by Brian & Liz Patterson
Donegal man Donagh Kelly, co-driven by Kevin Flanagan, took victory on last weekend’s popular Sperrins Rally, by just over 8s from fellow Subaru crew of Derek McGarrity/James McKee. Camillus Bradley/Charlie Beatty’s Escort amazingly emerged from the hailstone swept opening stage in the lead and eventually finished a fine 3rd o/a.
At the halfway service outside Maghera Derek McGarrity led by 7s from Donagh Kelly with Camillus Bradley 3rd. Kelly put his Subaru on to a soft slick for the drier afternoon stages and immediately began reeling in McGarrity. Donagh pulled out all the stops over the final few stages to take this significant victory, his cause helped somewhat by McGarrity losing momentum on the penultimate stage when he came across a couple of quad bikes mid stage. Donagh Kelly hasn’t registered for NI Championship points this year, so McGarrity gets a maximum score to retain his place at the top of the table from Derek McGeehan. Mini WRC man McGeehan was 4th more or less all day, any chance of improving in the 2nd half not helped by a conservative tyre choice.
McGeehan’s other Mini WRC was driven by racing driver Steven Kane, but he went into a ditch on the 2nd stage. Indeed, between mechanical maladies and mishaps it was a day of many retirements, just some of the top men to take an early bath included Kevin Barrett, Peadar Hurson, James Laverty, Vivian Hamill and Trevor Ferguson.
Desi Henry and Mark Donnelly in Citroen D3R3s were competing on the rally as much as a warm up for the next BRC round, the Jim Clark Rally. Henry finished a trouble free 5th and won his class, Donnelly a couple of places back. Mark struggled initially with the tarmac set-up of his Pirelli backed car, but following service went a lot better.
Colm McFall won Gp N in his Lancer, from the similar cars of Stanley Ballantine and Gary Cairns. At the rally finish it appeared that Cairns had taken the category, but he was subsequently hit with a 1m penalty. Kieran Graffin at one point looked as if he might take the honours, but a puncture, and unable to get the wheel nuts off, dropped him to 65th.
Just some of the class winners also included: - CL3 Shane McLaughlin/Steven Boyle (Nova): CL4 Kevin Bradley/Graham Henderson (Escort): CL5 Paddy McToal/Connor O’Loan (Escort): CL6 Alastair Cochrane/Paddy McCrudden (Escort): CL10 Andy Johnson/Jim McSherry (Chevette): CL11 Greg and Caron McCormack.
Meanwhile on the Carlow Rally, Wexford man James Stafford, driving his supremely fast Darrian scored a convincing win. Co-driven by Amy Ryan, Stafford finished 1m40s ahead of the Frank Kelly/Liam Brennan combination in their Escort. Sam and Alan Smyth were 3rd in their Escort.
The Carlow Stages has built up a tradition of being a rally for the Escort aficionados, and this time was no exception. The rally incorporates an Escort MK2 Challenge that is always very hotly contested and carries prize money. Indeed 7 of the top ten finishers were Escorts.
It was Pat Donegan who led initially in his Escort, 6s up on Stafford. Stage 2 did not run, allegedly because of a straw bale problem at a chicane. Donegan retired on stage 3 following a mishap. This allowed James Stafford to move into a lead he kept and indeed never looked under any real threat. Gary McPhillips was then 2nd for most of the day, but he crashed out on the penultimate stage on a downhill section into a square corner. This left Frank Kelly top Escort, and with an almost 2m gap to the next man, he was able to cruise home. He commented afterwards. `I was sorry to see Gary McPhilips off. We stopped and helped the car back on its wheels, but something was broken in the steering. We really did not have an answer to Gary when he was going. But it was a treacherous day, swathes of heavy rain on shiny tar; it was like ice at times. The first stage was particularly slippy and we stopped briefly to make sure Paddy McVeigh, who had an accident, was ok. `
Paul Bird won the Manx National last weekend from Jason Pritchard with Damian Cole 3rd. All three were in Focus WRCs. Melvyn Evans made a determined bid to win it for the 5th time and equal Kenny McKinstry’s record, but the Welshman was forced out with gearbox trouble on his Impreza WRC.
This weekend the rally action switches to Corsica and the next round of the ERC. Craig Breen, with Paul Nagle co-driving as usual, will be in action in the Peugeot/Santeloc S2000. Craig is currently 2nd in the European Championship and has some experience of the difficult and very technical Corsica stages, having finished 6th their last year. Kris Meeke will perform ‘00’ duties in the new Peugeot 208, which he has been testing, along with Craig. Chris Patterson will co-drive for Meeke.
Also this weekend is the BTRDA Championship Welshpool based Knutsford MC Plains Rally through the forests of Dyfi, Hafren & Sweet Lamb and Gartheniog. Connor McCloskey and his co-driver Francis Regan in their Impreza WRC have had an outstandingly successful run in the Championship so far, and hold a strong points lead. However every rally in the series is a step into the unknown for Connor, and he will do well indeed if he can keep the momentum going. Connor reports all well with his Subaru and he will be giving the rally his best go on Saturday. There was a bit of an issue with the car’s engine earlier this week, in that it was losing oil. Kenny McKinstry and Connor’s engineer Andy seem to have the problem sorted.
Coming up very soon (19th May) is the Hotel Kilmore based Cavan Stages Rally. The 9-stage event is round 3 of the Dunlop National Championship. Clerk of the Course Stephen Kellett reports that the entry list is filling up rapidly. As well as the top drivers such as Niall Maguire, Declan Boyle, Donagh Kelly the two Moffett brothers and so on, there has been quite a bit of interest from outside Ireland. James Belton is bringing his Subaru over from the UK again, and there are entries in from as far afield as Australia and New York.
Also rapidly approaching (8th June) is the Mourne Rally. The organising Newry and District MC has road closing orders for the Modern Tyres backed event this year, and plan to have 3 closed road stages, each to run three times. The stages will be broadly reminiscent of old Circuit of Ireland stages. The event is round 5 of the Carryduff Forklift sponsored NI Championship and CoC Jan Huisman has put together a very attractive looking rally. Further info on www.nadmc.co.uk
On Saturday May 25th the Garda Siochana motor club is running what sounds like being a very interesting and enjoyable event. An Endurance Trial consisting of seven short selectives on private ground, each test run twice. The entry fee is just €150 and virtually any car is eligible. Based in Germaines of Baltinglass more information is available on gardamotorclub.com. Derek Brannigan is Clerk of the Course and the Secretary is Baltinglass lady Sarah Ashton. The day starts from Germaines at 11.00 am, Derek has built in time for a tea break at 2.30, and the first car is due to finish at 7pm.
Young Jon Armstrong from Kesh has won the inaugural British Rally Championship Live media Trophy nomination. 18 year old Jon and his co-driver Martin Brady may have had a difficult time on the rally, but this award is quite a fillip for them. At season’s end the pair will go to Prodrive’s HQ for a final judging, the reward being a day’s testing in a ‘works’ Mini S2000. On the subject of press coverage, the SKY Sports and associated coverage of the Pirelli Richard Burns opening round has not appeared as scheduled, which is a bit of a blow all round. No definitive reason has been given but it would appear that the problem is threefold - Sir Alex Ferguson’s resignation from Man Utd changed the SKY Sports scheduling, there were also some health and safety issues with the coverage because of flash photography, plus one of the prime movers behind the SKY involvement was BSkyB executive Nick Milligan, who was tragically killed in the power boat accident off Padstow on the 5th May (same weekend as the Pirelli).