Russell Brookes’ Kerry Connections
Russell Brookes 1945 to 2019
Kerry Motorsport News was saddened to learn of the passing of the great Russell Brookes earlier today (October 30).
The Double-British rally champion was as well- known in this part of the world as he was in his native Worcestershire.
A regular visitor to the county from the mid-1970s when the Circuit of Ireland Rally formed a round of the British Open Rally Championship and at a time when the rally circumnavigated the entire island of Ireland.
In those days Killarney served as the Easter Saturday and Sunday overnight halt and the Sunday run was contested over stages in either South Kerry (Moll’s Gap and Carragh Lake for example) or in West Kerry over Slea Head and Minard Castle.
Famous for driving his ‘Andrews Heat for Hire’ liveried cars, his first major breakthrough as a professional driver came in 1975 when he finished second overall on the Circuit in a Ford Escort Mk1 with John Brown alongside him. He repeated this result the following year.
Back-to-back Circuit of Ireland wins followed in 1977 and 78 in Escort Mk2.
His third, and final Circuit win happened in 1983, the last time the five-day rally stopped over in County Kerry. On that very wet Easter Sunday morning he would have tackled stages like Carragh Lake, a stage still very much part of the fabric of modern-day Kerry rallying. He drove a Vauxhall Chevette HSR to victory on that occasion.
In between his second and third wins he drove a Talbot Sunbeam but never had the same success in that machine that he had in Ford or GM products.
Thirty years ago, and six years after his third Circuit victory, he was back in Killarney for the Carling International Rally of the Lakes. He duly won that event, driving a Ford Sierra Cosworth and with it claimed his only Irish Tarmac Rally Championship to add to his two British titles earned in 1977 (Ford Escort) and 1985 (Opel Manta 400).
He retired from professional competition in 1991 but, on several occasions, returned to Killarney to contest the Historic Rally in the early part of this century.
The 2005 Killarney Historic Rally received a significant boost with the news that former British Open Rally Champion and Irish Tarmac Rally Champion had entered the event in a Porsche 911.
Brookes was the guest of honour at the official launch of the rally that year.
Speaking at the launch, Brookes said: “I am delighted to be able to take part in the 2005 Killarney Historic Rally, this has really made my year. The last time I was in Killarney was for the Rally of the Lakes in 1989, when I won the event and the Irish Tarmac Championship, so this will be very much like returning home.”
One of the Sunbeams that he campaigned in the late 1970s and early 1980s is now owned by UK-based Waterford man John Leahy who offered Brookes the opportunity to drive his old car on the 2007 edition of the Historic Rally.
It was an eventful rally for the Andrews Heat for Hire-backed car when the throttle cables gave up on the Healy Pass, he went on to suffer a variety of mechanical problems but managed to get back to the finish ramp in third spot.
Although Brookes appeared regularly at demonstration events like Rally of Legends in San Marino and RallyDay in the UK, he has not competed properly for nearly ten years.
On one of his final competitive outings, the 2008 Rockingham Stages Rally in England, driving the same Leahy-owned Sunbeam, he finished 22nd overall with Tralee man (and Kerry Motorsport News proprietor) Sean Moriarty in the co-driver’s seat.
His final appearance in Killarney was during the 2016 Circuit Déjà Vu demonstration event where he revisited some of the stages from his storied career, once again driving the Sunbeam and re-united with the 1983 Circuit-winning Vauxhall. He was a great hit with rally fans and locals on that occasion and photos emerged of Brookes pouring pints of Guinness at the famous Helen’s Bar at the top of Kilmackillogue Harbour.