Irish Notes 29th January 2020

Last weekend’s Monte Carlo Rally was certainly a dramatic affair. Neuville’s win was charged with emotion, while closer to home, in Donegal, Ryan Loughran produced a very accomplished drive to take the victory spoils, while Will Corry Jnr took the top spot on the MG Car Club event down the Ards Peninsula.

For Irish fans the big news at the end of the Monte was that Craig Breen/Paul Nagle will be driving for Hyundai on the Swedish, the next WRC round. Craig finished 2nd on the Swedish in 2018 and that is why he is joining Neuville and Tanak for the Swedish. Hyundai did plan to test there this week, but reportedly there is not enough snow and ice. (Necessary for the rally to run at all).

Elfyn Evans drove a fine Monte on his Toyota debut. © Toyota

Mixed road conditions however, with some ice, snow, slush, mud, wet and dry conditions throughout were the order of the day on the Monte. Seven times Monte winner Ogier settled into his first drive with Toyota by taking the opening stage win on the Thursday night, but then Neuville blitzed the 2nd stage to take the lead for Hyundai. On the Friday morning World Champion Ott Tanak, on his first drive with Hyundai, crashed out in hugely dramatic fashion, happily without injury. The battle for the lead through Friday and Saturday developed into a three way second- swapping battle between Neuville, Ogier and Elfyn Evans. Even 9 times World Rally Champion Loeb couldn’t get a ‘look-in’ against these three. The Welshman, Elfyn, like Ogier, was on his first competitive run with Toyota. Elfyn led by a couple of seconds starting the Sunday’s four special stages, but he admitted that his driving just didn’t click when it mattered on that final morning, while Neuville drove ‘out of his skin’ to forge ahead and take victory, with Ogier second and Evans 3rd. Esapekka Lappi flew the flag for M-Sport Ford and was 4th. Young Kalle Rovanpera did extremely well to fight back to 5th and Monte master Sebastien Loeb had to be content with 6th this time having picked the wrong tyres for the final morning.

Thierry Neuville gradually reeled in the the Toyota’s on the final to take an historic win on the Monte © Hyundai

It was one of the hardest fought Monte victories ever, which must have made the win all the sweeter for the Belgian Neuville, He now lives in Monaco, and has been close to winning several times. This time the dream came true! Eric Camilli finished 9th on the Monte in a Citroen C3 R5, 40 seconds ahead of Mads Ostberg, who was also in Citroen C3 R5, Mads lost 2 minutes early on in the rally when his Citroen sustained a puncture. Although both were in Citroen R5s, Camilli and Ostberg each won their category, which takes a bit of figuring out.

Eighteen year old rally star Oliver Solberg, who has Omagh’s Aaron Johnson co-driving, managed to finish last weekend’s Monte Carlo in his VW Polo GTI R5, maybe not with a hugely successful result, but did gain a massive amount of experience. For the next WRC round (Sweden Feb.13th-16th) Oliver and Aaron are switching to a new Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. Solberg Jnr is reportedly mighty impressed with the Skoda. Apparently new R5 cars have now to be called Rally2.

On the Donegal Mini Stages Ryan Loughran/Gareth Doherty scored a narrow victory, by just 4 seconds, from fellow Escort crew Damien Gallagher/Mac Walsh. Johnny Jordan/Paddy McCrudden were 3rd in their Starlet, just over a minute further back. Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran (Lancer) were 4th, Marty Toner/Sharon Clarke Moore (Escort) were 5th and William McFadden/Demi McFadden (G3) 6th.

RYAN LOUGHRAN/ GARETH DOHERTY OVERALL WINNER – DONEGAL MINI STAGES 2020 – © DONEGAL MC

Kevin Gallagher/Ger Callaghan led initially, and although the weather was fine, there were still wet muddy stretches particularly at farmyards, and their Darrian incurred a bent rear suspension in stage 3 forcing them to call it a day. The new tracking system on the rally proved to be a success. (Big brother is watching you comes to rallying!)

The Echlinville Distillery based MG Club’s Derek Walker Trial had a maximum entry of 50 plus cars, and despite a recalcitrant reverse gear selector on their MG Midget, Will Corry/Peter Moreland-Moore set the pace through most of the 21 farmyard tests down the lovely Ards Peninsula to score a clear victory over the hard charging Robin Lyons/Reid Thomas in their Mini Cooper S. David Cochrane/Ruth Steele (MG Midget) were 3rd.

Other home events last weekend included the Skibbereen & District Car Club’s 100 Isles Navigation Trial at Aughaville which was won by Diarmuid French/Brian O’Mahony (Impreza) from James Fitzgerald/Ken Carmody also in an Impreza. In fact Aidan Sherry/Oisin Sherlock made it a Subaru Top Three

Looking forward to this weekend the Corrib Oil backed Galway International gets underway on Saturday afternoon with scrutiny followed by a ceremonial start in Eyre Square at 7.00pm. There are three stages on the Sunday each repeated three times, with service in Loughrea. The finish will be at Galway’s Clayton Hotel from 4.30pm. Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy are listed at number 1 in their Subaru Impreza WRC, followed by the cream of the Irish Tarmac Championship contenders, all in various R5 cars. The top six after Jennings are Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble at 2, Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley at 3 in their VW Polo GTI R5, Josh Moffett/Keith Moriarity (Hyundai i20 R5) at 4, Sam Moffett/James Fulton (Hyundai) at 5 and Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo GTI R5) at 6. Heading the Modified/National category will be Pat O’Connell/Mark Wiley in their Lancer, seeded at 22, Eugene Meegan/Sarah Whelan are at 24 in their Lancer, Richard Whelan/James Whelan (BMW) are at 25, Jason Black/Karl Egan (Starlet RWD) at 26, Tom Flaherty/Patrick Curley (Escort) at 27 and Gary McNamee/Darren O’Brien (Civic) are at 28.

David Kelly testing over the Christmas Break

Emerging during the last week is the news that 24 year old David Kelly, a Billy Coleman Award nominee, has his sights set on contesting the Junior section of the British Rally Championship. David, from Donegal, will drive a Fiesta R2. Indeed the BRC Juniors can only compete for the title in a Fiesta R2. Callum Devine, who will tackle this year’s European Championship in a Hyundai i20 R5, has sold his Fiesta to Callum Black. Devine remarked that he would at least be saving Black some money as he wouldn’t have to sign write the Callum on the car. Former multiple Tarmac Champion Eugene Donnelly is collaborating with Mellors Motorsport to offer a prize drive in a Proton R5 to the winner of R2 on this year’s Tarmac Championship. The Proton, which is called an Iriz R5, has been developed by Donnelly to suit the Irish asphalt stages and is available in right and left hand drive homologated configuration.

Eugene-Donnelly’s Proton-Iriz-R5- on the 2020 Cork-20

Ollie Mellors also plans to contest the British Rally Championship in a Proton Iriz R5, starting on the 8th February Cambrian. Interestingly the Llandudno based Cambrian has a small BRC entry, to the extent that the rally organisers may cut the stage mileage in an effort to balance the books.

Early details of the 23rd February Abbeyleix Manor Hotel backed Birr rally reveal that the event will have 2 stages repeated three times. The entry fee is €650. The event is not a round this year in the Triton Showers National series but is a counter in the Top Part West Coast and Hugo Loonam Motors Midland series. The Omagh MC is running their Fivemiletown Forestry stages event on the 22nd February and the club has put in a great effort to prepare the stages. We made the notes earlier this week and couldn’t believe how good the stages are. Niall McGonigle and his team have pulled out all the stops on this one. Preparations are also well underway for Carrick on Suir MC’s Wm Loughman Forestry (16th February), opening counter in this season’s Valvoline MI Forestry series. The Suirway Group South East Stages Rally Championship Awards will take place this Saturday night at Waterford’s Dooleys Hotel. The Wm Loughman event is also a round of the South East Stages series. At a meeting about to take place it seems likely that the entry fee for the Triton National Championship rounds will be standardised at €795 per event, to include the tracker fee and also the benevolent contribution. The idea of the competitors paying a €200 deposit on their tracker transponder will likely be shelved.

Regards, Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson.

Irish Notes 22nd January 2020

Last weekend was a fairly quiet one, Motorsport wise, with 2020 just getting into its stride and promising lots of action to come. There were some events at home and away of course last weekend. In Monaghan Pakie Duffy/Evin Hughes in their Subaru won the Navigation Trial, with Peter Deery/David McCrudden 2nd and Aidan Keenan/Sean Marron 3rd to make it an Impreza top three. At Mondello Christopher Evans was the very impressive winner of the Dave Griffin Memorial autotest, from Eddie Petersen, who was also in a Toyota MR2. Daniel Byrne, who drove a Starlet, was 3rd and won his class.

 

Carlos Sainz on his way to his third victory on the Dakar Rally.

Further afield, Carlos Sainz clinched victory on the Dakar, his 3rd win on the event. It was rather a different marathon this time of course, having switched from South America to Saudi Arabia. That didn’t deter ‘El Matador’. Carlos drove a BMW Mini X-raid and was co-driven by Lucas Cruz.  Nasser Al-Attiyah, also a previous Dakar winner and a genius over the sand dunes, made a late charge in his Toyota Hilux, but couldn’t catch the flying Spaniard Carlos. Nasser did get ahead of Stephane Peterhansel. The very experienced Frenchman finished 3rd in another of the BMW Mini X-raid machines.

 

This weekend coming home action will be focused on the Lagoon Bar and Restaurant (Termon) for the Donegal Mini Stages. There is also the MG Car Club’s Derek Walker Trial on the Ards Peninsula with the HQ at Shane Braniff’s Echlinville Distillery. In the wider world the Monte Carlo rally, opener for this season’s World Rally Championship, has enthusiasts drooling with anticipation of what could be one of the hotly contested rallies ever.

 

In Donegal, Damien Gallagher/Mac Walsh head the mostly local list of competitors. Damien and Mac are in their trusty Mk2 Escort. Clerk of the Course Johnny Baird has picked two challenging stages, each repeated three times, and by their nature a Mk2 Escort should do well. Kevin Gallagher/Gerard Callaghan start 2nd on the road. They are in a Darrian, which could possibly be better suited to the faster 2nd stage. Aaron McLaughlin from Carndonagh and his co-driver Darren Curran are 3rd on the road in their Lancer, and if it is a wet Saturday their Lancer’s four wheel drive car capability could make a difference. The top six is made up of Paul & Karl Reid at 4 in their Escort, Monaghan crew David Moffett/Martin Connolly at 5 in a Starlet and Johnny Jordan/Paddy McCrudden at 6 in a Starlet. The remainder of the top ten reads: JR McDaid/Eamonn Doherty (Escort) at 7, Marty Toner/Sharon Clarke Moore (escort) at 8, Trevor and Kenny Bustard in their Lancer at 9 and James Cassidy/Domhnall Lennon (Escort) at 10. There are several drivers outside that top ten who could come to the fore, and it should be an interesting day.

 

On the MG Car Club’s Derek Walker just some of the top crews include Frank Lenehan/Tim Faulkner (Starlet), Robert & Catherine Dickson (Mini Cooper), Ralph Ewing/Valerie Heron (MG Midget), Will Corry/Peter Moreland Moore (Midget), Simon Woodside/tba (Mazda MX5).

 

All set for 2020!

On the Monte, much has been written and shown as regards the testing exploits of the world’s top drivers preparing for this most famous and challenging rallies, with the hot money on Ogier in his new mount, the Yaris, as well Tanak and Neuville in their team Hyundai i20s. Of course being the Monte, with all the different road and weather conditions in that part of France, it is wide open.

 

On the subject of the Monte, Mads Ostberg has clinched a deal to drive a works supported Citroen C3 R5 on this year’s WRC, starting on the Monte where he is the top R5 seed. At least PH Sport will have some involvement in the Championship, but their WRC team will be much missed, as they always add a touch of class. There is a very strong R5 line up, and it will be especially interesting to see how young Oliver Solberg, who has Omagh’s Aaron Johnston co-driving, fares in this company. Of course experience of the Monte stages is all important. Kalle Rovanpera lines up with the full Toyota Yaris team for this season, and should start the Monte in top form having clinched victory on the Arctic Rally last weekend.

The Countdown begins!

 

Craig Breen has been retained by the Hyundai team in a support role, but will not be competing on the Monte. He is driving the following weekend on the Boucles de Spa Legends, driving a BMW M3. This clashes with the Galway International, which of course he won this time last year and went on to take victory on the Irish Tarmac Championship. The worry over the Corrib Oil supported Galway International not taking place because of a lack of paid up entries has now passed, and the rally is on ‘full steam ahead’ course.

 

Creighton is no stranger to the Ford brand – he drove a Fiesta R5 to a podium place on the Tyrone Stages in 2019. DMC Photos

Kris Meeke and Mikko Hirvonen are also entered for Boucles de Spa. Alastair Fisher has reportedly been testing a Dom Buckley VW Polo GTI R5 with a view to Galway. Sam and Josh Moffett have switched from Fiesta R5’s to Hyundai i20 R5s. Garry Jennings reckons he will be doing Galway in his Subaru. He told us that he hasn’t seen the car since Donegal, that there are a few bits and pieces being done for the rally, and that he won’t sit in it until the day before but ‘it’ll be alright!’ 22 year old William Creighton was a nominee in the Billy Coleman Award scheme and will use the funding in a bid for the British Junior Rally Championship title. Creighton has driven a Peugeot 208 R2 to class success on the Tarmac and Valvoline Forest Championships, but is going to switch to an M-Sport Fiesta R2.

Creighton will bid for Junior British Rally Championship in 2020. Jakob Ebrey Photography

 

Another young driver from Co Down, Daniel Harper, who concentrates on racing, has been awarded the 2019 NI Motorsport Award. Having won major success with Porsche, Daniel sprang a major surprise when he announced that he was joining the works BMW Junior Team this year.

 

Co. Antrim’s Alan Carmichael is one of the first drivers to commit to the new UK National Championship incorporated in this year’s British Rally Championship.

 

WRC’s managing director Oliver Ciesla has outlined plans for the future and these include hybrid WRC cars from 2022 and also that Pirelli will become sole tyre supplier from 2021 to 2024.

 

Regards: Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson

Irish Notes 15th January 2020

Powered by a Hyundai i20 R5, Devine 25, and co-driver Brian Hoy, 26, will receive additional support from FYTH, Curran Gate, The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and Hyundai Customer Racing.

Autosport International at the NEC produced several interesting stories not least that Callum Devine is going to contest the European Rally Championship, driving a Hyundai R5. Co. Londonderry man Devine, a former Billy Coleman Award winner, will again have Brian Hoy co-driving and they will enjoy support from, amongst others, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy as well as Hyundai Customer Racing. He plans to contest all eight rounds of the European Championship, with particular emphasis on the six counters in the ERC1 Junior title. Callum managed a marvellous 3rd overall on the recent Rally Hungary, but is under no illusion that the European series will be easy. It is a big step up the rallying ladder and his realistic aim is to “push on the Tarmac events and keep learning on the gravel rallies, above all get finishes”.

James Wilson said, “I have been very fortunate in that I had the opportunity last year to drive the R5 as part of the extended Billy Coleman Award programme and managed to secure a third place overall at my first loose surface.

 

The European season starts with Azores Rally in late March. Also at the Autosport Show it was announced that young Josh McErlean, current winner of the Billy Coleman Award will also drive a Hyundai R5 this season to tackle the six rounds of the Junior British Rally Championship. Josh is the current British Junior Rally Champion. Keaton Williams will co-drive. The opening BRC round is the Cambrian (8th Feb), followed by West Cork, Clacton, Ypres, Ulster, Galloway and Wales Rally GB. Also in a Hyundai R5 for this coming season is Keady’s James Wilson, with Arthur Kierans co-driving. Wilson is planning to tackle the Irish Forestry series and also selected rounds of the Irish Tarmac. The season will start for James on the Carrick on Suir forestry (16th Feb).

McErlean will pilot a Hyundai i20 R5 on the 2020 British Rally Championship. Photo Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

 

Looking back to last weekend, Derek Butler/Denis O’Donovan won the Cork MC’s 1000 Shakes Navigation Rally, driving a Subaru. Owen Murphy/Daire Evans finished 2nd, with James Fitzgerald/Ken Carmody 3rd, to make it a Subaru clean sweep at the front. The top six was made up of: 4th Aidan Sherry/Oisin Sherlock, 5th Brian Duggan/Eoin Treacy and 6th Denis Murphy/Michael Walsh. Darren O’Mahony won the Novices and Brian Duggan the Beginners.

 

Earlier this week, after stage 8, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (BMW Mini 4wd) led the Dakar Rally, with Nasser Al-Attiyah/Matthew Baumel 2nd in their Hilux. Petterhansel was 3rd. Although Fernando Alonso was 2nd fastest in stage 8, he was down in 13th place in the overall rankings. Reportedly in stage 9 Sainz was losing time and Petterhansel was moving into the lead. There is still a long way to go of course.  Sadly one of the motorbike riders, Paulo Goncalvis, was fatally injured in a stage 7 crash. Paulo was reportedly a really good guy and a very accomplished and successful competitor. Our thoughts and sympathies go to all those involved. The 8th stage was cancelled for the bikes & quads.

Carlos Sainz in action on the Dakar

Looking forward to the Rallye Monte Carlo, just 10 WRC cars are entered. There are no ‘team’ Citroens of course. Three Hyundai team cars are to be driven by Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Loeb. The three Toyotas, with the drivers named as Sebastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and young Kalle Rovanpera make up an all change driver team. Three M-Sport Ford Fiestas are to be piloted by Teemu Suninen, Esapeka Lappi and Gus Greensmith. The tenth WRC will be a Yaris driven by Katsuta Takamoto running under the Toyota Gazoo banner, but not classified as a ‘manufacturer’s entry’.

 

Just some of the other interesting entries include Mads Ostberg in an R5 Citroen, Welshman Rhys Yates in a new Fiesta R5 Mk2 entered by M-Sport and young Oliver Solberg at number 41 in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, with Omagh’s Aaron Johnston co-driving. In terms of who will be doing the winning on this 88th running of the Monte – it is as wide open as ever, with the unpredictable weather adding to the uncertainty. World Champion Ott Tanak will be on his first rally with his new team, Hyundai. Thierry Neuville is in the i20  that he is totally familiar with and having finished as runner up in the world rally championship for the last four years, surely he will be trying extra hard. Former multiple WRC Champion and Monte winner Ogier is certainly no slouch when it comes to the Monte and he will be trying especially hard as he tries to establish himself with his new team, Toyota.  This season, or rather this team is supposedly ‘his final rally fling’. Then of course there is that man Loeb, regarded as the Monte past master and theoretically in the twilight of his rally career. Who would bet against him pulling something special out of the hat? But then the Monte can throw up some surprising scenarios and virtually any of the current lot of WRC drivers could make a dash on this 2020 WRC opener. On the subject of WRC cars, it would appear that well placed senior WRC people are of the opinion that, for better or worse, a hybrid WRC car will just be far too expensive to produce.

 

Looking further ahead, current NI Rally Champion Stephen Wright has placed an entry for the North Armagh’s Kirkistown Rally, opening round of this season’s McGrady Insurance backed NI series. Paul McKenna has also enrolled for the 15th February event. The Galway International is coming together slowly but surely, and a few more top entries to add to last week’s mentions in Irish Notes include Donagh Kelly as well as Merion Evans, both in VW Polo R5s. We forgot to mention last week that David Guest has upgraded to a Fiesta R5. Joe McGonigle, Stephen Wright, Desi Henry and Jonny Greer have all entered in R5s.

 

Regards, Brian, Liz and Michael Patterson.

 

 

Irish Notes 8th January 2020

Irish Notes 8th January 2020

Certainly December is a relatively quiet time in rallying, yet there has been a fair bit of water under the bridge since our last ‘Irish Notes’ three weeks before Christmas. Kilrea’s Josh McErlean was adjudged the Billy Coleman Young Rally driver of the Year, so he will be the recipient of lots of kudos from MI and other sources. Callum Devine received the Manley Memorial Trophy ‘International Driver of the Year’, award at that same MIS Motorsport Insurance backed MI Awards luncheon in Dublin.

Alonso charging back up the Dakar field after breaking a wheel on day 2. DPPI Media

Switching to faraway fields, well desert actually, Co. Down man Michael Orr guided Yazeed Al-Rajhi in his Toyota Hilux to victory on the Sharqiva Baja ahead of Carlos Sainz (Mini JCW) with Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi 3rd in his Peugeot 2008. This win for Al-Rajhi and Michael Orr was enough to seal the Saudi Toyota Desert Championship for them. There was of course much interest in the Saudi Championship as it was anticipated as a warm up for the Dakar.

Closer to home Robert Woodside/Steven Dowds in their Mazda MX-5 won the UAC’s ‘Not the Boxing Day Rally’ against strong opposition. Over 100 cars started the Moira based event and Trevor Ferguson/Gary Campbell were runners- up, while Liam Shaw/Conor Shaw were 3rd to make it a Mazda MX-5 top three. Actually the top six were all Mazdas. Robert & Peter Haslett were 9th in a Yaris and Kevin Daly/Mark Maxwell 10th in a Hyundai Accent.

On the Maiden City Motor Club’s Turkey Run Stage Rally at Ballykelly Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran in their Fiesta R5 took victory by 35 seconds from Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont (Hyundai R5). Barry Morris/Declan Campbell in a Darrian were 3rd. On the autotest scene Daniel Byrne (Peugeot 106) came out tops at the Trial Drivers Club event at Arklow. Eddie Peterson (MR2) was 2nd and Niall Murray (Starlet) 3rd. Also in Co. Wicklow Fergil Gregory won the Leinster MC Trial at Bray, from Craig MacWilliam, both drivers in Erskine-Yamahas.

The 2019 Suirway Group South East Stages Rally Championship concluded with the Carlow Rallysprint and when Karen O’Dowd worked out all the points it shows that Castleblaney man Mickey Conlon (on Patterson Pacenotes) has won the Championship with 109 points from Waterford’s Keith Power (108) and Pierce J Doheny 3rd on 99 points. Frank Barrett was the winner of the sprint, but that does not seem to have had any overall effect on the South East Championship.

Towards the end of last season we also reported the cancellation of Rally Australia because of bush/forest fires. Many of the rally crews did their best to give some assistance to those affected. As has been widely publicised the fires have become progressively worse and tragically many lives have been lost. Our thoughts are with all those caught up in this ecological disaster.

To change the tone, what is on the immediate rally horizon? It is relatively quiet for a few weeks, although the Dakar rumbles along (at quite a pace though), and then it is all stations go with the Donegal Mini Stages, the MG Club’s popular Derek Walker Trial and Rally Monte Carlo all on the same weekend, 25th/26th January. Then it is the turn of the Galway International one week later, 1st and 2nd February. The latter event is the opening round of the 2020 main Tarmac Championship. The rally will again be based in the Clayton Hotel. Gary Leonard is the Clerk of the Course, and he has reportedly planned a compact route, with recce on the Saturday and the stages on the Sunday: out towards Loughrea. The rally will have a fairly early start and an early finish so that crews who want to head home can do so at a decent time. The event has already received about 40 entries, including current National Champion Josh Moffett and his brother Sam, as well as Cathan McCourt and David Guest.

A new initiative is the introduction of a bonus scheme by M-Sport Poland directed at drivers of R2 Fiestas, namely €2000 of M-Sport parts vouchers for the R2 class winner if he, or she, is in a Fiesta. There is €750 for 2nd and €250 for 3rd. One possible fly in the ointment is that there has to be six Fiesta R2s in the starting line-up. With Galway being so early in the season that could be a bit touch and go. However as the season progresses from West Cork onwards , and the scheme applies right through the season, there will surely be at least half a dozen R2 Fiestas in every event. Many of Ireland’s current top drivers started in Fiestas, so the small Fords can rightly be described as a ‘great stepping stone’.

The Donegal Mini Stages event is based in the Lagoon Bar outside Kilmacrennan, with top co-driver/competitor Jonny Baird the man in charge. The two stages are top class, lots of driving in them, and they are repeated three times. The entry is confined to cars such as Escorts, Civics, Super 2000 and so on, but no R5s. There are already 50-60 entries in with rally secretary Suzanne McClafferty. Recce can be done either the previous Sunday or else the Friday immediately prior to the rally.

As regards the Monte Carlo Rally, it is disappointing to say the least that we do not have any drivers amongst the works entries. No Kris Meeke, no Craig Breen. The last ‘works’ team to announce their drivers has been M-Sport Ford. Joining the team is the 28 year old Finn Esapekka Lappi, a former Circuit of Ireland winner and European Champion. He will be co-driven in the M-Sport Fiesta WRC by Janne Ferm. The pair are already testing the car for the Monte and will join established members Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen as well as Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondsen

Further stories include:-
The British Rally Championship has just announced it is launching yet another category: a new BRC Academy Trophy for under-25 year olds on this year’s six round series.

Michel Orr is co-driving for Peter Van Merksteijn (Toyota Hilux) not Yazeed Al-Rajhi on this Dakar. The event switch to Saudi seems to have resulted in higher speeds across the dunes for the top drivers – they are flying! Unfortunately completing the 300 and 400 km stages in under 3 hours is also bringing a fair share of accidents. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi led initially, rolled his Peugeot 2008 into a gully, got going and battled back to 4th before crashing the Peugeot out again. Fernando Alonso took a wheel off his Toyota Hilux, reportedly going flat out in somebody else’s dust. Latest leaderboard we have when typing this piece was that Carlos Sainz was leading with Nasser Al-Attiyah 2nd having recovered from early punctures. It may be more of a desert race now compared to the old Dakar slog against the elements, but it is still a two week contest. PS: Kris Meeke reportedly stood in to help one of the teams and is now driving a motor home to the various bivouacs: hope the cups and saucers are well nailed down!

William Creighton Tackles Blizzard Conditions In Limerick last year. – Pic By Cian Donnellan

An early missive from the 2020 Valvoline Forestry Championship would indicate that the series expects to be in rude good health for the new season. Both Ray Fitzpatrick and Ita Doonan have been driving forces behind the Forestry in recent years and their mantle is being taken over by the enthusiastic Paul Casey and Deirdre Burke. One of the main changes for 2020 is that the J1000 regulations are being aligned with the MSA requirements and is now for drivers from 14 to 18 years of age. Otherwise much remains the same, with the ‘small’ cars running first on the road in ‘reverse’ order, with the ‘big’ cars running behind in performance seeding configuration. The first of the 7 events (well 6 actually, the Jim Walsh Cork Forestry is a double header) is the Carrick on Suir Club’s William Loughman Memorial Forestry Rally on February 16th.

J1000 Champion Kyle McBride, 2019 Valvoline Irish Forest rally Championship – Pic By Cian Donnellan

Motorsport Ireland initiatives for 2020 include an early entry incentive scheme for those who enter at least one week before the date of the event being included in a draw to receive their entry fee back. Also MI is running an event finance training seminar at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel on 9th January. Then on Tuesday 14th January there will be a media accreditation training session at 7.30pm in the Maldron Hotel Portlaoise. This will be followed by a refresher course for senior officials & stewards at Mondello on Sunday January 19th from 10.am.

Finally for now we wish four times former British Rally Champion Keith Cronin and his new wife Linda (Downing) a very happy and fruitful married life together. Keith, the quiet man from Ballylickey, tied the knot with Linda, who is from Glengariff, in Dublin before Christmas.

Regards, Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson