“1984: There were Man­tas ev­ery­where”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -


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.

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