Report from Autosport of 24th October 1985-
Report: Keith Oswin - Photography: Tony North
The hot shoe show
The fortunes of Austin Rover’s Metro 6R4 have fluctuated since it was first shown to the public on last year’s York National Rally. While the car has always demonstrated its World beating potential, it had only notched up two wins before last weekend.
But, rather as a boxer times his preparation for the big fight, the team have been working towards the Lombard RAC Rally and on Saturday, in the final sparring bout, came to full fitness. Tony Pond and Marc Duez were, frankly, never troubled all day and gave the team — and a host of employees from the Longbridge factory where the cars are being made — a convincing 1-2 victory to cheer. Neither car was in need of major work during the event and, as the team relaxed afterwards, there was a discernable feeling of relief. And well deserved satisfaction . . .
The two expensive Heuer watches that formed the awards for the winner of Saturday’s Audi Sport Rally were, the sponsors hoped, a parting gift for David Llewellin and Phil Short. With a drive on the Lombard RAC Rally in some doubt, Saturday’s event was likely to be the last event for the pairing. The 1984 Shell Oils/AUTOSPORT RAC National Champion was driving his works Quattro and offered the most serious threat to the Austin Rover equipe. But, as Tony Pond stepped up to collect his award, that same timepiece, the screw was being turned.
Dipping into his pocket, Pond called Llewellin forward. “Although John Davenport could not stay for the prizegiving,” he began, “he asked me to present you with this £20 note as a way of thanking you for retiring from the event so early!”
The audience fell about with laughter while the Audi representatives put on their best fixed smiles. Llewellin’s roll on the opening test had cost them any chance of victory and they were forced to resign themselves to watching a rival manufacturer take the trophies for the first time since their sponsorship of this event began.
The final round of the National series has a certain air of tradition about it. Its proximity to the RAC Rally has usually attracted the factory teams to take in some pre-event testing and the rally itself is as close to international status as any of the Open Championship rallies. This year, however, things were different. Ford had opted not to send an RS200 as they were not entering the RAC Rally, Lancia chose to return to Turin after their Scottish test session and not try the Delta S4 in anger for the British fans. Peugeot also could not spare the 205 T16 for Mikael Sundstrom or the GTI for Louise Aitken-Walker, Audi failed to attract a works car from Ingolstadt, GM stayed at home with their regular drivers and Mazda made headlines with a late entry for Ingvar Carlsson, only to withdraw it as soon as the specialist magazines had gone to press...
Nevertheless, ARG sent Metros for Pond and Duez while a third factory car for Malcolm Wilson was scratched as the Cumbrian driver’s injured back is not ready for the rigours of rallying just yet. It would have been his first competitive outing in the car and given the RAC squad a valuable opportunity to work together for the first time. Audi of course had David Llewellin while GM did send Andrew Wood in the Manta 400 last used by Russell Brookes in Cyprus. Little work had been done to the car but the Scot was looking forward to his first run in the powerful Group B car, instead of his more usual Astra GT/E. Vauxhall’s Group A effort on the international scene was, however, represented by the Telecom car of Pentti Airikkala — partnered by Steve Rider from BBC Grandstand. Steve tackled last year’s rally alongside Harry Hockly in the Nova, but this was going to be something else entirely ...
The other change from tradition for the event was the move from the quaint (sorry, bleak) seaside town of Aberystwyth. Although the forests used by the club remained as before, the rally would start and finish in the beautiful town of Shrewsbury on the opposite side of the action area. While it made the rally headquarters a little more spread out than before, and increased the road mileage to and from the forests, no-one really minded and the event was as slickly presented as ever.
Not that David Llewellin had much time to enjoy it. A tricky left hander on the opening stage in Dyfnant—where the spectators were almost wall to wall— caught out the Quattro. “I was actually around the corner,” explained the Welshman afterwards, “and the rear wheel had dropped into the ditch. Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem but this time the ditch came to a sudden stop and it flipped the car over onto its roof. We were trapped inside for a while as we couldn’t get the doors open — not a nice feeling—but the spectators eventually decided to stop waving at us and helped us free.”
With a smashed windscreen and a very sorry looking front end, the Quattro set off once again. It was lucky that it got going when it did for, less than 2 mins later, Willie Rutherford arrived at speed in the R-E-D Sierra and shot into the same hole. This time it was the front offside corner that bore the brunt of the impact and the sudden stop knocked the wind out of co-driver Bryan Harris. Medical attention was required and Harris spent a few hours in hospital before being discharged without serious injury. It should be noted that, despite sending an ambulance through the stage to assist 'the crew and get Harris to hospital, the organisers managed to halt the event for a mere 9 mins. A record to be proud of...
Down in the service area, the Audi team prepared to undo the damage. David Sutton sacrificed the windscreen from his personal Quattro — to the I horror of his new minder, Steve Johnson, who had anticipated a quiet introduction to his new employers — and the mechanics set about pulling the Kevlar free of essential parts, checking the suspension and generally tidying things up. A representative from Michelin asked how the tyres had been—the team have signed a contract to use the French rubber next year instead of the familiar Pirelli—and realised that it was a foolish question at this point in time!
Next door, the Austin Rover camp prepared to receive their two blue and white charges. Having seen the team’s development over the past two seasons, it was significant to note an air of confidence these days. Somehow, it all looks right and well drilled. There was time for some light hearted banter as the cars queued at the arrival control in Machynlleth. After all, with the goings on in The Winning Streaky teams with PR girls have a rich source of material for smutty remarks! Pond was happy, 26 secs clear of team-mate Duez after the opening stage. Nevertheless, he was dripping with sweat and it was not all due to effort. The car gets desperately hot at times and that team opted to fit ducts to the cabin in the hope of improving things. The almost total lack of dirt on the cars was also indicative of the conditions that were facing the crews. “The stage was perfect," reflected the leader as he munched a sausage roll. “The only trouble is that, one minute everything is nice and dry, and then it gets wet. You don’t really like to commit yourself too much as you never know what will happen.”
Perhaps not, but spectators agreed that the Metro driver was certainly committed (or ought to be?) as the speed of the little car was sensational.
Duez was more relaxed than in Cumbria a few weeks earlier. On that occasion, the Belgian had been at the wheel of the 400bhp projectile for the first time and he was decidedly nervous. Now, with no fog to hamper progress, he was able to use his expertise to the full. To improve turn in, the team had fitted M4 covers at the front and M8s at the rear. Duez chose to widen the front tyres a little more to further improve matters, but otherwise was quite happy, the moustachioed driver able to contribute fully to the testing exercise.
Third at this point, 7 secs adrift of Duez, was Allan Edwards’s four-wheel- drive Escort, despite finding the brake calipers too small for the weight of the car and thus experiencing stopping problems. The alternator had also failed and cost some power but, otherwise, things were looking good. Mark Lovell, on the other hand, was not having much fun with the Castrol Nissan. This year’s champion had hoped to really set the world alight now that there were no worries about getting good points but, having stalled twice on the first stage, the gearbox was playing up. He was experiencing difficulty on selecting third and fourth gears and there was talk of switching the unit later in the day.
Andrew Wood was taking a bit of time getting used to the Manta. “I am looking out of the side windows more than the front,” he quipped, but was soon to show his talents in fine style, while Roy Cathcart was right on the pace with the ex-Ian Corkill Manta 400 that he has recently acquired. Oddly enough, to most people, he was ahead of Phil Collins in a similar car although the situation did not last long. With the Rover up for sale, now that his 6R4 is sitting in the garage (see Special Stage) Ken Wood was driving carefully although it was another event that would end with a broken half shaft, just three stages completed, while local driver, Richard Gough was enjoying the day in his elderly Escort.
Pentti Airikkala led Group A by a Welsh mile and was lying eighth in the process, a situation that spelt several white faced moments for Mr Rider during the day! And this with a car that was down on power for some reason. It seemed that the oil pressure was not all that it might be but little things like that never stand in the way of the Finn if he can help it.
Mike Stuart was another to be worried by a sick engine in his Rover Vitesse, now second in Group A, while David Mann's outing in the Corolla GT was going well so far. Highest placed championship runner was Nigel Worswick in the Nicolet Capri while Ian and Pat Beveridge’s TWR Mazda RX-7 was surprisingly next, despite its familiar fuel vaporisation troubles that made the early miles of some stages rather embarrassing.
Russell Gooding brought the Servis Rover out for some pre-RAC Rally fun but opted for too hard tyres on the opening stage—as did many others—as was well down the order at first, while Stuart Nicholls’s Astra was being hampered by either a clutch or gearbox problem that would not allow the ’box to clear. It ultimately cost him a finish. Simon Davison, however, was having no such troubles and the Group A champion was relaxed and happy.
Into Dovey for the first time, and it was business as usual at the front of the field. Pond was quickest again, while Llewellin, who had been told before the event to really go for a win, spun twice with the ill handling Quattro, right in front of the Breakfast Time cameras. A couple of stages later and it was all over for the Audi team, a piece of bodywork had managed to rub its way through the radiator and, when the warning lights came on, the event result was virtually a foregone conclusion. Barring disaster, it would be a Metro clean sweep. But then again, disaster has too often been just around the corner . . .
Behind the Metros, Lovell, Collins and Gough were having a rare old battle as they chased after Allan Edwards. First, Lovell led Collins by 1sec with a gaggle of drivers, including Gough and Cathcart, 10secs in arrears. Then it was Collins’s turn to get ahead, by 4secs, as Gough broke away to close on Lovell. By the time the crews reached the second service, Collins was behind again due to problems with his Yokohama tyres on the previous stage, and Gough has nosed ahead of Lovell. But on the next stage, the second run through Dovey, Gough suffered a seized rear nub and his chance was gone. Collins and Lovell were left to fight it out, the battle being joined by Andrew Wood who was really flying in the garish Manta, it still retaining its Marlboro colours.
Although out of this battle for third and fourth place, a bunch of drivers were chasing for the minor positions and poised should any problems befall the cars. Airikkala still led Group A, now in seventh, with Glyn Jones, Dougie Watson-Clark and Mike Stuart breathing down his neck. Worswick was still the leading championship Group A man whilst Colin Short (in the infamous Escort, STW201R) was close behind and fighting Russell Gooding.
The Metros were still formation dancing at the head of the field as the closing stages were reeled in. John Davenport, resplendent in a pair of plus fours, watched with a smile broadening across his face as his drivers took chunks of time off their rivals. They might not be under any pressure from other crews, but neither driver was slowing accordingly. This was—assuming all to be well—going to be a win taken from the front. A demonstration run for all to see and the outcome just might not have been different if the event had been able to boast its usual star studded entry.
But still the battle raged on behind. Allan Edwards suddenly hit trouble when the Escort clouted a bank fairly hard, immediately dropping him to fourth on the penultimate stage. Wood also did a whoopsy to mix things up a bit and so, with one stage remaining, the four lined up with Lovell 9secs up on Edwards who was, in turn, 11secs clear of Collins with Wood a further second behind.
One stage, a reverse run through the Dyfnant opener, later, Lovell still held third spot—and another maximum score for the champion—while Wood had shot to fourth. Edwards had suffered clutch failure on the last stage and was forced to slow, dropping to sixth at a stroke, while Collins had gone off briefly at a hairpin. “I was trying just that bit too hard,” he admitted. “I locked the brakes and we lost it. Andrew beat us by 2secs . . .”
For ARG, obviously, the day was rather special. The team boss reflected, “A one-two is a great way to build up for the RAC Rally and I would love to do it again. But I’ll not be greedy. I’ll settle for just the first place!”
There was much back slapping at the final control, while little Willy Lux scampered around saying how much he had enjoyed the event. The result must also have pleased Conrad Schmidt, who is reputed to be running a Metro for Duez in Europe next year and who was just one of many interested observers in Wales.
Before the leaders left for their champagne shower, the team waited for one more car, that of Geoff Fielding, owner of R-E-D, who are to prepare Llewellin’s car next year. For Fielding was at the wheel of the first privately entered 6R4. The all-white beast was still in ‘production’ trim with a 250bhp clubman spec engine. It has been collected on Thursday and only checked over before the event. The owner took things terribly steadily all day, hardly breaking into a trot, to ensure a finish. To cruise to 15th in such a car is perhaps a waste of £35,000 but it taught the R-E-D team a lot about their new charge and earned a round of applause from the Austin Rover team at the finish.
Not a bad day for the squad, therefore, and best summed up, perhaps, by a comment from mechanic, John Bevan. He looked at the line up of cars and said, “Well done the men from Longbridge.”
Chris Mellors looked set tor a good run in the afternoon, after a stage one puncture, but was forced out with a blown head gasket half way through the day... R-E-D will be breathing a sigh of relief that they had insured the bodyshell of the four- wheel-drive Sierra as there are reputed to be several buyers in the market... John Saint and Darrel Staniforth spent the day trying to keep things together. Both were in line for championship class awards and neither wanted to risk losing out. Staniforth won the battle to clinch the class, although Sanjiv Shah beat the pair of them and kept his Corolla in one piece for a change ... Konrad Bartelski came to grief with a broken stub axle on the second stage, not far from where Graham Parkinson ended his rally. A corner clipping exercise cost the Corsa Sprint a bottom ball joint and the driver his first non-finish in 21 rallies ... Whirly-wheeler, Andy Middlehurst, had to struggle through the opening stage with a broken gear lever, while another Corolla driver, David Mann, eventually retired with a broken differential... Chris Belton, of the RAC MSA, was heard to admit that, when he last competed on a rally, there were Lanchesters on the entry list! . . . Gwyndaf Evans brought out his Escort but suffered fuel starvation problems early in the day and could not get among the leaders this time... Nigel Worswick had just opened up a 17 secs gap over Russell Gooding but then broke a rear shock absorber in Dovey to undoe all the advantage... Francis Tuthill resurrected the Beetle once more and, despite early brake troubles, kept it moving to finsih 22nd ... Neil Burton is the first winner of the Skoda Trophy. Although beaten on the day by Andy Corner, his only rival for the title, Arthur Priestner, blew his engine and so lost his chance on the first stage.