Belfast Telegraph

Hopkirk's Monte Carlo Rally victory was surprise, but no fluke

By Sammy Hamill

The 1964 Monte Carlo Rally may have been the defining moment of Paddy Hopkirk's career but he was far from a one rally wonder.

There was no World championship for drivers back in his heyday of the Sixties, but if there had been he would have been No.1.

Hopkirk, of course, dominated the Circuit of Ireland, winning five times, but his successes spread all across Europe and included the Tulip Rally, the Tour de France, the Alpine Rally (twice) and the Acropolis Rally.

He won almost everywhere but one victory which stands out for him is the 1967 Acropolis in Greece. He had finished first the previous year but was controversially disqualified on a technicality. It was a 'wrong' he was determined to put 'right' – and he did.

He was in the lead at the end of the special stages, leaving just three short spectator tests... and Paddy could hardly believe his eyes when he discovered one was to be an Irish-style driving test!

Of course, no one could touch him on that.

Hopkirk could manipulate the rules when necessary – like on the Italian Rally of the Flowers (now called the San Remo Rally and won in 2009 by his protégé Kris Meeke).

Hopkirk was leading when he tackled the final stage. Less than a mile from the end, a driveshaft snapped. Paddy summoned help from a tractor driver who pushed the Mini to the BMC service point and although he had lost his lead, he could still finish second provided he could get back to San Remo.

Paddy ordered the mechanics to push the Mini with the service car.

Down into San Remo they sped, at times Hopkirk being pushed along at 70mph, before a final shove sent the Mini screaming into the town square. Lights flashing, horn blaring, Paddy performed a handbrake turn round a policeman on a traffic island before flying over the finish line.

For sheer cheek it was typically Hopkirk. Another side of him was shown on the London to Sydney Marathon in 1968. He was just 100 miles from the finish in Sydney after 11,000 miles of the toughest driving he had ever experienced, his BMC 1800 tying for second place with Andrew Cowan's Hillman Hunter.

Suddenly Hopkirk was confronted with the wreckage of Lucien Bianchi's leading Citroen and a local Mini. Bianchi was badly injured and trapped in the car.

Hopkirk immediately stopped and left co-drivers Alec Poole and Tony Nash to try to cut Bianchi and Jean Claud Ogier from the mangled car while he went for help.

Cowan arrived and stopped too, but was told there was nothing he could do.

He carried on to win the Marathon with Hopkirk following in later to take second place.

His selfless decision was one, he says, he never regretted.

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