Wright Off To A Flyer
For the second year in succession, Monaghan’s Stephen Wright, driving his usual Ford Fiesta R5, won the opening round of this year’s Northern Ireland Rally Championship. The current champion saw off challenges from Derek’s McGeehan and McGarrity at the Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages. Wright says he doesn’t intend to contest the full championship, but he said that last year and then went on to win it! Watch this space!
The event was held in atrocious conditions at Kirkistown Race Circuit in County Down. 74 cars started the windy, rain-soaked, six-stage rally and there were 61 finishers. Spare a thought then for the many BMMC/BRMC marshals who braved the weather to stand out for the duration of the North Armagh MC event.
Top of the many two wheel drive cars was the Mk.1 Escort of Keith White after a rally long battle with the Mk.2 version of James Kennedy. An interesting new category has been created for Nissan Micra’s and of the five entries Philip White (son of Keith) was the first winner from the legend that is Stevie Whitford.
Fast forward one week and we had the Samsonas Rally Fivemiletown. This gravel event was round one of the new for 2020 McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Forest Rally Challenge. Lots of marshals from our club were out in force on this Omagh MC rally. The weather was typical for late February, wet, cold, windy and dry. Unfortunately this year I wasn’t able to attend Kirkistown or Fivemiletown (don’t miss many of them).
Last year there was a poor entry in Fivemiletown, but this time, perhaps due to the raised profile and increased stage mileage, there were 70 starters. The sponsor, Lithuanian Martynas Samsonas, was back with his BMW M3 E36 which almost won the Bushwacker last September. This time he had a team-mate in Janis Vorobjovs from Riga. Although both were in four wheel drive BMW’s Vorobjovs Car was labelled as an M3X and in a different class. This was Janis’s first time in the car and his first visit to Fivemiletown.
Samsonas had no luck this time out, his M3 stopped on stage seven, but the other unique German-based machine of Vorobjovs went on to win the rally by five seconds from the Fiesta R5 of Irish Forest Champion Cathan McCourt. In third place at the end of the rally was the Hyundai i20 of surprise entry of Callum Devine, who was warming up for his big European Rally Championship attack this year.
Top two wheel drive finisher was the Escort Mk.2 of David Condell ahead of Ryan Barrett’s similar car. Altogether 44 cars finished the 10-stage event.
Here is a question for you all. Can anyone tell me the last time a BMW won a gravel rally in the British Isles? I don’t know the answer. Anyhow it was great to see a completely different car from the normal WRC’s, R5’s or Mitsubishi Evo’s win what was truly an “International” Rally!
Apparently Martynas Samsonas was inspired to built both these spectacular four-wheel-drive M3’s after watching Andy Burton’s home-built 4x4 Peugeot Cosworth special which delighted spectators some years ago on the gravel stages of England and Wales until it was banned. Let’s hope the same fate doesn’t befall the BMW’s!
Finally this month, what about Elfyn Evans? Did not see this one coming! Joint top of the WRC standings following a third place in Monte Carlo and then a start to finish win in the shortened Rally Sweden. The little Welsh dragon put his senior Toyota team mate Seb Ogier firmly in the shade. Alongside young teenage sensation Kalle Rovanpera, Evans looks to be a real threat this year. First Welsh World Champion? Far to early to say but not impossible. Mind you the ever-threatening spread of the Coronavirus may kill off some WRC events. Rally Mexico is next up, due to run from 15-17 March and ironically sponsored by Corona beer!
30 Years Ago......1990
Derek and Roisin Boyd won the GMW Single Venue Rally based at the Ballymena Showgrounds last month. We provided marshals for the nine stage event run by Mid Antrim MC. Davy Greer in a Toyota Corolla was second and Stephen Mawhiinney third in his Sunbeam. Dominic McNeil crashed his Peugeot 309 GTI into the perimeter fence.
Dermot Carnegie won the third round of the Kirkistown Winter Rallycross Championship in his Metro 6R4. David Francis and David Patton were second and third in their Ford Escorts. Our club members were marshalling as usual.
20 Years Ago......2000
On a cold Saturday in February we had 15 club members assisting with the running of a stage on the GMW Gravel Rally in Tardree Forest. The clubman event was organised by Mid Antrim Motor Club.
Larne MC described their Ulster Rallycross GP at Nutts Corner as “The motorsport highlight of the year”. It wasn’t. Disappointingly there were NO top class competitors in British Rallycross that year apart from just TWO wealthy Irish drivers with fast cars that no one else could compete against!
10 Years Ago......2010
We were timekeeping on the Fivemiletown Spring Rally organised by Omagh MC. The event took place on Saturday February 20th in tricky conditions. Temperatures were around minus two degrees with persistent fog, ice and snow. On my seven-mile stage drivers described the conditions as more akin to that of the Swedish Rally than anything else! Of the 71 starters only 48 finished the eight-stage Co.Tyrone gravel event. Ian Cochrane won in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. but Frank Kelly was the star of the day, he finished second only 12 seconds down in his “baby blue” Ford Escort Mk.2.
On the opening round of the 2010 Hankook NI Championship at Kirkistown, Derek McGarrity dominated as he had done the previous year. This time the defending champion was driving a Subaru Impreza S12B and he finished 1 minute 26 seconds ahead of Stuart Biggerstaff in his dads S9. Young Stuart stared yet again at the Co.Down race track as he had done on his first ever rally in January. We were marshalling as usual on the Pedro Pet Foods Stages Rally organised by North Armagh MC. There were no less than 112 starters of which 93 finished the six-stage event.
Sat. 7th March
McGrady Insurance Bishopscourt Stages Rally
Round two of the NI Rally Championship. Ballynahinch and District MC are the organisers of this six-stage sealed surface event. Yet another race-circuit-old-airfield-type venue, Bishopscourt is close to Downpatrick in South Co.Down. We are supplying marshals and timekeepers. Sign on from 07.00 for a 09.00 start. Interestingly, current champion Stephen Wright’s name did NOT appear on the 57 strong list of entries as I wrote this. Entries were due to close on Wednesday 4th March.
Sat. 21st March
BMMC/BRMC Northern Ireland Region Training Day
As I always say, you learn something new every training day. This is our annual training day which everyone is required to attend in order to keep grades and signatures up to date. The venue is Kirkistown Race Circuit in Co.Down and sign on time is from 09.00 for a 09.30 start.
Fri. 10th—Sat. 11th April
UAC Circuit of Ireland Rally
Sponsored by Wastewater Solutions and organised by the Ulster Automobile Club. The National event is round three of the 2020 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. Internationally the rally is the second round of the 2020 FIA Celtic Rally Trophy.
There are eighteen special stages in counties Down and Antrim, nine on Friday and nine on Saturday. The service park/rally start will be at the Dundrod Motorsports Centre. Rally HQ will be based at the Chimney Corner Inn and there will be a ceremonial finish at Antrim Castle Gardens.
LEG 1 Friday: SS1/4/7 Aisling’s 11 (8.90 miles), SS2/5/8 Laverys Bridge (8.90 miles) and SS3/6/9 Bulls Brook (8.20 miles)
LEG 2 Saturday: SS10/13/16 Loanends (4.65 miles), SS11/14/17 Tardree (7.30 miles) and SS 12/15/18 Langford Lodge (7.80 miles). A stand alone one-day interclub UAC Saturday Easter Stages Rally will compete over these nine stages, after the main event.
BMMC/BRMC club members will be involved with the organisation of the event as well as providing stage marshals, rescue personnel, timekeepers and radio cover throughout the two days.