Grainger Wins Erne Safari after 40 Years!

McAleer’s Spar Erne Safari Navigation Rally

Some forty years ago, in 1973, Fermanagh rally driver, Benny Grainger competed on his first rally, The Erne Safari Navigation Rally. Last Friday,exactly forty years later, Benny with navigator, David Howard won The McAleer’s Spar Erne Navigation Rally!

The ‘Safari’, sponsored again by McAleer’s Spar in Irvinestown, counts as Enniskillen Motor Club’s [EMC] round of The McGrady Insurance N Ireland Navigation Championship. EMC has now been running this event for nearly fifty years. This was just the second round of the championship as the first round back in January, scheduled to have taken place near Rathfriland was postponed due to heavy snow. Thus, the first round became QUB’s ‘Jumping Jack Rally’ which was won by Omagh crew, Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd in their Vauxhall Vectra.

Sixteen rally crews left the Start Control at McAleer’s Spar last Friday night to battle it out in ideal, dry but cold conditions over some of the remotest and twistiest roads that rural Fermanagh has to offer. Class 1 [Expert] and Class 2 [Semi-expert] crews did battle over a total of seventy miles whilst Classes 3 [Novice] and 4 [Beginner] were taxed with fifty-five miles on Sheet 18 of the Discoverer Series map [ courtesy of The Ordnance Survey]. Clerk of the Course [CofC] Drew Wilson used all of his varied motorsport experience to set a route which managed to test the whole range of competitor experience entered on the night.

Before the event Wilson commented, ‘Experienced navigation crews like Lewis Boyd and Leslie Young will be expecting to be challenged, they won last time out on QUB’s Jumping Jack Rally and are seeded number one tonight and the rest of Class 1 will be thinking likewise. So that’s what they will get, a real challenge. At the other end of the spectrum we have a solid entry of six crews in Class 4, the Beginner Class, all of whom attended our recent Night Navigation Rally School, so I have put in place separate route instructions to suit their experience also’.

Though Young/Boyd did indeed start at No 1, this was not be their night. Right from the off the very experienced crew of John Henderson and Lloyd Cochrane were the only pair penalty-free at Time Control D [TC D]. It was exciting stuff with Woods and Ragg [Ford Focus] hot on their heels just one mark down, with Young/Boyd a mere mark behind that and Grainger/Howard only six more in arrears. But there was a long way to go.

At this juncture the Class 2 crew of Barker/Deazley [Peugeot 206] had opened a lead of some nine marks over the Nova duo of Carey/Muldoon. In the Novice Class, Gilpin/Morton in their Fiesta had steered their way into a commanding lead some sixteen marks ahead of nearest rivals, the Omagh-based father and son pairing of James and John McCay in a Peugeot 106. Number one seeds in Class 3, Stuart and Gavin Campbell [Mazda MX-5] had made an uncharacteristic ’30’ [30 minutes penalty] error, being caught out at Secret Check 3 [SC 3]. The final Class 3 pair, Charlie Dunleavy and Roy Lindsay, from Florencecourt, were struggling in their Honda CRV at this point and never really got into a rhythm all night having amassed a total of one hundred and thirty marks at this early stage of the rally.

Class 4 leaders at this early stage were Coa man Mervyn Wilson partnered by Michael McGowan from Lisbellaw. This was despite the drama of having to change vehicle just before the start as the distributer broke on Mervyn’s beautifully restored MkII Escort 1600 Sport. A hasty replacement for the ‘never-say-die’ crew, a Nissan Navara was duly ‘commandeered’ and they duly became early pace-setters. But close to their exhaust pipes was the Peugeot 406 crew of Mark McCaffrey and Marcus Carson,from Lisbellaw and Letterbreen respectively, just three marks adrift. But the sensation of the rally, father and son team of Eddie and Ronan McCaffrey from Killadeas, on their very first rally, were in third place in Dad’s Saab 95 Estate at the same TC D, albeit sixteen marks further back. This was a terrific pace, considering Ronan at only fourteen years old was also the youngest competitor in the rally! Meanwhile, Scott Thompson from Irvinestown with Darran Flanagan, Killeadeas, on the maps in Scott’s Peeugeot 205, had been caught out by SC 1 and collected a ’30’, dropping them to fourth on Class at this point. Back in fifth, and staying warm despite having the roof down on their Mazda MX-5 were Johnny and Conor Kennedy whilst also on their first Navigation Rally were sixth in Class 4 the Belnaleck-based pairing of Kieran Murphy and Mary Winchester, rallying in style in the big Audi A6.

But things had changed somewhat by the time the Rally had reached the TC K, the finish for Classes 3 and 4. As part of an Association of N Ireland car Club’s [ANICC] initiative to encourage newcomers into the sport, EMC had provided Classes 3 and 4 with a shorter route, fifty -five miles compared to seventy for Classes1 and 2. The Motor club has also given Classes 3 & 4 a simpler form of route instructions for the same reason with Class 4 provided with ‘a Panic Envelope’ to assist them in completing the route. Drew Wilson’s recent very successful Night Navigation Rally School sessions being part of the same initiative. Encouraging for the future of Navigation Rallying here in Fermanagh was that all of Class 4 had attended those sessions and at the end of the night promised to be back for more. So, by TC K Class 3 winners were Gavin and Stuart Campbell by a decisive margin on forty seven marks whilst next up were Gilpin/Morton on one hundred and forty two marks.The McCays managed to accumulate three hundred and ninety marks, with John admitting he had had better nights and was caught out by ‘some silly errors’ over the last section. At this point Dunleavy/Lindsay did finish fourth but also, like McCay, a long way off the pace.

Meanwhile the team of McCaffrey/Carson kept their initial winning form right through the Rally to end up with a winning score of fifty six marks. They had a great run over the last section, which troubled a lot of other crews, dropping only five marks over the last ten miles, leaving Wilson/McGowan well back in second, some eighty six marks behind. The Nissan crew, confessing to be ‘a little rusty’ and to having made a few simple errors on the last section spoiling a great run due to not having been out for over two years on a Navigation Rally, promised to return in Mervyn’s MkII Escort. But what a terrific result for young Ronan McCaffrey! Ronan, partnering his Dad, Eddie to a magnificent Third in Class 4, on this their first ever Rally, received well-deserved praise from CofC Drew Wilson. ‘They have set themselves a very high standard indeed to maintain. We really look forward to seeing them out on their next event.’

And yes, the open-topped MX-5 did make it to the finish. The hot grub in Mahon’s Hotel was very welcome indeed after two and a half hours in the dark from near Brougher Mountain to Imeroo and north of Trillick returning via Drumharvey for the frozen Mazda crew of Johnny and Conor Kennedy.

The big Audi A6 proved to be a handful on the narrow twisty roads for the crew of Murphy and Winchester and they called it a night after TC H, promising to return and ‘fight another day.’

Class 2 winners on the night were Carey /Muldoon securing a very emphatic 1st in Class on 63 marks over the longer distance with Barker/Deazley well down on 127 marks after some simple mistakes such as, dropping a ’30’ into TC I plus two more into the final Control and slowed due to a leaking sump for which Barker accepted all the blame.

But the night belonged to the veterans. Enniskillen man, Benny Grainger partnered , for the first time, with David Howard and driving David’s Astra, claimed first in Class 1 and First Overall, exactly forty years after his first attempt on his first Rally! A delighted Benny said that,’it was simply great to win The Erne Safari Rally this year, exactly forty years after my first effort.’ Woos and Ragg claimed second in Class 1 only six marks in arrears, ‘keeping Grainger/Howard honest’ right till the end. Third Overall and third in Class were Henderson/Cochrane with winners last time out, Young/Boyd, having to settle for fourth, such is Rallying. More details of these results and news of the next EMC event, The McAleer’s May Day Stages Rally at St Angelo on Monday 6th May, are available on the Motor Club website:

At the prize-giving Drew Wilson [CofC] thanked sponsor Fabian McAleer for his long -time and welcome support and also Mahon’s Hotel for their welcome late-night hot grub. He went on to thank his organising team and all those who helped out on the night. Wilson went on to thank the people of rural Fermanagh, east and south-east of Irvinestown and both north and south of Kilskeery and Trillick for their invaluable cooperation. He ended by hoping that neighbours Omagh would have as successful a Night Navigation Rally School as had EMC and that our Class 4 crews would get out on both the Cookstown and Omagh-based rounds before the summer break. He also wished Omagh man Lewis Boyd every success as upcoming CofC for the Ulster Tarmac Rally in August.

The next rounds of the McGrady Insurance N Ireland Navigation Rally Championship will be Cookstown on Friday 22 March; see for details of entry and regulations and the Omagh’s ‘Boneshaker Rally’ on Fri 12 April; see or for further details. Full results are available @

Contributed by Gerry Cavanagh, Enniskillen Motor Club.