ran on wet weather racers. Like all the Friday stages, it was packed with people, Sundstrom beat Coleman by two seconds, thus arriving in Belfast one second in front. The layout of the stage managed to confuse several crews, including Vincent Bonner/Rory Kennedy in their Ascona 400 and Louise Aitken-Walker in the number one Nissan. The former only completed one lap instead of two, thus setting an apparently impressive time of 51s, whereas Louise did three laps!
At the final service in Belfast, preventive maintenance was the order of the day. McRae’s Metro acquired a new rear differential, but Llewellin settled for a spanner check. The two were now a minute clear of the ﬁeld, but adamant that they were not going too fast too soon. Both were keeping to 8000 rpm instead of the permitted 8750, and McRae at least was plainly easing the car off stage starts rather than flooring the throttle. Sundstrom was more than content with third after a quiet day, expressing surprise at being so far up the field having driven relatively slowly.
Brookes disposed of the unloved new suspension removing the rear anti-roll bar and fitting much harder springs, while Wood needed a new windscreen following his mishap on SS4. Melvyn Hodgson, typically, had managed to find a windscreen ﬁrm on the same industrial estate as the service area, so the team were able to replace the screen and check the car in the dry, not 50 yards from the service “in” control!
Ford was not at all happy about the retention of the second stage in the results, team members commenting that both RS200s would be withdrawn unless it was cancelled. Their argument was that drivers were being encouraged to keep going rather than stop at the scene of an accident if the stage was retained.
Bill Martin, the Clerk of the Course, agreed with Ford. and suggested to the Stewards that the stage be scrubbed, which it was. It was undoubtedly the most sporting course of action. As a result, Grundle was promoted from 27th to sixth, thus becoming a real threat at the front of the ﬁeld. McRae retook the lead from Llewellin, and Coleman swopped places with Sundstrom.
Positions after SS10:
- McRae / Grindrod 1h 13m 00s;
- Llewellin / Short 1h 13m 05s;
- Coleman / Morgan 1h 13m 50s;
- Sundstrom / Silander 1h 13m 52s;
- Brookes / Broad 1h 15m 29s.
BELFAST TO WATERFORD
The rally restarted at 03:30 in the morning for the long run south to Waterford. Before crossing the border, there were four stages to be attempted in darkness, all used on last year’s Circuit. Llewellin decided to use thermal Michelin thermal “SO” slicks, and found they worked perfectly. He retook the lead on the first stage of the day, Drumva, and was quickest on the next two as well, extending his lead to 11s after SS13.
McRae had a minor excursion on SS12, hitting the throttle instead of the brakes and thus bashing the spoiler against a bank. He got his revenge on SS14 though. The stage was slippery and his Dunlop intermediates worked much better than his opponent‘s slicks, with the result that he was 21s ahead by the time he crossed the border into the Republic.
Behind the Metros, a flying Coleman had moved up to third, consistently taking time off Brookes, and matching the times of the Metros. Sundstrom was in trouble, having taken third place back on Drumva, he then ran into gearbox problems on Bell Hill, completing the stage stuck in second. He dropped 12-15m on the next three stages, as there was no time to change it, plummeting to 10th by the time he reached Dublin. By then, the gearbox problem was solved as the top half, which includes the selector
mechanism, had been changed, but the clutch no longer worked. A pin in the slave cylinder was found to be the culprit, and by the time he headed for the stage in the Royal Dublin Showground, the Peugeot was working properly again.
Llewellin hadn’t been the only driver to find SS14, Shankill, treacherous. Grundel shot through a gate into a ﬁeld, resourcefully turning round and heading back onto the stage, dropping 20s or so. Both McHale and Aitken-Walker also confessed to overshoots on the same stage, and Wood, anxious to get on terms with the other GpA runners, also explored an inviting track.
It had all proved too much for Al Hajri. The Qatar man had slid into a ditch on SS12, and although the 911 was barely damaged, it couldn’t be recovered. “Sid Hedgegrow” hitched a lift to Dublin, arriving in good time for breakfast, while John Spiller stayed with the car. Lovell meanwhile, found the rear differential not working as it should on SS14, so the Mike Little mechanics changed the unit in Dublin.
The road section to Dublin was very slackly timed, cars arriving at the Shelbourne Hotel up to an hour early. It gave plenty of potential for illegal servicing, and caused certain competitors to wonder why they hadn’t been allowed an extra hour in bed. Coleman at least had cause to be grateful for the timing, as he had been delayed at customs, as he was an Irishman driving a British registered car.
From the Dublin halt, crews moved to a stage in the RDS, and then into the mountains for two long tests, Sally Gap and Aughavannagh. The first of the three was short, and proved little beyond the fact that the Irish are not to be fobbed off with spectator stages, as the crowd was much smaller than anticipated; Llewellin and McRae tied.
On Sally Gap, Llewellin gained another four seconds. He confessed to a big moment near the end of the stage, getting the Metro very sideways on a wet patch driving on slicks. The first half of the stage had been dry. However, Mikkola, running the latest Michelin intermediates, had been quickest, taking 11s off the Welshman.
By the time Llewellin started Aughavannagh, it was raining steadily, with the result that he lost heavily to McRae, losing 28s to the Rothmans driver. He also had a huge aquaplaning moment, the engine falling from 8000 to 2000 rpm when in fifth gear. McRae had played safe and chosen intermediates, well aware that the Dunlop intermediate worked well under most conditions,whereas the Michelins were much more sensitive. By the time the cars arrived in Kilkenny, McRae was 45s in front and beginning to pull out a useful buffer.
Coleman was still third. but both Grundel and Brookes were closing in. The Manta was the quickest of the three on these two stages, gaining a second from Grundel on Sally Gap and then 11s on Aughavannagh. That put him a second in front of the Swede by the time he reached the service area in Kilkenny. Russell was now happy with the car in such conditions, finding soft intermediates worked best; experiments with hand cut slicks had not proved successful.
Like his RED team-mate, Toivonen had chosen grooved slicks for this important pair of stages, but had got a puncture before he had even started the first one, replacing it with an ungrooved spare. That had been a bit of a handful near the end of Sally Gap, but had been totally unsuitable for the next stage. It dropped him further behind Grundel, but at least he was still in sixth place, almost two minutes clear of McHale.
No doubt Mikkola would have been content with nothing worse than a poor tyre choice. As it was, the Quattro stopped in the middle of Aughavannagh and had to be retired. The entire Audi team headed for home, Hannu having broken a front strut and shed a wheel. Three stages remained before the overnight halt stop in Waterford. McRae looked likely to lose some of his 45s lead as Dunlop had only one new intermediate in Kilkenny, so Jimmy had to tackle the three stages with part worn tyres. It turned out
that they stood up well to the largely dry stages and another wrong tyre choice from Llewellin meant that his advantage grew to 1m 07s by the end of the leg.
The latter had chosen P1As, Michelin’s latest soft wet, and was thus unable to close on the Scot. Another crisis arose in Waterford. The mechanics were making routine checks in the service area on the dockside, only to discover after five minutes had already passed that a gear tooth was in the rear differential oil. A differential change was immediately made, but it naturally took time, and David had incurred 30s in road penalties by the time he shot into Parc Ferme. Moreover, the rear differential was still not fully connected and the car had no sumpguard. The task would be completed in the morning.
Coleman was visibly trying very hard on the stages and thoroughly deserved his third place. It was thus a cruel misfortune that he got a puncture on SS20, dropping three, and a half minutes driving the five miles out of the stage. Billy felt slightly aggrieved, maintaining that he hadn’t hit anything, and reflected that it might have been a better idea to stop and change it in the stage. In consequence he had now fallen to fourth, more than a minute behind a trouble-free Brookes, but at least he was still ahead of Grundel.
A turbo pipe had come adrift on SS18, leaving the Works Ford with a rather sluggish 1700 cc engine and a two minute deﬁcit. It was repaired in time for the next test, and Grundel, running with plenty of boost, was second fastest with McRae on Portlaw 1, the last Saturday stage. By now, Lovell was going well and running more boost, taking his first fastest time on this stage. Lovell was more than happy with his car, while Grundel’s was given a new turbocharger as a precaution, the old one having looked a trifle oily when the loose pipe was jammed back into place.
Poor Sundstrom was in transmission trouble again, dropping time on the final two stages before Waterford. This time there was no avoiding a complete gearbox change, and the Peugeot mechanics had their work cut out to carry it out in the time available, completing the job in 24m. The 205 rushed into Parc Ferme with various body panels still missing and more work to be done the following morning. but at least it was still in the rally.
Bonner was still plagued by a misﬁre which had afflicted the Opel almost from the start. and now changed the fuel line inside the car in desperation, having replaced almost every other fuel and electrical component in a vain effort to persuade the car to run smoothly. “It would bring a tear to a glass eye.“ claimed his co~driver Rory Kennedy!
Aitken-Walker was slowly chipping away at Bonner’s advantage, coming to terms with the 240RS on her first tarmac rally in the machine. Airikkala was still driving steadily to maintain his GpA lead, under no real pressure. The Astra worked perfectly, save for cracking brake discs. Pentti felt he could cope with that, and was concentrating on preserving the Vauxhall rather than worrying the GpB cars. Metcalfe led the rest, just ahead of Fennell and Wiggins, while Wood, despite a wrong tyre choice on Sally Gap and Aughavannagh, was now fourth, taking a minute a stage off Metcalfe and often catching two cars on each of the longer stages.
Positions after SS20:
- McRae/Grindrod 2h 53m 17s;
- Llewellin/Short 2h 54m 55s;
- Brookes/Broad 2h 57m 27s;
- Coleman/Morgan 2h 58m 34s;
- Grundel/Melander 2h 58m 42s.
WATERFORD TO WATERFORD
Heavy rain greeted crews at six o’clock on Sunday morning as they gathered on the docks in Waterford for another 10 stages to the east and north of the town. Already Sundstrom was in big trouble. 100 yards down the road from parc fermé, the gearbox seized solid. The car was restarted and dispatched to the first stage, but yet the 205T16 coasted to a halt in mid-stage with no gears left: Sundstrom’s rally was over.
The Scandinavian challenge was further weakened by the demise of Grundel on the same stage. The Ford sustained a puncture on the stage, but Kalle decided to change it after the stage. He never made it. Eventually the tyre broke up and the flailing carcass ripped off part of the boot, and more importantly, the oil lines. The RS200 was parked at the side of the road out of reach of the service crew and now out of the rally as well.
McRae was also in trouble. From the start of the Sunday run, the Metro’s gearbox hadn’t felt right, and by the time he reached the service area in Dungarvan after SS23, it was plain that a gearbox change would be necessary. However, it takes least 20m to replace a 6R4 gearbox, so it was postponed until more time was available. So far, he had only lost 10s to Llewellin, but the car deteriorated rapidly on the next two stages. The Welshman caught and passed the Scotsman on SS24, and realised that he had now retaken the lead.
Accordingly, he slowed up on the next stage, and in fact dropped 14s to Brookes, who was quickest. By now, it was no longer certain that McRae was still in the rally at all. Coleman had started Gortnapeaky two minutes behind the ailing Metro, yet still caught him shortly before the finish, and Jimmy had also dropped 20s in road penalties between the stages. The Metro only had second gear left as well as a gaping hole in the gearbox casing, so a change and the attendant road penalties were now inevitable. The car arrived in Clonmel without a sumpguard which should have speeded up the change. “It was lucky really it lasted that long,” reflected McRae while the mechanics struggled to keep him in the rally.
They did so, changing the gearbox in just 22 minutes, a new record for a Metro gearbox. By now Jimmy had lost well over five minutes on stages, and a total of 80s in road penalties, leaving him well behind Llewellin and down in third place
Aside from the dramas at the head of the field, Lovell’s performance was beginning to attract attention. Ford has now turned the boost up to the normal 1.5 bar, giving between 420 and 430 bhp, depending on whom one spoke to, and the south-western driver was beginning to make full use of it. The RS200 was running well, and he set two fastest times and was quickest overall on the Sunday run.
Airikkala continued to lead GpA but changed a gearbox as a precaution at Clonmel, while the battle behind him raged hotter still between Metcalfe, Frank Fennel], and Brian Wiggins, while Andrew Wood was still hauling them in steadily: However, Airikkala was now being caught himself by Simon Davison, who was clearly coming to grips with the Nissan. He overreached himself slightly on SS25, sliding into a ditch for a minute at a junction. Fortunately the car was undamaged, and he continued at a slightly more cautious pace. The junction hadn’t been the only mobstacle he had faced on the stage, as there had been a little snow on the highest parts of the road.
In spite of being handed a useful lead, Llewellin found the rally far from uneventful. He got a rear puncture on Newcastle, although he was still third quickest and ahead of Brookes. “lt was like a bloody crab — worse than a tractor!” he commented, finding the car most unstable. He also clipped a fence when the MG nearly took control later in the stage. There isn‘t enough space to carry a full size spare wheel in a Metro, so he was forced to tackle the next two stages with an eight inch wide replacement, which didn’t prevent his setting top six times. He was also hampered by brake problems, which as they had all but disappeared by the end of Comeragh. He had the right tyres for the last two stages of the day, but lost a little time with a spin on SS29. It made little difference: the pendulum had swung in his favour, and he finished the third leg over four minutes in front of his nearest rival.
McRae was now setting the pace, fastest on all three of the stages between the service halts at Clonmel. He reduced Brookes’ advantage from 1m 42s to a mere 37s, only to get a puncture on Rathgormuck 2. He had to stop and change the tyre, doing well to spend only two and a half minutes at the roadside. The delay was sufficient to drop him back another place, and he wasn’t able to gain time on the last Sunday test, as his spare was a buffed seven inch forest tyre, hardly conducive to good handling on the back of the 6R4 on asphalt. He completed the day only one second behind Coleman though, and was thus well placed to move up the order in the final leg. The car received a new rear differential as a precaution back in Waterford.
Brookes was running smoothly in second place, but reported that the Manta simply couldn‘t keep up with the four-wheel drive machinery on wet stages. He was in no position to put pressure on Llewellin, but he did have a lead of more than two minutes on the Rothmans pair. The Porsche was running smoothly yet Billy had dropped over a minute on Comeragh, not 300 yards from a spectating David Richards, by sliding off in a muddy farmyard.
“It was brain fade really,” explained the Millstreet man candidly, adding that he would have lost no more than 10s if the 911’s starter motor had been working. Instead, he had to wait for a push from spectators. The car looked messy, displaying a bent wing and front panel; however, the tracking was still straight, so its performance was entirely satisfactory. Its transmission also required precautionary attention in Waterford though, in the shape of a new gearbox.
Lovell was still secure in fifth, in spite of a gearbox fault on the SS30, when the unit stuck in third gear. Mark got a blister on his hand trying to wrench the lever into another gear: the car was easily fixed and was given a new gearbox in Waterford, the Mike Little mechanics fitting it in only 11m.
Lovell‘s nearest challenger was now Toivonen, who had firmly ensconced himself ahead of McHale. He had lost time with serious brake problems on the 26th and 27th stages, and required new front discs and calipers at the next service point. The brakes led to a further delay when he overshot a junction on SS27, a fact which was evident from a small piece of tape hanging from the rear aerofoil. The Unipart Metro was given a new rear differential back in Waterford.
Sadly, Aitken-Walker’s rally had come to an abrupt end after SS26. The Nissan had completed the stage with only first gear still working, and it could not be repaired in time to keep it in the rally. That took the pressure off Bonner and also left Nissan honours in the hands of Davison, still acquitting himself favourably on his first Circuit. SS30 had been the last for John Price / Derrick Davies in their Renault 5 Turbo, since although the car finished the stage without problem, it stopped on the road section leading to Waterford with no oil pressure. Price switched off before serious damage was done.
Positions after SS30:
- Llewellin/Short 4h 45m 30s;
- Brookes/Broad 4h 49m 48s;
- Coleman/Morgan 4h 52m 14s;
- McRae/Grindrod 4h 32m 15s;
- Lovell/Davis 4h 53m 27s.
WATERFORD TO BELFAST
A short break for service enabled he teams to fettle their cars before embarking on the long, hard run north to Belfast, which included 245 miles of stages. RED changed the rear differential on the leader‘s car, while Toivonen’s had been given another throttle body in an effort to cure a misﬁre, and his was re-set before he left for the final stage of he day, Windgap. Lovell’s car got another new gearbox.
One might have expected Llewellin to ease off, but instead the Rudbaxton farmer was fastest on the 31st and 33rd stages and second on the two others that preceded a service halt in Limerick. He explained that he wanted to show McRae that there was no real chance of beating him, in the hope that the latter would settle for reeling in Brookes.
It was a typical example of the intelligent approach he adopts to his rallying. Lovell was also going quickly once more, and was evidently well at home in the Ford, even in the wet. However, he suffered another setback as the route headed across Tipperary to a pair of stages in the Silvermine Mountains. The car was afflicted by an annoying misﬁre which was traced to a cracked plug lead, which was duly replaced by the service crew.
Coleman also got a misﬁre: he suspected that the fuel system might be the culprit, as his old Porsches used to be prone to misfiring immediately after stage starts, but it didn‘t seem to slow him greatly. Like Brookes, he was at a major disadvantage on the first two Monday stages, both of which were very wet. The rear-wheel-drive cars skated around helplessly. Brookes nudging a bank on a tight left-hander on Windgap.
McRae wasn’t best pleased with the wet conditions either, for although the Dunlops worked very well when it was dry or damp, they were a little too hard when the roads were thoroughly wet. However, the Silvermine stages were dry, aside from occasional patches of standing water, and the Scot was quickest on SS34, 10s ahead of Llewellin.
The third Metro was less healthy, being delayed once more by a misﬁre. The distributor cap and leads were changed as well as some of the internals. One of the mechanics also found a loose flange on the front differential, but the meagre 15m service allowance gave no time either to change the differential or fit new holts, so the unit was tightened up and he was sent on his way.
Sadly, Vincent Bonner’s good run had come to a premature end on SS31, when the west coast fishing magnate planted the Ascona in a hedge only 50 yards from the end of the stage. It couldn’t be recovered in time, so a disappointed Bonner walked through the stage, although it was later rendered mobile again when the Sydney Meeke mechanics reached it.
McRae was fastest on both the stages leading to the supper halt in Galway, taking another 28s off Brookes and steadily reducing the gap, yet he was still 1m 18s in arrears. Lovell found that the misfire returned, and had to replace the sparking plugs this time, after one of them blew out of the engine.
The cars left Galway at 20.00 for what was rightly expected to be the roughest part of the event: a run over eight stages through the night to the breakfast halt at Omagh, back in Northern Ireland. The first three totalled 47 miles, and radically altered the look of the leaderboard.
Lovell was the first to strike trouble, yet another gearbox giving problems on Lough Nafooey. It jammed in third, so he had to drive the next service halt dropping vast amounts of time: having left Galway more than seven minutes in front of Lovell, he arrived at Bellavery, the site of the service area, four minutes behind.
The two weaknesses lie with inadequate heat treatment of the dog rings and with the gear linkage itself. By the end of the rally, the Ford crew could change the unit in no more than nine minutes, but in the meantime Lovell was struggling to hold his place in the top six. Even so, he had moved up two places.
Both the surviving Rothmans cars had abandoned the fray on SS38, Partry Mountains. Even Llewellin confessed to a couple of moments on this treacherous 11 miler, but first Coleman and then McRae left the road. Coleman had been discussing a notoriously tricky bridge with Brookes before the start of the stage, and all but demolished it. The Corkman had begun his attack in earnest once darkness fell, only to retire having virtually destroyed his brand new car. Billy himself was taken to hospital for a check-up, but he was not badly hurt and happily was discharged later. It was a sorry end to an aggressive performance, in the course of which he had emphasised once more that he can compete with the best on home territory.
Near the end of the stage, McRae slid wide of on a patch of gravel and struck a rock. He limped out of the stage, where it emerged that a steering arm was bent almost double. That was quickly replaced, but there was no time to attend to the rest of the suspension, and he was dispatched to Sheefry Mountains with a cracked front wishbone. Two miles down the road it snapped in half. Now there was no time left, and the Rothmans Metro was withdrawn after a stirring performance: Jimmy had deserved better.
That took the pressure off Brookes, who had slumped to third at this point prior to this incident with problems of his own. The alternator had failed on SS37, and by the end of the stage, Broad was having trouble seeing the pace notes, so Russell’s difficulty in seeing the road can be imagined.
Only 30s or so were lost on the stage, but 11 of the 15m of maximum lateness were eaten away before the Manta was on its way to Partry Mountains, leaving Brookes with precious little margin for error until the end of the rally. Ironically, McRae had actually been in second place when he slid off.
Llewellin was now able to ease off for good, which was just as well bearing in mind that the next three stages were the roughest of the event. A mixture of broken tarmac, pot holes, gravel, and mud, they were enough to test the strongest car. While the leader reached the border unscathed, Brookes’ Manta completed Dawn of Hope with sagging front springs and Broads door was now hard to close as well. “It’s gradually reverting to the “Bendy Bus” observed the driver.
Even so, the Open Champion was safe in second place, now well over eight minutes behind the leader, but well ahead of Toivonen, whose misﬁre was now dormant for the time being; the crew had now concluded that it could be attributed to water in the petrol.
Poor Lovell got another puncture, yet was still quickest on SS41 in his efforts to catch McHale, who was a convincing fourth. It wasn’t just the leaders suffering. Metcalfe‘s fine drive came to an end on S536 with engine failure, while Brian Wiggins slid off into a ditch on SS42. That left Frank Fennell as the only survivor of the original dice, and he was driving very well indeed. Even so, he was being caught hand over fist by Wood, but got a breathing space on Sheefry Mountains, as the Astra‘s differential wilted half way through. The Scotsman nearly crashed over a brow when the differential snatched badly, and it had to be replaced after the test. That gave him a further 140s in road penalties, and made the task of catching the Dubliner that much harder.
Davison spoilt an encouraging drive with an off into a ditch on Dawn of Hope losing 10m while sufficient spectators were rounded up to rescue the beached Nissan. The rate of attrition was such that he only dropped one place, falling to seventh.
Crews were given an unexpected breathing space when there was a long delay in ferrying service barges across the border into Northern Ireland. Two stages had to be cancelled, and the rally only got back onto schedule after the Omagh halt.
Lovell was not best pleased that two stages were cancelled, as it did nothing for his chances of catching McHale. Soon after breakfast they were fighting for third. Having driven very sensibly through the night, Toivonen slid off on a 90 degree bend on SS46, doing suffcient damage to the front to eliminate the third placed Metro.
The same stage very nearly claimed Wood, who knocked down a gate and then got stuck in a ﬁeld for nearly two minutes. He accordingly decided to settle for third in GpA.
Lovell wasn’t settling for anything, hut his chances of catching McHale all but evaporated at the service area in Ballymena, when a faulty sparking plug got stuck in the head. It had to be tapped out and he got a crucial 10s of road penalties. He had also changed the rear differential. He then chose wets for the final stages, and in spite of taking 12s off the flying McHale on the last stage, he finished fourth. Both had driven exceptionally well, Lovell proving to his critics that he is more than capable of handling the RS200, while McHale was delighted simply to finish the Circuit for the first time – on his eighth attempt!
There had been some notable performances down the ﬁeld as well, Airikkala taking a s splendid GpA win and sixth overall, while Stanley Orr / John Armstrong were an excellent 11th and first in GpN. In truth, anyone who finished this exceptionally arduous event deserved some sort of award.
Shell Oils RAC Open Championship
Rothmans Circuit of Ireland, March 28 – April 1, 1986
- David Llewellin/Phil Short (MG Metro 6R4) 7h 53m 06s;
- Russell Brookes/Mike Broad(Opel Manta 400) 8h 02m 05s;
- Austin McHale/Christy Farrell (Opel Manta 400) 8h 13m 01s;
- Mark Lovell/Peter Davis (Ford RS200) 8h 13m 23s;
- Pentti Airikkala/Ronan McNamee (Vauxhall Astra GTE) 8h 48m 57s;
- Simon Davison/Mark Atkinson (Nissan 240RS) 8h 55m 51s;
- Frank Fennell/Tom Callanan (Opel Kadett GSi) 9h 00m 11s;
- Andrew Wood/Mike Nicholson (Vauxhall Astra GTE) 9h 03m 22;
- Richard Hall/Ian Beasant (Talbot Sunbeam Ti) 9h 14m 03s;
- Ed Colton/Frank Scanlon (Peugeot 205GTi) 9h 17m 14s.