Motorsport UK has announced that in anticipation of motorsport restarting in the UK from 4 July, it is inviting permit applications from 1 June.
Motorsport is currently suspended throughout the UK until 30 June 2020. Following ongoing positive dialogue with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and having set out its strategy and anticipated conditions for restarting motorsport disciplines, the governing body is now moving to its next phase of getting the sport back on track.
Any resumption of motorsport is contingent on event organisers demonstrating that they can plan in accordance with the guidelines of Motorsport UK, while respecting government guidance on social distancing.
Motorsport UK is also acutely aware that different devolved territories of the UK may be moving at different paces in easing restrictions; any application for an event permit will be subject to approval based on the prevailing government advice. The move is also contingent on governments continuing with measures to open up society and that further restrictions resultant of any additional waves of COVID-19 are not required.
David Richards, chairman of Motorsport UK, commented,“In March, Motorsport UK moved quickly and in line with government to suspend motorsport, while everyone’s priority was restricting the spread of this terrible disease and protecting the NHS. It is now right that, as government has set out plans to ease restrictions, we move in step and introduce the next stage of our phased restart. Unlike many sports, motorsport in the UK is an industry in itself, employing tens of thousands and contributing billions of pounds to the UK economy.”
“We always said that, when the conditions were right, we would take a responsible decision to resume motorsport in order to sustain the sport, jobs and the economy. We have explained our plans to government and are fortunate that motorsport takes place outdoors over large controlled spaces. Our plan is that, subject to government advice and ongoing lifting of restrictions, motorsport will resume from 4 July. We are making this announcement now as event organisers, venues, preparation specialists, the supply chain, volunteer Marshals, Officials and Competitors all need time to put in place their plans.”
There will be a number of caveats of granting event permits, including that event organisers commit that their events will be held behind closed doors, appropriate PPE requirements are met, and that each organiser must appoint a COVID-19 officer to ensure compliance with any relevant guidelines. Furthermore, there will be a limit on the number of permits issued for July to 50% of those in the corresponding month of 2019, in order that there are sufficient volunteer Official and Marshal resources available to support the restart in a safe and responsible manner. No national or British championship events will take place in July to reduce potential national and international travel (excludes FIA championships).
Due to the current situation regarding COVID-19, both the National Stages Rally Championship and the National Forestry Rally Championship are cancelled for 2020.
This decision has been taken as a result of several rounds of both championships being cancelled due to the restrictions which we now live under. Even though some events may run later this year, no event will hold National Championship status for 2020.
Motorsport Ireland would like to acknowledge the large amount of work put into both championships by the respective championship sub-commissions and the Rally Commission as a whole. Many of the rounds were fully organised and we thank the clubs for the huge effort that they have put into their events, hopefully some of them may run this year. We would also like to thank the championship sponsors for their continued support over many years, Triton for the National Stages Rally Championship and Valvoline for the National Forestry Rally Championship, along with many other associate sponsors.
Omagh MC confirmed yesterday (18.5.20) that the annual Bushwhacker Rally has been cancelled while the RallyNuts Stages which had already been re-scheduled to August was cancelled on Monday.
As Motorsport UK release their latest “Getting Motorsport Back on Track” statement – It looks like the resumption of rallies is a long way off. The most restrictive of the of the recommendations is regarding co-drivers and reads “Vehicle Sharing/ Passengers/ Co-drivers – It is unlikely that vehicle sharing, passengers or co-drivers will be permitted while social distancing is to be respected”.
Motorsport UK Extends Suspension of Motorsport Permits to 30th June
In light of recent developments in the COVID-19 crisis, and following the address to the nation by the Prime Minister on the evening of 23rd March, Motorsport UK has today extended its suspension of all organising permits and Certificates of Exemption for motorsport events until at least 30th June.
This move provides clear guidance to event organisers, venues, competitors, officials and volunteer marshals of the role that Motorsport UK must play in supporting the broader UK public health agenda.
In recent days the feedback from our members and the community was a need for increased clarity to allow them to plan appropriately and, should the need arise, put in place necessary contingency measures.
Motorsport UK Chairman, David Richards explained, “Motorsport UK has a vital role to play with its community in re-inforcing that, at this time of national emergency, we must all stay at home to play our part in protecting the NHS and ultimately saving lives. Today, the government have required that we effectively lock-down for a period of three weeks, however given that the most vulnerable in our society are required to isolate for three months, it is evident that the most responsible course of action was to propose a longer suspension of our sport. When we reflect back on this time, it will be a brief, but vital, hiatus from our everyday motorsport life and we must put this in perspective. This is a time of national unity and we need to come together with the broader public community to do all we can to support this battle and ultimately save lives.”
Motorsport UK will continue to monitor the prevailing advice from the UK Government in respect of the COVID-19 international pandemic and will update the motorsport community accordingly.
As a consequence of the ongoing health emergency and in accordance with the measures being implemented globally to counteract and contain the spread of COVID-19 all events permitted by Motorsport Ireland are suspended until the 1st June 2020. This date may be revised but we will at all times be guided by government policy and what is the right thing to do on a national level.
All clubs affected by this suspension of events will be reimbursed the deposits which they have paid to Motorsport Ireland and we encourage those clubs to work directly with us with a view to hopefully running their events at a later time. These are extraordinary times such as we have not experienced before but one thing is certain we will come out of this, unfortunately no one can put a time on when that will be.
Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families that the virus has affected and to all those club members who for months have been devoting time and energy to the preparation of their 2020 events. We share their disappointment and wish to express our solidarity and support.
Reality hit home hard last weekend when, because of COVID-19 West Cork Rally was cancelled, followed by the deferral of the Moonraker forest rally, Formula 1 Australia, Circuit of Kerry, the ERC Azores, the Circuit of Ireland and various other events. Whether these and probably many more Motorsport activities will be able to run later in the year remains to be seen. WRC Mexico was cut short to enable the participants to catch the few available flights homeward as the world-wide COVID-19 tightened its grip. Just when activity will return to some form of normality remains to be seen.
The Mexico result seems slightly unimportant in the light of everything that is happening, but for the record Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Yaris) scored an outstanding victory in the hot, difficult, dusty and bumpy conditions. This was Ogier’s 6th Mexico win, and along with the other top drivers was again a demonstration of their superb skill and courage. Ott Tanak clipped a rear corner of his Hyundai early in the event, damaging a rear suspension, costing around 40 seconds. Current World Champion Tanak did well to fight back to 2nd place, 27 seconds behind Ogier. Although he showed great speed, Tanak’s Hyundai team mate Neuville was relegated to ‘Super Rally’ when his i20 spluttered to a halt. He did re-start on the Saturday leg and set several fastest times. The 3rd Hyundai team member, Dani Sordo, retired his car because of mechanical problems.
Teemu Suninen upheld the Ford M-Sport team honour with a fine 3rd place, but there was despair for the Cockermouth squad when Esapekka Lappi’s Fiesta WRC burst into flames and was burnt out at the stop line of the 2nd running of the El Chocolat stage. Elfyn Evans had a decent rally, but he was hampered by having to sweep the loose surface gravel through the Friday leg and 4th was the best that the Yaris driver could do by the Saturday evening halt. The Welshman was equal first with Neuville in the WRC points starting the rally, but Ogier has now surged into the lead with 62 points, while Evans is now 2nd on 54 and Neuville 3rd with 42.
The next scheduled WRC event was to be Argentina, but it has been cancelled. Kalle Rovanpera (Yaris) was 5th in Mexico. Pontus Tidemand (Skoda) was 6th overall and was best of the R5 drivers. Young Oliver Solberg and his NI co-driver Aaron Johnston started the rally with a flourish but were soon stopped because of a smashed sump on their VW Polo R5. John Coyne/Stephen Joyce did well to bring their Fiesta R5 into 15th overall. Barry McKenna/James Fulton had been going very nicely, but were sidelined on Friday afternoon when their Skoda R5 cried enough.
Although many events were cancelled last weekend, the Malcolm Wilson Rally did go ahead and was won by Adrien Fourmax/Renaud Jamoul in an M-Sport Ford R5 Mk2. Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) were 2nd and Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer) 3rd. Leslie Hawe/Alistair Barker in their Mazda MX5 won the Snowdrop Rally from John & Jonathan Henderson (Micra). Darrell Burns/Jordan Burns (Fiesta) were 3rd.
In overall terms, Motorsport Ireland has asked for all events to be suspended until at least March 29th. In reality, this suspension will continue for some time. Motorsport UK initially seemed to be following the line of the UK Government and leaving it up to individuals to look after themselves. However earlier this week the UK Motorsport stance hardened and all Motorsport action seems now to have been ruled out. Most clubs in any case were opting for the safe ‘postpone’ route. No one can predict what way this pandemic will go or how long it will last, so a re-start date is unpredictable.
The main aim at this time is for people in the sport to do their utmost to stay safe, for their own sake, for their families and for all those whom they may be in contact with. To all involved we extend our best hopes and wishes. We will certainly be going into lockdown, and as there is little likelihood of any meaningful Motorsport for a while, suspending Irish Notes.
McGarrity switched to a Fiesta WRC for the McGrady Insurance backed event winning by just over 10s. Photo by: Kerney Automotive Media
Former multiple NI Rally Champion Derek McGarrity steered himself back into 2020 title contention by winning last Saturday’s Ballynahinch MC Bishopscourt Stages. Newtownabbey man McGarrity switched from a R5 Skoda to an ex Damien Cole Fiesta WRC for the McGrady Insurance backed 6 stage event, and had a different co-driver as well in the shape of Damien Garvey. Despite being baulked a few times by other cars Derek led from start to finish. Second place throughout was Derek McGeehan, co-driven by his son Mark. Their Mini WRC had a close encounter with a couple of the lorry tyres marking out the course, but survived to finish just over 10 seconds behind McGarrity. Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist seemed to be heading for 3rd but a last stage incident dropped them down the list and allowed Kieron Graffin to take the final podium slot. Graffin was in a Fiesta R5 co-driven by his daughter Amy. The top six was made up of Kevin Kelleher/Martin Brady in 4th, although their Subaru was blowing steam on the final stage, Emma McKinstry/Kenny Hull 5th in their Fiesta R5, despite a couple of spins, and Jason Mitchell/Kenny Bustard 6th in another Fiesta R5.
Just some of the other notable results included: James and Heather Kennedy (Escort) best in the 2wd category, Andrew Bushe/Ivor Lamont in their Chevette HSR won the Historics after a stirring battle with Andy Johnson in a similar car, Philip White/Kyle Diffin won the Micra category, Gary & Keith McEvoy took the competitive class 8 in their Lancer. Other class winners included Daryl Sproule/Stephen Caldwell (Astra), Robert & Sara Erwin (Corolla), Sam Adams/Michael Johnston (Escort), Niall & Ciaran Carey (BMW), George Robinson/Tommy Speers (Fiesta) and Emma McKinstry/Kenny Hull (Fiesta R5).
Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley (VW Polo GTi R5) won the TF Royal Hotel/Casey’s and Mulroy’s Londis Mayo Rally, the opening round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship. Photo: Martin Walsh.
On the Sunday Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley (VW Polo GTi R5) won the tough Mayo Rally, the opening 2020 round of both the Triton Showers National Championship as well as the Sligo Pallets Border series. Josh Moffett appeared to be on course to take the laurels but his Hyundai failed to proceed after stage 8 of 9, low fuel pressure suspected to be the culprit. Roy White/James O’Brien slotted into 2nd place. Their Fiesta WRC had suffered a puncture during the day which cost some 40 seconds. This misfortune seemed to shake White up somewhat and his times improved in the latter part of the rally and in fact he was fastest on the final test, the ‘power stage’. Gary Kiernan/Ryan Moore produced a bionic drive in their Mk2 Escort to finish 3rd, and best two wheel drive from the equally hard charging David Bogie, also in an Escort. Scottish visitor Bogie had Cushendall man John Rowan co-driving. Just over 3 seconds separated the two Escorts at the finish, following an epic battle.
Peadar Hurson looked to be heading for a solid podium place but he crashed his Fiesta WRC out towards the end. Jason Black/Karl Egan (Starlet) were 5th and Declan McCrory/Stephen O’Hanlon (Fiesta R5) 6th. Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre were 8th in their Lancer and won GpN. Mickey Conlon seemed to be heading for a top ten finish but the Escort driver got caught out by a bump towards the end and he non-finished. Others to hit misfortune on what was a demanding and difficult day included Eugene Donnelly, Niall Maguire, Derek Mackarel and Damien Toner. Just 50 cars finished the main rally, plus a few in ‘Super Rally’. These included William Creighton whose R2 Fiesta suffered a broken wheel. Eamonn Kelly/Conor Mohan won class 2 following a good run in their Fiesta R2T. Shane Norris/Anthony McDonald won the Junior section in their Civic.
Looking forward to this weekend, the home rally action shifts to West Cork, one of the biggest events of the rally year. It is a counter in both the Irish Tarmac and the British Rally Championship. The organising Cork Motor Club may be taking some precautionary measures in the light of the current Covid-19 situation.
Current Tarmac Champion Craig Breen and his co-driver Paul Nagle in a Hyundai head the 150 strong entries. British Champion Matt Edwards from Llandudno, with Darren Garrod co-driving is at 2 in a Fiesta R5. Alastair Fisher is next up, with Gordon Noble once again the co-driver. The pair won the opening Tarmac series round (Galway) in a Polo GTi, but switch to the latest development Fiesta R5 for this one, the same specification as the Matt Edwards machine.
West Cork Rally top seeds – Craig Breen and Paul Nagle – in their Ulster Rally winning Hyundai i20 R5. Pic Mark McCullagh
Previous West Cork winner Robert Barrable will drive the same Dom Buckley VW Polo GTi as Alastair Fisher drove in Galway. Reckoned to be as fast as anyone in the British Championship, Tom Cave, best West Cork BRC finisher last year, starts at 4 in a Hyundai. Fresh from winning the Mayo event and a previous multiple West Cork winner, Donagh Kelly, is at 5 and Sam Moffett 6. There are so many absolutely top drivers in this rally, it is impossible to predict who will come out on victorious at the end of the fourteen fabulous fast flowing stages around Clonakilty. A couple of ‘dark horses’ could be Welshman Rhys Yates who switches to a Polo GTi R5 for this weekend, as well as the ‘quiet man’ from Carryduff Jonny Greer who will debut the very latest ‘factory’ Citroen C3R5.
An unknown quantity will be the talented Josh McErlean, on his first big Irish BRC trip in a Hyundai R5. Billy Coleman Award winner Josh is in at the deep end a little in this company. Really though, the number of talented drivers in the line up is extraordinary – think Desi Henry and Josh Moffett in Hyundais, the fast improving Meirion Evans (Polo GTi), the always spectacularly quick and determined local man Owen Murphy. He is in a Fiesta R5 for the first time, Ollie Mellors in a Proton, as is Eugene Donnelly: a great, great line-up.
Expect fireworks as well from the young drivers in RC4, particularly William Creighton, Eamonn Kelly, David Kelly, Brian Brady and Scottish visitor Finlay Retson, all in R2 Fiestas. Always on the West Cork the battle for modified honours is intense and top candidates for the spotlight this time include Gary Kiernan (Escort), Kevin Gallagher (Darrian) and Kevin Eves (Corolla). In addition, there is a decent line-up of Historic cars in their own division, plus ten Juniors, all in Civics, who will join in on the Sunday.
In Championship terms, Matt Edwards, who won the opening round on his home Cambrian Rally, leads the BRC points on 25, with Osian Pryce on 18 and Rhys Yates 3rd on 15. The Irish Tarmac points are led by Alastair Fisher following his Galway win. After that the following positions, at the time of writing this, are still provisional.
Rally Mexico 2019, Dani Sordo, Carlos Del Barrio, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC Photographer: Helena El Mokni copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH
Also this weekend, we have the WRC’s annual visit to the high altitude, bumpy dusty Mexico stages. As ever the rally has received a low entry but mostly the WRC people who matter will be there. It is early in the season, and already there is speculation as to which driver will be the dominant factor in this year’s Championship. Current World Champion Ott Tanak, now switched from Toyota to Hyundai of course, has made an inauspicious start to the year, as has Neuville. The Hyundai team engineers have been working on improving the ‘aero’ on the i20 R5, so it will be interesting to see how that works out. Dani Sordo joins the team for this one, but no Craig Breen, who will of course be in West Cork. The ‘man of the moment’ on the WRC must be Elfyn Evans, his switch to Toyota seemingly injecting a new momentum into the Welsh driver. So far Elfyn has eclipsed his illustrious team-mate Sebastien Ogier, and Elfyn must surely be looking over his shoulder at the rocket-ship teenager Kalle Rovanpera. The Toyota Gazoo Racing team has been so fast ‘out of the blocks’ on the opening two WRC rounds this year, that they must surely have the Hyundai team scratching their collective heads. Of course the Mexico stages have a reputation for turning reputations on their heads.
There is just one other team in the WRC this year – M-Sport Ford. The Cockermouth based squad has made a decent start to the season, but not earth shattering. Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Sunninen will need to get their fingers out if they are going to shake their rivals. Also in a Fiesta WRC for this one is Gus Greensmith, but to a certain extent the British driver is still learning the ropes. There are some surprising entries further down the list: seeded at 34 is Barry McKenna/James Fulton in a Fabia R5, while John Coyne /Stephen Joyce (Fiesta R5) are at 37. The R5 category will surely be very hotly contested, and it will be interesting to see how young Oliver Solberg and his co-driver Aaron Johnston from Omagh get on in their VW Polo GTI R5. They certainly have some tough opposition, although there is no Mads Ostberg this time. There is a small National event tagged on the back of the 38 International/WRC entries, and the ever dramatic Ken Block, driving his fabulous Escort RS Cosworth, should feature.
Snow forced the postponment of the Abbeyfeale based Keltec Limerick Forest Rally. Photo: Martin Walsh.
Strange thing this climate change: it can result in some freak weather, like the Limerick Forestry being blanketed by snow for the 2nd year in succession. Actually, blanketed is probably too strong a word, it was more light snow on top of ice – a lethal combination. The rally was due to take place last Sunday but this time the event didn’t get going at all, and that was despite huge efforts by Clerk of the Course Anthony Nestor and his team to make it happen. As the event was to be round two of the MI Valvoline Forestry series, it would still be ideal for it to run some time in the near future, so a fresh date is being sought, 19th April. This would be after the Cork club’s Moonraker, which presumably will now be called round two.
The Breen/Rowen combination took an impressive podium last weekend in Finalnd.
There was snow in the expected place, though not a huge amount, on the SM Ita Rally in Joensuu, Finland. There, Craig Breen, co-driven this time by John Rowan in a Hyundai R5 was competing. The event was won by Emil Lindholm in a Skoda R5, with Breen and Rowan in their i20 R5 3rd. This was a new enterprise for Craig and John, and came about as a tyre testing exercise for MRF. Although there was not a huge amount of snow and conditions were quite bright, temperatures were down to minus 10. The stages on the rally have been used before and are quite well known to the Finnish drivers, and with rallying being a National sport there, the Irish pair’s 3rd overall was a good achievement.
Also in faraway places, Bangor Co Down’s Michael Orr co-drove Yazeed Al-Rajhi to 2nd place on the Manateq Qatar Cross Country Rally. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel took the victory, both crews in Toyota Hilux machines.
Closer to home, Derek Mackarel/Conor Boylan in their Subaru Impreza took 1st o/a on the Cavan Motor Club’s navigation trial at Bailieboro. Martin Tynan/Fintan Clerkin were 2nd and Shane Dalton/Seamus McTigue 3rd, also in Subarus.
This weekend coming the home rally action will be focused on the Triton Showers MI National Championship opener in Castlebar. Current Champion Josh Moffett heads the 90 strong entry. Monaghan’s Moffett, who will be co-driven by Andy Hayes as usual, is entered in a Fiesta R5 but indications are that he will drive the Hyundai R5 which saw him take victory in Birr two weeks back. Behind Moffett is a varied top ten entry with a great mix of cars and crews, many of the drivers former National Champions. 2nd on the road is Roy White/James O’Brien in their usual Fiesta WRC, then its Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley in Donegal man Donagh’s VW Polo GTi R5. The always quick Peadar Hurson is at 4, the Co Down man only making sporadic rally appearances these days as his plastics business is taking up so much of his time. Peadar will be co-driven by Damien Connolly in their Fiesta WRC.
The run of top ten four wheel drive cars is interrupted by three very competitive Mk2 Escorts, to be driven by three equally competitive drivers – Gary Kiernan, multiple Scottish Champion David Bogie as well as Damien Toner. Such is the challenging nature of the stages it is hard to gauge just how well the 2wd Escorts will fare. One thing is for sure, it will take some very brave driving to come out on top on this event, no matter how many driving wheels the car underneath them has! A fresh name to the rally is another talented driver from Scotland, Euan Thorburn. He drives a Focus WRC and could be a dark horse here. The top ten is made up of two National Championship stalwarts – Niall Maguire at 9 and series sponsor Kevin Barrett at 10, both drivers in Subaru Impreza WRCs. Eugene Donnelly is a late entry in Mayo in his Proton Iriz R5
Just some of the other divisions in the rally that will create their own interest include GpN, where Trevor Bustard, Neil Tohill, Niall Devine, Tomas O’Rourke and Colin Flanagan, all in Lancers, should feature. In the R2 category William Creighton and Eamonn Kelly, both in Fiestas, should be the men to beat. Clerk of the Course David Breen has laid out a three stage format, each stage repeated three times in the Partry type terrain which should make for a dramatic start to the Championship.
2019 Bishopscourt winners Derek McGarrity and Sean Topping. picture:William Neill/NEILLPICS.CO.UK
Also this weekend the 2nd round of the McGrady NI Championship takes place at Bishopscourt. Derek McGarrity, co-driven by Paddy Robinson is the No.1 seed. Derek is entered in a Skoda R5, but it has been sold into Italy and he will now drive an ex Damian Cole Fiesta WRC. Stephen Wright is the current champion and also leads this year’s points following his win at the Kirkistown opening round. Stephen cannot make the trip to the Co. Down venue this weekend, as he has another commitment. The NI series consists of just 5 rounds this season, with all results to count, no dropped scores. Derek McGeehan, co-driven by his son Mark in his Mini WRC, had good run to 2nd place at Kirkistown and is the number 2 seed for Saturday. When asked about his Kirkistown performance, McGeehan said, “Aye, we had a good wee run. I don’t mind the wet, and the new Michelin wet tyres worked very well.’ Derek went on to say that he is currently rebuilding his ‘good’ engine which suffered a dropped valve last year and he is running his more standard WRC engine. Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist (Fiesta R5) are at 3, Kieron and Amy Graffin (Fiesta R5) at 4, Chris McGurk/Liam McIntyre (Fiesta R5) at 5 and the top half dozen is rounded off by PJ McDermott/Niall Burns (Impreza WRC).
A surprise entry comes from Kevin Kelleher (at 7), who is travelling up from Clonakilty to compete in a McKinstry Impreza WRC S14, as a warm up, to get some seat time, for his home West Cork Rally. Kevin is a talented driver, but has taken a little time away from rallying ‘to look after the new wee one at home!” Martin Brady will co-drive for him at Bishopscourt, and Killian Lynch in Clonakilty. Kevin has competed in Lurgan Park in the past, but never at Bishopscourt. Then at number 8 is Emma McKinstry. The Banbridge lady, who had such a good run at Kirkistown, will drive the ‘family’ Fiesta R5+. At 9 & 10 are two Lancers, to be driven by Liam McFall and Joe McQuillan. This Ballynahinch and District MC organised event has received just over 60 entries to date.
One week after the Bishopscourt & Mayo events it is the turn of the classic West Cork Rally, while the World Rally Championship resumes with Rally Mexico. West Cork is of course round two of both the Irish Tarmac and British Rally Championships so has attracted a top class as well as capacity entry.
More details next week.
Regards: Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson
Derek Mackarel/Conor Boylan in their Subaru Impreza took 1st o/a on the Cavan Motor Club’s navigation trial at Bailieboro – Photo by Ruaidhri Nash Photography
Last Saturday’s Samsonas backed Fivemiletown forestry rally provided thrills and spills aplenty, with a great battle for the lead throughout the day between Janis Vorobjovs and Cathan McCourt. The Lithuanian Vorobjovs, driving a four wheel drive BMW M3 and co-driven by Ivo Pukis, took victory by 5 seconds from Valvoline Forestry Champions Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty in their Fiesta R5. It was really nip and tuck between the two crews going into the final loop of two stages and Vorobjovs pulled out all the stops. It was a great win for the visitor as he had not driven this particular BMW before, and had never been in the Fivemiletown forests.
Event winners Ivo Pukis (navigator) and Janis Vorobjvos from Latvia in their BMW M3X. Pic: Jonathan McDonald
Callum Devine, not renowned as a forestry exponent, made a conservative start to the day but upped the pace through the latter half of the 10 special stages, clocking a few fastest times, to take 3rd place in his Hyundai R5. Devine made a few set up changes to the car during the day, which helped, and then was going so hard towards the end the rear screen blew out. The rally was a counter in the new McGrady Insurance Forest Challenge, and has automatic enrolment, which means the finishing order on the rally will also be the championship standings after this opening round.
Number 1 seed Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey (Fiesta R5), last year’s Fivemiletown winners, were 4th. Patrick & Stephen O’Brien (Fiesta R5) were 5th, having led the rally initially but dropped both time and confidence because of a time consuming stage 3 overshoot. Conor McCourt/Caolan McKenna, also in a Fiesta R5, rounded off the top half dozen.
David Condell & Paul Kelly were the top 2 wheel drive exponents in their Escort. Adrian Hetherington had set the earlier 2wd pace, closely followed by Shane McGirr, but both retired at the halfway mark. Ryan Barrett/Paul Barrett then led 2wd for a while, but they also departed the fray. Other notable retirements included Scottish visitor Freddie Milne, Marty McKenna and Martynas Samsonas. Next round of the NI Forest Challenge is not until September on the Enniskillen Lakeland Stages.
Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5). Photo: Martin Walsh.
On the Sunday then it was the turn of the Birr Stages. Josh Moffett in his Hyundai i20R5 made a quick start, built up an early lead and was able to maintain a decent gap to the end, winning by 27 seconds from Desi Henry in a similar Hyundai and with Ollie Mellors 3rd in his Proton Iriz R5. National Champion Moffett had Andy Hayes co-driving. They had done some testing in the car following their Galway Rally outing and were certainly on the ball in Birr. Desi Henry, who was co-driven by John Rowan, felt a little unfamiliar with his mount at the start, and commented afterwards: “We had a good day, but a bit messy at times. It was a very fast rally, but conditions were difficult. The fields were full of water after heavy overnight rain, and the roads were streaming in places. The 2nd loop of stages weren’t quite so bad, although we lost a little time with a burst brake pipe and also we caught Stephen McCann in a stage as he was struggling with a broken drive shaft. Still, I don’t think we could have caught Josh, but we were more or less holding his times towards the end. We have a few improvements we can make now before West Cork”.
It wasn’t a bad rally for the Mellors Proton team as Eugene Donnelly managed 4th in his Iriz R5. Welshman Steve Wood (Fiesta WRC) was 5th and Stephen McCann, also in a Fiesta recovered to finish 6th.
Ollie Mellors on his way to a podium finish in Birr – Pic: Crspics.com
Major retirements included Ian Barrett/Paul McGee who crashed their Darrian on the first stage. Josh McErlean lost so much time with a puncture on his Hyundai that he didn’t continue. Daniel Cronin lost time, reportedly with a broken driveshaft on his Fiesta, and he battled back to 8th. Best 2 wheel drive was Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien & John Butler in their Escort MK2.
Further afield, Bangor’s Allan Harryman co-drove Ioannis (John) Papadimitriou to victory on the Rally Della Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. They were in a Skoda R5 Evo. Also abroad, Gary McElhinney co-drove Steve Perez to 2nd o/a on the Rally Ponent in Mallorca. Perez was driving a fabulous historic Porsche 911 and was up against more modern machinery.
Closer to home Fergil Gregory won the Leinster Lincoln and Nolan Sporting trial at Glendalough. David Meeke was 2nd and Richard Meeke 3rd.
After a difficult Birr Rally, Desi Henry is now looking ahead to West Cork in a few weeks time. Pic: Martin Walsh
Rally action at home this coming weekend will mostly be centred on the Limerick Forestry, through the hilly hinterland between Newcastle West and Castleisland. Hopefully the weather will be a mite kinder than it was this time last year when a sudden plump of snow caused chaos. Billy Coleman Award winner James Wilson and his co-driver Arthur Kierans in their Hyundai currently lead the MI Valvoline Forestry, of which this is round 2, and Keady man James will doubtless be going flat out to reinforce his advantage. Andrew Purcell‘s Fiesta R5 has reportedly recovered from the crisis that beset it on the Carrick on Suir event, and he also appears to be determined to give the rally a good go.
Other top names include: 2wd Forestry Champion David Crossen is competing in Limerick, as is Mickey Conlon, but doubtless there will plenty of other Escort devotees determined to grab a slice of the glory. Clerk of the Course Anthony Nestor has laid out three really good stages, each one repeated, and this looks as if it could be a seriously good rally – if the snow stays away!
Below is a short sample video along with our usual stage data samples for the Mayo Stages Rally 2020. We have completed our pre event recce and the notes and video are ready for posting from Posting from Thursday 27th Feb to Wed 4th March.. The rally has moved back to more traditional territory, although it is some time since the rally has run in the Castlebar – Westport area. Three stages done three times that reflect the area well with a mixture of some high speed roads (SS1) with some fairly technical stages (SS2&3). It should prove to be a good challenging start to the 2020 Triton National Championsip.
Mayo Stages Rally 2020 – Stage Data.
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Storm Dennis didn’t deter the North Armagh Club’s marshals, officials or winner Stephen Wright at the Pacenotes Magazine Kirkistown Rally last Saturday. In contrast conditions on the Swedish Rally were balmy compared to what used to be thought of as the norm in that Nordic land and Welshman Elfyn Evans ploughed his Yaris WRC through the gravel to a fantastic win. On Sunday the rain had somewhat abated for Carrick on Suir’s Wm. Loughman forestry event, and there it was James Wilson who took the glory to open his 2020 Valvoline account.
Sensational in Sweden! A victory in Sweden has moved Elfyn Evans into joint lead of the Driver’s Championship.
Co-driven in their Toyota Yaris WRC by Scot Martin, Elfyn Evans’ Swedish win was not only sensational in itself, it moved Elfyn into the joint lead, with Thierry Neuville, of the World Drivers Championship. Elfyn won Wales Rally GB a couple of years ago with M-Sport, and then several times he has led WRC rallies, only for victory to slip through his grasp. There was no such disappointment this time for the Welshman, and the calibre of the drivers behind him served to emphasise the magnitude of his achievement. Ott Tanak finished 2nd, and perhaps that can be considered fairly noteworthy also, considering the violence of the World Rally Champion’s crash on the Monte. 19 year old Kalle Rovanpera was 3rd and won the power stage. What, a 19 year old showing the cream of world rallying talent the road home? Fantastic! This young man, like Elfyn Evans on only his second outing with the Gazoo Toyota team, must surely be a future rallying force to be reckoned with.
Certainly this was a different kind of Swedish because of the mild weather, lack of snow, a mixture of ice gravel and mud on the stages, but it was basically the same for all the drivers, so Rovanpera’s showing was no fluke.
Behind Evans and Neuville at the top of the WRC drivers points with 42 apiece, Ogier is 3rd on 37, Rovanpera 4th with 30, Lappi 5th (24) and Tanak 6th (20).
Elfyn Evans and Scot Martin celebrate their magnificent result in Sweden.
Craig Breen/Paul Nagle finished 7th on the event, Craig feeling that, after his break away from WRC, it took him a little while to get in the groove. Young Oliver Solberg, with Omagh’s Aaron Johnston co-driving, looked to be heading for an R5, WRC2 podium finish, but their new Skoda picked up a puncture on the final stage and they lost several minutes to finish down the order. Solberg did set some cracking times in the 2nd part of the rally. Fermanagh’s Jon Armstrong was competing in the Junior section of the rally but unfortunately his Fiesta R2 was sidelined on the Friday.
At Kirkistown on the Saturday, as the wind and rain fairly hurtled across the exposed expanse of the disused runways, Stephen Wright, with Gary McKenna co-driving in his Fiesta R5 had a day long battle for supremacy with Derek & Mark McGeehan (Mini WRC). Current NI Rally Champion, Stephen Wright, came out on top by 5 seconds from the father and son McGeehan team. Derek McGarrity, who is usually so fast around Kirkistown, finished 3rd in a Skoda Fabia R5. Derek reckoned that not having driven the Skoda on a wet road, (the stages were streaming!) he was too slow to get in the groove. Paddy Robinson was co-driving for McGarrity. Some consolation for McGarrity was that his son Michael, driving a Peugeot 208, won class 4. Michael had Damien Garvey co-driving.
Winners of the 2020 Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages, Stephen Wright and Gary McKenna – Pic Jonathan McDonald
Some of the other class winners included Andrew Bushe/Ivor Lamont taking the Historics in their Chevette HSR. Marshall Kennedy/Wendy Blackledge won class 2 in their Peugeot 306 GTi. Philip White/Kyle Duffin had a great run in their Micra Kit Car to secure Class 3. Sam Adams/Michael Johnston (Escort) won class 5. There was a terrific tussle between Keith White and James Kennedy for two wheel drive honours, with White finishing in front. Both were in Escorts, but in different classes – Keith White/Gavin Campbell took the class 7 honours, James and Heather Kennedy class 6. Andrew Bustard/Martin Harte (Lancer) won class 8 and Liam McFall/Matthew McKenna, also in a Lancer, class 9.
Keith White and Gavin Campbell won the 2WD category in their Ford Escort MkI. Pic Jonathan McDonald
On the Carrick on Suir Forestry James Wilson, co-driven by Arthur Kierans in their Hyundai i20R5, had an unopposed run to a clear victory on this opening round of the Valvoline Forestry Championship. No.1 seed Andrew Purcell was sidelined at the end of the opening stage. Michael Carbin/Conor Mohan (Lancer), held 2nd place throughout the day and finished the six stages 41 seconds behind Wilson. Liam Ryan/Keith Moriarity (Fiesta R5) finished 3rd o/a, a further 38 seconds back. Gary Kiernan/Daren O’Brien were best two wheel drive in their Escort, finishing 5th o/a, while South East Champion Mickey Conlon, also in an Escort, was 7th o/a and 2nd two wheel drive. Jordan Hone has taken somewhat of a break from rallying, and he came back on this event with a bang to finish 9th o/a in his Opel Adam and took victory in class 2. Jordan was co-driven by his father Paul.
Armagh’s James Wilson (Hyundai i20 R5) and co-driver Arthur Kierans won the Willie Loughman Carrick-On-Suir Forest Rally. Photo: Martin Walsh.
News stories this week include Craig Breen announcing an extension to his programme, contesting the Finnish Championship, starting with Ralli SM Itaralli, driving a Hyundai R5 and co-driven by Co Antrim’s John Rowan. Their first event will be on the 29th February at Joensuu. John has stood in for Paul Nagle a few times at test sessions with Craig, in Italy and France, but this will be another ball game: ‘Full-house’ competition with Craig and in Finland as well for the first time. John commented, “I’m well chuffed!”
Another driver heading to far off places is Frank Kelly. His ‘baby blue’ Escort is ready to be trailered over to Spain for the Rally Costa Bravo. His daughter Lauren will co-drive in that one. From there the trailer will be hitched up to travel down into Italy for a rally at Pesaro on 27/28th/29th March. This will be a sort of ‘superspecial showboating’ rally for Frank, and his wife Rose Marie will co-drive for him, for the ‘first time since the youngsters were born!’. From there it will be hitch up the trailer again for a rally in Switzerland, at Saignelegier, Jura on 17th/18th April. Then there will be a long haul for the Finnish Ikaalisten Kylpyla Rally on 8th/9th May. The enormously well respected and admired Frank has received all sorts of help offers from organisers and various others to see this exciting rally excursion through, and has planned it well also to take advantage of good value flights back and forward in between times, so that he can do a bit of work in his security camera business as well. Fair play to him – living life to the full when he has the opportunity!
Another driver wanting to do something different this season is Forestry two wheel drive Champion David Crossen. Along with co-driver Aileen Kelly he does propose a warm up plan to contest the Limerick Forestry at the end of this month. However, having concentrated on the Valvoline Forestry series for quite a few years, he is then picking a variety of rallies: for example, the Circuit of Ireland is on the menu and Tipperary Stonethrowers, plus three forest rallies ‘across the water’ in the BTRDA series. Aileen Kelly has been doing a sterling job for David, but the Cork lady has been making some progress in USA rallying and that is probably where she will end up this season, leaving David with a vacant seat to fill. PS: David has just become the father of a baby boy, William. The new arrival and mum Shelley are doing well!
News of a different sort is that it would appear that the new tracking system introduced to Irish rallies a few weeks ago has been voted down by many of the clubs. This is as much about the rising level of entry fees as anything. So it would appear for now that the tracking will only continue on a very limited basis.
Date Change: the Ballyvourney based Moonraker Rally, 3rd round of the forestry series, is being brought forward from the 18th April to the 28th March. The change was due to some unavailability with the Rally HQ, the Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney.
Kevin O’Driscoll from the West Cork Rally has reported that there are 55 entries received to date which represents a busy start.
This coming weekend the rally action switches to the Fivemiletown Forestry Rally on Saturday and the Birr Stages on Sunday. The Fivemiletown event has Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey at 1, Valvoline Forestry Champion Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty at 2 and Conor McCourt/Caolan Mckenna at 3, all three crews in Fiesta R5s. Then at 4 is Janis Vorobjovs/Ivo Pukis, in a BMW M3X. Last September the Lithuanian driver Martynas Samsonas came to the Bushwhacker in a not dissimilar BMW and displayed a clean pair of heels for most of the day to our top local drivers. Could this be more of the same? Martynas Samsonas is in this Fivemiletown entry, but surprisingly listed down at 15. His BMW is to be co-driven by Ervinas Snitkas. Samsonas is in the suspension business and is sponsoring the rally. Another surprise package on this rally is the inclusion of Callum Devine at number 92 as well as top Scottish driver Freddie Milne at 93. Devine is listed to drive his usual Hyundai i20 R5, with Brian Hoy co-driving. Milne is to drive his Subaru Impreza WRC S14 and with the experienced Patrick Walsh in the hot seat. Rounding off the top half dozen for Saturday is Michael Carbin/Conor Mohan (Lancer) at 5 and Patrick O’Brien/Stephen O’Brien, also in a Lancer at 6.
Martynas Samsonas (right) will compete in his BMW at the Samsonas Rally Fivemiletown Pic Jonathan McDonald
The entry has all sorts of talented drivers, as well as surprise packages. Top two wheel protagonists are likely to be Shane McGirr in his Starlet (on his home patch) and with Denver Rafferty co-driving. Immediately behind Shane at 22 and 23 are Ryan Barrett/Paul McCann and Paul Barrett/Gordon Noble, both crews in Escorts. Just some of the other top Escort drivers include Oran Donnelly, David Condell and John Gordon. The above is just skimming the surface of the 90 plus entry of talented drivers. Should be an interesting 10 stages. This Samsonas Rally Fivemiletown is the opener for the new McGrady Insurance NI Rally Challenge and represents an alternative to the main NI championship which is now all tarmac.
On the Sunday then the Birr Stages or Abbeyleix Manor Hotel Tarmac Stages to give it its proper title, has also attracted a good entry. Particularly so as the event is not a round of the Triton this year: but it is a counter in the South East Stages. Tarmac Champion Josh Moffett, with Andy Hayes co-driving in his Hyundai i20R5 has entered, along with top drivers such as Owen Murphy in his newly acquired Fiesta R5, while Daniel Cronin, Stephen McCann and Aaron McLaughlin are all entered in Fiesta R5s. Steve Wood is making the trip from Wales to drive his Fiesta WRC. Keith Moriarty will be co-driving. Clerk of the Course Bill Ryan was worried that the rally wouldn’t receive a decent entry, but it seems to have worked out well, with 90 plus crews listed in the main entry. An innovation this year is a ‘demo run’ of Group B type cars. Just some of the entries include Conor Falvey in a Porsche, Ivan Warwick in his very special Quattro: James Tannahill in a Peugeot 205 T16 and Mike Dunnion in his Vauxhall Chevette HSR. The rally is being sponsored by Pat Horan Motors (Camper Centre) and Oliver Stanley Motors, Durrow. Indeed, most of the rally action is around Durrow.