Irish Notes 18th March 2020

Reality hit home hard last weekend when, because of COVID-19 West Cork Rally was cancelled, followed by the deferral of the Moonraker forest rally, Formula 1 Australia, Circuit of Kerry, the ERC Azores, the Circuit of Ireland and various other events. Whether these and probably many more Motorsport activities will be able to run later in the year remains to be seen. WRC Mexico was cut short to enable the participants to catch the few available flights homeward as the world-wide COVID-19 tightened its grip. Just when activity will return to some form of normality remains to be seen.


The Mexico result seems slightly unimportant in the light of everything that is happening, but for the record Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Yaris) scored an outstanding victory in the hot, difficult, dusty and bumpy conditions. This was Ogier’s 6th Mexico win, and along with the other top drivers was again a demonstration of their superb skill and courage. Ott Tanak clipped a rear corner of his Hyundai early in the event, damaging a rear suspension, costing around 40 seconds. Current World Champion Tanak did well to fight back to 2nd place, 27 seconds behind Ogier. Although he showed great speed, Tanak’s Hyundai team mate Neuville was relegated to ‘Super Rally’ when his i20 spluttered to a halt. He did re-start on the Saturday leg and set several fastest times. The 3rd Hyundai team member, Dani Sordo, retired his car because of mechanical problems.


Teemu Suninen upheld the Ford M-Sport team honour with a fine 3rd place, but there was despair for the Cockermouth squad when Esapekka Lappi’s Fiesta WRC burst into flames and was burnt out at the stop line of the 2nd running of the El Chocolat stage. Elfyn Evans had a decent rally, but he was hampered by having to sweep the loose surface gravel through the Friday leg and 4th was the best that the Yaris driver could do by the Saturday evening halt. The Welshman was equal first with Neuville in the WRC points starting the rally, but Ogier has now surged into the lead with 62 points, while Evans is now 2nd on 54 and Neuville 3rd with 42.


The next scheduled WRC event was to be Argentina, but it has been cancelled.  Kalle Rovanpera (Yaris) was 5th   in Mexico. Pontus Tidemand (Skoda) was 6th overall and was best of the R5 drivers.  Young Oliver Solberg and his NI co-driver Aaron Johnston started the rally with a flourish but were soon stopped because of a smashed sump on their VW Polo R5. John Coyne/Stephen Joyce did well to bring their Fiesta R5 into 15th overall. Barry McKenna/James Fulton had been going very nicely, but were sidelined on Friday afternoon when their Skoda R5 cried enough.


Although many events were cancelled last weekend, the Malcolm Wilson Rally did go ahead and was won by Adrien Fourmax/Renaud Jamoul in an M-Sport Ford R5 Mk2. Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) were 2nd and Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer) 3rd. Leslie Hawe/Alistair Barker in their Mazda MX5 won the Snowdrop Rally from John & Jonathan Henderson (Micra). Darrell Burns/Jordan Burns (Fiesta) were 3rd.


In overall terms, Motorsport Ireland has asked for all events to be suspended until at least March 29th. In reality, this suspension will continue for some time. Motorsport UK initially seemed to be following the line of the UK Government and leaving it up to individuals to look after themselves. However earlier this week the UK Motorsport stance hardened and all Motorsport action seems now to have been ruled out.  Most clubs in any case were opting for the safe ‘postpone’ route. No one can predict what way this pandemic will go or how long it will last, so a re-start date is unpredictable.


The main aim at this time is for people in the sport to do their utmost to stay safe, for their own sake, for their families and for all those whom they may be in contact with. To all involved we extend our best hopes and wishes. We will certainly be going into lockdown, and as there is little likelihood of any meaningful Motorsport for a while, suspending Irish Notes.


Regards; Brian, Liz & Michael Patterson