Irish Notes 11th September 2019

Last weekend’s Lakeland Stages provided plenty of action, with Desi Henry/Damien Connolly in their Fiesta WRC keeping Sam Moffett/James Fulton (Fiesta) at bay, Desi winning by 22 seconds. Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty kept their Fiesta R5 in the hunt throughout to emphasise their Valvoline Championship winning form this season to take 3rd, just 11 seconds behind Moffett. Vivian Hamill/Andrew Grennan had a good run to 4th in their Fiesta R5, Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley seemed to get to grips with their Fabia R5 and they were 5th, with Patrick O’Brien again showing a lot of class to take 6th in his Lancer. Thomas Nugent was co-driving for O’Brien. David Condell & co driver Paul Kelly were the top 2wd finishers in their Escort from John Gordon/Thomas Wedlock, also in an Escort.

Lakeland win sets Desi Henry up for a late title challenge.

David Crossen was the expected 2wd front runner but he damaged the steering rack of his Escort and the car snapped sideways exiting a stage 3 corner and his rally finished in the ditch. Also in a sheugh was Shane McGirr, his Starlet sliding off on a ‘6R>’, fortunately with no damage, but stuck. (Shane is still on course for the Galloway Hills Rally.) Adrian Hetherington also retired his Escort. Such was the pace over the Lakeland’s many big crests and dips, the retirement rate was high. Surmounting all the challenges, Kyle White/Sean Topping in their Peugeot 208 R2 won their class and achieved ‘best junior’ on the day tag. Marc Johnston/Colin Irvine won class 5 in their Escort and Stanley Orr/Graham Henderson in their Mk1 Escort RS1600 won class 10, best Historic.

The rally was a round of both the NI Championship and the Valvoline Irish Forest series. In the NI Championship Derek McGeehan, co-driven by his son Mark, still leads the points after finishing 13th. Derek told us that he took it fairly easy over the big jumps dips first time through, also finding the stages slippy. Second time through he gave his Mini WRC its head and in one place it virtually landed on its headlamps. He got away with it, but it was a reminder that even WRC cars have their limits. Besides which, Derek has the car hired to David Bogie for this weekend coming, to drive on the Galloway Hills. Derek McGarrity was one of Derek’s closest pursuers in the points table before the rally, but McGarrity retired his Fiesta somewhere around stage 4, reportedly with a damaged wheel. This leaves Stephen Wright as McGeehan’s closest pursuer. Stephen and his co-driver Arthur Kierans brought their Fiesta R5 home in 8th. There are still two rounds to go, which also means that Desi Henry could well come into the title race reckoning.

While competitors were battling through the forests in Fermanagh almost 100 cars were starting the VW Wexford Stages. James Stafford in his Darrian was able to cruise to victory following a massive battle with Andrew Purcell (Fiesta R5). Despite a stage 2 excursion into a field which also involved circumnavigating some cows, Purcell held the lead for a while on the Saturday. Purcell then had a spin on the final Saturday stage which meant Stafford held a slender lead on the Saturday night. Then on the 2nd Sunday stage Purcell, a comparative stranger to asphalt rallying, took a lefthander just a fraction too fast and put his Fiesta off the road and out of the rally. Stafford went on to win by almost 2 minutes from Stephen McCann (Fiesta R5), with Wesley Patterson a very accomplished 3rd in his Mk2 Escort, albeit a further 37 seconds back.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on in Ireland, there were two new closed road special stage events taking place across the Irish Sea. One of them was the ‘Three Shires’, where Martyn and Dawn England took a clear victory in their Fiesta R5. Their winning margin was almost 1minute 30 seconds over Andy Fraser/Alan Jones in a Darrian. Alex Allingham/Ross Weir were 3rd in their Escort, a further 36 seconds back.

Action on the Three Shires Rally

Osian Pryce triumphs on Rali Bae Ceredigion

Then on the Sunday the Rali Ceredigian took place, a landmark event as it was the first closed road special stage in Wales. Osian Pryce/Dale Furniss in a Hyundai R5 had a massive battle with Tom Cave/Dale Bowen, Pryce taking the win by 7.7 seconds after the 8 very demanding, very exciting stages. Cave did have some brake worries which didn’t help his cause. Hugh Hunter was in the top four but retired his Focus WRC with a broken clutch. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke were a brilliant 3rd in a Mk2 Escort, Damian Cole/Max Freeman (Fiesta WRC) 4th. (Cole’s company, ‘Get Connected’, also sponsored the rally). Meilyr Evans/Ruodri Evans were 5th, and Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell 6th, both crews driving Mk2 Escorts. Notable retirements included Merion Evans who led after the first stage but put his Skoda off the road in stage 2, while Hugh Hunter’s Focus WRC suffered a broken clutch and Daniel Harper’s Mini WRC stopped with a broken driveshaft.

Looking forward to this weekend, the Galloway Hills rally takes place on Friday night and Saturday. In Turkey we have a round of the WRC, while at home the Dougie Hughes Memorial Clare Stages will run on this Sunday. On the latter event, former National Champion Roy White is the number 1 seed. Roy will drive his Fiesta WRC with James O’Brien co-driving. Behind White is a strong top line-up, with Ed Synan/Tom Collins at 2 in a Subaru Impreza WRC and Mike Quinn/Tony Healy at 3 in another Impreza WRC. At 4 is Ian Barrett/Paul McGee in a Darrian, with a similar machine at 5, to be driven by Kevin Gallagher. The top half dozen is rounded off by Aidan Wray/Kieran McGrath in their Mitsubishi Lancer. Ian Roche (Impreza WRC) JF Shovelin, Johno Doogan and John Bonner, all three in Escorts, make up the top ten. Just some of the interesting drivers/cars outside of that include Keith Lyons in his Fiesta R5, Gary McNamee at 17 in his Civic, Alan Callaghan at 19 in his Subaru and James Murphy at 20 in a Fiesta WRC.

Over in Scotland, for the British Championship finale Galloway Hills, which has moved its base from Castle Douglas to Dalbeattie, there is a mixed entry, with contenders in both the BRC and the Scottish Championship to face some classic stages. The BRC title fight is between defending Champion Matt Edwards and Tom Cave. In theory Edwards in his Fiesta R5 is well in front in the points race, but both drivers will play their joker which doubles their points for this rally – so both need a result! Cave will drive his Hyundai i20 R5. Just some of the drivers who are in with a chance of a good result include Alex Laffey, Jonny Greer, Alan Carmichael, Enda McCormick and James Wilson. David Bogie has decided not to go for BRC points and he will drive Derek McGeehan’s Mini WRC. There should be some hot action in the Junior division as well, even though Josh McErlean has the title sewn up. There is still a €60,000 prize to be picked up in the Ford Fiesta Trophy – Ruari Bell, James Williams and Finlay Retson are all in with a shout for that one. Also in Junior action will be William Creighton (Peugeot), Marty Gallagher (Fiesta) and Jordan Hone (Opel Adam).

Recently crowned Junior British Rally Champion Josh McErlean will contest Wales Rally GB (3-6 October) in a Hyundai i20 R5. McErlean, from Kilrea in Northern Ireland, sealed the British title on his home round of the BRC – the Today’s Ulster Rally last month – and will now contest Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship in the latest specification R5 machine courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing and the British Rally Championship.

Josh McErlean will drive a Hyundai i20 R5 on Wales Rally GB

News this week includes Elfyn Evans coming back for WRC action. Elfyn will have a new M-Sport Fiesta WRC for his return on Wales Rally GB. Elfyn’s back injury is now reportedly 100% ok, so no doubt he will be trying flat out to repeat his home win of a couple of years ago.

Former co-driver Michael Gibson and his wife Val ran in the Great North Run last weekend, a feat they have accomplished many times, and once again, along with several friends, raised a substantial amount for the Marie Curie Foundation. Michael still does the occasional rally with Neil Simpson. As has happened to so many co-drivers, a back injury some years ago meant Michael reducing his rally activities.

Coming up next week is the always popular Bushwhacker Forest Rally, the next round of the NI Stage Championship. This always popular forest event is as usual based in Omagh and despite losing the Carrickaholton Forest this year, Omagh MC has made up stage mileage with a route including both the Lough Braden stages and the Killeter forests.

The provisional winners after Wexford of the Hugo Loonam Motors Midlands East Rally Championship reads: 1st Billy Nolan & Shane O’Mahony 81 points, 2nd Ritchie Dalton & Jeff Case 75 points, 3rd James Stafford 74 points & Shane Gorman 71.5 pts.

The Cork ‘20’ rally is shifting its rally HQ hotel from Macroom to Little Island outside Cork as the Riverside Hotel unexpectedly closed a few weeks ago. As usual the Cork ‘20’ stages are an absolute delight, really brilliant, and the new more streamlined format should mean that a driver could complete his ‘recce’ in one day.

Regards: Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson

Irish Notes 4th September 2019

Irish Notes 4th September 2019

 

On last weekend’s Woodpecker it was Ollie Mellors who took the win from relative newcomer to 4wd, George Lepley. The latter was just 20 seconds down at the finish having set several fastest times in the latter part of this quite tough forest stage event. Stephen Petch was 3rd. Sean Devine, co-driven by Niall Burns in his Fiesta R5, made one of his now occasional rally outings and got a decent result, 15th o/a.  Marty McCormack was 17th o/a and 2nd Historic home in his Mk2 Escort. Barney Mitchell was co-driving for Marty. The Historics were won by Tom Llewellin, also in an Escort. Marty remarked after the rally, “It was hard to get back into the Mk 2 after the R5. There is a lot more driving in it, it was some shock on the first stage, steering heavy, arms aching! We started on the wrong tyres, dropped about 30 seconds. The stages were quite slippy. Still it was a valuable outing for the Roger Albert Clark.” Magherafelt man Marty went on to say that he is going to try a Mellors Motorsport Proton R5 this week, possibly to use on this coming weekend’s Ceredigion. His own Skoda R5 needs a shell after its tumble on the Ulster Rally.

 

Also last weekend the MG Car Club ran their Ulster Classic Trial through farmyards in Co. Down and David Cochrane/Ruth Steele in their MG Midget just pipped Will Corry/Adele Kennedy in a similar car for the win. Robert and Catherine Dickson were 3rd in a Morris Cooper S.

 

This weekend coming on the two day Wexford Rally, James M Stafford in his Darrian heads a 90 plus strong entry. Local man Stafford should have strong opposition, with Gary Kiernan at 2 in his Escort, Mike Quinn, again driving a Subaru WRC at 3. Richard Moore starts at 4 in an Escort and the top six is rounded off by Stephen McCann and Andrew Purcell, both in Fiesta R5s. Tomas O’Rourke at 7, this time driving a Hyundai i20 R5, should go well. Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson, who has lots of Wexford experience over the years, starts at 8 in his Escort, Richard Moffett (Starlet) is at 9 and the top 10 is completed by Kevin Barrett in his Subaru Impreza WRC. The rally is a counting round of the South East Stages Championship as well as the Midlands East series.

 

Also this weekend, on the Saturday the new Three Shires closed road event takes place and then on Sunday it’s the turn of the new Aberystwyth University based Get Connected Rali Bae Ceredigion, the first closed road special stage rally in Wales. As well as a top class entry, the organisers are throwing the kitchen sink at the Welsh event in terms of press coverage. In the middle of all this is the Fermanagh Lakelands Rally, a counter in the Valvoline Forestry Championship as well as the McGrady Insurance NI series. Top seeds are :- (1) Sam Moffett/James Fulton (Fiesta R5):  (2)  Desi Henry/Damien Connolly (Fiesta WRC); (3) Vivian Hamill/Andrew Grennan (Fiesta R5): 4 Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty (Fiesta R5): 5 Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley (Fabia R5): (6) Derek McGarrity/Paddy Robinson (Fiesta WRC): 7 Patrick O’Brien/Thomas Nugent (Lancer): 8 Kenny McKinstry/Kenny Hull (Fiesta R5): 9 Niall Henry/Damien Duffin (Citroen R5) & 10 Derek McGeehan/Mark McGeehan (Fiesta WRC). The latter crew, father and son team Derek and Mark McGeehan, currently lead the NI Championship points table, with Derek McGarrity and Stephen Wright chasing hard. Multiple former Champion McGarrity has had one ‘non score’ this season, as has Stephen Wright, so in a way this increases the pressure on McGeehan. Stephen is seeded down the order a bit; his Fiesta R5 allocated the number 17. Arthur Kierans will co-drive.

An interesting addition to the equation at the front is the addition of Desi Henry. He has only contested one round this season, the Maiden City Stages, which he won, so his Fiesta WRC should be right up with the leaders on this Saturday’s six stages through the woods. John Devlin currently leads the points in the two wheel drive section of the NI Championship. However John has been having a good run on some Tarmac series events outside Ireland with his Escort, and will miss the Lakeland. This leaves the door open somewhat for James Kennedy, Drew Stewart and Kyle White.

 

In the Valvoline series, Cathan McCourt has done enough to take the title for this year. There could be some excitement in the 2wd division, with pacesetter during the year David Crossen hoping to atone for a broken gearbox on the recent Cork event with a good performance here. Just some of the drivers who could make it hot for Crossen include David Condell, Adrian Hetherington, John Gordon and Paul McErlean, all in Escorts. Then there’s Shane McGirr, back in his pocket rocket Starlet. And of course there is Stanley Orr, who seems to forget he is driving a historic Mk1 Escort! We mentioned above that David Crossen leads the 2wd points. His nearest challenger is William Creighton, but his co-driver Liam Regan is driving his own rally car on the event, so William has not entered. There will still be plenty of action amongst the Junior drivers in the smaller category cars – just some include Derek Mackarel, Ruari Maguire, Kyle White, and several more.

 

Despite not running in the Lakeland Stages this weekend, William Creighton is the latest nominee for the Motorsport Ireland Young Rally Driver Award.

Wiliam Creighton – Latest nominee for Motorsport Ireland Young Rally Driver Award

News this week includes the decision announced by Ballynahinch MC that they will not run their Down Rally next year, in order to give the organising team a break. This is some indication of the stress and work involved in running a successful stage rally, especially on asphalt. It may also, although this denied, be an indicator that WRC Rally NI will happen at end of next summer. As matters stand at the moment, this is still far from definite – the FIA dates meeting has taken place, the opportunity is there, but in these uncertain political times, nailing down the complete package of relevant factors is not easy.

 

Events on the near horizon include WRC Turkey, the BRC Galloway Hills and the Clare Stages – all to take place over the weekend of 13th/14th 15th September. Then on the weekend 21st/22nd September we have the Bushwhacker Rally and then on 28th/29th September the Cork ‘20’. Both these latter events have rather streamlined their formats compared to last year. In the Bushwhacker’s case it is rather a matter of needs must as there is harvesting taking place, while the Cork event sees it as a matter of making the event more competitor friendly. 

 

Further stories include Frank Kelly heading to Belgium the weekend after Wexford for the very special Mk2 Escort Rally, and after that on to the San Marino Rally in Italy. Jack Newman is also tipped to be heading to Belgium to compete, as is Paul & Karl Reid, and Richard Whelan.

 

17 year old Oliver Solberg and his NI co-driver Aaron Johnston achieved yet another milestone last weekend when they clinched the Latvian and Baltic Rally Championship by finishing 2nd on the Estonian Louna-Eesti Rally.  Oliver missed out on winning the rally by just over 3 seconds, beaten by George Gross in a Fiesta WRC, 100hp stronger than Oliver’s VW Polo R5.

 

As expected Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive for Hyundai on the forthcoming Wales Rally GB.

 A few pics from last weekends very successful Donegal Deja Vu event.

Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson