“1984: There were Mantas everywhere”
ust before I jump into this week’s column, I must thank regular MN snapper Gary Jones for adding more colour to my story of David Llewellin’s Brechfa shunt last week. Llewellin’s Metro landed in the pond at the farm next door to Gary’s.
“I was about 100 yards away when he crashed,” Jones told me. “It sounded like a shotgun going off when he hit the tree. My dad picked up one of the wheels and gave it back to Dai. The driveshaft was still attached!”
Seeing as we’re in the 1980s, we might as well stay there for another astonishing tale. Given which week we’re in, it’s got to be the Circuit of Ireland. And 1984.
Despite the four-wheel-drive revolution going on elsewhere in the sport, the only Group B supercar entry came from Harold Demuth. His Audi quattro A2 was eventually sidelined with an engine problem, but the sunny Easter weather was always likely to favour a hugely impressive, not to mention vastly experienced, Opel entry. There were Manta 400s everywhere, all of them with rally-winning pace and pedigree.
With Rothmans supporting the event, a fag-backed Prodrive-run Porsche 911 SC RS was wheeled out for Henri Toivonen. The Finn was no stranger to these lanes – this was his fifth Circuit, the first with Ian Grindrod co-driving.
Quickest on the opener was impressive, quickest again on SS2 more so. But, at 600 stage miles, this was the archetypal marathon. When the Porsche went through a wall and punctured both rears on the third stage, the Toivonen story was done. He was by now six minutes down.
What happened next was quite extraordinary as Henri went fastest on every stage between Belfast and Waterford. Assisted partly by successive failures for the much-fancied Mantas, Toivonen was back in the lead. After the Sunday run around Kerry, he was six minutes ahead.
And he got invited to a go-kart race in the town that night. What could possibly go wrong? Toivonen shunted for the second time on the event, but this time in a kart. He emerged from the hotel on Monday morning on crutches, having hurt his ankle and back. Strapped up and with a pillow slipped into the seat behind him, he was sent on his way to defend a six-minute lead for the next two days.
Unfortunately, there would be no fairytale finish in Belfast. His 911’s gearbox locked itself in fourth and he retired first stage out of Waterford.
Irish hero Billy Coleman finally gave Opel something to smile about, clinching his third Circuit win after a late engine failure hit Austin Machale’s 400. Coleman was 20 minutes clear of Ernest Kidney’s Sunbeam Lotus.
Also well worthy of a mention is a certain Davy Evans. The 1984 Circuit was the former National Hot Rod World Champion’s first ever rally. He finished third in a Nissan 240 RS.
The name’s the same but it sure wasn’t me.