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Rally chief Malcolm Neill drove the Circuit of Ireland through troubled times

Malcolm Neill - the man who steered the Circuit of Ireland Rally through the worst of Ulster's Troubles and went on to head up the organisation of Britain's round of the World Championship, Rally GB - has died suddenly in England.

His father Gordon, a director of the Neill flour milling company, was a major figure in Ulster motorsport, which at the time was spearheaded by the likes of Harry Ferguson, of tractor fame, and Wallace McLeod.

A leading member of the Ulster Automobile Club (UAC), Gordon Neill was instrumental in reviving the Circuit of Ireland after the Second World War and played a key part in developing the rally into the international event it is today.

He also oversaw the transfer of the old Ards TT races to the Dundrod circuit in the 1950s.

One of Malcolm's earliest memories, he used to say, was his mother going to the airport to collect the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio to drive him to the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. He said: "If I ever write a book, it will be called 'My Mother was Fangio's Driver'."

It was inevitable Malcolm would follow in his father's footsteps, not just into the family business but into motorsport, too. He raced sports cars and rallied for a time before assuming the role of clerk of the course of the Circuit of Ireland in the early 1970s.

There were question marks over whether it was wise to continue running the rally at a time when many events were being cancelled because of trouble on the Belfast streets and elsewhere.

But Malcolm was determined it should carry on even though overseas competitors were reluctant to come to Northern Ireland.

He even persuaded Gallaher Ltd to continue their sponsorship in 1973 although their name never appeared on an promotional material, the cigarette company being reluctant to draw attention to themselves in light of the unrest. They had withdrawn support for a major golf tournament, but at Malcolm's urging kept faith with the rally.

He was delighted when Yorkshireman Jack Tordoff emerged as the 1973 winner, saying it was an important step in rekindling international interest in the rally.

Malcolm was in charge for three tremendously successful years but then stood down when the UAC refused to back his proposal that it was time to appoint a full-time organiser.

Neill went back to being a competitor and among his successes was victory in the Donegal International Rally alongside Brian Nelson in 1976.

After the flour business was sold and the family moved to England, Malcolm was able to pursue his love of motorsport on a bigger stage. His expertise was quickly recognised and he moved through the ranks of UK rallying, eventually taking charge of Britain's biggest event, the World championship RAC Rally of Great Britain, now known as Rally GB.

He held the post for 14 years through much of the 1980s and 1990s before stepping down although his involvement in rallying was far from over. Malcolm set up his own consultancy and advised organisers how to develop their events.

Educated at Portora Royal School, he shared a dormitory with TV motorsport commentator and producer Alan Tyndall, who was to be best man at his wedding. Malcolm, who was in his 70s, died at his home near Reading after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Irene, son Andrew, daughter Helen and their families.

Belfast Telegraph


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