The proverb ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is certainly applicable to iconic competition cars that were once regulars on the scene, especially those from particular eras and that had certain drivers. One such machine is the Peugeot 306 built by British star Will Gollop’s G-Tech company for the 1994 European Rallycross Championship.
Having been through a cluster of different owners and drivers since its creation, the 306 made its last outings of note in the British Rallycross Championship in 2013, and claimed victory in the third round at Knockhill in the hands of Andy Scott. He then lent the car to son Marc to race in the season finale and Rallycross Grand Prix at Croft, where the 306 again featured on the podium. Then, the car was about to turn 20. Now seven years on, it’s quickly approaching it’s 30th birthday. Currently part of the Albatec Racing stable, before being taken in-house by the Dumfries team, the 306 was given its most recent complete overhaul by Tony Bardy Motorsport.
Bardy had looked after the car since 2006, when London-based Irishman Ollie O’Donovan brought the car over from Ireland where it had been briefly prepared by Ali Burrows Motorsport. Having run the car until the end of the season, the next thing Bardy did was give the car a bare metal rebuild and, in the process, granted it a new lease of life. As with everything in Bardy’s Scotch Corner base, if you couldn’t flip it over and eat your lunch off the underside, it wouldn’t be allowed to leave the workshop. I digress; this isn’t about Bardy’s unquestionable ability to prepare a car, but the history of one of the longest serving and most successful cars in rallycross.
The most recent Englishman to claim the European Championship crown, Will Gollop, did so in 1992 at the wheel of his legendary Bi-Turbo Metro 6R4. With Group B banned for 1993, Gollop had to move onto pastures new and create something to suit the latest Group A-based rules. The desired new build was the Peugeot 306, but as the car was not homologated until the start of 1994, Gollop was forced to build a Peugeot 309 as a stopgap. The interim machine which is currently being restored in England brought little success and Gollop’s G-Tech team started building their new car during the same year. With the works British Touring Car team consuming the majority of Peugeot’s budget, Gollop’s 306 was developed on blue-sky thinking, without necessarily having the finances to execute all of those ideas to the full extent of his engineering nouse.
With parts carried over from the 309, and the 6R4, the 306 featured a composite flat floor, fully independent double wishbone suspension, a Cliff Humphreys built engine and Quaife gearbox, upholding Gollop’s longstanding relationship with the transmission manufacturer.
“It was only ever the plan to use the 309 for one year to learn about wishbone suspension. The 306 wasn’t homologated until 1994, but we started building the 306 before the end of 1993,” says Gollop.
Gollop debuted his new stead on in the domestic season-opener at Lydden Hill on 30 March 1994, and duly won. The car’s European debut followed, in Austria. Unfortunately for the champion, the 306 was unable to produce the pace required to win in 1994, although Gollop did visit the podium in Britain, Belgium and Norway to finish the season fourth overall. Two podiums at Lousada (Portugal) and Mondello in Ireland would be the highlights in 1995, followed by another two podiums in 1996 at the traditional August Benelux double header.
By ’96, Gollop was also focusing on the full British series, and although victory was evading the French car in Europe, British soil was far more lucrative. The British title in 1996 was followed that winter by victory in the Lydden Rallycross Championship 96/97.
“The development process wasn’t straightforward. We used the T16 engine initially and had a lot of problems with it, before switching to the Mi16 engine which was much more successful,” notes Gollop. “I’m really proud of the fact that we built that car. I think a lot of its success has been down to the suspension. The chassis was good, but of course with double wishbone suspension there are a lot of places to put everything and we worked very hard at that. The steering wasn’t great to start with but we worked hard at it, and it got better and better. My highlight would have to be the A final in Finland ’94, racing against [Martin] Schanche in his Escort. They were pretty wonderful times.”
With the ever-escalating costs of the European Championship, Gollop focused on the British series for 1997, by then branded the BRDA (British Rallycross Drivers Association) Championship. As with ’96, Gollop claimed the spoils, before calling an end to his driving career (he would later return in a Ford Focus).
“We had done the European championship for ten years, money was always a problem, it was always hard finding the budget,” he muses.
The 306 would win the British title again in 1998, with Irishman driver Helmut Holfeld excelling in his debut season with the car under the watchful eye of the G-Tech team.
Although he wouldn’t win the title again, Holfeld was always competitive with the car, winning two rounds of the British series in 2000 and losing out on the title on dropped scores in the very last race of the year.
Holfeld sold the car at the turn of the millennium year to another Irishman, John McCluskey. While in McCluskey’s possession the 306 was again always competitive, but often without the fortune required to mount a title charge in his three years of campaigning the car. By now being prepared by Murray Motorsport, unfortunately for McCluskey, his ownership of the car will in part at least be best remembered for a huge first corner accident at Blyton in 2003.
He did though claim victory in his home round at Mondello Park in 2004. During Mcluskey’s time with ownership, he also took the 306 to the Punchestown Rally Masters where five-time Irish tarmac rally champion Austin McHale had a run out too.
With McCluskey moving to newer machinery for 2005 (a Kenneth Hansen Motorsport Citroen Xsara), Mad Mark Watson sampled the 306 in Ireland, but it was ultimately sold to another Irishman, George Tracey, who was doing his own bit of modernising by moving from a 6R4 to the 306. A full British championship campaign culminated in victory at the Croft finale.
Tracey had full intention of challenging for the title in 2006, and the first rounds went reasonably well. The team re-prepped the car and headed to South Wales for the fourth round at Pembrey.
Ollie O’Donovan takes up the story. “George had invited me to watch. I arrived late, and went straight to the hotel. After a few hours in the bar, by four o’clock in the morning I had bought the car,” he explains. “I went to bed, and at 08.45 George was banging on the door saying ‘Come on, you have to go and race’ I was saying yeah, yeah, and he replied, ‘come on, you bought my car,’ so I had no choice. I didn’t have my licence but fortunately I remember the number off by heart. I had to borrow an old pair of overalls from Pat Doran. I also borrowed some of his race boots, I could have got both feet in one of those boots. Dermot Carnegie lent me a helmet and I shared some gloves with a Stock Hatch driver. I missed practice because I was sorting out the administrating for racing, so my first time in the car was driving it from the paddock to the start for the first heat. I found out I was on pole position for the race thought ‘Shit, I haven’t even had a chance to walk the track!’ I didn’t know where the circuit went, I had never seen it before. I could see the first corner went left, and thought that I would just tuck in behind the other guys and follow. But, I got a really good start, and found myself leading into the first corner. I took a little lift on the throttle, for less than a second to see where the circuit went next, and the whole pack came past me, I will never forget that. Coming from my rallying background where I was used to world rally cars, the sheer acceleration of a Supercar was amazing.”
In a year of learning O’Donovan visited the podium on a number of occasions, including winning at Mondello. So it’s the winter of 2006 and we’re back to Bardy’s bare-metal rebuild, which paid dividends. 2007 started with victory at Lydden Hill for O’Donovan. In its new ‘Nissan yellow’ that became a trait of fresh builds from Scotch Corner, O’Donovan won the title in a thrilling battle with Will Gollop’s new prodigy, Andrew Jordan. “My highlights of owning the car would be winning my first heat race at Knockhill, and of course winning the championship,” says the London based Irishman.
Bardy would himself take the wheel for the end of year Superprix at Croft, then O’Donovan drove the car in the ‘London Masters’ event in December, held at the Excel Arena. Having qualified on the front row, O’Donovan’s final ended in the turn one barrier after contact with Per Eklund.
2008 brought success for O’Donovan again, this time winning the Supercar category and just missing out on victory in the overall British crown. “That was my biggest disappointment in my time of owning the 306. At the penultimate round, Pembrey in 2008 I had two punctures in the final when the race was stopped. I was still running but wasn’t allowed to change the wheels to take the restart. All I needed to do was finish the race and get points to win the championship. Then we went to Mondello for the last round and still needed just a few points and the engine seized. They were wonderful times in the 306 though. Before racing it I was flat out rallying. It changed my attention to rallycross. I would love to own that car again.”
During the 2009 season the 306 would again change hands, to its current owner. Graduating from the RX150 category, Scott made his Supercar debut at Lydden Hill In August and finished on the podium.
That winter the machine had another Bardy overhaul, ahead of Scott’s tilt at the British title in 2010. Two wins would be the highlight of the campaign, both at Knockhill, in the British Championship round and the season-closing Rallycross Superprix. For 2011 Scott had European Championship ambitions, and with the 306 long-since out of homologation, he bought a Ford Focus with the intention of using the 306 for the British Championship.
Scott swapped between the 306 and Focus throughout the year in the British series, before lending it to a man who had raced against it when it was owned by Gollop and O’Donovan – Per Eklund – for the rejuvenated British Rallycross Grand Prix. The car made a single British Championship start in 2012, but the highlight of its season was an appearance at Loheac, France, where Scott was racing his Focus, but gave demo runs in the 306. “It shows the quality of the car that Andy just went round and round,” says Bardy. “He was only supposed to do a couple of laps for the fans each time, but he was enjoying it so much he kept going. He did so many laps he almost ran it out of fuel but the car gave no problems at all.”
Scott too enjoyed the French event, but had offered the car to an alternative driver. “I invited Will to drive the car at Loheac, but because it was late notice he couldn’t make it. I would love for there to be a masters type race with the likes of Kenneth Hansen and Jean Luc Pailler driving their old cars from that era. That’s one of the reasons I like it, I totally enjoy the history of the car, and how good it is, is testament to how Will built it in the first place. It was the first Supercar I drove, I have a real soft spot in my heart for it. It has so many fans because of its history. The faster circuits like Loheac or Lydden suit it. She loves fast corners!”
The 306’s most recent public airing was as part of 50th anniversary of rallycross celebrations at the Autosport International Show at the NEC in Birmingham, UK in 2017.
Despite various modifications over the years, the car is fundamentally still the same beast that Gollop and his team created almost three decades ago, but in its most recent outings it has remained on or near the pace. Granted, things have moved somewhat since its last proper outings in 2013, but the car is still revered throughout Europe.
It’s highly unlikely that the rallycross world will ever see a car racing at such a high level for so long again, and despite having been surpassed by the Pat Doran / Julian Godfrey Ford Fiesta that the engine builder continues to race in the British series as the most successful Supercar in the UK, the 306 is arguably one of, if not the most popular and respected.« Previous Post Next Post »