by Brian & Liz Patterson
Irish Notes 11th July 2012
There was certainly no shortage of Irish rally action last weekend, with the Sligo Stages, Down Rally and the Sean Conlon all providing their own dramas and stories. Thankfully all three rallies got reasonably decent weather, in contrast to large parts of Britain, which were water logged. Both Sligo and Down suffered heavy overnight rain beforehand, but despite early wet roads and some puddles, conditions improved for both as the day went on. The Sean Conlon Mitchelstown probably had the best of it, and the competitors were full of praise for the organisers and the quality of the stages.
On the Mitchelstown Forestry event Donegal International winner Garry Jennings, co-driven this time by David Moynihan, took his 555 GpA Impreza to a hard fought win. This was not without its dramas as his Subaru fell over at the flying finish of the 2nd stage. Well, it was not so much a flying finish, more a slow square junction. Cool as a cucumber, Garry put down the electric window, released his belts, got his feet on the ground and righted the car himself! He still set fastest time for the stage! Early leaders Vincent & JP McAree were 2nd in their Lancer, 18s back, while current Forestry Champion Owen Murphy, with James O’Brien co-driving, finished strongly to get ahead of Pat O’Connell/Mark Wiley for the final podium place. Both crews were in GpN Lancers. Murphy felt his Lancer’s engine was a bit flat all day. In addition, and the Cork man certainly wasn’t making any excuses, he was running first of the ‘big’ cars on the road, which meant to a certain extent sweeping the loose gravel. Pat O’Connell had a great run throughout the day, but his Lancer broke the transmission transfer box a couple of kilometres from the finish of the final stage. The Tipperary man was fortunate to make the finish at all, let alone take 4th.
Colin Britton/Arthur Kierans led the Valvoline points starting the rally, but their Lancer broke its transmission on the opening stage. At day’s end Stephen Wright’s 5th place was enough to put him into the series lead, by 1 point from Garry Jennings. Colin Britton and Vincent McAree are now just a few points in arrears. Bonus points and dropped scores do cloud the issue. Jennings non-started one of the rounds because of fuel tank eligibility issues with his Impreza. The Glens of Antrim Rally (27th Oct) has now been included in the series, so with two rounds remaining the championship is far from over. The highest placed two wheel drive finisher in Mitchelstown was Shay Power/Paul Collins, their Escort in 12th place, with Paul Fitzgerald/Pierce Doheny (Escort) 13th and Dean Raftery/Aileen Kelly a creditable 14th in their Civic and best of the Juniors.
On the Sligo Stages Rally Monaghan’s Shane Maguire, with Martin McGarrity co-driving in his GpN Impreza took victory. This was 23 year old Shane’s first National win. The rally took a very dramatic and unfortunate twist towards the end when the popular Bustard brothers crashed their Lancer out of the lead on the penultimate stage. When we spoke to Kenny on Sunday he had been released from hospital, while Trevor was kept in for a scan in case of a broken bone in his back. Kenny was very upbeat about the situation. We wish them both a full and quick recovery, and hopefully see them back on the stages before too long. Nobody wanted the rally to finish that way, but as Clerk of the Course Paul Kiely said afterwards, what could have been a major incident was in reality a rally accident. In overall terms, up to that point, the rally ran like clockwork. Pat Kirk recovered from an early delay, when he stopped in a stage to clear mud from a vibrating wheel on his Lancer, to finish 2nd. Andrew Mullen also performed a recovery operation, fighting back from early brake problems on his Lancer to take 3rd. Arthur Kierans finished best of the two wheel contestants, doing well to hang on to the lead in his comparatively lesser-powered Escort, despite the speeds increasing as the roads dried.
On the Down Rally there was a grandstand finish, with Derek McGarrity taking victory by 1s from Donagh Kelly, both in Impreza WRC’s. Kelly led for most of the day, with the two drivers swapping seconds. Kelly got ahead by around 5s with a couple of stages to go, then ‘cleaned’ the penultimate stage. McGarrity pulled out all the stops however on the final stage, Hamilton’s Folly, to take the victory and also increase his lead in the NI Championship. Kenny McKinstry said before the rally that he didn’t think he could win, because he wasn’t comfortable with LHD. So it proved, and Kenny settled for 3rd. Vivian Hamill in his Escort was the best two-wheel drive competitor, while Chris Simms won the inaugural Bernie McMullan Award for fastest 8 valve 2 litre Escort over the final stage. Paul Killen was having a great run and looked to be odds on to take the award, but then he had a problem on the final stage and dropped time. In overall terms, although the rally only had 55 starters, it was a really high quality entry and ran very efficiently.
This weekend the REIS-Get Connected UK based MSA Asphalt Rally Championship comes to Ireland for the ALMC Rally. Damian Cole is the defending champion and his Focus WRC could be the car to beat at the City North Hotel based event. Steve Simpson in his Impreza WRC is Cole’s main adversary this season. Welshman Melvyn Evans, a former Irish National Champion, plans to be on the ALMC in his Subaru. Evans won a couple of the earlier rounds of this REIS series, but was forced to retire from the Jim Clark when he dislocated his shoulder.
Some of the other top contenders making the trip to North Dublin include John Stone (Skoda WRC), James Belton (Impreza WRC), Lee Vivian (Impreza WRC) and Washington James (Darrian). Home drivers include Tralee’s Thomas Fitzmaurice In his Impreza WRC and Desi Henry in his Citroen DS3 R3. Dunlop National Championship points leader Fitzmaurice has a rebuilt engine in his Subaru and sees Sunday’s rally as a shakedown/running in session before the next Dunlop round in Clonmel several weeks hence. Thomas hasn’t even seen his car since his last outing in May. He maintains that he is not going to challenge the visitors on Sunday in their race for REIS/Get Connected points. Of course, when the flag drops it could be a different story.
The Ballynahinch Club was to run the Bishopscourt Stages rally this weekend, but it has been canned because of a lack of entries. Surprising really, since it has always been a popular rally since it started 20 years ago. The club was making a special effort this year as well, in celebration of the 20 years. This included 20 free entries, which was coming out of a separate kitty. However, the entries just did not come in.
The Clare Motor Club is running its Autocross this Sunday 15th July, and is pleased to announce that, after a six year break, they again have the use of Bobby O’Connell’s excellent quarry in Ardnacrusha. The course is reportedly extremely smooth and should make for a great day’s action. Further info from Gerry O’Brien @ 086 2766267.
The Rally Finland entry list has been released and includes Alastair Fisher/Daniel Barritt in their Fiesta R2, bidding for FIA Academy points. Current FIA Academy Champion Craig Breen is also on the list and reports that he is ‘coping ok at the minute’ and its all systems go for Finland. It is good that Craig is getting his head down and continuing with his rally career following the tragic Targa Florio accident. Killarney’s Paul Nagle will co-drive for Craig in his Fiesta S2000.
On the home scene, exciting front runner Declan Boyle is in the process of concluding a deal with Derek McGarrity to trade his Escort in against the ex Tim McNulty Tarmac Championship winning Impreza WRC S12. The transaction will probably not be concluded until after the Ulster Rally, where Derek will drive the Subaru. There is a strong possibility that Gary McPhillips may be interested in Donegal man O’Boyle’s Escort. Declan commented. “I am looking forward to the Subaru, but will miss the Escort!”
World Rallying star Kris Meeke is to drive one of the iconic Mini WRC machines at this year’s 28th July Orchard Motorsport backed Lurgan Park Rally. Over the years the Rally has enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for attracting star names and drivers. With the addition of Kris Meeke, along with Darren Gass going for his hat trick of wins, this year’s event could be one of the best ever. Kenny McKinstry, long dubbed ‘The King of the Park’, will certainly not be out of the reckoning either as he bids for his 12th Lurgan Park victory.
Indeed when Kris Meeke was presented with the opportunity of driving the state of the art McGeehan Motorsport Mini WRC, he didn’t hesitate. Kris commented, “I grew up with the Lurgan Park Rally. I remember hiding in the bushes to watch Michael Sundstrom in a Peugeot 205 T16, and so many other great drivers over the years. I’ve only competed there once. That was in a Mk2 Escort. It won’t be a case of sallying round this time. I’ll definitely be trying to win. It’s a difficult proposition – it’s in between a rally and an autotest, specialised. Making the pace notes on a bicycle is a long way from a world rally stage. I’m happy enough to give it a go. I am looking forward to it.”
The Meeke drive is backed by event sponsor Brian Stinson’s Orchard Motorsport concern in Armagh, as well as the Rushmere Shopping Centre Craigavon, and McGeehan Motorsport themselves. Indeed Derek McGeehan hopes to enter and compete, with Laurie Smith co-driving, in a second Mini WRC. This is a new right hand drive car due to be delivered to McGeehan’s Draperstown workshop by Prodrive just in time for the rally. The car Kris Meeke will use is the left-hand drive version, the same as he drove on the World Rally Championship. Gerry McVeigh Cars is also lending its weight to the Meeke entry, and indeed Gerry will co-drive.
The North Armagh Motor Club’s Rally, all within the environs of Craigavon Borough Council’s beautiful Lurgan Park, has a proud history of a family day out motorsport event. It first took place in 1980, when the late, great Bertie Fisher won in a Sydney Meeke prepared Escort. Kris Meeke’s entry this year marks another turn of the wheel.