Irish Notes 27th February 2019

Last weekend marked the beginning of two more home Championships, the McGrady Insurance NI series and the Triton Showers National. Stephen Wright won the former, Josh Moffett the latter. Wright, who was driving his Fiesta R5 on the Kirkistown based rally, had Keith Rainey co-driving. Wright was 2nd o/a after the opening stage, then slid back to 6th place after stage 2, fought his way back to 2nd and then led when it mattered, at the chequered flag at the finish of stage 6.

Kirkistown Winners – Stephen Wright (R) and Keith Rainey (L)

Current NI Champion Derek McGarrity appeared to be heading for the win, but a power steering pipe on Derek’s Fiesta WRC developed a leak on the penultimate stage and provoked a bit of a fire alarm when the car arrived at service. This transpired to be no problem, little more than a puff of smoke, but Derek decided not to risk the £200,000 car on the final stage in case the temporary repair, that his engineer Paul had effected, gave way in the stage. Darren Gass recently acquired a Skoda R5 in Estonia and following a cautious start to the day brought it into 2nd place o/a, with Derek McGeehan 3rd in one of his Mini WRCs. Kenny McKinstry, Alan Carmichael and Joe McQuillan made up the top six finishers. Best 2wd was James and Heather Kennedy in their Escort. Colm McFall won GpN and Drew Wylie the historic category.

Just over 70 crews started this North Armagh MC Pacenotes Magazine sponsored rally. Interestingly, there were a lot of road penalties handed out to drivers who took shortcuts at chicanes. However through all the drama it was Stephen Wright and his co-driver Keith Rainey who took the kudos and now lead the NI Championship.

Meanwhile on Sunday’s Birr Rally, cold, damp, foggy conditions greeted the drivers, who almost without exception described their first stage exploits akin to ‘driving on ice’. Fog and damp roads featured in different degrees throughout the day. It was Josh Moffett and his co-driver Andy Hayes who made the most of the conditions and led from start to finish. Even Josh described the conditions as difficult, unsettling. His closest rival, also in a Fiesta WRC, was Declan Boyle and his co-driving cousin Brian Boyle. They did manage fastest time on the final stage, by less than a second from Josh Moffett. This earned Boyle a bonus point in the Triton Showers National Championship, but Donegal man Boyle still had to accept 2nd place in the rally and in the Championship. Roy White/James O’Brien were 3rd in their Fiesta WRC. White was unhappy with his tyre choice on the opening loop of three stages, but pulled back time as the rally progressed, to move ahead of Peadar Hurson/Damien Connolly, 4th at the end. David Bogie/John Rowan made a conservative start to the rally but set some lively times later on to move into 5th. Sam Moffett/James Fulton had a suspension problem with their Fiesta to begin with, but produced a more solid performance towards the end to take 6th.

Winners of the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel Rally, the opening round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship, Josh Moffett (right) and Andy Hayes pictured with Jenny Kent (Abbeyleix Manor Hotel) and Bill Ryan, Clerk of the Course. Photo: Martin Walsh.

Some consolation for Declan Boyle was that his son Michael put up a brave performance, despite a clutch issue with his Mitsubishi, to win GpN from Niall Devine. Dermot McCaffrey was co-driving for the younger Boyle: Liam McIntyre for Devine. James Stafford in his Darrian put up the best 2WD showing, ahead of Kevin Eves (Corolla).

This weekend coming, the home rally focus will be on the Limerick Forestry, a counter in the Valvoline series. Top seeds will include Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell in their Fabia R5, Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty in a Fiesta R5 and Marty McKenna/Martin Brady in a Fiesta WRC. The two wheel drive contenders are also well represented, with David Crossen, Adrian Hetherington, Gary Kiernan, David Condell and Mickey Conlon just some of the top Mk2 men entered. Shane McGirr should be back in his Starlet for this one, to make life tough for the Ford men.

In a last minute decision Frank Kelly is hoping to be in Limerick on Sunday, but is not at all sure he will have the car ready. Frank’s gravel car is on the high seas, on it’s way to New Zealand where Frank is competing on two gravel rallies, the Otago and the Whangarei. Between the two events there will 600 km of gravel stages. Not having done a gravel stage for some time, and having seen the quality of the Limerick stages on the DVD, he thought it might not be a bad idea to compete in Limerick, with his daughter Lauren co-driving, as she will be in New Zealand with him. Having originally planned his first home outing this season to be West Cork, suddenly Frank is caught up in a whirlwind of flying ‘Snap-On’s’ to get the Tarmac Escort into forest trim. He remarked from his Moy, Co. Tyrone base, “We should get there, and I could do with the seat time, I’m fighting hard to make it.”

In the small engined category in Limerick, some of the top drivers include William Creighton, Marty Gallagher and Derek Mackarel. In total the event has around 80 entries, ‘sign-on HQ’ is in Rockchapel / Mount Collier GAA, and the three stages repeated are Fornane, Mount Eagle & Mullaghareirk.

Further news stories include West Cork Rally having a total, including Historics and Juniors, of around 180 crews, with most of the top BRC and Tarmac Championship contenders committed.

The 21st – 23rd June Donegal International Rally has received a tremendous boost with the news that World Superstar Celebrity driver Ken Block intends to compete.

Gary McElhinney was co-driving for Seb Perez last weekend in a historic Amigos Porsche 911 Carrera on the Mallorca Rally Sol De Ponet (a historic car in a modern rally), where they finished 4th o/a.

Clonakilty driver Cal McCarthy has acquired a Citroen DS3 R5 and could be amongst the front runners on his home West Cork Rally. Eamonn Dullea will return to co-drive again for Cal.

The Cartell.ie backed Killarney Rally of the Lakes (3rd/4th/5th May) has received a major boost in that actor and Killarney native Michael Fassbender is to compete on the event and also act as an ambassador for the rally.

Michael Fassbender

Fassbender is somewhat of a motorsport fan, having competed in the North American 488 Challenge and is currently competing in the Porsche Cup Series.

Brian & Liz Patterson

Irish Notes – 20th Feb 2019

Irish Notes 20th February 2019

Well that was busy weekend’s rallying, with Tanak winning the Swedish, Matt Edwards the BRC Cambrian and Niall McCullagh the Fivemiletown.

On the Swedish the level of competition was immense, the speeds equally so, with several of the top drivers paying a heavy price for attacking the snow banks too hard. However Ott Tanak in his Toyota Yaris never put a wheel wrong, and although under pressure at times, especially from Teemu Sunninen and Thierry Neuville, Tanak and his co-driver Marko Jarveoja just kept upping the ante to win by over 50 seconds. Sunninen did lead for a while, but spun his Fiesta and lost some positions, then crashed it out of contention. Still, it was impressive from the Ford driver while it lasted. Latvala also showed great pace, but he spun his Yaris off the road. Just seconds separated Lappi, Neuville, Mikkelsen and Evans towards the end, but Lappi in his Citroen held on to finish 3 seconds ahead of Neuville in his Hyundai.

Mikkelsen (who is being dropped from the Hyundai team for Corsica while Dani Sordo steps in) lost a little momentum on the final day to take 4th, Elfyn Evans 5th and Kris Meeke, hampered by road position especially when the tracks turned slushy and gravelly, was 6th. Tanak, who also won the power stage, now leads the WRC points with 47, Neuville is 2nd on 40, Ogier, despite finishing down the order in Sweden following an ‘excursion’, is 3rd on 31. Kris Meeke is 4th, which is not the end of the world for the Dungannon man as the WRC circus now moves to gravel stages, with Rally Mexico.

WRC 2 in Sweden was won by Christian Ole Veiby in one of the new VW Polo GTI R5s, with Gus Greensmith (Fiesta R5) finishing quite a few places further back after a steep learning curve of a rally which still earned him enough points to retain his WRC Junior lead. Rhys Yates also managed a decent finish in his similar Skoda R5. In the Historic section Petter Solberg took victory once again in his Escort.

On the British Championship Cambrian Rally, the opening counter of this year’s British Rally Championship as well as the BTRDA, British Rally Champion Matt Edwards in his Fiesta R5 scored a start to finish win on what is effectively his home rally. Matt was pushed all the way by Tom Cave, but his Hyundai was sidelined after the final stage and within sight of the Llandudno finish, because of three punctures. This left David Bogie 2nd, Marty McCormack 3rd, Desi Henry 4th, Josh Moffett 5th and Alberto Heller 6th. Jonny Greer did seem to be heading for a top six finish but his Fiesta R5 succumbed to a blown radiator. There was a fascinating battle through the rally by the five Junior competitors from here who made the trip. At times during the rally just over a second covered the five drivers, until William Creighton very impressively pulled ahead. However James Wilson eventually came out on top when Creighton’s Peugeot 208 suffered a puncture, Creighton closing to within 1.9 seconds of Wilson at the finish. Marty Gallagher was 22s back after the 10 stages, Josh McErlean 1.6 seconds further back and Jordan Hone another 5s down. Euan Thorburn made an impressive return to rallying and won the BTRDA section by 3 seconds from Charlie Payne.

Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey on way to an impressive win in Fivemiletown.

The Fivemiletown forest rally, or to give it its full title ‘Samsonas Spring Rally’, was won by Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey in their GpN Lancer. This was a great result for McCullagh. Cathan McCourt appeared to be heading for the winning frame but crashed his Fiesta R5 out towards the end. Michael Carbin, also in a Lancer, finished 2nd, Martin Cairns was 3rd. Adrian Hetherington was running a different type of engine in his Escort for this one and, co-driven by Gary Nolan, achieved a great result, 4th overall and best two wheel drive. Shane McGirr was 2nd best 2 wheel drive, this time in his Escort as his Starlet is having its engine overhauled.

This weekend coming we have several good rallies on the cards, including the North Armagh Club’s stage rally at Kirkistown as well as the opening Triton Showers National series counter, the Birr Stages.
Birr, or the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel Rally to give this Triton Showers National Championship 2019 opener it’s proper title, has a top ten bulging with former Champions. No.1 seed is last year’s winner Roy White with James O’Brien co-driving again in their Fiesta WRC. Behind them is current National title holder Declan Boyle who reverts to his revamped and re-liveried Fiesta WRC for this season, and also has Brian Boyle back in the co-driver’s seat. Making up the top six is Josh Moffett, Sam Moffett, Peadar Hurson and Joe McGonigle. The latter will drive the only ‘non Ford’ from those six, the McGeehan Mini WRC. Making up the top ten is multiple Scottish Champion David Bogie, followed by Niall Maguire, Kevin Barrett and Steve Wood. It would be fair to say that any one of the top ten seeds could grab a big result as well as a bagful of Triton points. CoC Bill Ryan has laid out a very interesting set of three stages close to Borris-In-Ossiry, each repeated three times, which should provide for a great day’s competition. The service area is at Donaghmore Agricultural Museum Workhouse.

Championship sponsor Fintan McGrady takes invited media out for a spin around Kirkistown Race Track. Image: Graham Curry

The North Armagh Club’s Kirkistown based Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages is the opening round of this year’s McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Championship and the 75 entries will be headed by current Champion Derek McGarrity driving a Fiesta WRC. Derek McGeehan (Mini WRC) and Alan Carmichael (Mini WRC) make up the top three seeds.

Recent news releases include the always popular Carlow Stages having a launch night on the 20th April, and the actual rally on the 12th May. The event is not a round of the Triton Showers National series, but is a counter in the Midlands East Championship. The format is as per ‘Mini Stages’, 2 x 3 format, HQ is the Seven Oaks in Carlow and the entry fee is €580. As usual on the Carlow Stages, really enjoyable stages are on the menu.

Bob McKeown is the co-ordinator for the McGrady Insurance NI Championship and he reminds us that the only way to register for the Championship this year is on Paddy McCollum’s Rally Score results website – www.rallyscore.net.

The Killarney Rally of the Lakes organisers have been working hard to increase the scope of their May Bank holiday event, and working in conjunction with Motorsport Ireland have introduced a new category, catering for a pre 1990 section aimed at GpB and the early GpA cars. Although not actually timed through the stages, the drivers will enjoy all the classic stages such as Molls Gap and Healy Pass, which should be quite a sight for the spectators.

The forthcoming Limerick Forestry Stages event (3rd March) is well advanced in the planning. Clerk of the Course Anthony Nestor and many key members of his team have even gone to all the trouble of a dress rehearsal of the stages set up, which was brilliant for people like ourselves to make the notes. There are three smooth good stages, each run twice, and the rally is round two of the Valvoline forestry series.

The UAC has announced that the Wastewater Solutions backed Easter Stages, round three of the Irish Tarmac Championship, has published their regulations and entry form, which can be checked out on www.uaceasterstages.com

West Cork Rally organisers report that the entries are cascading in at a great rate of knots, and that they are up to 125 crews, taking all categories into consideration. The event is the 2nd round of both the Irish Tarmac and the British Rally Championship. Strangely though the top BRC drivers haven’t entered as yet, although maybe it is too soon after the Cambrian. Alastair Fisher, Josh Moffett and Daniel Cronin are amongst the ‘Tarmac’ entries although Josh is also contesting the BRC. Miko Hirvonen has confirmed his participation in the Historics. The rally press officer Kevin O’Driscoll tells us that the event is receiving a lot of interest from ‘1st time’ Welsh crews, mostly in the Modified category.
Brian & Liz Patterson

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.