by Brian & Liz Patterson
The two main home rally events last weekend were the Fermanagh Lakeland and Wexford. Jonny Greer won the former, James Stafford the latter. For both drivers it was a very special occasion. Over on the Flanders Rally Sam Moffett had a very good run to finish 12th o/a and win conventional GpN, with Eugene Meegan, also in a Lancer, a couple of places back. Pieter Tsjoen in a Citroen C4 WRC won the event. This clinched his 8th Belgian Rally title. Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride did enough in their Porsche to win their British Historic section, and indeed could be in with a shout of the overall Historic title if they were to have a good result on the McRae Stages in Perthshire.
On the BJT Commercials Lakeland Rally, British Championship front runner Jonny Greer, co-driven by the vastly experienced Gordon Noble, took a hard fought win through this forest stage event in Co. Fermanagh. Greer changed from his Citroen DS3R3 to his Evo9 Lancer for the event. The car was fitted with a 34mm restrictor for the Lakeland and 24 year old Greer quickly switched on to four wheel drive mode again to score this, his first outright rally victory. Following a very accomplished drive, Mark Donnelly/Sean Ferris survived a last stage mechanical problem with their Lancer to take 2nd place and win GpN. They were just 1s ahead of Martin Cairns/Kevin Flanagan in their Impreza WRC.
Vincent McAree led the rally initially but lost a little time when he damaged his Lancer on a major jump in stage 2, Lough Navar. The damage was sorted at service and Vincent held 5th through the afternoon, but the car went off on the long, 14.4 mile final stage, Carrigans 2. Martin Cairns then led after stage 2, but his Impreza had some brake problems in the long stage 3, the first running of the Carrigans stage. This relegated Martin to 4th and he eventually finished 3rd.
Indeed that final 14.4-mile stage was to change the face of the rally. Garry Jennings/Barry McNulty moved into the equal lead with Jonny Greer on stage 3. The two were still level pegging after stage 4. Then on stage 5 Jennings eked out a 2s advantage. Unfortunately for Garry his GpA Impreza jumped out of gear at the critical moment on a tightening junction approximately four miles from the finish of the 6th and final stage. His rally ended there in a ditch. Ironically Greer beat the bogey on that final stage, and Jennings would have probably done so as well. However that was all academic. The win was Greer’s.
Derek McGeehan’s 4th place in his Mini WRC keeps his NI Championship hopes alive. McGeehan is currently 2nd in the series, with Derek McGarrity leading. McGarrity was driving an old model Impreza WRC on the Lakeland and finished 5th, 3s behind the Mini WRC. McGarrity’s Impreza was hampered initially by soaring oil temperature, which switched the engine on to safe mode. He also had brake problems. We may well see McGarrity out in something more potent for the final round of the NI Championship, the Bushwhacker. McGeehan had no trouble with his Mini WRC. However the Mini WRC was probably the widest car in the rally, and Derek had difficulty at times keeping the car in the ruts and on course, even on the straights. Ian Cochrane was 2nd in GpN and 6th o/a despite his Lancer suffering a last stage puncture. Trevor Ferguson in his Impreza had a clean run to 7th, 3rd in GpN, which reinforces his impregnable GpN position in the NI Championship.
The expected major two wheel drive battle fizzled out when Frank Kelly’s Escort broke it’s differential, Shane McGirr’s Starlet went into a stage 2 ditch after a jump and both Viv Hamill and Drew Stewart’s Escorts got stuck in ditches. Further retirements included Alastair Fisher’s Fiesta breaking a driveshaft, as did 17-year-old sensation Jon Armstrong’s example. Desi Henry’s Citroen DS3R3 suffered a broken radiator after a stage 2 jump. Eugene Devine/Graham Henderson took ‘best Escort’ accolade at the finish, and dedicated their success to the late Cyril Doherty. Eugene used to do all the work on the late Cyril Doherty’s Impreza and Graham often co-drove for Cyril. Cyril of course died last year of a heart attack while competing at Kirkistown.
Following one of the most interesting rally battles for years, James Stafford took victory on his home Wexford Rally last weekend, which was very special for him. Stafford was co-driven in his Darrian T90 by his cousin James F Stafford. His winning margin over Damian Cole/James Morgan in their Focus WRC was 16 seconds. John Dalton/Gwynfor Jones made it a red-letter day for the Darrian marque by taking 3rd, albeit over a minute further back.
Clerk of the Course Pat O’Dowd really streamlined the rally this year. He laid out two stages for the Saturday, each repeated three times. The same formula was used for the Sunday leg. However, the simplified structure and the smooth nature of the roads disguised a demanding format, with nearly all the stages close to 20 km in length.
James Belton in his Subaru led the rally by 1s following the opening stage, Kilmannan, then Cole moved into the lead after stage 2. Stafford led after stage 3. It was all that close during the first day.
The Saturday night results, after 6 stages, showed Cole and Belton tied for the lead, with Stafford in close attendance just 8s in arrears. Cole still led after the opening Sunday stage, but then on stage 8 Stafford pulled out a bit of an advantage.
There were no times for stage 9 as James Belton crashed his Subaru and blocked the road. The accident happened at a jump bridge just after a chicane, and it appeared that the speed would have been low and perhaps something broke in the steering.
Stage 10 proved to be the watershed as regards winning and losing. Stafford increased his lead to 30s over Cole, and was then able to keep the hard charging Get Connected man Damian at bay to the finish.
Cole explained later that a big rain shower caught them all out on dry weather tyres, and that he had a ‘real tank slapper’ just after the stage start, which knocked him out of his stride.
Damian said at the finish, “James deserved to win the rally. He took his chance in the rain on stage 10. I was too cautious after I had the big moment not far from the start of the stage. He had a big moment as well, but his was near the finish of the stage.” Otherwise Damian reported no real problems on the rally, apart from outbraking himself on the opening Sunday stage, which cost maybe a handful of seconds.
Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Impreza WRC were a distant 4th at the finish, while father and son Maurice and Richard Moffett were 5th and 6th in their respective RWD Starlets, although they finished with exactly the same total time. Trevor Culbert got ahead of Chris Armstrong towards the finish, these two, both in Escorts, finishing 7th & 8th o/a.
Further retirements, besides James Belton, included Michael O’Brien/James O’Brien, whose Focus WRC got stuck in a stage 2 ditch. Niall Maguire and Kevin Barrett, who were on the entry list with their Impreza WRC’s, were non-starters. Barrett’s Impreza suffered a lack of compression on the run up to the rally. Adrian Hetherington had a fairly dramatic rally, his Escort off the road on the Saturday, got going, but slid off again and got stuck about a mile from the finish on Sunday.
Ennis in Co. Clare is the base for this weekend’s penultimate round of the Dunlop National Championship. Three drivers, Thomas Fitzmaurice, Brian O’Mahony and Niall Maguire, all in Impreza WRC’s could take the overall title, so it is all to play for over the 9 stages of the rally. There are six Impreza WRC’s in the top ten. The other three are to be driven by Declan Boyle, Kevin Kelleher and Kevin Barrett. Colm Murphy is at 7 in his GpN Impreza, the Limerick man well on course to secure the GpN title in the Dunlop series. Roy White in his MG S2000, Frank Kelly (Escort) and Shane Maguire (Impreza N) make up the top ten.
On Wales Rally GB the best rally drivers in the world will battle it out over some of the finest forest stages in the world. As ever, for just about the last ten years, the million-dollar question is can anyone beat Sebastien Loeb in his Citroen. It is anybody’s guess who will be on the winners rostrum come Sunday, but certainly the Ford works pairing of Latvala and Solberg will certainly be trying their utmost to be there. Although in overall terms the rally has a low entry, the quality is certainly high. Outside of the top four ‘works’ cars, there are some brilliant drivers – Tanak, Ostberg, Al Attiyah, Neuville and so on. However Solberg and his co-driver Chris Patterson have vowed to give this one absolutely maximum. Which could be interesting. Solberg has won the rally four times in the past. It is good to see Matthew Wilson competing again as well. Home interest will also centre on Craig Breen/Paul Nagle and Alastair Fisher/Daniel Barritt, who both compete in the SWRC in their respective Fiesta S2000’s. The rally is not a round of the FIA Academy this time, and Alastair was granted a wild card entry to drive in the Super 2000 category. Breen is seeded behind three Skodas S2000’s – to be driven by Ogier, Abbring and Paddon, so won’t get it easy! The SWRC is currently led by PG Andersson in his Proton Satria S2000 and really, he is the man all the S2000 contenders want to beat.