Columns Irish Rallying

Sammy Hamill: It was all a bit of an adventure

Rally fans have never had it so good, or have they?

The World Rally Championship has its ground-breaking WRC+ service while locally we are spoiled with Onthepacenote’s and the British Rally Championship’s end-of-stage updates.

It has become so easy to follow the events of a rally unfold, it is right at our fingertips.

For most of us though it was standing on the road-side verges, timing the gaps between cars, that got us hooked on the sport that we love.

For journalists and reporters, rallying has certainly never been so easy to cover. But as the Belfast Telegraph’s Sammy Hamill explains, the technological improvements have taken away from the adventure of covering a rally.

“In the early days information was very difficult to get,” explained Hamill. “One of the first Galway Rallies I went to, I met up with Derek Johnston, Paul Phelan, and Des Bradley in a wee pub in Corrofin.

“We collated whatever information we had and if we all told the same story nobody would know any different.

“One of the things that went on in those days was that drivers wouldn’t give you accurate times because they didn’t want their rivals to know what they had actually done.

“You constantly had drivers giving you the wrong times.

“The other big problem was trying to find telephones, particularly down south where they had the old wind-up phones to get through to an operator.

“That was the way it used to be and it was fun. It was all a bit of an adventure.”

An adventure, a challenge, but a couple of decades later the esteemed motorsport reporter was to benefit from the then cutting-edge technology.

“For the Rally of the Lakes one year I was flying down in Bertie Fisher’s helicopter.

“On the way down there was some problem and we had to make a forced landing somewhere around Nenagh in a school playing field.

“It’s alright when your car breaks down you look for a garage but when your helicopter breaks down then what do you do?

“Fortunately there were a few mobile phones back then and eventually Mark Fisher drove down to meet us and we headed on down to Killarney.

“We got there and Bertie was making arrangements for the rally. I was to take Bertie’s car while the other two were taking the recce car as Bertie’s gravel crew.

“I remember so well ending up on some mountain around Ballaghbeama having to do my report for the Telegraph.

“I had a little Candy laptop for my reports so there I was sitting in Bertie Fisher’s BMW dictating to the Telegraph through the car’s built-in phone. Such a change from years before.”

As I listened to Sammy’s experiences from days gone by it became apparent how things have changed over the years.

My own coverage of the Galway International Rally earlier this year required a straight-forward drive to and from Connacht. Stage times, incident notes, and interview recordings were all saved to my smartphone. The event report was written at a service station on my way home.

It’s still a challenge, albeit, much less adventurous.

But is it for the better? I’ll let you decide.

Photo by Roy Dempster

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