Tony Robinson and Phil Clarke won Tour Ireland after a nail-biting final day for the Irish edition of Tour Britannia (13th to the 15th of May). After three days of fantastic competition over some of the most spectacular and scenic terrain in Ireland and North Wales, Porsche 911s took a clean sweep of the overall podium as just 10 seconds covered Robinson/Clarke, John Spiers/Susanne Niedrum and Stephen Radcliffe/Peter Gunson.
In one of the event’s closest ever finishes, Spiers was able to peg back 18 seconds from Robinson on the last day to end the unique classic race and rally tour just nine seconds behind. Radcliffe’s mighty pace in the races at Anglesey in particular shot him up to third, just one second behind Spiers.
“It’s been superb,” said Robinson. “I’ve always enjoyed Tour Britannia and this year the Irish stages made it doubly good fun.” For co-driver Clarke it was a second major win in six days as he won on the Isle of Man the previous weekend.
Event newcomers Tony and Aston Blake took their Porsche 911 to fourth while Mike Smith and Peter Thomas were first non-Porsche home with their Ford Escort Mk2 in fifth.
In the concurrent regularity rally, the Austin Allegro of rallying veterans Doug Dawe and Ernie Waldron took a dominant victory, leading from the start to finish half a minute ahead of the Porsche of Harry and Lorraine Sherrard. Jason Butler and Paul Graham were only nine seconds further back in their Lancia Fulvia.
Day one (Wednesday 13th May)
From the sunshine and scenery of the Great Orme at Llandudno to the closed public roads in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, day one of Tour Ireland was full of variety and challenge as Robinson and Clarke set the early pace to take a narrow lead in the competition event.
The day started on the spectacular road around the Great Orme with two special stages before the crews headed to Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland. After a short trip out of Dublin, four closed road special stages awaited near the famous Sally Gap.
Robinson’s consistent pace across six special stages left him just 21 seconds ahead of the Porsche of Spiers at the end of the opening day. “That’s been a pretty good first day, with some nice Irish asphalt,” said Robinson.
Meanwhile, Nick and Harry Whale (BMW M3) are also strongly in contention. Whale senior only drove the car for the first time on the one-mile run to the start of the opening stage but was quickly setting competitive times despite catching a slower car on the second run over the Great Orme.
They also dropped time on the first two Irish stages as the M3 was set-up too stiffly, but some rapid changes at service had the car better suited for the second pair of stages and they clawed back a chunk of time to end the day in fifth place. Ahead of them were Radcliffe/Gunson and Jonathan and Christine Miles (Ford Escort Mk1).
Day two (Thursday 14th May)
Day two of Tour Ireland was all about racing with two races at Mondello Park followed by a race Anglesey and a ferry crossing in between. It proved to be another good day for Robinson and Clarke as they increased their overnight lead to 27 seconds.
The day started at a wet and slippery Mondello and Robinson proved master of the conditions to with both races. Spiers also starred with a battling second place in the opening race followed by a fighting drive from the back of the grid to second place after a problem with the brake lights on his Porsche 911.
In trouble in Ireland was the stunning BMW M3 of Whale, which was sidelined with a crank sensor issue while engine dramas forced Duncan Buck to retire his Porsche 911.
By the time crews arrived at Anglesey the sun was shining and the spectacular location delivered an excellent race as Radcliffe swept ahead to win in his Porsche 911. The wrong tyres had left Radcliffe struggling in the Mondello rain, but he dominated in Wales.
Behind Radcliffe, a mighty battle raged for second and an inspired Steve Wood took the place in his Chevrolet Camaro. Robinson, however, struggled for grip and finished seventh but still retained his overall lead over Spiers as Radcliffe moved up to third from Mike Smith (Ford Escort Mk2) and the Camaro of Wood and Stuart Scott.
Day three (Friday 15th May)
Day three was all about North Wales with another race at Anglesey and then five asphalt special stages including the incredible hillclimb at Nant Gwrtheyrn. Robinson set out to match the pace of Spiers at Anglesey as Radcliffe stormed clear at the head of the race. However, a spirited chase by Harry Whale got the BMW right onto the tail of the Radcliffe Porsche at the flag.
Radcliffe later set the pace on the fast runways at Llanbedr, but Robinson kept his nerve to score a narrow but deserved victory as the survivors arrived back in Llandudno late on Friday afternoon.
All three Porsche crews had driven great tours and both Robinson and Radcliffe could reflect on the time lost due to lack of grip in races. Spiers, meanwhile, had fought hard from the back of the grid in the rain at Mondello.
Best of the non-Porsches was the Escort of Smith/Thomas after a consistently strong performance while the top six was completed by a cracking run from the Peugeot 205 GTi of Steve Blunt and Yan Griffiths.
The Whale BMW missed the Anglesey race on day two, but rejoined on the final day to set an impressive pace while the Scott/Wood Camaro was unable to start day three due to power steering problems despite the team working all night to try and fix the car.