Bitten by the Bug

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David Llewellin’s affair with transport goes back almost to his nappy days — garment, I am assured, that his co-driver Phil Short feels inclined to wear when sitting beside the Welshman on some of his hairier moments.

“I was only four or five when I used to drive my dad’s tractors around the farmyard while he pitched the hay off the trailer”, says Llewellin, “and I was twelve when I started my competition career in jalopy racing. Three years later, in 1977, my father bought me a kart which I drove in different events around the country, but I was never able to contest a championship as farming duties took priority.

“I did well enough to join the British team which went to South Africa. I didn’t carry on karting into the next year, however, as my interest dwindled. I wanted something more challenging.”

It was in 1979 that David started road rallying locally, but: “We spent quite a lot of the time driving fast up the wrong roads. When we were given map-references at the start of our first rally, my navigator and I wondered what the hell they were.”

“We then went onto small single-stage events, which were a lot easier as you followed the little arrows.” He drove an old Escort which he looked after himself, and which managed to clock up quite a lot of success.

This was changed in 1982 for a 1700 BDA Escort, which in turn was sold for the RS2000 in which he chakted up his first win at national level, the 1983 Tour of Cumbria. So successful was he that he was vying for overall championship honours with Darryl Weidner, but unfortunately his challenge was terminated when he clipped a pile of logs on the last round and consequently finished fourth in the championship.

Well and truly bitten by the bug, David started 1984 in an Opel Ascona, in order to take advantage of GM Dealer Sport’s bonus scheme whereby winners of national rallies won £1000. His budget was only enough for the first half of the year so he needed to win a few to be able to keep going in the second half, but against the Audi Quattro it was a tall order. Using his Welsh charm, he managed to persuade GM to offer the prize to the first two-wheel-drive car instead.

On the first event, David was a comfortable second behind Weidner’s Quattro when he had a puncture on the last hairpin on the last stage. He ended up third, two seconds away from that vital £1000. He retired while leading the next rally and did not feature in the one after that due to a spate of punctures. On the last rally before his money ran out he was again out of luck when another competitor crashed and blocked his way, costing him vital seconds.

Help came in the shape of his future brother-in-law John Green, who loaned him an old BDA Escort in which David immediately went out and won the Peter Russek Manuals Rally. Following the next event, Bill Blydenstein offered him the loan of one of his Nissan 240RSs, which David made the most of; he ended the season by winning the National title.

From that moment on, the phone started ringing. David had arrived. He was approached by Audi, Ford and Austin Rover. After some thought he decided on the Audi option, attracted by the prospect of driving a four-wheel-drive turbocharged 350 bhp left-hand-drive Quattro alongside Michele Mouton, as opposed to the Group A options offered by the others.

It was the start of a new chapter in his career, for as David recalls: “It was a fantastic year for learning, being number two to Michèle and not being under any pressure. Michéle was a very aggressive lady, both in and out of the car, but it was good that she was as strong as she was, taking all the pressure.” The drive also gave him an insight into how factory-supported teams do the job.

Within a short space of time he was flinging the Quattro around with gay abandon, even bringing Stig Blomqvist to many people’s mind, so similar was his style. It was a year when the car was afflicted with mechanical unreliability, but he did manage fourth on the Welsh, fourth in Ulster and eighth on the Circuit. It was also the year he first competed abroad, driving the Quattro in the Swedish Rally (as part of the British Junior Team), in Sanremo, and in Germany on the Hünsruck.

Given this break by Audi, why did David decide to sign up with Austin Rover for the following year? “It was the chance to contest World Championship events, while Audi Sport UK as an importer was only interested in rallies in the UK. Even though I was the number three driver, in the first year I competed in the Open Championship (as team leader for the R-E-D squad) and on one World Championship rally, while in the second year I was due to contest more World events.

In his first event in the Metro 6R4 he was only narrowly beaten by Hannu Mikkola’s Quattro Sport, but in the next event he notched up his first international success with victory on the Circuit of Ireland. From then on, though, his season went badly wrong, so that by the time of the Manx his title aspirations had evaporated.

Under the terms of his contract, his future in World Championship rallying seemed assured. “I had a three-year contract at the time, and in this game that was a very attractive part of the package. But it all went wrong at the end of the first year when FISA banned Group B cars, the Metro included. Suddenly my programme went from the prospect of contesting World Championship events for the following year to nothing. Austin Rover released me from my contract, so I went back to Audi and signed to do the British Championship.”

Last year started badly when he crashed out of the lead on the first rally, but the high point came a few months later with victory in the Scottish. There were also sorties into Europe in Emilio Radaelli’s Coupé quattro, which resulted in victory in the Cyprus Rally, third place in the European Championship and an A-seeding.

Now driving the 200 quattro, David has had a barren season so far for a variety of reasons. The competition has been very strong, especially with Pentti Airikkala’s Mitsubishi Starion proving to be a great deal more competitive than many had expected. Before the start of the six-round series, David Sutton’s team was hoping that on the three tarmac rounds, which favour the Fords, the points would be diffused amongst different Cosworth winners while on the gravel, where the Audi was superior, it would garner maximum points and thus win the championship. The Mitsubishi has changed all that, for it has been quicker than the Ford on the gravel and on the pace on the tarmac. David’s championship hopes have consequently somewhat diminished.

It was geography that led David into rallying as a teenager, circuits being too far from his home in Haverfordwest, and he has gone on to become one of Britain’s brightest stars in this branch of the sport. Had he lived in a less remote part of the country, we might now be saluting another home-grown Formula One hope. WPK

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