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Author Topic: Co-driving a Stratos  (Read 1481 times)
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Neil Lewis
« on: 01 December, 2009, 01:25:42 PM »

As a follow-up to the "Lancia" BBC Top Gear programme, this article came up recalling Peter Scott's time competing on the Circuit of Ireland in the Chequered Flag Stratos (I'm sure he won't mind me copying it here) :-

I was very privileged to co-drive for Billy Coleman in a number of events in the mid-seventies in the Chequered Flag Stratos. Graham Warner, owner of CF and of the car worked miracles to actually get hold of one in the first place and even more miracles to keep it running as the factory were less than helpful with spare parts. Just to sit in the car when it was been driven as it should and listen to the cams in the Ferrari engine inches from one's head was a wonderful sensation.

Amongst the events we used the car for were Ypres, Donegal and the Circuit of Ireland. Ypres really brought home to us just how low the car was. We recced in a Lancia Beta Monte Carlo, itself quite a low sports car, and thought we had made good notes, but on the first section of the rally realised we had major problems as small kinks through the crop fields which we could see through in the Beta and which we had noted as straights, were now just a wall of corn and we were haemorrhaging time on the quick bits and just in the top ten. Between the first and second sections we had to revisit the stages and modify the notes and soon picked up places. Lesson learned.

The Circuit of Ireland in 1977 was quite some event. Nearly 600 miles of stages. Pacenotes were only used on the Manx and Donegal (I think) so the intention was to read the road from the maps. BUT, not the 1:50,000 or even 1:25,000 maps we are used to now. These maps were half inch to the mile - that is 1:126,720! - and from experience of using them on Southern Ireland road rallies were accurate but extremely difficult to read. I was so, so nervous before the start, not something I usually suffered from. We were running at No. 1, as Billy had won the year before in a factory Escort, and the press had really built up the expectations. We were surrounded by spectators every time the car stopped. On the way to the start the Halda (tripmeter) packed up and on the startline of the first stage the clutch started to slip. From then on we could - just - use it to get off the line, but every gearchange would have to be clutchless. We were so, so determined to win the event that I was calling the corners at close to risk level and Billy was being oh, so brave driving blind a car that was designed around notes and smooth Alpine roads, not Irish bumps, and its huge back tyres filled every bit of the narrow lanes. I should mention that the car is so small that as part of the 'chase' crew I had one person to swap my maps each time we met. No room for a 'navigator's' bag even. Russell was in the Andrews Escort and inexorably pulling away from us. Just by the odd second or two per stage, but pulling away none the less. After the first day, night and day - without a halt, this was real rallying - we still kept the gap to less than a minute and were getting close to the first night halt in Killarney. The last stage, Gortnagane, ran round the outside of Billy's farms. At the start I was told to put the map away, sit well back and fold my arms. This was going to be really something, and it was. Probably the best demonstration of how to drive a (still clutchless) rally car on the limit I have ever sat through. On one jump a photographer on one side of the road took a picture of the spectators on the other side. All but their heads were visible underneath the car! We took a sizeable amount of time back, but not the lead.

On the Stratos there are drop gears just like a Mini, but easily reached and used to alter the final drive. For the infamous 'Sunday Run' on Killarney's unmatchable stages we were only geared for just over 90 mph, but, boy, did it get there. We swapped times with Russell all day, but the gap remained unchanged. A clutch change was critical if we were to have a chance and a long run on a very straight main road to the first of the next morning's stages gave this opportunity. We needed a garage and a young local spectator came up and said we could use the garage he worked in, in Mallow. At the recent BRC prizegiving Joe Shinnors, father of Keith Cronin's co-driver Greg, cam to me and told me he was that young lad. Anyhow, after the Killarney stages we changed the drop gears again and geared the car for 150mph - just for the run to this garage. The short wheelbase chisel fronted car was, let us say, interesting at these speeds with the front trying to overtake the back - vertically!

We got the clutch changed, but try as we could, we just couldn't catch Russell and had to settle for second. What a rally and the second most pressurised Circuit of Ireland in which I competed - but the other is another story.

Peter Scott
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Posts: 4083

« Reply #1 on: 01 December, 2009, 02:40:36 PM »



David Laver, Lewisham.
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