Irish Notes 13th February 2019

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle on way to victory in Galway.

Waterford’s Craig Breen defended his ‘FIA Priority Driver’ status on last weekend’s Corrib Oil Galway Rally by taking victory. However his win, by 14s over Alastair Fisher, was hard earned. Both drivers were in Fiesta R5 machines, Craig co-driven by Paul Nagle, Alastair by Gordon Noble. The first stage was very late starting, so the drivers were faced with cold tyres on their cars and slippy wet roads with almost zero temperatures. Several of the lead drivers were caught out by the circumstances, including former Tarmac Champion Sam Moffett who slid his Fiesta R5 into the scenery, as well as the up and coming driver Phillip Allen, in a similar manoeuvre. Craig Breen almost fell into the same predicament. Following an overshoot he was down in 4th after that opening test: behind Garry Jennings, Alastair Fisher and Josh Moffett.

Phillip Allen and Stephen McAuley

The 2nd stage suited the R5 cars rather than the Jennings Impreza WRC, and it was Alastair Fisher who led after that one. Jennings and Breen then battled for the lead for a couple of stages before the Jennings Subaru suffered a damaged rear wheel in a ditch. From then on the story at the front was all about Breen, harried but not really threatened by Fisher. Craig has registered for and now leads the Tarmac Championship. He has expressed his intention of contesting more Irish events this year, although of course hoping as well for a return to the WRC. It is interesting that this time last year he finished 2nd on the WRC Swedish Rally.

Other results in Galway included Damien Tourish/Domhnall McAlaney winning the National category in their Escort, Ray Cunningham/Adrian Cusack taking the Historic honours in their Mini Cooper ‘S’ and Michael Cahill/Paul Curran clinching the Junior category in their Civic.

Also last weekend the Mid Antrim MC ran the Rosspark Hotel Targa Rally. Robert Woodside/Bruce Drummond took a clear win in their Toyota MR2. Mark Francis/Adam Hilditch were 2nd and Eric Patterson/Raymond Donaldson 3rd, both crews in Mazda MX5s. In contrast to Galway, the event was run in bright conditions and the competitors seemed to have really enjoyed the event, complementing the club afterwards, particularly in regard to a having a nice bowl of Irish stew supplied at the lunch halt!

Another rally last weekend, but a bit further away, was Rally Sarma in Latvia. Oliver Solberg, co-driven by Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston in their VW Polo GTI R5 in the snowy conditions, took an impressive victory to add to their Latvian Championship win last month. Seventeen year old Oliver will spectate on this weekend’s Swedish Rally, where his mother and father, Petter and Penile, will be attempting to win the Historic section once again in their Mk2 Escort.

On the subject of the Swedish, the classic Torsby based winter Rally has an impressive line up of the established World Rally Championship top drivers, as well as many of the up and coming young Scandinavians hungry for success, recognition and fun!. There is snow and ice on the stages at the moment, but the weather forecast is for falling and then rising temperatures, which may mean gravel rather than the white stuff for the 2nd pass of the stages. The top end of the list contains all the works drivers: Ogier and Lappi for Citroen: Sunninen,Tidemand and Evans for Ford: Meeke, Tanak and Latvala for Toyota: Neuville, Mikkelsen and Loeb for Hyundai, the latter driver sure to add a bit of extra sparkle to proceedings. A wild card is former multiple world rally champion Marcus Gronholm to drive a Toyota Yaris WRC.

There are many R5 cars, with just some of the top names being Mads Ostberg in a Citroen, Kalle Rovanpera, Henning Solberg, Rhys Jones and Eerik Pietarinen in Skodas, Gus Greensmith in a Fiesta, Christian Ole Veiby in a VW Polo.

Two more events taking place this weekend are the Cambrian and Fivemiletown Forestry. On the latter event, just some of the top crews entered include Andrew Purcell/Brian Hoy in a Fiesta R5, with Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty and Conor McCourt/Caolan McKenna in similar machines. Martin Cairns/Peter Ward have entered in Martin’s Fiesta WRC and Escort crews include Shane McGirr/Pierce Doheny Jnr., Adrian Hetherington/Gary Nolan and Vivian Hamill/Andrew Grennan. Mitsubishi Lancers of various specifications seem a popular choice, and just some of the drivers include Michael Carbin, Niall McCullagh, Patrick O’Brien and Eoighan Rogers, while Paul Britton will drive his GpN Impreza.

The Cambrian Rally is the opening 2019 counter of the both the British Rally Championship and the BTRDA. Top seeds in the BRC part of the rally are Pedro Heller, Alberto Heller and defending British Champion Matt Edwards the top three, all in Fiesta R5s. Tom Cave, David Bogie and Marty McCormack are seeded at 4, 5 & 6. Cave will drive a Hyundai R5, Bogie and McCormack both in Skodas. The top ten is completed by Josh Moffett, Desi Henry, Jonny Greer and Alex Laffey. Further drivers making the trip from here include Brendan Cumiskey, Alan Carmichael, William Creighton, Josh McErlean, James Wilson, Jordan Hone and Marty Gallagher. New York based Enda McCormack is flying over to do the rally in a Fiesta R5, with Paul Sheridan co-driving.

The other section of the rally, running under National B, is for the BTRDA contenders. Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson and Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson are the top two seeds in their Fiesta WRCs, while Niall Henry/Damien Duffin are at 3, to drive a Citroen DS3 R5. Other drivers from here include Will Corry in a Fiesta R2, David Kelly in a Fiesta ST and Noel Lappin in a Ford Escort Mk2.

News on the home front includes the launch of the McGrady NI Rally Championship at Stormont. Main changes include a revision to the points structure plus an increase from 7 rounds to 8. The constituent rounds are Kirkistown next weekend (23rd February), Bishopscourt (9th March), Maiden City (6th April), Down Rally (20th July), Lakeland Stages (7th September), Bushwhacker (21st September), Tyrone Stages (19th October) and Glens of Antrim (9th November).

(L-R) Gavin Campbell (Chairman of N.I. Rallies Committee) with competitor Hamilton Bell in the Mitsubishi Mirage RS rally car as well as Fintan McGrady and Aidan Hughes of McGrady Insurance.

On the International front, Nasser Al-Attiyah is to contest the Qatar Rally next month in a VW Polo GTI R5 supplied by Ken Skidmore’s Autotek Motorsport concern. There are quite a few of the new Polos in Sweden also, which inevitably poses the question of when are we going to see one come to our shores?

Brian & Liz Patterson

Irish Notes 6th February 2019

“Wide Open” is the only conclusion possible when weighing up the odds regarding who will be in the winning frame on this weekend’s Corrib Oil Galway Rally. There are many potential winners amongst what is one of the best Irish entries for many’s a long day. There is a train of thought that Craig Breen must be favourite, having raised his game so high on the World Rally Championship. Then there is the opinion that the two Moffetts, Josh and Sam, are so well tuned in to their Fiestas, they are going to be hard to beat. For many others, there is nothing to equal the sight and sound of a hard driven Subaru Impreza WRC, and goodness knows, Garry Jennings, the last Galway winner, is the man to drive it on the door handles as well as the rev limiter. The opening stage of the loop of three, repeated three times, should suit the Subaru, the middle stage maybe not so much, as it is tight and twisty in places, the third one, maybe 50 – 50! Alastair Fisher at number 5 has been away from the stages for a while, is now a proud father, and perhaps has a bit of catching up to do, but has a good Galway R5 pedigree. Rounding off the top half dozen seeds is Declan Boyle, always so very quick, but this time in a new R5 Fiesta for the first time, so who knows how quickly he will switch on. Really, looking on down the seeded entry list, there are so many top drivers who, if they hit the sweet spot on the day, will be hard, difficult, to beat. Intriguing really. There are several young drivers in R5’s who may not have the experience of a Donagh Kelly, a Declan Boyle or a Manus Kelly, but who could spring a surprise – coming to mind for example are Fermanagh’s Jon Armstrong in a Fiesta R5, and Cookstown man Phillip Allen in Skoda R5.

Stephen McAuley (L) and Phillip Allen (R)

It is interesting how many drivers have acquired R5’s – for example Kevin Barrett’s son Paul, who is entered in a Fiesta R5. It is thought that at least 25 R5’s will start. One disappointing aspect of the entry is the dearth of R2 cars on this rally – William Creighton for example is seeded at number 40 in his Peugeot 208 R2, with his closest opposition coming from Ronan Denning, who is seeded at 92 in his similar Peugeot 208. There is a decent ‘Modified’ entry, with Damien Tourish, Damien Toner, David Condell and Stuart Darcy the leading protagonists in their Mk2 Escorts. The historic entry includes Adrian Kermode in his Porsche 911, David Goose and Raymond Johnston in their respective Escorts, and the amazing Ray Cunningham in his Mini Cooper. There are cars of all shapes and sizes in the entry, while perhaps the most charismatic of them all is the Metro 6R4 of Ray Breen. There should be something for everyone then on this opening event of the 2019 Irish Tarmac Championship. Oh yes, and Michelin are giving away some tyres – 6 to the winner, four for 2nd and 2 for 3rd. Now, we wonder who will be getting the six?  A bit of an anomaly here. No matter what, whether they win or not – WRC drivers Garry Jennings, Joe McGoningle nor Niall Maguire won’t get the six complimentary tyres – they will only go to drivers of R5 cars!!

Late Galway news – Niall Maguire’s Subaru has a clutch problem and will not be starting, co-driver Anthony Nestor is slotting in with Paul Barrett.  Brian Brogan is tipped to be a late entry.

There was little rallying last weekend – the famous ‘1000 Shakes’ event did go ahead in West Cork, based in Macroom. Owen Murphy/Daire Hayes took victory, with James Fitzgerald/Ken Carmody and Derek Mackarel/Muireann Hayes tying for 2nd in the points. All the top drivers drove Subarus. In the Hewison Trophy Autotest at Rosenallis, Guy Foster (Mini Special) took the honours by a narrow margin from Peter Grimes (Mini-Nova Special) and with Ian White (Mini Special) 3rd. At the MG Club’s Autotest at Delamont Country Park on the shores of Strangford Lough, Jeremy Tomalin (Ford Special) won from his brother Tim (Mini Special). Ian McCann was 3rd and Andrew Earney 4th in his Yaris. Fastest man on the day was Ashley Lamont in his Westfield, but the autotest champ only agreed to do the event if he was not included in the results – his performance was quite a yardstick!

Last week we mentioned that West Cork, round 2 of the Irish Tarmac Championship, as well as being a counter in the British Championship, is well on course with the organisational route. The rally this week made the stunning announcement that Mikko Hirvonen, the winner of 15 WRC events as well as helping Ford to win the World Rally Manufacturers title in 2006 & 2007, has asked for an entry on this year’s West Cork Rally. The entries officially open this Friday. Mikko has just won the Legends Boucles de Spa, driving a Ford Escort Mk2 and that is what he plans to drive in Clonakilty. Now that will be something!

Just launched are the regulations for the Ballynahinch Club’s Bishopscourt stage event, to take place on Saturday 9th March. The event will the 2nd round of the McGrady Insurance NI Championship, and the event is sponsored by the same company – McGrady Insurance.