European championship runner Patrick Snijers arrived on the Isle of Man as a relative unknown in 1988. He left the island known as a tyre squealing spectacular hero.
Forceful driving. It’s a term British rally fans will know well. The name given to the time when a European driver busted the myth that only the Brits, Irish and a couple of Finns could tame the yumpy lanes of the treacherous island, the Isle of Man. The Manx, 1988.
Patrick Snijers. Just the name is enough to make most rally fans watching the British Rally Championship, then the Shell Oils Open Rally Championship, weak at the knees. But if the name wasn’t enough, the Bastos livery was, although it was reduced to just Castrol after a television row meant the company agreed to remove its logos for the event. The famous red and white remained.
The Belgian arrived as part of a relatively strong European Rally Championship assault, the Manx forming part of its championship.
From the UK; Jimmy Mcrae and an impending fifth British title in the Red-backed Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
From Europe, Dutchman Robert Droogmans in a similar Sierra, Snijers in the infamous BMW M3 E30 prepared by Prodrive, and Fabrizio Tabaton in a Grifone-run Lancia Delta Integrale. It was a field any rally would be proud of.
Right from the off, Snijers lived up to the forceful driving term coined by Steve Rider, then narrator of the BRC’S review videotape. Why is the Belgian so infamous? The four-wheeldrive Sierras, which were dominant at the time, were fairly planted an unspectacular, especially through slow corners.
When Snijers arrived on the lockstops, tyres squealing almost as loud as the 16-valve, 285bhp powerplant, it was a breath of fresh air. Fans of rallying hadn’t seen a Scandinavian flick on Tarmac for a while. His flamboyancy was absolutely legendary.
But the Belgian was surprised early on by the reigning Irish Tarmac Rally champion: a familiar name to many, 1986 British champion Mark Lovell.
Also in a Sierra, the car of the day, the Somerset man set off like a scalded cat. It seemed the fight would be between the Axbridge driver and Snijers, with Mcrae admitting to driving within himself to reach the end of the event in order to seal another British title.
However, the writing was on the wall for Lovell when water started to gather at the feet of co-driver Terry Harryman. After only three stages the header tank had pressurised and the engine temperature soared. The duo were out.
It was an interesting morning for Snijers, too. First, he’d lost seconds on SS2 adjusting the brakes with a resultant bout of confusion causing him to become flustered at a junction. Right or left?
Then on the following stage he thought he’d had a puncture and slowed, and on SS4 the Pirellis went off completely. Still, he led the Sierras even with a comical start to the rally. It didn’t bode well for the opposition as he flung the Banburyfettled car around the twisty Manx lanes. Perhaps he was aided by covering each stage on the rally a minimum of seven times on the recce with co-driver Dany Colebunders having been on the island since September 1. The event began on the 14th…
Such was the pace of the frontrunners, they began to clean the stages part way through the first day. Much to Snijers chagrin – not unlike Fredrik Ahlin on the Pirelli Carlisle Rally in April 2016 – he’d gone quite a bit quicker than his rival (Mcrae) through SS8 but to no avail. Both drivers beat the bogey time and received a notional time.
Despite that, Snijers had his lead up to 28s despite his problems – which now included a £52.90 fine to the local constabulary for overtaking over a solid white line on a road section.
Mcrae trailed with Droogmans not far behind, but on Leg Two the Belgian was unseated on a yump and ricocheted into banks on either side of the road in fourth gear. A typical Manx accident, and his team didn’t have a front corner ready for him and he went OTL.
With Droogmans out, Tabaton in the Delta took fourth. It would prove to be costly for Snijers as the Lancia driver would take the European title at the end of the year, on a co-efficient championship points system understandable only to members of MENSA.
Back out front and Snijers was cruising. The lead built up early on the opening day fluctuated only slightly as he took time from Mcrae on the twistier stages while the Scot went quicker on the faster opening cruises over the moors. The only further worry for Snijers was a lack of Pirelli covers on the event, a special order had to be put in for more on day two, even though the Belgian had only used six to that point.
The eventual lead margin was 33 seconds between Belgian and Scot. Rounding out the podium was Phil Collins in the infamous Mr Thompson pink Sierra, he and Bryan Thomas emblazoned with matching pink overalls.
Despite the brightness of Collins/ Thomas’ firesuits, Snijers wouldn’t be outshone. Perhaps the most glowing endorsement of his performance came from Mcrae. He declared: “I tell you, even if it wasn’t for the championship, we’d have struggled to beat him.” Snijers would contest the Manx only two more times - in a Sierra - retiring on both occasions with mechanical faults. ■
celebrate win Snijers (r) and Colebunders Mcrae (r) struggled to match Snijers pace
Flamboyant Belgian duo were spectacular in Prodrive BMW M3 E30
Mcrae drove carefully for BRC title