The 50th anniversary of Belfast-born Mini legend Paddy Hopkirk’s historic Monte Carlo Rally victory was appropriately celebrated in Northern Ireland.
The 80-year-old, dubbed the ‘Belfast Boy’ by city mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, headed 200 cars – mainly Minis – through the capital’s streets, collecting the title of city ambassador during a City Hall stop-off.
Hopkirk received the keys to the city in 1964, but only received official documentation half a century later. “It is really wonderful,” Hopkirk said. “Who would have thought this might happen? I am very flattered.”
He admitted it was an emotional day.
“I broke down in tears as I was driving through Belfast,” he said. “It was very moving.”
Also in the cavalcade were Ari Vatanen (in the Ford Fiesta he drove to fourth in the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally), Jimmy McRae (reunited with the Vauxhall Chevette he took to victory in the 1980 Circuit of Ireland) and the likes of five-time Grand Prix winner John Watson, 1970s competitor Rosemary Smith and former Northern Ireland rally champion Cathal Curley.
Former Mini WRC driver Kris Meeke was pleased to be involved. He said: “Having finished on the podium in Monte Carlo, I have a fair idea how tough it was for him to make it to the top step in one of the most challenging events in the world.” William Neill