Irish Notes – 15th January 2019

It was one step forward and one back for Irish Rallying this week with the news that the 1000 Shakes Navigation Trial had to be postponed, but to counter that sad tiding the entry interest, for both the William Loughman Forestry event as well as the Galway Rally, is looking healthy. The Cork based ‘1000 Shakes’, an iconic event going back and beyond the days of Bones O’Connor, was looking good in the run up, but then had to be pulled because of an insurance worry triggered by an accident the previous weekend on the Monaghan Trial. Hopefully normal service will be resumed sooner rather than later.

This weekend’s William Loughman event was boosted by the entry of Garry Jennings, to drive one of Kenny McKinstry’s Subarus, with Rory Kennedy co-driving. The rally has a very strong entry in any case, with Barry McKenna the No.1 seed in his Fiesta R5, in respect of the New York based driver’s 2nd place finish on the event last year. Andrew Purcell won that one, but there is no sign of an entry (as yet) from the Waterford based man. Josh Moffett and his brother Sam are seeded at 2 & 3. Garry Jennings is at 4, Marty McCormack (5) and Cathan McCourt at 6. We mentioned before that Ray Breen was aiming to come out of retirement for a blast through his local forests and he is seeded at 7, to drive an Eoin Doyle Fiesta R5. Quite a line-up, and the top rated drivers don’t stop there, with Patrick O’Brien, Niall Henry and Ger Lucey making up the top ten.

There is a strong turn out of young drivers as well in R2 type machinery – amongst them James Wilson, Derek Mackarel, William Creighton, Marty Gallagher and Josh McErlean. The overall 2wd category makes for interesting reading also, with Mickey Conlon, David Crossen, Shane McGirr, Adrian Hetherington, Vivian Hamill and John Gordon just some of the expected pace setters.

Billy Coleman Award Winner heads the R2 machinery

All in all the entry reflects the strong popularity of the Valvoline sponsored forestry series, and bodes well for the season. The drivers will face three stages, each repeated, on Sunday.

Meanwhile the entries continue to pour in for the 10th February Galway Int. Rally. Besides the dozen or so ‘R5’ machines there will be several World Rally Cars. Two times Galway Rally winner Garry Jennings has told us that his Subaru’s engine is going on the ‘dyno’ this weekend, following a winter rebuild, and he and the car should be A1 for the event. Galway didn’t run last year, and Garry won it in 2016 and 2017, so if he were to win this time that would be his hat-trick. Darren Gass has now entered, with Enda Sherry co-driving in Darren’s Impreza WRC S12. Darren remarked that he hasn’t driven the car for quite a while, and that he is looking forward to a day’s craic in Galway, and he doesn’t care if he finishes 1st, 5th or 10th! Also making the trip is Joe McGonigle/Ciaran Geaney in their Mini WRC. Quite often in past years the Galway Rally has provided wet, muddy and slippy conditions, which seems to suit the Donegal man quite well. Fresh from winning at Ballykelly a few weeks ago, Joe is now recovered from flu and raring to go on this opening 2019 Tarmac Championship round, although his main target is the Triton Showers National series, which of course doesn’t begin until Birr on the 24th February.

World Rally Car drivers cannot score points in the Tarmac series, so the predominantly left hand drive R5 cars are the preferred choice for most of the top drivers. There are moves afoot on the subject of ‘mirror image’ right hand R5 cars, of which more news should be forthcoming in the next week or so.

Looking forward to the summer, Plum Tyndall & Beatty Crawford are organising a Donegal ‘Déjà Vu’, to be based in the Jackson’s Hotel Ballybofey at the end of August this year. The Déjà Vu events that they have organised over the past couple of years have raised over €100,000 in total. This is a staggering achievement. The charity which has been picked for the Donegal Deja Vu is the Donegal Hospice.

Events coming up in the near future include the 9th February Mid-Antrim MC Rosspark Hotel Targa Rally. The regulations were no sooner published than the entry was more or less full. The 16th February Fivemiletown Samsonas forestry rally is also attracting interest, although not to the same extent as the Targa, and the Omagh MC has quite a few entries in already.

Aaron Johnston at the Autosport Show preparing for the 2019 season with Oscar Solberg

Finally for now, there was good news confirmed at the Autosport Show for NI co-driver Aaron Johnston – he is to partner Oscar Solberg for the season in a VW Polo GTi R5, starting with Rally Aluksne in Latvia this weekend.

Brian & Liz Patterson

Irish Notes 9th January 2019

Hot on the heels of the news that Donagh Kelly has acquired a Skoda R5, the British Championship organisers have announced that right hand drive R5 cars will be eligible in 2019 to compete on their events and to score points. The Irish Tarmac Championship organisers however have so far stuck to the rule that RHD R5s are not eligible. With West Cork, and the Ulster rallies being BRC as well as Tarmac counters, this could make for a mixed picture. Part of the equation is the criteria for the various International and National organiser permits.


Desi Henry has announced his intention to contest both BRC & Tarmac Championships in his Skoda R5, which is of course LHD. Indeed indications are that 2019 could see a ramping up of R5 activity, particularly so as new, or newish, WRC machinery is fairly well impossible to source.


No such worries though for the opening round of the Valvoline Forestry Championship, the 20th January Carrick on Suir Club’s Wm Loughman Rally. Although the rally is very early in the year this time, on top of which the new helmet regulations mean extra expenditure for the crews, entries are arriving with the organisers fairly well. The Carrick club is certainly under extra pressure to ready the stages, as logging contractors have been flat out busy in some of the forests the rally is using near Thomastown and Graiguenamanagh. The top entries are still to be confirmed, but Josh Moffett, Barry McKenna, Cathal McCourt, Marty McCormack and Desi Henry are all in the frame. Marty, who sticks with his Skoda R5, which he loves driving, but now needs new seats and he needs new helmets, commented about the Loughman, “Aye, sure we’ll have a whack at it!”. The event would be a great shakedown/warm up for the opening BRC rally, the Cambrian. Andrew Purcell told us, surprisingly, that, despite the fact that he has tested  cars in these stages over the years, he won’t be doing the rally, as he is just too busy in his garage business. However, it may be a different story a couple of days before the event, when the rally fever takes hold!


There is some interesting speculation that Ray Breen may have a crack at this, his local forestry event, driving a Fiesta R5 that Eoin Doyle has recently acquired. The same speculation suggests that Craig Breen may drive the car on the 10th February Galway International. When contacted, Ray commented, “If I can get past all the obstacles put in front of a person of my age renewing a competition licence, well then yes the objective is to do the rally in Eoin’s car!!” We didn’t manage to contact Craig, whom we think is not back from a break in Australia yet.


Just some of the two wheel drive contenders committed to the Willie Loughman event include Shane McGirr and John Gordon. Billy Coleman Award winner James Wilson has entered, and has Arthur Kierans co-driving in his Peugeot. Keady man James wants more experience in the forests and is also heading for the BRC.


Rallies are thin enough on the ground at the moment, so it was not good news to hear that the UAC/500MRC New Year’s rally at Kirkistown will not happen. However it is encouraging that the 500MRC will use the date, 26th January, for a rally car test day. We mentioned above the Cambrian Rally, which is scheduled for the 16th February. Also on that day, the Fivemiletown Forestry is due to run, after an absence. The Maiden City Club are reportedly going to utilise their 6th April date to run a special stage rally, with a view to being a round of the McGrady Insurance NI Rally Championship.


Still looking ahead, to the 10th February Galway International, the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, entries are arriving in well. R5 cars look to be dominating the top slots, with Donagh Kelly, Josh Moffett, Desi Henry, Brendan Cumiskey and Stephen Wright all entered. Bucking the trend is Garry Jennings, who has entered in his Subaru Impreza WRC.

Irish Notes – 2nd Jan 2019

Irish Notes 2nd January 2019

Traditionally a quiet rally time, there were still a few interesting events on over the Christmas period. Matthew Mason for example won ‘Not the Boxing Day Rally’, Joe McGonigle claimed victory on the Maiden City Turkey Run Rally, and Danny Barry was the victor on the Carlow Club’s Rallysprint at Mondello Park. Happily the weather conditions over the holiday period were mild and dry throughout.

Further afield it was even warmer for Gary McElhinney as, co-driving for Ahmed Huwel in his Fiesta the pair took victory on the Morogora Rally to clinch the Tanzania Championship. Some boy is Gary. And then he was no sooner home than he got involved with Donagh Kelly testing his new Skoda R5. Could this be opening the door for Donagh to attempt a crack at another Tarmac Championship Crown?

The UAC’s ‘Not the Boxing Day’ consisted of a series of slalom like tests around the countryside close to the golf club at Moira which was the start/finish venue. The nature of the tests certainly provided a ‘blow the cobwebs’ away day for the full list of drivers. Matthew Mason was co-driven by Davy Young on this occasion and pushed his Micra to the limit to win by just two seconds from Stephen Ferguson/Milton McWilliams in a Peugeot 106. Peter Caldwell/Rory McPolin (Mazda MX-5) were just 1 second further back in 3rd.

Former winner and number 1 seed Will Corry seemed to be well in the hunt, but fell back, as did Marshall Kennedy in his Peugeot. Corry, who is a test driver with Ariel Sports in Somerset and is reportedly doing wondrous things with the latest Atom, had an adventurous sort of a day in a Midget. He had intended doing the event in his father’s Mk1 Escort, but that didn’t work out. He hadn’t really time to prepare the Midget, so the day then developed into a laugh a minute catalogue of punctures, broken exhaust, damaged fuel line and several visits to White Mountain Tyre depot for MG surgery! Still, Will had great fun and described the tests/stages as ‘classic!”

On the Turkey Run Rally at Shackleton, Joe McGonigle/Sean Hassett in their Mini WRC finished just 3 seconds ahead of Alan Carmichael/Jordan McCaw (Hyundai i20 R5) after the five quite long stages. Desi Henry/Mark Henry were 3rd in their Skoda Fabia R5. Donegal man McGonigle said afterwards, “That was one of my worst days rallying ever. I was dosed with the flu, hadn’t the energy to get round the second lap of the stages, hit a bale on the last stage, and all the way through could see where some drivers were ‘straight-lining’ some chicanes, cutting across the grass to avoid others, and the stages were dirtier, lots more mud, than usual. Still we won.” His co-driver Hassett commented, “Worst best day of his life!” Top ‘2WD performance’ on the day came from Barry Morris/Declan Campbell who were 4th o/a in their Escort Mk2. Amy Cox/Caron McCormack had a good run and finished 7th o/a in their Skoda Fabia.

At Mondello Danny Barry had a great day’s rallying in his Citroen DS3 R5, to take a clear win over Liam Ryan (Corolla WRC). Wesley Patterson and Enda O’Brien had a massive battle in their respective Escorts for 3rd o/a and best two wheel drive. Patterson just had the edge on this occasion and finished 8 seconds up on O’Brien. Following his win, Danny Barry told us,” It is 6 or 7 years since I have done the event, and it was pretty different this time. They (the organisers) handed me a sheet of paper with all the chicanes and so on, and I was told I could walk the course if I wanted to. So I just made it up as I went along, caught a couple of cars on the first run, and had a half spin, dropping about 15 seconds. After that I knew where I was going, the Citroen was really good, and there was a surprising amount of grip. This was just my second time out in the car. I’m too busy at work. I’d like to do a couple of rallies next year, maybe outside Ireland.”

Also over the Christmas period the closing date for Monte entries passed and the top end of the list gives a fair indication of WRC participation for next season. Elfyn Evans, to be co-driven now by Scott Martin, was confirmed to be driving an M-Sport Fiesta WRC, along with Teemu Sunninen and Pontus Tidemand. The M-Sport Ford route was just about the only one left for Craig Breen, so unbelievably, he has no WRC drive. Surely this position will change. Craig is too solid a driver and team player to be left on the sidelines. Although having said that, Haydon Paddon as well as Mads Ostberg also finds themselves out in the cold. Haydon’s former team, Hyundai, has signed Sebastien Loeb for a limited programme. Loeb is contesting the Dakar, which, being concentrated in Peru, is shorter this year, but the Frenchman may still find it a bit tight to get back for the Monte recce.

The opening WRC rally takes place from 22nd to 27th January. One of the other big changes on the Monte is of course Kris Meeke driving for Toyota, with Seb Marshall in the ‘hot seat’. So, that makes Tanak, Meeke and Latvala the main players for Toyota, World Champion Ogier and Esapekka Lappi for Citroen, Sunninen, Evans and Tidemand for Ford, Neuville, Loeb and Mikkelsen for Hyundai. This is quite a line up and of course subject to change as the season progresses.

Here at home it is relatively quiet for the first few weeks of the New Year, but of course it won’t be long before the Valvoline Forest series rolls into action with the Wm Loughman Rally, which will run on Sunday 20th January, not Saturday 19th.

Brian & Liz Patterson