OVERSEAS and Welsh drivers in particular have a great fondness for Irish rallying, none more so than John Price, who passed away recently following a long battle with illness over the last four years.
At times referred to as 'The Boss' or JP, he was hugely popular and competed in 859 rallies over a 50-year campaign during which he also ran the successful John Price Rallying preparation outfit from his Wormbridge workshop.
Back in 1982, he netted his first podium finish in an Irish event when he took his Renault 5 Turbo to third place in the Haltone Cork 20 International Rally. He was second in the Sord Fastnet Rally in 1985 when he campaigned a Renault 5 Maxi Turbo. He won the West Cork Rally in 1992 and 1993 both in a Metro 6R4.
Price had an array of rally cars that were incredibly well prepared. One of his first Irish events was the Circuit of Munster in 1972 where he competed in a Renault Alpine. In those years he also competed in the Galway International Rally. A switch to a Porsche Carrera 911 brought victory in the Circuit of Munster in 1975.
In the early 1980s he switched to the Renault 5 Turbo with the West Cork continuing to be an annual trip across the Irish Sea. The Circuit of Ireland and Wexford Rally were also part of a busy yearly schedule. In the late '80s he campaigned a Metro 6R4, a marque that also really defined his rally car preparation business.
Carrigaline’s Frank O’Mahony was one of his customers and hired one of his fleet for the 1992 West Cork Rally and finished third. O’Mahony subsequently purchased the car with Price continuing to maintain the car at events both here and in Britain.
One of the most epic battles in the history of the Clonakilty event was played out in 1993 with Price and O’Mahony serving up a fascinating contest. Price had his regular co-driver Mike Bowen on-board with O’Mahony partnered by well-known auctioneer, Douglas man Hugh McPhillips.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s stages the pair were inseparable. But O’Mahony had concerns as he felt something wasn’t quite right with his Metro. Assurances that the car was fine came from Price following a quick test drive. But O’Mahony’s fears unfolded down the Ring road with a broken differential. Price went on to claim back-to-back wins with O’Mahony second.
“John was probably one of the best rally preparation guys I came across and was obviously an expert on Metro 6R4’s. He was also an ultra competitive driver and in most of the rallies I did with my car, he was also competing and we were at the cutting edge, the competition was intense,” said O’Mahony.
Another Cork driver to hire a car from Price was Ballydehob’s Martin Swanton, who drove the Price Renault 5 Turbo for the West Cork Rally in 1991 and 1992. Swanton outlined his participation on the ’91 event with car in the Munster joinery livery.
“Unfortunately, things didn’t go well, we crashed out on the very first stage. It was a very wet morning and were only about two miles into it, we caught the grass and spun and damaged the back axle.
“Before the ‘92 event JP suggested we should get some time in the car before the rally. That certainly worked as it made a great difference. We were ninth overall but crashed out with three stages remaining. John was a pure gentleman to deal with, very accommodating, as were all the people in his team. It was a very professional team and the cars were prepared immaculately and I suppose that says it all really.”
Price won the Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship on 12 occasions — the first in in 1984 in a Renault 5 Maxi Turbo with Derrick Davies co-driving. He won again the following season with Mike Bowen as his co-driver. That partnership in a Metro 6R4 brought titles in ’88, ’89, ’91, ’92 and ’97. Partnered by his wife Caroline, JP won again in ’98, 2000, ’02 (shared title with Steve Hendy) ’04 and ’05 and in ’08 when he clinched the title in Sligo. He won the Tour of Epynt on the infamous military roads of mid-Wales on 23 different occasions.
In the 1985 Sord Fastnet Rally, I had the pleasure of navigating the Welsh ace, finishing second overall to Kanturk’s AJ Keating (Opel Manta 400), who was navigated by the late Fergus Connolly. The following year we made an early exit when the Metro spun and damaged the exhaust.
In an emotional post on Facebook, his son Stephen said, “It is with much sadness that I have to inform you that the man some of you knew as JP or The Boss but to me he was Dad, has passed away peacefully at home yesterday 21st April, surrounded by his family.
“He had fought a long, hard battle these past five years but just couldn’t fight anymore. As you all know rallying was his life and now he has completed his last stage. He was a loving husband to Caroline, a caring father to Stephen, Cathi, Kevin and Stephanie, grandfather and great grandfather and he will be greatly missed by us all. We are extremely proud as a family of all his motorsport achievements and it has given us many memories to hold on to, he will never be forgotten.”