Belfast Telegraph

Hillclimbers turn back time to Knockagh days

By Sammy Hamill

Paddy Hopkirk won the Circuit of Ireland five times and became world famous after his magnificent 1964 Monte Carlo Rally victory.

But the Belfast man, now an ambassador for BMW Mini, was one of the most versatile drivers of his era, a master of autotests and equally at home on the race track as any rally stage.

He was already a three-time Circuit winner and on the radar of several factory rally teams when, in 1962, he went back to his roots by joining the local line-up for the Knockagh hillclimb driving a BMC-engined Elva, a Formula Junior single-seater racing car.

Hopkirk didn't win on that occasion, describing the handling of the Elva as "evil" on the tricky Knockagh climb which dropped off the motorsport calendar shortly afterwards.

Now, more than half a century on, the Ulster Automobile Club is returning to the east Antrim venue and to the hill, dominated by its war memorial, looking out over Belfast Lough.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, when it was part of the British championship on occasions, the route started out from the Monkstown area and climbed up towards the monument.

However Saturday's Cannon Motors-sponsored version will run in the opposite direction, beginning just up from the Woodburn crossroads in Carrickfergus.

It is a short climb, just under a mile, but steep and narrow with two distinct hairpins.

There will be no Hopkirk, of course, but the starting list is expected to include most of the hillclimb regulars, headed by new Miller's Oil Northern Ireland champion Chris Houston.

A winner at Croft, Drumhorc and Spamount earlier in the season, the Bangor driver secured the title for the first time in the penultimate round at Eagles Rock.

Although he finished back in seventh overall in his OMS behind the winning Formula Lotus Reynard of Jaye Nevin, Houston had already done enough to see off the challenge of John Donnelly and Ian Lancashire.

Belfast Telegraph


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