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.
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!
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.
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