We know Easter was last weekend, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. For British and Irish rally fans, Easter used to mean one thing: the Circuit of Ireland.
We promised you a tie-in with the VHS Rallies YouTube channel and the 1983 Rothmans Circuit of Ireland (April 1-5) is the first of those stories.
Why the ’83 Circuit? Quite simply, why not? It could have been any one of the 163 films (which have now had 1.5 million views, which equals screen time totalling 239,000 hours or, er… 27 years!) available.
But I’ve always had a massive soft spot for the Circuit and the stories that emerged from Belfast, the Sunday run around the Ring of Kerry and the Bank Holiday Monday dash back up country through Donegal and back to Belfast.
Running as a round of both the Rothmans RAC Open Rally Championship and the FIA European Rally Championship garnered 102 starters in 1983 (41 of them would make it back to Belfast after five days up and down Ireland).
David Sutton entered a pair of Audis: a Quattro A1 for Stig Blomqvist and an 80 Quattro for Harald Demuth.
Blomqvist led from the start and had built a lead of 1m30s when the gearbox blew on the four-mile Robbstown stage. Demuth was spectacular in the less powerful 80 and thrilled the huge crowds before crashing out late in the event.
There was more exotic Group B kit to come with Pentti Airikkala talking Lancia UK into helping him rent a 037. The Finn put the brand new car to good use and led after Blomqvist retired, only to suffer two punctures on SS18.
At that point, two-time Circuit winner Russell Brookes was just three seconds behind the Lancia. Not having won an international in more than three years, the Midlander pushed his Andrews-backed Vauxhall Chevette HSR to the front and looked to control a two-minute lead.
Talking in Killarney, Brookes reminded the ever-present interviewer Barrie Hinchliffe that they still had the equivalent of an RAC Rally distance still to run. But Brookes – pictured below on the Scottish Rally later that season – added a further minute and a half on the stages around Molls Gap and would carry that three-minute lead home to Belfast.
Behind Brookes, and driving an Opel Ascona 400 tended by Kris Meeke’s father Sydney, was Bertie Fisher. Fisher drove a typically faultless event, overcoming an early misfire.
The same couldn’t be said for his fellow Ascona drivers Jimmy McRae and Henri Toivonen – both in the works, Opel Europe-entered Rothmans Rally Team 400s.
Toivonen was out early with axle failure. McRae arrived in Belfast on the back of three straight Circuit wins and, if anybody was expected to carry the fight to Blomqvist’s Audi, it was him.
Dropping the Opel on a gravelly crest damaged the left-front of the car and left him without brakes for a stage. Further suspension trouble later in the event cost more time, but ultimately McRae’s charge back to third place was one of the stories of the event. Of the 52 stages run (out of 54 planned), McRae and Airikkala were quickest on 17 each, with Jimmy second fastest on a further 17.
This ITV World of Sport footage from the event is beautifully produced by Hinchliffe and voiced by the inimitable Dickie Davies. The only thing that lets Davies down is his attempt at an Irish accent mid-way through.
On the upside, you do get to see seals in the sea, stunning helicopter footage and an entertaining Malcolm Wilson spinning his Ford Escort RS1600i at Mondello Park.
VHS Rallies is an unofficial, unapproved project to save old TV rally reports and footage from decaying VHS tapes before they deteriorate beyond the point of no return. Several hundred hours of material have already been saved and some highlights are shared on youtube.com/c/vhsrallies.