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Another year over, a new one begins. 2017 had it’s good points and some not so great. For me the highlights included a spectating only trip to Rally Catalunya and a cracking but underrated Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Timekeeping on the three-day Donegal Rally was my only experience of the Irish Tarmac Championship last year, busy but entertaining.

The WRC for manufacturers was won by M-Sport with Seb Ogier taking his fifth-in-a-row drivers title, this time in a Ford Fiesta. In fact the World Championship has been won by a French Sebastien for the past 14 years now! Let’s see if Mr.Meeke can break this run in 2018!

Despite the new faster and meaner looking cars I wasn’t overly impressed by them in Spain. Kris Meeke had been expected to do well after developing the new car, but the Citroen C3 turned out to be a dog/shed! Instead of supporting Meeke through thick and thin, the team dropped their number one driver for Portugal, using Kris as a scapegoat and refusing to blame the uncontrollable car. Don’t just take my word on this. Read Sammy Hamill’s excellent no-holes-barred account of Kris’s treatment by Citroen in the 2018 Carsport Yearbook, out now and available from all reputable newsagents or book shops in Ireland. In mainland UK you could order it from the website.

Ok Meeke won in Mexico and then in Spain but that was as good as it got. Craig Breen had a controlled season in which he enhanced his reputation and gained valuable experience of the various events. He will be hoping for a good new year despite a certain Mr. S Loeb borrowing his C3 for three events. The 2018 WRC kicks off this month with the classic Monte Carlo Rally running from Thursday 25th until Sunday 28th.

On the downside, last year we lost both the Circuit of Ireland and Lurgan Park Rallies due to rising costs. One wonders If they will EVER return! That was the not so good news.

With regard to the NI Championship the 2018 seven-round series won’t start until the Bishopscourt event early March. Then it follows the usual mix of tarmac and loose events throughout the rest of the year. As I indicated last month it remains unclear whether the North Armagh MC events at Kirkistown (scheduled for February 10) and the Lurgan Park Rally (due in July) will indeed run at all.

On a completely different tact, I received a couple of very interesting Christmas presents. One of the latest DVD’s from RPM is the first in the Magnificent Seven series. Featuring some of the talented but perhaps lesser known Rally drivers from the Irish Tarmac Championship over the years this disc covered the careers of John Lyons and James Cullen. Lyons, who came from my boyhood home town of Castlederg in Co.Tyrone was a brilliant natural talent. I went to school with him and recognised his prowess very early on. I remember John took me for a spin in his Dad’s Austin A35 van and at the age of 15 or 16 he scared me stupid!

Starting out in autotesting Lyons rapidly became “the best in World” at this discipline winning the British and Irish titles. Moving on to rallying he won the Donegal International Rally twice in 1981/82 but due to lost opportunities and a lack of finance failed to progress much further. I for one have always said, give the right circumstances, John Lyons could and should have been right up there with the likes of Colin McRae as a star on the World Rally Championship!

James Cullen was also one that got away. Coming from Letterkenny he won his hometown based Donegal International Rally twice but yet again had to struggle for finance. James was also Clerk of the Course for one year before going on to win in Donegal. He won the Cork 20 International in a Group N production class rally car. James was a great talent and could have gone on to bigger and better things!

Other drivers featured in the Magnificent Seven series are Kevin Lynch, Liam O’Callaghan, Ian Greer, James Lecky and Stephen Finlay. Check out the website for details.

Rallying 2017 (moving moments) is a coffee table book from McKlein Publishing. It’s a great record of the 2017 World Rally Championship featuring words from Anthony Peacock and brilliant pictures from Reinhard Klein and Colin McMaster among others. With the demise of Rallycourse some years ago and more recently Martin Holmes World Rallying book, there has been a gap for a decent review of the WRC. This book more than fills that gap. I even found a photo which features the back of my head and that of Victor’s, as we watched Kris Meeke negotiate THAT famous roundabout on Rally Spain. Brilliant reading and excellent photography!

Rally Diary

Sat. 27th January

Based as usual at Kirkistown Race Circuit in County Down Northern Ireland. This non-championship event is 80% sealed surface and 20% loose. We will be marshalling and providing rescue personnel. Sign-on is normally 8am for 9.30. start. The six stages should be finished by 5pm.

Sat. 3rd February

Starting and finishing at Ballymena Market. This multi-venue autotest event is run by the MG Car Club Ulster Centre. We have been asked to provide marshals to man the many test sites in the Co. Antrim area. Breakfast and a packed lunch will be provided. For further information with regard to sign-on etc. Please contact Carol Willis. Her details are available on the MG Car Club Ulster Centre website.

Sat. 10th February

As I have said before we are not sure that this North Armagh Motor Club event (listed as a reserve rally in the 2018 Northern Ireland Championship calendar) will actually take place. If it does, expect a good entry. The rally was sponsored last year by Pacenotes Rally Magazine and its format was very similar to the New Year Stages Rally featuring six special stages around the Co.Down racing circuit.