Belfast Telegraph

Mini mania: Fans gather to mark Monte Carlo Rally triumph of legendary Paddy Hopkirk

By Claire Harrison

He's the undisputed king of the road.

Rally champion Paddy Hopkirk showed he still has a winning streak when he headed up an eye-catching cavalcade of Minis through the streets of Belfast in his honour.

The 80-year-old was the guest of honour at celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of his stunning win in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.

The Belfast man, who is the most successful rally driver ever to come from Northern Ireland, raced to victory alongside Henry Liddon at the prestigious rally.

It remains the crowning glory of an illustrious career which also clocked up the Circuit of Ireland title five times.

Fifty years later fans turned out in their hundreds to celebrate what is still one of the most famous achievements in our sporting history.

About 1,500 people took part in a cavalcade of Minis from Stormont to the Titanic Quarter via Belfast City Hall on Saturday morning.

Hopkirk led the cavalcade in a red replica of the Mini Cooper S he drove into legend.

He was followed by variety of 200 colourful Minis – some new, some vintage, some accessorised with bright colours, stickers, decorations and trailers. On arrival at the Titanic Quarter, the cars was parked in colourful formation across the slipways.

In a day of events, Hopkirk was made an ambassador for the city after receiving a scroll from Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir at Belfast City Hall.

"Becoming an ambassador for Belfast is really wonderful.

Who would have thought 50 years ago that would have happened?" he said.

"I'm very flattered and honoured, and the generosity of everybody here is wonderful."

Hopkirk delighted fans by holding an autograph session alongside rally stars such as Ari Vatanen, Kris Meeke and Jimmy McRae.

Then there was a gala ball hosted in the driver's honour at Titanic Belfast on Saturday evening.

The Belfast-born legend said he was delighted fans still remembered his heroics in Monte Carlo so many decades later.

"What myself and my team achieved back in 1964 was a landmark occasion for rallying in Northern Ireland and I hope it inspired a lot of drivers since then to take up what is a wonderful sport," he added.

"I have really great memories of my time as a rally driver."

PROFILE

Paddy Hopkirk (80) is the most successful rally driver to come from Northern Ireland. This time 50 years ago he was riding high after winning the Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper S car. He was born in Belfast and educated in Co Kildare before attending Trinity College, Dublin, until 1953. In 2010 the father-of-three was among the first four inductees into the Rally Hall Of Fame.

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