Report from Autosport of 16th October 1980
McRae wins for DTV - Kaby wins title - Stuart again dominates Group 1 -
Report: PETER FOUBISTER - Photography: COLIN TAYLOR PRODUCTIONS
At about three o'clock on Saturday afternoon in he middle of the windswept Dylife service area, Jimmy McRae was not a particularly happy man. The battle for the lead of the Castrol National Rally between Tony Pond and Russell Brookes had faded when Pond's Triumph retired with punctured tyres, promoting McRae's DTV Chevette to second place. A puncture in Dyfi forest, however, had dropped Jim out of touch, while Russell was really letting the Talbot have its head.
It had all the makings of being a repeat performance: another frustrating effort ending with Jim claiming the runner-up award. But then, news that the leader booked into a control early handed Jim the lead, the Talbot heartache continuing for Russell when the wheel studs broke ater in the afternoon, robbing him of yet another finish.
Jimmy took the honours, while Terry Kaby doubled Vauxhall's successes by forcefully taking he Castrol/AUTOSPORT National title with second spot on the day, his fifth maximum score of the year. It was a fine effort, the Toleman driver finishing ahead of many international drivers.
World Champion Bjorn Waldegaard treated he day as a real test exercise, but was hampered by injection problems, while Malcolm Wilson, star of the previous round, had a troubled outing with his car, and eventually slipped off the road.
Punctures played a crucial role, hindering a spirited drive by Malcolm Patrick and effectively wrecking George Hill's hopes of taking the championship for a second time.
Mike Stuart underlined his niche as the National Group 1 champion by taking the honours again, while surprise winner in the Talbot ti challenge is Bill Barton. Kevin Stones won the class at the weekend with a mature display, but the consistent approach of Barton throughout the season has paid dividends.
The rally saw a number of co-driver errors, apart from that involving Brookes, and penalties imposed wrecked a number of good drives, including those of Irishmen Ronnie McCartney and Ian Cathcart. The rally was, however, a fitting test for the final round of the National championship, with superb Welsh forest roads, limited servicing, and a real element of endurance.
The Castrol National rally, sponsored by the promoters of the National championship and run by the Wolverhampton and South Staffs CC can always be relied on to provide good fast competition. Spice is regularly added by international visitors indulging in some RAC Rally preparations and Castrol work hard promoting the rally.
Forums, displays, a supplement in The Cambrian News, all help to give the event atmosphere, although perhaps Aberystwyth, situated on the west coast, in October has an "atmosphere" of its own. Not since the Granite City rally in April has a National event been able to produce information sheets on the rally's progress.
There were still rather more rough edges than some expected, however, and the organisers found themselves on precarious ground a couple of times. The regulations were published well in advance, but the private entrants' definition came in for heavy criticism. When the decision was made to penalise drivers for a wrong approach to a control it, too, was conducted in a vague manner, all of which contributed to delay results considerably.
But, for the most part, there are few rallying areas, which can beat the quality offered by the mid-Wales forests. Based in Aberystwyth, the rally was well received by the towns-people, and benefited from the involvement of the local community.
From the start the cars headed east to the Ystwyth and Tarenig forests, before heading north for Hafren, and the first visit to the only service area after some 30 miles of stages. Lunch at Machynlleth, followed by stages further north in Dovey, a return to the rather bleak service area at Dylife and re-runs through the opening stages was the recipe. A full day, which included perhaps more elements of real rallying rather than those of a sprint event.
In addition to the international visitors and the regular Castrol/AUTOSPORT competitors, the entry list included a number of Irish drivers, giving the list a full 120 cars. From Belgium came 22-year-old Patrick Snyers, who has been making headlines in his own country. Patrick had hired an Escort from J.C. Motorsport Hire and taken a British licence for the occasion. Malcolm Wilson had his Total car, "testing suspension settings and driver's ankles . . .", while Geoff Simpson was returning after his ban. Ian Cathcart brought his car from Ireland and was partnered by John Daniels for the day; it was Ian's first forest event, and the first rally he had tackled since his huge accident in Donegal earlier this year.
Also from Ireland, and adding their own special character, were Brendan Fagan and Ronnie McCartney, both driving Chevettes, the cars which currently dominate Irish rallying. Heading that domination is works driver Jim McRae, who lead the challenge with an HSR, ahead of Graham Elsmore's HS.
The championship was also to be decided between two Chevette drivers, Terry Kaby and George Hill, the pair sandwiching Tim Brise's diminutive Fiesta in the starting order.
Bjorn had no trouble starting the Toyota for 8.01am; behind him Tony Pond was quite happy, although his problems had started the night before when the mechanics had to change the clutch.
For Russell Brookes, however, it was one of those days: the Talbot was pushed up and down, the team trying to fire it up. He was not alone however, many cars suffering the same problem, one of the disadvantages of a cold Welsh night and an early start. But, if the weather was cold, the competition was undoubtedly not. Brookes immediately pushed the Talbot through Ystwyth 13secs quicker than Pond. McRae and Wilson followed, with Malcolm Patrick again heading the national drivers in the early stages of a rally. The order was similar over the second test, and approaching Hafren for the first time, Russell had a slender 8secs lead over Tony.
Not everyone was to see the delights of Hafren, however, as both Mike Jackson and Jeff Churchill, two of the championship's characters, continued their disastrous runs, retiring early. Jackson's Crystals-supported car dropped a valve, while Churchill's car retired with the gearbox unfit for further work.
The battle up front was quite evident however and, while claims of "testing" could always be heard, there was no doubt how strongly the teams wanted to win. At the end of 25 miles of Hafren, the stories were plentiful. Pond had thrilled the many spectators, working very hard at throwing the big beast through to fastest time, the car evidently getting plenty of traction with the Michelin tyres. Brookes was now 7secs behind - but the Talbot sported a very modified rear quarter after a swift spin into a substantial tree.
Behind this pair McRae and Wilson were having their own troubles, the Chevette without third gear and the Escort driver sensing both pain from his ankles, and a lack of response from the engine. He continued to suffer both all day, and yet escaped the more common blight of modern forest rallying, punctures.
Punctures in Hafren settled the National championship, when Hill was forced to stop and change a tyre early in the stage. The jack broke mid-way through the operation, and spectators had to be enlisted, further delaying the Martin Chevette. Malcolm Patrick passed the Chevette but then suffered a similar problem near the end of the test.
The Toyota again collected a puncture, but the main delay here was a plate in the fuel injection system which stuck and took some time to rectify. John Weatherley also had fuel problems, although his were confined to a simple lack of petrol due to a pipe leaking. The car stopped close to spectators who willingly replenished the Talbot's supplies and sent him on, although his progress, often very rapid, was slowed by punctures.
In contrast to the erratic progress of the Cliffords Talbot one name firmly in the top 10 was that of Phil Collins. Having threatened a good result for some time, Phil took the Escort on a steady run, with little drama, and was extremely pleased as the day progressed.
With over 30 miles of stages completed, the runners headed for first service; McRae changed the gearbox, most teams played with suspension tuning, and British Leyland changed tyres for the first time of the day. For an event with so much importance attached all seemed strangely under control. Kaby was cool. Hill knew the odds now but accepted them and would do all he could for the rest of the day, while the top teams were quite relaxed about the whole affair. A similar air was that found at the early lunch halt in Machynlleth, the traditional halt.
Interviews with the drivers as they arrived, and a quick car wash by Psimat preceeded the halt, held in fairly confined conditions in the Wynnstay Hotel. Malcolm Patrick still led the national drivers, ahead of Elsmore, Kaby, and Ronnie McCartney, exuding typical "McCartney" character: "I have always enjoyed the loose more than the tarmac; this event today has more stage mileage than our whole forest championship" ...
It does not seem to matter whether Graham Elsmore is on loose or tarmac, something unscheduled seems to strike his efforts only too regularly. Just ½ mile into first stage after lunch, a half-shaft broke, putting the West Country drivers on the sidelines again. Bill Dobie recorded the first of a number of good times here, and Weatherley was moving up, but the real dramas started once the cars entered Dyfi.
First away was Malcolm Wilson, the car sliding off the track just far enough to make it impossible to regain the road without further assistance. Then Pond's TR7 had a puncture, changed it and finished the stage. A further puncture meant real problems for the Triumph crew as, in Tony's words: "There is only room for one spare wheel in the car - it's just another of the problems with running a sports car in the forests." Help was at hand but the crew opted to retire, and continue only for the "exercise".
Returning to the service area, Bryan Harris took Russell into the control 3mins early, so that everyone was effectively promoted three places by the trouble of all the leading crews . . . except Jimmy.
Now happily relieved of all his troubles, Jim had been supplied with 15ins rims and A2 tyres for the tests after the lunch halt, and found them quite good, the car benefitting on the dry sections, but losing out when in wetter, muddier, conditions. Back into Hafren for the second time, he was fastest by 45secs from Waldegaard and then Kaby and Hill, both trying hard.
Patrick Snyers was quick here, the stage being run in the reverse direction to the morning. He impressed everyone with his very neat style, considering he is far more used to pace note events in Europe.
Dobie was quick and David Grainger, in another Ford Escort, was well into the top 10 on this section, heading for a very commendable result.
Malcolm Patrick lost much time with a puncture in Hafren, and Russell Brookes was finally stranded in the stage when the wheel nuts sheered, sending a rear wheel flying off into the bushes. Considering he had watched the mechanics torque up the wheels immediately before the test the failure came as a real puzzle and a real disappointment.
Over the final stages, all seemed quiet, as gaps appeared between the top runners with so many of the fancied runners now out of contention; it would take a problem for anyone to move a position. As problems often come in the form of punctures, the leaders must have now been wary of the roads, especially as the tracks were being used for the second time in the day.
Not everyone was trying for positions, however, and Waldegaard took the Toyota to some quick times behind Pond over the final tests. In fact, on Tarenig 2, Tim Brise got the Fiesta into a top 10 time, making up slightly for the disappointment of having to tackle the two Dyfi stages with no brakes when a pipe was smashed at the start of the first test in the forest.
It seemed as though the rally was over, with a simple run into town for the finish; but Ronnie McCartney and Tony McMahon missed a passage control in the Chevette. After a day of enjoying the forests, Ronnie took the exclusion extremely well, but for others who would have been highly placed the control remained a problem. Both Ian Cathcart, heading for a top finish in his first British rally, and Bill Dobie, were eventually penalised for approaching the control from the wrong direction. This despite there being considerable inaccuracies in the road book both in connection with mileages and the description of the route. The organisers had chosen to ban all 1:50 000 maps, making competitors use the tourist scale maps, and this example would appear to be one of the simplest reasons. for allowing crews to at least carry the basic map - then there would be no question about penalties.
Back in Aberystwyth, the winners were eventually heralded into the street at the Belle Vue Hotel, and a true champagne presentation and interview took place above the crowd.
The presentation was well attended, and it was good to see Jim McRae taking a second win on the trot, and Terry Kaby winning the championship in the car Jim used to such effect last season. It gave the whole show some character, and as the parties continued till daybreak, the championship was over.