The Circuit of Ireland
EASTER WEEKEND is traditionally Safari Rally time but for British national rally drivers there is another annual pilgrimage, this time across the Irish Sea for the Circuit of Ireland. This 1,500-mile, five-day rally is the premier home tarmac International and this year it was won by the current RAC Rally Champion, Billy Coleman, driving a Works-entered Ford Escort RS1600. Coleman, who lives in Co. Cork, Eire, has been developing into a very mature driver indeed over the last few months and took the lead in this event during the first night
after his two Ford team-mates had both dropped out. With its start in the northern counties, the majority of the stages over the border in the south and then a finish back in the north, the Circuit represents a fine example of how sport can cross almost all political barriers and this year’s event was as well organised and planned as any rally in the British Isles. The rally started on Good Friday in Ballymena and, after a few stages, crossed the border to head for the southwest of Ireland and the rally’s base for 24-hours, Killarney. The Sunday was spent rallying over the fabullous stages of the Bantry Bay
area and then, on Easter Monday, the rally headed away to the northeast via Killarney and Dublin to finish back in the north, at Larne, on the Tuesday morning. Rallying in Ireland over the last few years has been dominated by Porsche Carreras, the car being perfect for the type of stages which are run over closed public roads. This year Ford sent over a three-car team of Escorts to attempt to challenge this might and chose for their crews Roger Clark/Jim Porter, Billy Coleman/Paul Phelan and Nigel Rockey/Peter Scott. The chances of a Ford victory seemed good for Continued on page 488
one star Curley, was not in a Carrera for once. He was giving the Chequered Flag Lancia Stratos, a privately-owned ex-Works car, its first outing in this country.
Porsche drivers that Ford would have to watch for included Dessie McCartney and David Agnew while there was also a strong team of Vauxhalls including the DTV Magnum of Will Sparrow/Ron Crellin.
The rally was full of surprises though, none more so than the weather which presented competitors with patches of snow on two of the first three stages. Once these had been Cleared and the cars were back on tarmac Roger Clark took the initiative and pulled out a fair lead ahead of team-mate Rockey. The exciting Lancia Stratos had only lasted these three stages before its engine went sick.
Clark himself ran into problems during the course of that first night when a head gasket gave on the two-litre engine and by midnight he too had retired. It wasn’t to be Ford’s rally for a similar fault struck down Nigel Rockey from the lead at breakfast-time leaving Billy Coleman to uphold the honours ahead of the Vauxhall of Will Sparrow. Other crews who had run into trouble during that first night included Russell Brookes (RS2000) and George Hill (Magnum) but both kept running. The Killarney stages started with Coleman
established in the lead but Will Sparrow was putting in a strong challenge and had closed the gap before oil-pump failure forced him out leaving Coleman clear by over six minutes. Behind him were a trio of Porsches in the hands of McCartney, Agnew and Englishman Brian Evans, though Agnew was soon to go with a broken front suspension.
The stages on the run back to the north first saw Coleman consolidate his lead and then ease off leaving the battles for second and fourth places to be fought out behind him. Russell Brookes achieved an incredible feat to bring a very troublesome Gpl RS2000 to the finish in fifth place but the glory was really Coleman’s. His first International win on his country’s major International.