Event>> The Halloween Historic Stages

Rallying was always my first love. It's a family thing really, an entire lineage before me was involved in the sport in one way or another. My father was a photographer, my uncles built cars and competed themselves, an entire side of my family has past or current involvement in the sport so it was never going to be an option to not get involved. From a young age I'd accompany my Dad to the stages as he'd photograph and I'd cheer my uncles on. I was really, really young so most of this is just vague memories and I constantly live in envy of them recollecting stories from the hey day of rallying, which is approximately the entire decade before I was born.

I'm jealous because I never got to see what they've seen, I've never heard what they've heard nor have I experienced some of the great battles on the Irish stages between Jimmy McRae (father of the late, great Colin), Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen, the late Bertie Fisher and Billy Coleman to name just a small few.

The Escorts, Mantas, Sunbeams and Chevettes of the era tearing up the Irish countryside in anger. That was even before the Group B monsters were unleashed on these shores.

Due to the tight schedule a speedhunter must abide to, I've only been able to make it to one rally event this year, the Carlow Stages MKII Escort Challenge, Rather strangely, I find the WRC and Group N cars rather boring to watch on the stages as they make it all look so easy so it's the Modifieds and the Escorts that make me set up camp in a wet ditch at 7am on a Sunday morning.

During the summer I began to hear whispers of an event to take place in October where I might just get the opportunity to re-live the glory days of rallying. Jimmy McRae, Russell Brookes and Kenny McKinstry all to be followed by a field of Modifieds on some of the old Circuit of Ireland stages. Thanks to the Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, this dream became a reality on October 31st, 2010.

The night before the event, the club arranged an audience with Brookes, McRae and McKinstry amongst others. It was a fantastic experience listening to some of the legends of rallying talking about they hey day of the sport and sharing their opinions on modern rallying. Brookes definitely won himself some extra fans by describing Ireland as 'God's own rallying country'.

Listening to the banter between the drivers was just amazing. McRae was asked by a member of the audience who the greatest rally driver of their era was to which McRae replied 'I'll say Brookes, if Russell says McRae'

Also in attendance at the forum was Gerard Quinn, Director of Motorsport for Ford Europe. He offered some great insights the current state of WRC and what the future holds. It's such a great thing to see a fellow motorsport fan with a lot of passion for rallying in a position to influence the future of the sport.

From the comfort and warmth of the Carraig Hotel on Saturday night, the stages based around the Waterford countryside early on Sunday morning weren't quite as hospitable.

As the '00' cars began their passes, the rain began to fall that little bit heavier with gusts of wind also present to really welcome you to the true hospitality of an Irish rally stage.

John Moynihan must be credited for the stunning work carried out on the late Frank Meaghers MKII Escort which was the honorary '001' car of the event. Meagher was a legend in Irish rallying and who is very much sadly missed.

The first cars to pass through SS3 were the historics and it was this man the rest of the class would be chasing. Ray Cunningham's 11:38.7 was quick enough for eight overall on SS3 and first in class. He'd go on to finish the event top of his class.

Just behind him in the historics class was Seamus Anderson in the Ford Anglia.

It was evident that somewhere in the previous stages, there may have been a need for a 'Don't Cut' pace note somewhere as Frank Cunningham's MKI Escort shows some damage. However, it wasn't slowing him down as he was the fastest in Post Historics on SS3 and would win his class outright at the end of the day.

Another victim of similar damage to Cunningham's Escort was Wynne Jones's Porsche 911. Jones would finish the day third in the Post Historics class.

With the rest of the Post Historics out of the way, the first of the Classics came through. Kenny McKinstry in an ex-Vatanen MKII Escort was first through and finished the stage some twenty nine seconds ahead of the nearest competitor in his class.

Brookes was next through, sitting third in class. 

Disaster had struck McRae after SS1. Having put down a fastest class stage time, three seconds ahead of McKinstry, the ex-Robert Droogman Belga MKII Escort's oil pressure light came on. Rather than risk ruining an engine, McRae returned to service where the problem was diagnosed as a damaged piston ring. McRae was out after SS1.

Mike Garahy was another who wouldnt see the end of the day, retiring somewhere later on this stage (SS3)

Leading in the Modifieds in '007' was James Coleman, MD of Suirway Forklifts one of the largest supporters of rallying in the South East. It's not very often you see one of the main sponsors get down and dirty with an event, let alone pilot a MKII Escort at full tilt on wet roads.

 Vivian Hamill was on flying form through SS3. Although he retired on SS4 but not before removing one of this Speedhunter's nine lives.

 Shay Power would finish sixth overall on SS3.

 While Sam Smyth would finish fourth overall on the same stage.

It was Paul Mulcahy who would lay down the fastest time through SS3, with a rather quick 10:42.6 in his modified KP Starlet.

It's easy to see why the Modifieds are so much more entertaining to watch than their 4WD competitors. Simple chassis, modern suspension and technology and the proper side of 300+BHP normally aspirated engines make these cars as close to Group B cars as you'll see on the stages today.

They may not have the power of the Group B cars but the pure violence of a MKII Escort attacking a stage is something you need to see in person to really understand what makes these cars so special.

John Hade proves the age old saying of driving looking through your side windows.

John Murphy lost some four minutes on SS3 to the class leader but would struggle on for the rest of the event and make it to the finish.

Arriving just in time on SS4 to see Kenny McKinstry storm to another class fastest time and fifth fastest overall.

Donie Keating was less than three seconds off McKinstry's pace on SS4.

With Brookes following them up in fourth place on this stage.

MKII Escort rear lights become even rarer again …

One of the best parts of covering a rally is the thrill of hunting the stages. Armed with an Ordinance Survey map it's a race against the clock to make as many stages as possible.

However, sometimes you're too late and all the decent vantage points have been taken so run back, get in your car and start searching for a good spot on the next stage.

SS7 was the last of the stages we managed to take in on this one day event. McKinstry would oly be quick enough for second in class on this stage, being narrowly beat by Todd Falvey's 911 RSR.

Brookes was fourth again in class on SS7, the Sunbeam struggling for pace against it's Ford and Porsche rivals.

Mulcahy had cemented his grip on the class and overall win and cruised through SS7 to fifth overall on the stage.

Trevor Culbert was quickest through with a time of 7:52.4 and an average speed of 110.7KM/H

110.7KM/H (69MPH) for an average speed is pretty damn fast. Considering that's pretty much the motorway speed limit in the United Kingdom and the United States but instead of the safety of multiple wide lanes and crash protection barriers, you're hurtling down backroads barely wide enough in places to allow a car through. Add to this rain, mud and wet leaves on the road and you can really begin to appreciate how brave these guys are.

Leaving the stage early to make finish ramp, we could just about spot the cars passing through the trees on the next road down.

Even though we were soaked through, cold, tired and hungry ,you can't help but extract every last moment out of stages like this.

Despite an incident earlier in the Frank Cunningham's Escort made it through to first in the Post-Historics class. A result he'll be surely pleased with having travelled from Florida to compete alongside his brother Ray who also won his respective class,

As the Classics lined up for the ramp in the middle of the small town of Carrick-on-Suir, it provided the locals passing through an up close and personal look at what had survived the day on the stages.

Although he retired after SS1, Jimmy McRae was first on the scene to talk to and congratulate each of the drivers as they made their way to the finish ramp.

It was Kenny McKinstry who took a comfortable win in the class that everyone was watching, some three minutes ahead of Donie Keating.

The respect everyone had for McRae and Brookes was plain to see as McKinstry hands McRae his champagne bottle.

He might be an OAP, but Brookes was still quick enough for third in class at the end of the day on stages he hasn't driven since the 1980s.

Watching McRae talk to Brookes after the event was just an incredible feeling. Here were two of my all time favorite drivers casually chatting to each other just twenty minutes from home. I was finally getting a chance to experience what those in my family always talk about.

As he rolled across the finish ramp, Brookes was asked would this be his last event. He smiled, looked at the person and politely said 'I doubt that'.

Just want to add a small thanks to the Carrick Motor Club Chairman Terence Kearney and Press Officer Trevor McGrath for their hospitality during the event. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next !


Paddy McGrath

Irish Rallying on Speedhunters



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Fantastic shots Paddy, looks like a great event to shoot!


Oh, got goosebumps reading that writeup and looking at the nice shots! Superb


Best writeup ever on Speedhunters!


Looks like they love their Escorts, and aren't afraid to push them! I've also never seen a 105E rallying!


Oh, got goosebumps reading that writeup and looking at the nice shots! Superb


Old school Ford's *_*


Best rally report i've seen all year. Absolutely brilliant on so many levels. Thanks Paddy.


Fender flared Starlets and Escorts?! I'm in heaven!


awesome article, even more awesome desktop opportunities....


Nice write up and pics Paddy.......I even feature in one or two :)


Speedhunters needs to send you to more rallies sir! Great pictures and I wish I was there for it all. Colin McRae is the greatest name in rally. It's a sad reminder everytime I hear the McRae name, but then a happy reminder when I think of the way he used to drive.


Stunning shots. Stunning write up. Stunning Cars. Stunning Event.

There's simply nothing better than standing on a ditch in the rain watching an Escort being driven right on the ragged edge. It's something that's just soo unique to us in Ireland.

BTW, your man Paul Mulcahy nearly got me killed there at a rally-sprint about 3 weeks ago. Measured it after that his sliding Starlet was 2.1 meters from where I was standing. That's living boy.


It is awesome to see some rally coverage on speedhunters, it is not often that it appears, definately worth the read.

as always great photography and great writeup, this is the reason i find myself browsing this site everyday...


How did Vivian Hamill take one of your nine lives? Im guessing close encounter with the rear end of his escort.


nice to see some folks still enjoying the sideways fun that is the Ford Escort.. take me back to my old rust bucket of a Mexico.. even a Corolla makes a brave appearance - thanks for the words & pictures 10/10


Man i miss my Escort MKII... Great photos!! Thanks for putting them up :)


Great shots and writeup Paddy.

Would love to have been there with the sound of those Escorts blasting through the forest stages. Magnificent!


Nice post Paddy, great shots!



I too grew up with these cars.

Love the BDA eskies.

It also proves you can still do this well into your older age.

fun times ahead!


Great stuff, good to see some rallying at Speedhunters. I'll be shooting at the Roger Albert Clark Rally later this month. Similar cars in the forests in North England and Scotland.


I thought Paul Mul had sold that starlet long ago ? Mental case that lad - pity McRae had to retire so early, he really sounded as if he was on the pace. Good to see some passion in your photography and writing !


Awesome post Paddy, absolutely awesome! Best on Speedhunters this YEAR!


Ford Anglia is awsome =)


Immense write up paddy, i was at the ralling of the lakes this year, twas class, and this reminds me of how class thy are!


Truly excellent write-up! 1986, Five years old, standing with my dad in a ditch on the Isle of Man, waiting for my absolute hero Jimmy McRae in his Sierra to come through the stage. One of my most vivid memories of all time, and I'm still unable to forgive Patrick Snijers for beating him :-D

Genuine thanks Paddy, I doubt I'm the only one with the beginnings of a lump in their throat :-)


So good to see this stuff on Speedhunters! Great article, only one thing - where's the RSR photos?!?!


Excellent write-up there! Great photos and just seeing those pictures brings back fond memories of my first car which was a Mk II Escort 2-door. 8-)


Amazing!!!!!! Thanks Paddy.


Great shots, Great article,


As much as I'm a fan of classic and modern JDM culture, I'd really, really, really love to see more of this on the site. You can teach the young'uns a thing or two about where their culture came from and give us old men something to remind us of why we got into motorsport in the first place. Thanks for the coverage, Paddy!

Oh, and that looks like it was an absolute blast to attend!



This is speedhunters at its best. As always, paddy delivers!

I would trade a WRC mahcine for a rally spec MKII Escort any day =D


Great photos Paddy. And excellent article!


Just had to say thanks for such fabulous pics, you managed to capture the true atmospere of Irish rallying past


honestly surprised there where no first generation celicas........ the feeling of getting one of them sideways in the dirt/mud is indescribable


Great photos and brilliant write up! These cars and drivers have inspired so many enthusiasts over the decades.


Fantastic reportage. Excellent exposure of the event.

The Angila was being rallied by the son of John Andeson who rallied it on the very wet 1984 Ravens Rock Rally in and around Mullinavat....remember.

Joe o'Brien


WOW, MR McGrath.... Serious write up or what?? I had to sign up after this, this is what makes my youth of many years ago worth explaining to todays generation! I am one of those old/lucky enough people to remember the Brookes/McRae and Group B days. And to me, even more lucky to have been in the ditches in the Carlow/Kilkenny hills as a young fella, taking pictures with my fathers camera of a "learning" Colin McRae!

Cheers Paddy, Great stuff!


Paddy McGrath Super! Big thanks! Very nice shot!


Love that Anglia, but as a MoPar and Rootes Group fan, I love seeing that Sunbeam/Talbot. First class write up, Paddy!

Rootes Group For Life!!!!


Was a great event, great pics too

@junior, paul mul did sell the old car, thats his new one, it has a 2.5 millington diamond in it, its seriously rapid and he's nuts!!


re-reading this to motivates myself for the 2nd round of Malaysian Rally next month. what a great article! thanks Speedhunters.