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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.