Personal recollections of the 1970 Welsh International Rally

First published around 2009.

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE 1970 WELSH, by Nigel Raeburn.

Even after 38 years I can still remember clearly some aspects of that event, the biggest win for Will Sparrow and myself in our rally partnership which lasted over ten years.  We had only started winning at the top level earlier that year with wins on the Motoring News Championship rounds of the Vales and Nutcracker.  These however were road rallies, and our forest special stage experience was really quite limited prior to that 1970 Welsh.  We did do the 1968 RAC, but retired about a third of the way through, but had only done a small mileage of forest stages apart from that.  We had done the Manx and Circuit of Ireland but they were asphalt stages.  All our events up to this stage had been in Minis and we had become one of the top Mini crews.  Of course this was an era when the top amateur drivers did both MN road rallies (some of which included some forest stages too) and the home International stage rallies as a matter of course and there were few club level forest events.  So we were really relatively ‘green’ at forest rallying when we assembled at Cardiff for the start – if I remember correctly it was also the first rally ever where we wore overalls – nice blue ones as was the fashion!  Ahead of us was a pretty well non-stop rally from Friday evening through to Sunday lunchtime, with short meal stops at the Metropole in Llandrindod Wells and also at Bala and Machynlleth before finishing at Barry.  We would be more in our element on the Epynt stages, of which there was significant mileage.

By the half way point it was clear it was a close battle for the lead between ourselves and Chris Sclater/Martin Holmes in their Escort.  I can remember the tension building up as we started the longest stage in Dovey – we started one minute ahead of Chris and Martin and both crews knew the battle was on and were trying their hardest.  At one point the track ran back along the opposite side of a valley and I can remember looking across and seeing Chris and estimating that he was still about a minute behind.  We waited at the finish to time him in – and after that long stage at ten tenths there was only a few seconds in it!  The pressure was on and continued right to the finish.  I remember the long drive through the valleys back to Barry – of course by then we were both very tired and as was normal on such events we had to share the driving on the road sections and I remember really feeling the responsibility as I had to drive those miles knowing we were in the lead and I had to stay on the road and nurse the car home safely!  After breakfast at Barry we went to Llandow for a ‘race stage’ where the co-driver had to vacate the car – I felt the tension and could hardly bear to watch as Will completed his required laps.  It was then back to Barry for the finish where it soon became clear that we had clinched the win.  Such was the impact that I changed my plans to travel home that evening and arranged to stay on in the hotel and spent the evening having dinner with the organising team.

Our win on one of the ‘home internationals’ was followed up by a very successful rest of the year where we ended up winning the RAC Championship and also taking a class win on the RAC Rally (and 11th overall).  Indirectly this lead to us doing the 1971 RAC with Dealer Team Vauxhall and then an association with Vauxhall for quite a few years.  Our 1970 win was the start of a good record on the Welsh which suited Will’s style on the flowing forest stages plus the tarmac of Epynt.  We continued with the Mini for a while and came 2nd behind Tony Fall on the 1971 Welsh, and 6th in 1972 after a ten minute off in Clocaenog.  By 1973 we were in a Martin Group Vauxhall Firenza and unfortunately rolled spectacularly while challenging for the lead in Dovey about half way through.  In 1974 in a Dealer Team Vauxhall Magnum Coupe we won the hotly contested Group One class beating Pentti Airikkala and Russell Brookes.  That was the last Welsh I did, although I think Will did a few more.

Our early success on the 1970 Welsh stages became a blue-print for later years as we stopped doing road events (after winning the Escort Mexico series in 1972) and tackled mainly the RAC Championship stage rallies – winning the RAC Group One title for DTV in 1974 against strong opposition.  I myself was a road rallyist at heart and continued doing road events with other drivers – and after a ten year break tackled numerous historic road rallies right up to the present day – including winning the 1995 Welsh Retro with Geoff Breakell – which some viewed as a successor event to the original Welsh.

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