FORCE­FUL DRIV­ING

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.

Motor Sport News - - Retro: Rally Isle Of Man - By Jack Benyon

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. ■

Pho­tos: LAT

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

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