July 2019 was a busy month with regard to rallies in Northern Ireland. First off there was the Loughgall Country Park Rally on Saturday 6th. I was part of the large radio team of ten cars covering the six tarmac stages. A maximum 63 car entry took the start and most of them made it round the short (around 3 miles) but technical tests. Armagh driver Damian Toner is the current master of Loughgall having won here for the previous four years. This time would be no different and in the end Toner and co-driver Ronan Comerford finished 51.1 seconds ahead of John Bradley/Paul McKenna with previous winner Wesley Patterson and Jonny Baird just 2.3 seconds back in third. All of the top five finishers were in Ford Escort Mk.2’s.
Next event was the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally on July 20th. Based in Lisburn at the Eikon Centre within the Balmoral Park Complex, the rally consisted of 11 special stages. Eight of these were closed road tests in Co.Down while the other 3 were spectator stages at Balmoral Park. A huge entry of 130 competitors had been received by the joint organisers, Rathfriland and Ballynahinch Motor Clubs. The rally was round four of the Motorsport UK McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Championship and a counting round of the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship.
We were covering a mid-point radio on the Drumaknocken stage. Run three times during the day (SS2/7/11) and located between Dromore and Hillsborough the stage was 5.08 miles long. All three stages ran faultlessly without any major incidents. The weather was excellent, dry and warm all day.
Jonny Greer was the hot pre-event favourite. The winner last year over mostly the same stages, Jonny’s company were also the event sponsors. Today he and Kirsty Riddick were in their usual Ford Fiesta R5 as apposed to the Citroen DS3 R5 they used in 2018.
Greer led the rally by 23.7 seconds after five stages and looked to be on course for a second Down win, but the Fiesta ground to a halt after SS6 with gearbox woes, handing the lead to Stephen Wright and Liam Moynihan’s similar car. Top English driver Daniel Harper (co-driven by Chris Campbell) was second at this stage in his Mini WRC.
On the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing/walk by NEIL Armstrong, young JON Armstrong from Kesh in Co. Fermanagh must have felt he was walking on the moon. Jon started the Down Rally in a hired Mini WRC, his first ever event in a World Rally Car. The current ESports World Rally Champion had only competed in one other “real” rally this year. He and Noel O’Sullivan were third after two stages but a puncture on SS4 dropped them back to tenth. Then Armstrong made an astonishing comeback. Fastest times on the remaining seven stages saw the 24 year-old win the Down Rally by 20.3 seconds from Stephen Wright. Harper was third and Melvyn Evans fourth in his Fabia R5. Current NI champion Derek McGarrity finished fifth after a torrid day in his Fiesta WRC ahead of a similar car driven by Steve Wood.
Damian Toner and Barry McPartland were seventh overall, ahead of several World Rally Cars, R5’s and showroom category cars. The Loughgall winner was by far the most spectacular modified driver in his usual Ford Escort Mk.2. Wesley Patterson had been pushing hard in second but retired his Escort just passed our mid-point location on stage seven with crown wheel and pinion failure. Despite burning his right hand on a hot manifold while carrying out minor repairs mid way through the day, Toner continued to fly and finished 40 seconds clear of fellow Mk.2 crew Camillus Bradley and Crawford Henderson.
Stephen Wright scored maximum NI Championship points which has moved the Monaghan man right back into title contention, while John Stone finished top registered competitor in the Asphalt Rally Championship. Stone and Jack Morton were ninth overall in a Ford Fiesta WRC. A total of 121 cars started the Down while there were 91 finishers. The event was judged to have been a complete success and incident free throughout.
This was the second year of the joint organisation format of this closed-road Down Rally. The only change this time out was the splitting of the Hamiltons Folly section into two separate tests. The longest stage was SS5/9 Hamiltons Folly North at 6.25 miles. SS6/10 Hamiltons Folly South was 5.50 miles and included the famous jump mid-stage. SS1/4 Lough Erne near Annahilt was 5.60 miles. The shortest tests were SS3/9, the 0.75 mile spectator specials at the Eikon Centre.
As well as a new headline sponsor, local convenience food store Today’s, there is a new one-day format for the Ulster Rally. Round five of the British Rally Championship and round six the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, this closed-road event is based in Newry Co.Down and uses stages in counties Down and Armagh such as McGaffin’s Corner and Bronte Homeland. We will be covering timekeeping, rescue, radio and stage marshalling.
Based in Enniskillen this is round five of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship and also the final round(7) of the Irish Forest Rally Championship. The usual stages around Derrygonnelly will be used. The NI championship is close with Derek McGeehan ahead on 109, McGarrity has 87, Wright 85 and John Devlin on 84 while James Kennedy has 83. Good to see a few challengers to Derek McGarrity this year. We will be providing rescue, radio and marshalling cover on this one.
Please see the promotional video https://youtu.be/elCYxO77I-o
On Saturday morning at Autosport International we will be launching a new online training and accreditation scheme for Rally marshals, as part of the RallyFuture project to further enhance safety on UK stage rallies.
Hopefully you will already have been aware of the project through MSA publications or Regional Association meetings. However we felt it was important to write to you in advance of the launch, to ensure you are aware before we make the wider public announcement.
This new scheme has been several months in the making. Its purpose is to ensure that all Rally marshals have a common understanding of their roles and responsibilities, the management of spectators and how to handle an incident.
The training should take no longer than 45 minutes, including the assessments. It is important to note that the online training is a supplement to, and not a replacement for, the high quality face-to-face training sessions that are currently being delivered across the UK.
This year, the online training and accreditation is only compulsory for newly registering marshals. However please note that those marshals who are currently registered with the MSA will need to complete the online training before being issued with their 2017 Registration card. You will only need to complete this course once in your marshalling career.
There will be a buddy system for unregistered marshals, to help ensure we don’t lose opportunities to recruit new volunteers – further details will be released in due course.
More details will be revealed following the launch on Saturday. In the meantime, may we thank you for everything you do for our sport, which would not exist without you. Best wishes for the coming season.