Our second day on the 2015 Circuit of Ireland was day one of the rally. Robert Woodside and Allan Harryman would set out from service in the Tuthill Porsche 911 R-GT just after 9am and head into the hills of Downpatrick for the Buck’s Head stage, then on to the famous Hamilton’s Folly, before finishing around Lough Henney.
The rally would then regroup back at service and do a second loop of the same three stages that afternoon, before finishing with two runs through a special stage around Newtownards town centre that evening.
Mood was good in service as a group of us headed for Buck’s Head to watch the Porsche coming through. We would spend the next two days on the road following the rally, led by an expert recce guy and rally driver. It definitely made my Circuit something special: kudos to Robert for organising this, and main man Stuart Woodhead for driving our minibus!
Circuit is a round of the European Rally Championship (ERC) and not the World Rally Championship (WRC), which this Porsche usually rallies in. WRC cars are seeded according to pace, so the 911 and Robert were known to have enough speed to run in the main group, but the ERC crowd put them in behind the ERC cars and just ahead of the National Rally: local competitors in everything from WRC Subarus to classic Escorts.
This was no great hardship for Robert and Allan, but it meant we spectators had to get into position before the rally arrived and then wait 45 minutes for the Porsche to come through. This was not always a trouble-free and Buck’s Head was a perfect example. Couple that with spectator areas where you couldn’t even see the cars and no wonder fewer people go to rallies these days.
Anyway, we got into position and waited. The Porsche was cautious through the square junction on front of us and pace on the opening stage was steady: Robert was playing it cool and keeping it together over a muddy, slippery stage. Leaving that stage later than planned, we headed back to service for a couple of hours then headed back out towards Hamilton’s Folly.
If one stage sums up The Circuit, maybe this is the one. Second longest stage on the event at 17kms, it has the most spectacular scenery and the biggest jumps. Our vantage point was exceptional: we could see just over a mile of high-speed road section that would surely set Porsche hearts pounding.
The lead group came through with no issues – a few wobbly moments on the jump early on in the stage – but one breakdown right in front of us. This narrowed the road quite considerably, so I was a bit worried for the 911, but some spectators got the car running and by the time the 911 came through, it was clear. The boys were definitely pushing harder on the much drier roads.
Lough Henney was also good for the car, but we headed straight for Newtownards to watch the special stage. Our leader was awesome at parking us right by the front, so we walked in to town and prepared for Porsche arrival. As we ate our chips and awaited the sound of the flat six, the commentator announced the Porsche was on the start line. And then it went wrong.
“Here it is: the one we’ve all been waiting for – the superb Porsche 911 GT. The clock’s ticking down – and – oh no, there’s a problem. Robert Woodside can’t get the car off the line. Oh no, this is a disaster for Robert.”
It was a disaster. We went back to the stage start and waited. Allan ran through some resets, but we had definitely lost all drive. The boys brought the van down to the stage, we loaded the car and headed back towards service. What happened next? Find out in part 3.