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Rally has rich vein of history running through volunteers

By Sammy Hamill

Published 02/04/2015

In the family: Aaron Mitchell outside Hillsborough Castle
In the family: Aaron Mitchell outside Hillsborough Castle

Caroline Adams and Joanne Clarke are just two of the hundreds of volunteers who will help to ensure the Circuit of Ireland Rally runs smoothly this weekend.

They are part of the huge team of marshals, out in all weather for hour after hour, manning the time controls and special stages and keeping spectators safe.

But Caroline and Joanne have a unique and shared connection to the rally.

They are the granddaughters of two past winners, Ronnie Adams and Basil Clarke, who won the first full Circuit of Ireland 1000 Mile Trial back in 1936. That year they teamed up with Cliff Holmes to share Clarke's Austin 16 Sports Saloon and finished first overall.

Adams was just 17 and home from school in England for the Easter break. He is reputed to have done much of the driving in the treacherous conditions that weekend and took the wheel for the decisive speed tests in Bangor which decided the outcome.

It was to be the start of a glorious motorsport career, climaxed by becoming the first Ulsterman to win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1955.

Joanne is one of the Circuit's training officers but Caroline simply walked into a rally information evening in Lisburn a few weeks ago and volunteered.

"Joanne has been part of the team for some time but it came as a total surprise when Caroline introduced herself and said who she was," said rally director Bobby Willis. "It was an even bigger surprise when she volunteered to be a marshal."

And Aaron Mitchell will bring a different kind of history when he takes control of the Hillsborough holding area on Saturday.

Son of a Circuit of Ireland stalwart, Ronnie Mitchell, who is overseeing the Ards and Lisburn spectator stages, Aaron and his team will be responsible for "guarding" the cars as they re-group inside the grounds of Hillsborough Castle after the morning loop of stages.

The family has history in this respect - more than 100 years ago Aaron's great, great, great grandfather, Henry Johnston, was one of the Castlemen who guarded the entrance. The rifle he carried is still a proud heirloom.

The cars will enter the castle through the main Richhill Gates which, legend has it, are usually only opened to admit the Queen on visits to Northern Ireland.

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