Start to finish winning sounds fairly conclusive, maybe even easy, but for Craig Breen/Paul Nagle in their Hyundai i20 R5 taking that manner of victory on last weekend’s Ulster Rally was very far from ‘a walk in the park’. Despite non-stop pressure from British Rally Champion Matt Edwards and his co-driver Patrick Walsh in their Fiesta R5, win this revamped ‘Today’s’ backed Ulster Rally Craig did. In doing so, both Breen and Edwards achieved their immediate Championship ambitions – the former to clinch the 2019 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title, the latter to score maximum British Rally Championship points and move into the BRC series lead, aiming for a renewal of his BRC title.
Craig Breen’s winning margin ended up at 20 seconds, but for most of the rally the gap between the leading two hovered above and below the 10 second marker. It was only on the last few stages that the gap widened, as Edwards firstly probably realised that he wasn’t going to beat Breen, but also the Welshman undoubtedly got the news that his main rival for the British title, Tom Cave, had bashed his Hyundai against a wall in the penultimate stage and was forced to retire. Cave was 3rd at the time. Callum Devine/Brian Hoy in their Fiesta R5 had been 3rd for most of the day, then slipped to 4th but came back to 3rd following Cave’s retirement. This podium finish was a great result indeed for Devine.
Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson had a pretty good result as well, 4th o/a in their Skoda. Although 5th was a good finish for Alastair Fisher, it was a bit disappointing as well and didn’t reflect his many top three stage times, including one fastest. Co-driven in his Fiesta R5 as usual by Gordon Noble, Alastair started the rally knowing that if he could finish ahead of Craig Breen he may have been in with a chance of the Tarmac Title. That was not to be. On the very first stage, McGaffins Corner, the Fisher Fiesta indulged in a spin on a square right corner just before the stage finish. Alastair was suddenly 14 seconds down, back in 6th place, and such was the pace at the front, he was faced with a Herculean task to fight back into the frame. Alastair battled hard over the next few stages and was mixing times with the leaders, but then his Fiesta suffered some sort of a throttle mechanism glitch. This left Fisher over a minute away from the lead, and opened the door wide for Craig to take the Tarmac Title, even with the Cork ‘20’ and its bonus points still to come. This made it quite a week for Waterford man Craig, as it was also tipped on the run up to the Ulster that he will drive the factory Hyundai i20 WRC on Wales Rally GB (3rd – 6th October).
In overall terms, the Ulster Rally took on a new format this year, with three good quality stages repeated three times, all in one day. This much shorter event left the rally even more of a flat out battle than before. Such was the pace that several of the top crews found themselves side-lined during the course of the hot and heavy action – just some included, as already mentioned, Tom Cave, while Josh Moffett inverted his Fiesta and blocked stage 3. Jonny Greer had a field trip in his Fiesta and eventually retired after a good showing, when his car suffered brake failure when a front calliper cried enough and Jonny stopped as a precaution. Marty McCormack put up a spirited drive and scored one fastest time in the heat of the battle, but overcooked matters on the final stage and ditched his Tiger Risk Skoda. Further high profile retirements included Alex Laffey (Mechanical), James Wilson (Off road), Alan Carmichael (Off road) and Frank Kelly (off road early and later broken rear brake disc/calliper).
There were of course many success stories as well; Stuart Biggerstaff/Anthony Nestor finished 7th o/a and won the Ulster National in their Fiesta. It was touch and go for Stuart towards the day’s end as his Fiesta engine gave some cause for concern. Damian Toner was his usual brilliant self and, with co-driver Michael Coady finished best Escort, with David Condell/Paul Kelly in their Mk2 just a handful of seconds further back. Toner and Condell were 8th and 9th o/a, with another Mk2 Escort, the Camillus Bradley/Crawford Henderson machine, 10th o/a. Josh McErlean/Keaton Williams were a brilliant 12th o/a and won the R2 race in their Peugeot 2018 from James Williams/Dai Roberts (Fiesta R2T). Jordan Hone (Opel Adam) was 3rd Junior home. McErlean has won the British Junior Rally Champions title, even with one round, the Galloway Hills, remaining. He also receives a fat bonus cheque from Peugeot UK/Total for his efforts.
William Creighton/Liam Regan were thought before the event to be in the running for British Junior points but a small off early on damaged their Peugeot 208’s radiator and they ran for most of the day in Rally 2, still setting good times. A crew chasing a different type of British Championship points were Stanley Orr/Graham Henderson. In their case it was the Historic series and they didn’t disappoint, winning the Historics outright in their MK1 Escort, and that followed a last minute sweat over getting the Mk1’s engine installed following a mechanical hiccup on Epynt three weeks ago. Stanley finished a fairly amazing 16th o/a in his RS 1600. 2nd in the Historics but winning their class was Adrian Hetherington/Ronan O’Neill. Ray Cunningham/Jared Gill (Mini Cooper S) also had a good class winning run.
Other news from last weekend included Jan Kopecky winning the European Championship Barum Czech Rally, with Filip Mares 2nd and Chris Ingram/Rob Whittock 3rd, all in Skodas. Current European Champion Lukyanuk ran in Super Rally following delays including a puncture on his Citroen. Lukyanuk still leads the points from Lubasj Habaj, with Chris Ingram 3rd o/a as well as 2nd in the premier Junior part of the Championship.
This coming weekend the Triton Showers National Championship switches back into action with the Gort based Galway Summer Stages, while also the World Rally Championship resumes in Germany.
The Galway event is the penultimate round of the Triton series, and Monaghan’s Josh Moffett is in an extremely favourable position to wrap up the National title come Sunday evening at the Lady Gregory Hotel finish. The Monaghan man has won five of the six rounds held so far, and was placed 2nd on the other one. His closest opposition for the title that has eluded him up to now is former National Champion Roy White. Both men will drive Fiesta WRC’s. For Clonmel man White to topple Moffett from his strong position would take a very big upset indeed. Moffett has Andy Hayes co-driving, while the vastly experienced James O’Brien sits in with White as usual. Behind the duelling duo at the front there is a capacity entry with many talented drivers competing for a great variety of class awards and Championship points. Actually seeded at number 1 is last year’s Galway Summer winning crew of Johnny Pringle/Paul Sheridan; however their Mk2 Escort will almost certainly start behind the Fiesta WRC’s of Moffett and White. Also in the top line-up will be Hugh Hunter from Wales in a Focus WRC, Ian Barrett in a Subaru WRC as well as Kevin Eves in his amazingly quick RWD Corolla, Gary Kiernan (Escort) and James Stafford in another very fast car, his Darrian T90. Rounding off the top ten is former National Champion Niall Maguire in his Subaru WRC, plus another Welsh visitor, Steve Woods in a Fiesta WRC. There are 9 very good stages (three locations repeated three times) on the agenda. C of C Aiden Connolly looks to have organised a very good event, and come the Sunday tea time finish at the Lady Gregory Hotel in Gort, we could well know the destination of this year’s Triton Showers National Rally Champion’s title.
Meanwhile in Germany for this counter the WRC switches from gravel to asphalt stages, some through beautiful vineyard terrain and also with stretches across tough military training grounds. This is the 10th round of the 2019 World Rally Championship and the fight for points supremacy is still fairly evenly poised. However at the same time, it has to be said that Ott Tanak in his Toyota is looking ever stronger. He has slowly but surely opened up a gap to current World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier in his Citroen, with Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) a few more points back. There is nobody else in the hunt really. In the Toyota team, as well as Tanak for this 19 stage event will be Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke. Interestingly, also driving a Toyota, but not under the ‘works’ banner but entered by Tommi Makinen in a Yaris WRC is Takamoto Katsuta. As well as Ogier in the factory Citroen will be Esapekka Lappi. In M-Sport Ford Fiestas will be Teemu Sunninen and Gus Greensmith, the latter again standing in for the injured Elfyn Evans. The ‘Big Four’ teams are rounded off by Hyundai and as well as Thierry Neuville there will be Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen in i20 WRC’s. In addition to the WRC machinery, there is a big line-up of R5 cars, including the new Eco-boost Fiesta R5, to be driven by the experienced Eric Camilli.
Looking further ahead, to the weekend of 7th/8th September, the Wexford Club is running its stage event. As ever the stages feel very good, and as well as lots of sweeping fast stuff through the beautiful countryside which we have become accustomed to in Wexford, C of C Mark Cooper has introduced some tighter roads as well. There are three stages on the Saturday and two on the Sunday, with every stage run three times. The HQ is the Riverbank Hotel in Wexford, right beside the Slaney River Estuary.
On the same weekend as Wexford there is also a closed road rally on in the UK on the Saturday, the ‘Three Shires’ and also on the Sunday will be the first closed road special Stage rally in Wales, the ‘Get Connected Rali Bae Ceredigion’. The Welsh event has attracted a sparkling top entry – the top 10 reads Tom Cave at 1, then it is David Bogie, Osian Pryce, Daniel Harper, Damian Cole, Merion Evans, Hugh Hunter, David Wood, Steve Simpson and Jason Pritchard; all in 4 WD cars. Traditionally the Wexford entry has attracted a large Welsh contingent, and it was thought that the Ceredigion would hurt it, but reportedly the Ceredigion reached capacity so quickly, Wexford is still getting a good turnout from across the Irish Sea. The stages on the Three Shires (the title comes from a corner confluence of three beautiful English Counties – Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, all in the shadow of the Malvern Hills. The nature of the roads is mixed – some fast, some narrow country ‘laney’ roads, some parkland – all very nice. The Ceredigion is made up of exceptionlly dramatic mountain type roads, including an exciting trip down the side of a major reservoir as a feature, and also with some narrow farm roads thrown in for good measure.
Looking even further ahead, the Dougie Hughes Memorial Clare Stages Clerk of the Course Gerry O’Brien tells us that he has laid out three very interesting stages for his 14th/15th September event. Each still will run three times. One of those stages is from an old Circuit of Ireland and hasn’t been used since those far off days! The event is a counting round of the West Coast Championship and already competitor interest is building. Some of the top names listed so far include Ian Barrett (Darrian), Denis Moynihan (R5), Ian Roche and both Ken and Keith Lyons. There will be a shakedown stage. The rally is being backed by the Hotel Woodstock, which will be HQ. Service will be in the Clare Mart complex.
Finally for now, it is with a very heavy heart that we record the death of John Mulholland. Sadly he passed away last Saturday morning 17th August following a courageous fourteen month battle against cancer. John chose to have his last hours at his home outside Randalstown. He was 55 years old. John was described to us a long time ago in the nicest possible way as a “rocket ship”. He was non-stop super lively, built a tremendous car dealership from virtually a standing start. He loved his family, his life, his pet animals, his holiday cottage in Donegal, his garages and his rallying. He was as straight as the day is long, and had a lovely, very special way with him. He was a very good, astute businessman, but completely ‘human’ at the same time and we have never heard a bad word said against him.
One small story typifies John. Many years ago, when he was starting to sell cars, he took a very big chance and bought a short wheelbase Audi Quattro Sport. His father Dermot told him he was mad. But John could see a bit further up the road. Sure enough, he sold the car well, to an enthusiast from Switzerland. Some years later John was in an upmarket Belfast jewellers wanting his Breitling watch serviced. The immaculate man behind the counter excused himself and took the watch to the back of the shop. All of a sudden there were two security men flanking John, wanting to know where he got the Breitling. John explained about selling the Audi Quattro Sport to a gentleman from Switzerland, whom had then sent him the watch as a gift in appreciation of the way he handled the affair of the sale. It transpired that the customer owned Breitling. The watch was absolutely genuine, a personal specially manufactured gift, with no serial number but identification inside. It was so typical of John Mulholland – virtually every person who bought a car from him was made to feel special. Over the years he built up his own collection of rally cars. One of them was an ex Vatanen car and then through that John looked after Ari when he came to Northern Ireland a year or so go. That gave John a real buzz – to have Ari staying in his home. John was never happier than when he was competing or helping on a rally, or looking after his son Johnnie on an event. He sponsored rallies, including the Ulster. He helped a lot of people over the years and this year he had pledged £40,000 to the Friends of the Cancer Centre. He commented a while ago, “When I was diagnosed with cancer, it came as a complete shock. I have been so well looked after by all those involved in my treatment. I am particularly thankful to Friends of the Cancer Centre and my specialist nurse Melanie. By committing to donate at least £40,000 this year, we hope to fund at least 1600 nursing hours” John fought so hard to beat his kidney cancer, but succumbed in the end.
He bought another Skoda Rally car to compete in this year’s Donegal, but pulled the entry when he realised he wouldn’t be up to it. He was then taken into hospital a few weeks ago. Then it became clear the end was coming. He insisted on being brought to his own home, to be with his family, his horses, his dogs and his alpacas. Even that massive resolve of his, the drive, strength and personality he had, couldn’t see him through this one. It was an honour to have known this open, ethical, very proper man. He was very special. To his wife Alicia, his children Alicia, Shona, Johnnie, Anna, his father Dermot, his staff at the garages who all thought the world of him, his further relatives and all his many friends, we extend our heartfelt condolences.
Brian, Liz and Michael Patterson and family