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INSIDE LINE- Irish Targa Rally Invasion, with Robert Whelan

Well it’s this time of the year again where a few of us Irish make our trip over to the UK for a Targa Rally event. Last year’s event unfortunately wasn’t running this year so a bit of research was done and the North Wales Honda 116 Targa Tracks seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Only an hour and a half journey from the boat and had 32 competitive stage miles and 99 miles of road section this year.

This year the Irish contingent comprised of Eamon Byrne and Anthony Preston (Toyota Starlet) , Daniel Byrne and Phillip O’Reilly (Peugeot 106),  Dermot Carnegie and Paul Bosdet (Mk1 Escort), John O’Reilly and Nick Sparks (Toyota MR2), Myself and my Dad, and Fergus Mallon and Paul Connolly (Mazda MX5) who came all the way from Northern Ireland driving their car to and from the event.

The trip started at 8am on Saturday morning when we all got the same ferry. Eamonn Byrne had brought a double decker trailer so two cars could travel on one trailer- it’s an impressive sight!  Most of Saturday was spent driving to Betws-y-Coed where we would be staying for the night and relaxing for the evening having a few drinks, dinner and of course a few motorsport stories were told from the past.

Onto Sunday morning and scrutiny was an early affair at 7am. It was a horrible dark wet morning with no signs of it clearing up anytime soon. We travelled to the rally HQ which was Glan-y-Gors Kart track- which would also be the first test of the day.  We had noise control, tyres checking and marking and then vehicle scrutiny itself. Happily, we got through all without a hitch. There were 100 entries for the event with a reserves list waiting in the wings if anyone couldn’t start. That is how popular the event was!. I was seeded 43rd on the road which was a bit further down the field than we would have liked, but being in the semi expert class we were 6th in class seeding.

So 43 minutes after the first car left the start line, it was our turn to start the rally.  est 1 was 2 laps of the kart track with a stop box and signature required on the first lap with a chicane added on the second lap. Everything was going to plan bar an early call by my dad which caught me out for a split second! He thought the first cone we came up to was the chicane-  it wasn’t, but luckily enough I realised this and finished off the stage. The marshal was surprised we set 2nd fastest time of the day he informed us that our possible hesitation cost us a fastest time but sure who knows?! We were both on a high as two weeks earlier I had a joint overall win on the NUCC Targa Rally. It was a great start to the rally.  Now onto Test 2 and this is where it all went wrong for us. In Wales they use a different type of road book to navigate your way to the stages and my dad wasn’t used to it at all. So we ended up going a good 20 miles the wrong way before we realised we were totally lost. We ended up going back the way we came and trying to see if there were any competitors we met so we could follow them to the 2nd test. Over 40 minutes late we found another competitor and followed them but by this stage we had fallen down to 83rd on the road and unsurprisingly, this was to become quite a bit problem later on!

Test 2 and 3 were set on a wind farm and both tests shared the same start of the stage but there was a split point further up depending on which stage you did you went- either left or right. Test 2 went ok- a little cautious in places, remember we were both a little frustrated at this stage having got lost on the road section and our aim of doing well in the event had diminished slightly- but I had to keep my head straight as a bit of red mist was there!!

Test 3 went perfectly bar the finish- and this is where us falling down the order became a problem. We came flying into the finish but the finish line official was still dealing with the car that had just finished ahead meaning we caught over 30 seconds on them! This meant the official didn’t see us and never stopped the clock for us. The officials normally have more time between cars as the later runners aren’t as quick as the top lads. My dad was furious and was going mad in the car. In the end the officials gave me the time I did on test 13, but this was a slow time which you’ll read about later. Anyway onto stages 4 and 5 and we made it through the road section this time without any problems starting to get the nack of navigating between stages now.

Test 4 was set in a forest and what a stage this was; it really rewarded brave drivers who were willing to cut corners and keep it flat. I could sense over a few of the jumps that dad wasn’t too happy, but the starlet is a very stable car, even though it was probably designed to be shopping car for your mammy! We got through the test no problem and really starting to get into the groove of things now!

Test 5&6 were set on the biggest farmyard I’ve ever come across. Like Tests 2&3, it shared its start but had a split point depending on which test you were doing. Both of these tests were very slippy and technical and you could easily go off on the downhill sections. Also, there were some really narrow parts where there was no room for a mistake. We got through both of them with top 10 times, despite catching people on the stages and being held up!

Test 7 This was a tight and technical stage with no room for error. There was a steep downhill section where locking the brakes was not an option or you were straight off into a fence. At the end, there were 2 cow sheds we had to go through and it was like driving on ice, it was that slippy. We caught a car by the end of the stage which cost us a few seconds but still managed to set a top 5 time.

Test 8- Kinmel Park. This is a well-known stage due to the WRC using for it for Rally GB. No, seriously! Now it was the turn of our little Starlet to take on the 5 mile test. This was interesting stage with a lot of problems for us. The first was about a mile into the test at the 2nd stop (to get a signature) and then onto a 90 right into what looked like a straight road. It also looked like a straight road on the map, but as I was about to discover, it wasn’t! Flat in 3rd gear I noticed that this muddy road wasn’t straight and that there was actually a mound of grass with a left and right…… Straight onto the anchors and down to 2nd gear but I knew we weren’t stopping, so straight over it we went. To my surprise, the Starlet took it well with no damage at all. Later on we found out I wasn’t the only Irishman to make the same mistake as Dermot Carnegie did the exact same thing. So now it has been renamed Carnegie crest with rumours for next year they will have metre boards out to see how far we can get! Not even half way through the test I caught up with yet more cars. These had started 1 min ahead of me and we were then held up really badly again. At one of the stops another driver selected reverse instead of 1st gear and went straight into us. This messed up my test time completely only setting 33rd quickest time. I was spitting fire and the driver holding me up may have found that out at the finish line!

Test 9 was a quick Autotest type stage, and at only 0.3 of a mile so was the shortest of the day. No problems here and we set a top 10 time.

Straight to the lunch halt then but we had no time for lunch with all the road time we had lost in the morning so having handed in the paperwork we went straight back out. This helped us as we had managed to get up to 55th on the road now, having been 83rd on the 2nd test. We were still struggling with the road maps from time to time and ended up having to make a fuel stop due to the amount of mileage we were doing too!!

Test 10, and what a monster…. They had joined test 5&6 together to make one super stage of 4.8 miles and this required very neat and tidy driving to set a good time. Once again though, again I was held up by not one car but by two this time. The car in front knew this and pulled over when he could but I don’t think he knew there were two of us – so like a circuit racing move I sent it up the inside and got by him but was stuck to the bumper of a Ford Fiesta ST till the end of the stage. I was fuming yet again. I felt that at this stage everyone I caught knew I was there but were not moving over!! To my surprise we set 14th fastest time even though we lost 1.30 behind cars!!!

Test 11 and back to Kinmel park we go and this time I did not make the mistake of going straight over Carnegie Crest!!!! This time I caught up with 3 cars but lucky enough one went right at a split so only had two cars to deal with. The first car got a bad exit out of one of the chicanes and as the second car got past, I saw my opportunity but had to make my own road…  Off the muddy track I went and into the long grass going the outside of the Rover 25. Coming up quickly was a chicane so made a quick turn back onto the track!! Phew, I had just made it through but still pushed the Fiesta to the end of the stage.  To my surprise we clocked 12th quickest time with again 1 minute lost.

Test 12-  this was Test 4 run backwards. Everything was going really well- jumps and all, until near the end I had a very hairy moment. We subseqently heard a big bang from the back of the car and knew something wasn’t right so took it easy to the end. We had set a top 20 time but then discovered I had broken the panhard rod. This connects the rear axle to the body  and so now we had some interesting handling to deal with! At this point, I said to dad that we should just finish the Targa as I hadn’t finished the last 2 I had done in the UK.

Irish Rally and Rallycross legend Dermot Carnegie won the event outright!

Tests 13 & 14 were tests 2 & 3 run again but the weather was really bad now with fog now starting to come down. I took test 13 easy to see how the car ran. As you can imagine, there were a few knocks from the back of the car but it didn’t handle too badly. The test time wasn’t great but unknown to us, the test 3 result was now based on this test on which we were 20 seconds down, Into test 14 and I decided let’s give it a bit more juice to my surprise set 11th fastest time. Just one more test left which was the kart track, but this time running backwards.

Test 15 this went totally to plan even with a rear end doing what it wanted set fastest time on the stage as well to end on a high. This was great as I felt we were showing what we could do when we weren’t held up on a stage.

Once finished the car was thrown onto the trailer and straight off for the 8 o clock sailing back to Ireland.

While we were waiting to board the boat news came through that Dermot Carnegie had won the event with Eamonn Byrne 3rd, John O’Reilly was 15th and Fergus Mallon was 47th overall. Daniel Byrne unfortunately had a trip to the scenery on test 5 and had to retiree on test 6 due to the damage sustained on test 5.

To my absolute shock I finished 9th overall after all the trouble we had with road navigation and also been held up so badly in the tests with other cars. I was delighted to have finished the rally first of all as 35 cars retired due to the hard going of the event and at the start of the day I had said I would be delighted to finish in the top 10 which we did.

I would love to say until next time but unfortunately the time has come to sell on the Starlet. it’s a proven winner with a huge spec. If anyone is interested you will get me on 087 9089884.

Rob Whelan.

Images from Peespeed Photography.


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