Liam Regan is no stranger to rallying folk across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and most recently in World Rally Championship circles. Similarly, seeing cars from the 1980s take on Ireland’s special stages is nothing new. But when the Junior WRC co-driver rolled out his Skoda Estelle for the Down Rally – it is fair to say it had plenty of rally fans turning, scratching, and nodding their heads.
Regan has been a busy man in 2022, completing the first four Junior WRC rounds with William Creighton. The most recent took place in Estonia just one week before the Down Rally.
An interesting aspect of their partnership has been Regan’s rally driving background. He has competed across Ireland in a Mitsubishi Evo, a four-wheel-drive Peugeot 206, and a Ford Escort Mk2 among others. A familiar name on loose-surface events, Down Rally was Regan’s first asphalt event behind the wheel since 2016.
It all begs the same obvious question. Why?
And where does the unique connection with Skoda Estelles stem from?
“My Father Billy and my Uncle Ian built a Skoda Estelle rally car in 1988,” explained Regan. “There was a local championship called the NI Skoda Rally Challenge. It was basically budget rallying.
“You bought an Estelle, stuck in a roll-cage, a couple of fire extinguishers, and away you went. The car was orange and they rallied away with it.
“It transpires that a lot of the locals who are still rallying today started off in this. Guys like Allan Harryman, Paul Fox, and John Henderson.
“My Dad and my Uncle rallied this thing, it was my first matchbox car, and there are pictures of me with it as a kid. My Uncle Ian co-drove for Stephen Wedgbury, a semi-works Skoda driver in the British Rally Championship and I even worked for John Mulholland at a time in his Skoda dealership.
“I have always had an affiliation with Skoda so I had it in my head that someday I will try to rally a Skoda.”
With the “why” cleared up, curiosity leads to wondering how a rally specification Skoda Estelle could be tracked down. Regan first spotted his red Estelle at the 2019 Roger Albert Clark Rally.
EDSL’s Alex Waterman was using it to tackle the famed five-day historic rally. With a mutual British Rally Championship connection, Regan quizzed Waterman about the unusual Skoda to find out it was owned by Rally Collection UK.
Rally Collection UK’s Glyn Thomas was reluctant to part ways but after two years of trying, Regan finally twisted Thomas’s arm to seal the deal and take the Skoda to Belfast.
“I think my background story made it easier for Glyn to let it go,” continued Regan. “The car was registered in January 1988 and I was born in the very same month – I just couldn’t walk past it.
“I wanted to get it back out on the stages and let people see the car.
“It was great to do that on the Down Rally which is one of the most professionally run events in Northern Ireland.
“One of my ambitions is to do Killarney Historic. Jonny and David Greer have spiked my interest in the historic scene since they got involved in it a few years ago.”
The Down Rally proved a successful debut for Regan and the Skoda Estelle. It finished without drama and there was plenty of interest in the left-hand-drive, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive Group A masterpiece.
“The car was originally built in Finland so a lot of the switches are in Finnish. I had to send pictures of the dashboard to Enni Malkonen, Sami Pajari’s co-driver, so she could tell me what they did.
“It’s not the fastest car in the world and it has never been on tarmac so there is loads of work that could be done to it.
“In the short term, I just want to get it out to events again.”
Regan teased a rekindled rivalry with Fermanagh’s Willie Mavitty who rebuilt a Talbot Samba for last year’s Killarney Historic Rally. It is great to see the craic and adventure of it all.
The story started with Regan’s memories of his Father and Uncle building their own Estelle over 30 years ago. It was apt that “Uncle Ian” was Liam’s right-hand man as the Estelle tackled the best stages in County Down last Saturday.
“Ian actually sat with me as I started autotesting when I was 14. It could be 10 years since he navigated for me and one of the motivations for getting the car was to let us do a few rallies together again.
“For him to be in a car that he has such a connection with brings everyone’s enthusiasm on and takes everyone back to doing a bit of rallying.”
Action photos by Kevin Glendinning