Motorsport involving two competitors in a vehicle is still not permitted in Northern Ireland until at least 13th May when the NI Executive will review its current COVID-19 restrictions. Despite this, plans have been made by the Association of Northern Ireland Car Clubs with a view to restarting stage rallying here next month. The first motorsport event to be held in the province this year happened in April. Larne Motor Club ran a championship Autotest under the current restrictions which dictated a maximum of 100 competitors and officials but without any spectators.
The five-round sealed-surface 2021 Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship is now scheduled to start on 19th June with the first of three single-venue rallies. Round one will be at Bishopscourt in Co.Down, sponsored by McGrady Insurance and organised by Ballynahinch and District MC. Then round two is the Maiden City MC’s Dogleap Rally at Shackleton Airfield, Ballykelly Co.Derry. North Armagh Motor Club intend to run the third round at Kirkistown Race Circuit in Co.Down. As I indicated last month, the final two Championship rounds will be closed-road stage rallies in counties Tyrone and Derry organised by Magherafelt and Cookstown MC’s respectively. Hopefully all these events can take place and we marshals will be able to assist the various motor clubs in running safe and competitive rallies.
2021 Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship
By the way; I hope you all have had the chance to complete the Rally Northern Ireland 2022 survey? If not, please log on to rallynothernireland.com. Open to everyone including marshals and officials, the survey only takes five minutes to complete and there are fabulous prizes to be won! Let’s all try to get the WRC’s finest onto the best tarmac stages in the World next year in their new for 2022 Hybrid World Rally Cars! There is hope Rally NI will indeed happen as soon as that! M-Sport Ford are rumoured to be using a Puma and Hyundai a Kona next year! Watch this space!
Did you catch Rally Croatia? I watched most of the stages live on WRC+. What an event, but why were there so many spectators? They were supposed to be banned and indeed overcrowding almost caused a stage cancellation. The marshalling on the 20-stage tarmac event left a lot to be desired, people were standing in silly places. Mind you all twenty stages ran, and the weather was brilliant for the three days of competition. Apparently the rally was very well received as a new WRC event and seems certain to have secured a place for itself in future calendars.
Sebastien Ogier won in Croatia despite being involved in a collision with a civilian’s BMW on a road section at the start of the final day. Elfyn Evans was leading Ogier by 3.9 seconds going into the event-closing powerstage but the Welshman made the slightest of mistakes, running wide and up a bank on the last corner. It was enough to let Toyota team-mate Ogier pounce. In his battered, accident damaged Yaris, the current World Champion was fastest on the stage and beat Elfyn to the rally win by just 0.6 seconds. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was third but only 8.1 seconds down on Ogier. The Belgian was leading the rally after Friday’s eight stages but lost time on Saturday morning due to a wrong tyre choice.
Northern Ireland’s Jon Armstrong had a fantastic maiden victory in the Junior WRC section of Rally Croatia. The 2019 Down Rally winner was eighth and last after the first stage but fought back over the three days to take a hard earned win. Meanwhile another NI driver young William Creighton finished fifth. All competitors were in identical Ford Fiesta R4’s.
If you missed Croatia try to catch the highlights on ITV4. Promises to be a classic year ahead in the WRC with Ogier, Neuville and Evans so close and competitive not to mention former champ Tanak. Next up is Rally Portugal 20-23 of this month. Good to see the Acropolis back in September. Check out full 2021 calendar on WRC.com.
The Conecrusher Rally organised by North Ulster Car Club was round two of the NI Rally Championship. Starting from Ballymena at 10pm on Friday 3rd May and finishing at the Brown Trout in Aghadowey at 8am on Saturday. There were 22 gravel stages in counties Antrim and Derry. We as a club set up and ran the 20-junction Springwell stage which was one of the final tests in the very early hours of Saturday morning. Very few of the large entry of competitors made it to the finish of what was undoubtedly the longest and toughest round in the Championship. The winners were Andy Magee and Michael Johnston in a Ford Escort Mk.2.
We were running a short concrete lane stage called Snowy Glen on the Carryduff Forklift Rally. Based in Carrickfergus for the first time, the event was the third round of the Adair-Singleton Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Mervyn Hill won in his Mazda RX7 from George Robinson’s Toyota Starlet. Philip Young was third in a Ford Escort Mk.2.
Maurice Gass won the Bishopscourt Stages in his Subaru Impreza WRC. Due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak the event had moved from early March to early May. Held in glorious sunshine, we were covering all starts and finishes on the six-stage sealed surface rally. No less than 130 cars started at 30 second intervals so we were very busy from 10am until the last car crossed the finish line at 6.30pm.
Kenny McKinstry came from behind to win the fourth round of the MSA Hankook NI Championship, the tarmac closed-road Tour of the Sperrins. The Banbridge driver had previously won the first three rounds of the series. We were on the finish controls of the 15-mile Slieve Gallion stage which would be run three times during the day. Despite the organisers (Magherafelt and District Motor Club) having set up the time controls in a very poor location we were eventually able to get into a safe position to record the competitors times. I made the point after the event that ALL organising clubs should take note and make the safe sightings of time controls, especially at stage finishes, their priority. Another timekeeper on that Sperrins event was very lucky not to have his car damaged when a competitor almost crashed into it on a stop control. The safety of officials must be a priority when running a stage rally. 90 cars started the Tour of the Sperrins and 65 made it to finish in Maghera.
Marty McCormack and his niece Caron won the extremely tough Tour of the Sperrins Rally in a Skoda Fabia S2000. Magherafelt and District MC had put together 9 gravel stages some of which hadn’t been used for years. The rally was a counting round of both the Northern Ireland and the Irish Forest Championships. An entry of 72 started from Rally HQ in Maghera. We were on radio duty at the start of SS3/7 Wolf’s Hill in the Davagh Forest complex which is in Co.Tyrone near Draperstown. Our test was 4 miles long. Persistent rain for most of the day didn’t cause any problems. Derek McGeehan/Arthur Kierans were second in a Mini WRC. Top of the Valvoline Irish Forest Championship runners were Michael Carbin and Darragh Kelly who finished third in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.9. 72 competitors started and 47 finished. BMMC/BRMC members covered timekeeping, stage marshalling, radio and rescue crew on the event.
Damian Toner and Denver Rafferty won the Loughgall Country Park Rally. Last year’s winners in their Ford Escort Mk.2 finished 22 seconds ahead of second placed crew Keith White/Damian McCann in a Mk.1 Escort. Of the 57 starters 33 were Mk.2 Escorts. 50 crews finished the six-stage tarmac event which was largely dry but a few hefty showers made for slippery conditions at times. We were covering radio points as well as stage marshalling duties on this North Armagh MC non-championship single venue rally.
Also in May 2016 we were in action timekeeping and marshalling on the Police Motor Club’s Woodside Group Targa Rally. 62 cars started the Co.Antrim event and 32 of them were Mazda MX5’s. There were 20 tests, most of them in farmyards or lanes. The day went well and the weather was excellent. Winners were David Carothers and Barbara Kane in one of the MX5’s. They finished just 4 seconds ahead of the Toyota Starlet of Eamonn Byrne and Robert Dickson. 57 cars made it to the Ballinderry Inn finish.
Rallying as a discipline was given the green light earlier this month, and now Motorsport UK has created a guidance video to help everyone understand the changes we have to undertake. Here is a link to the video:- ReturnToTheStages
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