Manta Magic from Flanders Fields – the return of Paul Lietaer
By Sean Moriarty
One of the biggest names in Belgium rallying is set to make a return to the Rentokil-Initial Killarney Historic Rally.
Paul Lietaer has featured on the results list of practically every Belgian rally in a storied career that spans five decades.
This year’s rally will mark his fourth visit to Killarney. His maiden appearance was way back in 1984 when he contested the Rally of the Lakes in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
Three years later he was behind the wheel of an Opel Manta 400 where he was sitting a highly respectful sixth overall until the rally was prematurely halted following an accident on the Moll’s Gap stage.
The last time he was in Killarney was 21 years ago when he contested the third running of the Killarney Historic Rally in a Ford Escort Mk2 and finished 12th overall.
Lietaer from the village of Heestert in West Flanders has driven almost every conceivable rally car from Ford Escort Cosworths, to BMW M3s to a Peugeot 205 and even an Opel Corsa in a career that makes him one of the biggest draws in his home country.
But he is most famous for driving his Opel Manta 400, a car that has taken him to his two most significant Belgian rally titles and this is the car that he will drive in Killarney.
In 1988 he was crowned Belgian National Champion driving the same Manta 400, winning legendary Belgian rallies like Monteberg, The TAC Rally and the Wervik Rally, events that are still regular features on the Belgian calendar.
After winning the Belgian title he was, almost, exclusively linked to Ford and rallied Sierra and Escort Cosworths to huge acclaim over a period through the late 1980s and up the late 1990s. Further wins on the Monteberg and Wervik rallies, as well as other major events followed in this very busy and successful period. His only outing in this part of the world in that time was on the 1990 Manx International Rally where he finished 16th driving an Opel Corsa GSi.
By the late 1990s, he had turned his attention to historic rallying, in a Ford Escort Mk2, the same car he used on his last visit to Killarney in 1998.
It did not stop him winning rallies overall and he continued to take victories on events like Monteberg (and others) in the Escort.
Fast forward to 2018, the in-between years were marked with outings and wins in everything from Impreza and Skoda Fabia World Rally cars to historic outings in an Appendix K spec Legacy and an Escort Cosworth, he was to become Belgian champion again.
His 2018 success came 20 years after he was crowned Belgian national champion but on this occasion, he was actually the country’s historic champion. He had come the full circle as the Opel Manta he drove to success on this occasion was the same Manta that carried him to his national title 20 years earlier.
This year he has divided his time between rallying a Ford Escort Cosworth on local one-day events and using the Manta for bigger international rallies.
Already this year he has won the historic element of the Rallye des Routes du Nord in France driving the famous Opel.
His most recent outing in the Manta was on September’s Tour of Flanders where he finished 13th overall and second in the historic category on one of best-supported Belgian National rounds.
One week before he arrives in Killarney he will contest one of his home rallies, The 6 Hours of Kortrijk, in the Escort Cosworth, a rally where he scored some of his best results in the usual mix and match of cars.
For example, he was fifth on this event last year driving a Skoda Fabia WRC, two years ago he was eighth overall at the wheel of a Subaru Legacy RS, on this occasion he won the historic section and six years ago he was third in a Subaru Impreza WRC S6.
There is a nice connection between some of the entrants on this year’s Killarney Historic Rally and the 6 Hours of Kortrijk. The rally is the final round of the Flanders International Rally Challenge, a series that is well-supported by Irish and British competitors.
UK driver Bill Cook returns to Killarney for the first time since 2005 but he has contested the last two 6 Hours of Kortrijk in his Talbot Sunbeam.
London-based Killarney native Mick Smith is another regular on the classic Belgian winter event and won his class on this rally 12 months ago in his Chrysler Avenger.
Smith, the London Irish Motor Club chairman, was part of a Killarney and District Motor Club delegation that met Lietaer’s service mechanic Rudy at the recent Hemicuda Rally in Flanders and is partly responsible for the Belgian’s appearance in Killarney.