BREAK­THROUGH Welsh­man ex­celled on the 1986 Cir­cuit. By

Motor Sport News - - Circuit Of Ireland Retro - Photos: LAT Archive

Thirty years on, the name of the stage es­capes him. It was dark and on a road back through the moun­tains to Belfast that David Llewellin spotted a mark on a wall.

A cou­ple of cor­ners later a Roth­mans Metro 6R4 was parked up.

Af­ter al­most four days and 600 miles of flat-chat rac­ing down the Ir­ish lanes, Jimmy Mcrae had blinked. The 1986 Cir­cuit of Ire­land was Llewellin’s to lose.

Get through the night, one more day and his­tory would be writ­ten. And it would be writ­ten in Welsh to mark Dai’s first in­ter­na­tional win. Then there was the small mat­ter of the Metro’s first vic­tory at that level.

Llewellin had jumped ship from Audi – his first pro­fes­sional con­tract in 1985 – to join Austin Rover. He was the front man in a two-car Bri­tish ef­fort with Harri Toivo­nen for a team-mate in a brace of semi-works Red-run Met­ros.

Llewellin crossed the Ir­ish Sea in con­fi­dent mood. He’d won the Skip Brown Rally, his de­but in the 6R4, be­fore run­ning Hannu Mikkola a close sec­ond on a snowy Na­tional Break­down.

Now for the Cir­cuit. Like this year, the event qual­i­fied in Euro­pean, Ir­ish and Bri­tish se­ries and de­liv­ered a high-qual­ity en­try with a qu­at­tro Sport for Mikkola, a brace of Bore­ham’s RS200S for Kalle Grun­del and Mark Lovell, a Peu­geot UK 205 T16 for Mikael Sund­strom, Porsche 911 SC RSS for Billy Cole­man and Saeed Al-ha­jri and, of course, Opel Manta 400s for Rus­sell Brookes and Austin Mchale. The most no­table ab­sen­tee was Ber­tie Fisher’s 400. The Bal­li­na­mal­lard star had re­tired from ral­ly­ing af­ter a close shave with some spec­ta­tors when his brakes failed on the Gal­way just weeks ear­lier.

Fisher’s fears for fan safety were re­alised on the sec­ond stage, when a spec­ta­tor stepped out into the road and was hit by Grun­del’s RS200 – he couldn’t hear the first-on-the-road Ford for the over­fly­ing he­li­copter.

The rest of the event pro­gressed un­der a cloud.

Nev­er­the­less, Llewellin was im­me­di­ately on the pace against Mcrae’s Pro­drive-run car. “Tak­ing Jimmy on at the Cir­cuit,” says Llewellin, “was like tak­ing Hannu [Mikkola] on in Fin­land. He was that good.”

On his one and only pre­vi­ous Cir­cuit out­ing, Llewellin placed a qu­at­tro A2 eighth over­all on the 1985 event. He was the first four­wheel-drive car home, but still the thick end of half an hour down on Mcrae’s Manta.

Con­versely, Jimmy had fin­ished on the podium on five of the last six Cir­cuits he’d done. And won four of them.

And, don’t for­get, these were the days when the crews did a gen­uine cir­cuit of Ire­land: south out of Belfast on Good Fri­day, down the is­land through Satur­day in time for a Sun­day run around the Ring of Kerry be­fore head­ing north and fin­ish­ing back in Belfast at lunchtime the fol­low­ing Tues­day.

“It was around 600 stage miles,” says Llewellin. “Not the sort of event you could go flat-out on.”

But that’s just what the fron­trun­ning Met­ros did. They left the best of the rest trail­ing as they tore south.

While Llewellin might have been short on ex­pe­ri­ence, co-driver Phil Short was any­thing but – he’d won the event in 1973, along­side Jack Tord­off in a Porsche.

“It was a blind event when I first won it,” says Short, “but I’m sure we had a recce in 1986. I’m sure I re­mem­ber spend­ing a lot of days in a Mon­tego…”

Which would have been more com­fort­able than the Metro.

Short adds: “The team had a bit of dif­fi­culty fit­ting me in the car, I’m quite tall. I was black and blue af­ter five days on the Cir­cuit – es­pe­cially my el­bow, which banged against the rollcage. In the end, they mod­i­fied the cage and put a kink in the door bar to make it a bit more com­fort­able. Com­pletely il­le­gal now, but it saved me some bruises a few years ago.

“There’s no doubt, the Cir­cuit was a big, big rally. I re­mem­ber the first time Markku Alen came to do it [in 1978]. He couldn’t re­ally come to terms with how it just kept on go­ing and go­ing.”

And 1986 was no ex­cep­tion. One by one, the big names fell. Both Porsches crashed, Mikkola’s sus­pen­sion failed, the clutch went on Sund­strom’s Peu­geot 205 and Toivo­nen went off.

Brookes chased the 6R4s, but his An­drews-backed Manta slipped fur­ther and fur­ther into the dis­tance.

De­spite the no­to­ri­ously de­mand­ing Ir­ish lanes, the two Arg-built cars ran with­out prob­lems, Llewellin’s car only took on a new gear­box af­ter it be­gan to show the strain.

Llewellin smiles: “Jimmy and I were at it pretty much from the start. The pace was in­cred­i­ble.” Some­thing had to give. “From mem­ory, we’d just got past him,” says Llewellin. “I can’t re­mem­ber the stage, but I re­mem­ber the mark on the wall. Then we saw his car parked up. The rea­son for re­tire­ment was sus­pen­sion fail­ure, but there was def­i­nitely a fairly solid stone wall in­volved.

“Af­ter that it got re­ally dif­fi­cult. I had to con­cen­trate so hard! I had a big, big mo­ment – the big­gest of the event – and I can still re­mem­ber the straight and the cor­ner now. My mind had wan­dered, I hadn’t been lis­ten­ing to the notes prop­erly. That was a big wake-up.”

Wide-awake to the fin­ish, Llewellin and Short bagged the Metro’s big­gest win.

The party started straight af­ter the event and ran for quite some time. “My neigh­bours had a cou­ple of light air­craft,” says Llewellin, “so they’d flown a few folk over to Belfast just for the party. I re­mem­ber my fa­ther telling me: ‘You drive for Wales boy, I’ll drink for Wales!’”

Not that the Austin Rover fac­tory recog­nised the suc­cess im­me­di­ately.

Short: “With the car be­ing run by RED, it didn’t re­ally regis­ter with Austin Rover. In fact, it was a cou­ple of months be­fore John Daven­port [ARG team man­ager] was on the phone and said: ‘Crikey, we haven’t con­grat­u­lated you yet. You must come to din­ner!’”

As well as the as­so­ci­ated sil­ver­ware, Llewellin re­ceived a spe­cial mo­mento from RED: a piece of wood carved in the shape of Ire­land with a pis­ton from the win­ning Metro and a model 6R4 mounted on it.

“That was spe­cial,” he says. “The best mo­mento would have been the car it­self. A few years ago, an Ir­ish guy asked me if I wanted to buy it, say­ing he owned it. I said: ‘I’d love to, but I think most of it’s still at the side of the road in Brechfa, where I crashed it on the Welsh, next time out.’”

Llewellin’s par­ents’ kitchen wall was a con­stant re­minder as well.

“There was an Austin Rover ad­vert in one of the pa­pers,” he says, “with a big pic­ture of us cel­e­brat­ing with the words: ‘Now beat this’ above it. That was up for a few years.”

Un­for­tu­nately, that wasn’t the only writ­ing on the wall re­gard­ing Group B. And the Cir­cuit? Well that would be a cir­cuit in name alone. ■

600 won event miles: Llewellin (l) and Short (r) ma­jor win Llewellin gave Red-run Metro first Duo pushed hard on slip­pery Ir­ish lanes

Cir­cuit mas­ter Mcrae made a mis­take

Mikkola suf­fered punc­ture

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