By Sean Moriarty
Hannu’s day in the Kerry – tribute to the Finnish legend
There was widespread sadness across the rally community when news broke on Friday night that Finnish legend Hannu Mikkola had passed away.
The 1983 World Champion had a distinguished career and truly deserved his rally legend status.
In a rally career that spanned six decades he spent one day rallying in County Kerry.
Back in 1982 he was signed by David Sutton Motorsport and Audi UK to contest the British Open Rally Championship.
This was in addition to the World Rally Championship programme he was already on with the main Audi Sport team in Germany.
Back then, the Circuit of Ireland formed a round of the British series and the rally visited Killarney for penultimate time that year.
For local rally fans it was their chance to see the Audi quattro in action and at the same time witness, in the flesh, one of the rising stars of world rallying.
The Finn arrived in Ireland on the back of victories in the previous November’s RAC Rally and Mintex Rally in Yorkshire, the opening round of the 1982 BRC.
And while the four-wheel drive turbo-charged supercar was dominant on the slippery British forest roads it was a much different prospect in Ireland.
The car, in tarmac spec, was much heavier than the rear-wheel drive machines like the Opel Ascona 400s of Jimmy McRae and Henri Toivonen, the Vauxhall Chevette HSRs of Russell Brookes and Austin MacHale and the Ford Escorts of Ari Vatanen and Billy Coleman.
The crews arrived into parc ferme, situated in Killarney’s Fair Hill car park, on Saturday April 10 after contesting 29 stages since the Good Friday start in Belfast.
Mikkola and his co-driver, the equally legendary Arne Hertz, were in seventh place overall.
Kerry fans who gathered on Moll’s Gap for Sunday’s opening stage were in for a treat.
A veritable who-is-who of World, Irish and British rallying lined up on the Muckross Road in preparation for an attack on Ireland’s most-famous rally road.
Fastest over the test was none other than Vatanen stopping the clocks at 12 minutes and 42 seconds. Mikkola was seventh fastest, 15 seconds off his country man’s pace.
Healy Pass was next up with McRae fastest on 7 minutes and 9 seconds with the Audi 12 seconds behind in sixth place.
Next up, Roughty River, where Mikkola was fifth fastest, some 15 seconds off McRae’s benchmark of 13 minutes and 44 seconds.
The challenging mountain pass, Borlin followed and it was Brookes’ turn to top the timesheets on 10 minutes 40 seconds. The Audi crew were fourth fastest here just nine seconds of the Englishman’s Vauxhall
By now the rally was deep in to West Cork where Mikkola and Hertz went fastest over a stage called the Falls of Donemark near Bantry. Third quickest on Fuhiry, behind McRae and Brookes meant they had climbed to fifth overall , up two places from their Sunday morning starting position.
It counted for nothing. He lost over four minutes on Mullaghanish (the history books have not been kind so the reason for the dramatic time loss is unknown) and fell to ninth in the overall standings.
However John Crone, who was competing on the same event and is the supplier of all the photos in this story offers one potential reason for the time loss.
“Early on in the event the clutch started to slip. There was no opportunity to change it as service was so short. At a service halt a local advised the service crew on a solution. He suggested pouring Coca Cola in through the bell housing onto the clutch followed immediately by liberal amounts of self-raising flour,” John told Kerry Motorsport News “The Coke cleaned the clutch and the flour contributed to a dry surface which gave the clutch purchase. They were so desperate that the mechanics tried it and it worked! From then on they used Coke and flour at every opportunity and eventually Hannu limped to the finish finish in Belfast! True story. Can’t bate an Irish solution!”
The rally returned to the Kingdom and the overnight halt in Killarney via Gortnagne where his tale of woe continued dropping another minute to the rally leaders and only managing 11th fastest time on the famous road that runs from Millstreet to Glenflesk.
He ended the leg and his day in Kerry in ninth place overall and over ten minutes behind leader and eventual winner McRae.
He eventually finished eighth overall, aided by MacHale’s late retirement as the rally made its way back to Belfast.
Several Kerry drivers and co-drivers had the honour of competing against Mikkola on that 1982 Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Fintan Foley and John Crone (who supplied all these photos) finished 37th overall in their Talbot Horizon.
Billy Daly, Killarney’s current Ford dealer finished 23rd overall and fifth in his class at the wheel of his Volkswagen Golf Gti. Interestingly, he was the town’s Audi and VW dealer at the time of the rally.
Corkman but now Caherdaniel resident Bones O’Connor finished 27th in a Toyota Starlet. Interestingly, Bones contested the 1984 Rally of the 1000 Lakes (Rally Finland) where he finished 63rd overall in the same Starlet – a remarkable achievement for a privateer driver at that time. By then, of course Mikkola was defending world champion and the winner of previous year’s Rally of the 1000 Lakes but retired on this occasion with steering issues in a later version of the Audi Quattro.
Dermot O’Sullivan is listed as a non-finisher, he crashed his Datsun Violet on the Easter Monday run back to Belfast.
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