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Capacity Entry Boosts Sperrins Rally

Last month Victor Lyness and myself assisted with radio cover on Magherafelt and District Motor Club’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally. This was round two of the 2018 Northern Ireland Rally Championship and I had made the 144 mile round trip from Bangor via. Lisburn to help out on the well organised event. Between the two of us we have worked on this particular rally for more years than we care to remember!

The weather was excellent for the six-stage closed road rally. A capacity entry of 100 cars had been received led by Garry Jennings in his S12 Subaru. The event sponsor GO petroleum had their representative Michael Moran co-driving for the Kesh driver.

We were on the first and fourth test, a short 3.50 mile stage near Davagh Forest in Co.Tyrone. In fact Victor and I had been here before in 2015 when the Tyrone Stages Rally used a different longer version of the stage but the finish was the same. There may have been 100 on the entry list but 89 cars actually started stage one.

Desi Henry went into the lead in his Skoda Fabia R5 ahead of the two WRC Subaru’s of Jennings and Derek McGarrity. In fact Henry led from start to finish and was fastest on every stage in the latest evolution of the Fabia R5 perhaps proving that these little 1.6 litre cars now have the beating of the old dinosaur WRC 2litre Subaru’s.

Second time around there were 78 competitors left after our stage. By the end of the six stages 72 remained. Desi Henry won by 12.9 seconds from Garry Jennings with Derek McGarrity third. Top 2-wheel drive finisher was local driver Ryan Loughran in his Mk.2 Escort. McGarrity collected the top points in the Championship as neither Henry nor Jennings are registered.

The “Drive of the Rally”, for me anyway, came from Amy Cox and Caron McCormack. Seeded at number 27 in their Skoda Fabia S2000 they were never lower than eighth and finished seventh. Surely they must be the best and fastest female rally crew in the British Isles at the present time. Bear in mind they only got together last November when Caron’s uncle Marty McCormack lent the girls his spare Fabia S2000 for the Sunset Rally. May the young partnership go on from this to much bigger and better things!

Perhaps the most successful female crew in 1980’s British rallying were Louise Aitken-Walker and Ellen Morgan. Then Aitken-Walker and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner won the 1990 Ladies World Championship in an Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra although they were virtually unchallenged. The Simmonite sisters, Stephanie and Rachael from Bradford, were the leading female crew and had limited success in the 1990’s British Rally Championship. Amy and Caron could be as good as these pairings and even perhaps as good as the fastest ever female crew, Michelle Mouton and Fabrizia Pons, who excelled for the Audi Quattro works team in the WRC of the early eighties winning four rallies and finishing second in the 1982 World Championship. Let’s hope the young Ladies get the breaks and the finance that they deserve!

World Rallycross Thrills At Silverstone

1996 was the last time that the European Rallycross Championship visited Mondello Park near Naas. The Irish circuit had hosted a round of the forerunner to the current World Championship each year since 1987 and I marshalled there most years.

In 1992 one Tommy Rustad took the Mondello win in Martin Schanche’s Group B Ford RS200. Fast forward 26 years and the same Tommy Rustad was at Silverstone, this time in a state of the art VW Polo, to compete in the FIA World Rallycross Championship as it paid its first ever visit to the home of the British F1 Grand Prix. A brand new track had been built and debuted earlier this year when it hosted the first round of the British Rallycross Championship.

I had made a last-minute decision to attend the event, not as a marshal this time, but as a paying member of the 27,000 punters who turned up on Sunday 27th May. A flight from Belfast to Bristol was booked and my son David, who lives in Bristol, had arranged to put me up and then drive us the 100 miles to the Northamptonshire race circuit.

The weather could not have been better, sunshine all day with temperatures in the late twenties. Admission was a pricey £70 each but then there was so much to see. The new GP pits were open with displays of Retro Rallycross and Group B rally cars plus other trade stands filling the impressive building. Cars including a Peugeot T16, Lancia 037, Audi Quattro S1 three Ford RS200’s and two Metro 6R4’s were there. Most of them demo racing at the end of the day. The Prodrive display of rally and racing cars including examples of Colin McRae and Richard Burns rallying Subaru’s was particularly impressive.

The races came fast and furious. First we had Qualifying three and four for the supercars, now based on small cars similar in looks to the 1.6 litre World Rally Cars but putting out around 600 BHP. A new for 2018 Americas Rallycross Championship followed and their final was won by Tanner Foust in his VW Beetle. Former F1 racer Scott Speed finished second in a similar car while Liam Doran was third in his Citroen DS3.

On to the semi-finals for the main event. The first was halted when Petter Solberg took out his VW Polo team mate Johan Kristoffersson at the first corner. A rerun saw Solberg retire but Kristoffersson go on to win and claim pole position for the final. Tommy Rustad made semi-final one but fourth place would mean he didn’t make the final. Sebastien Loeb won the second semi in his Peugeot 208.

I was lucky enough to watch the final from the top of the Monster Energy Tower, probably the best view of the circuit. Johan Kristoffersson led from start to finish from Andreas Bakkerud’s Audi S1.The only major overtaking move saw Loeb pass Matthias Ekstrom in the second Audi for the final podium place. Current Word Champion Kristoffersson leads the 2018 series from Sebastien Loeb who has finished on the podium in each of the four rounds so far this season. Niclas Gronholm, son of former two-time World Rally Champion Marcus, was fifth in the new for 2018 Hyundai i20. The GRX team run by Gronholm senior are a private concern so Niclas finished top non-works driver. Kevin Hansen was sixth and last in his Peugeot 208.

A great day out for us at Silverstone. All we need now is to have a round of the World Rallycross Championship in Northern Ireland, possibly at the new international circuit under construction near Coalisland in Co.Tyrone? Apparently the same guys who designed the Silverstone Rallycross Circuit also penned the Tyrone project.

PS: As an aside and talking of Co.Tyrone, a certain Kris Meeke would enjoy a crack at this form of motorsport, and he is free at the moment isn’t he?

Rally Diary

Saturday 9th June
Modern Tyres Mourne Rally

Newry and District Motor Club are the organisers of this the third round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. The rally is based at the Mourne Country Hotel, Belfast Road, Newry. Eight tarmac stages totalling 34 miles are on the menu, using various combinations of the Forest Drives at Camlough and Slieve Gullion. We have been asked for timekeepers and radio operatives plus rescue crew and stage marshals.

Friday 15th—Sunday 17th June
Joule Donegal International Rally

We will be providing timekeepers and stage marshals for this the fourth round of the 2018 Irish Tarmac Championship. Expect a huge battle for both the overall victory and the top points scoring R5 category. The Moffett brothers and Robert Barrable are only a few points apart after the last round in Killarney, all are in Ford Fiesta R5’s.

The overall win should go the way of one of the WRC’s. The 2 litre S12 Subaru’s of former victor Garry Jennings or winner for the last two years Manus Kelly are in the line up again. Donegal man Donagh Kelly who, after so many years of trying, will be hoping to win his home rally in his 2 litre Ford Focus. Another past winner Declan Boyle can’t be overlooked for the top spot in his 1.6 litre WRC Ford Fiesta. Or could one of the less powerful but newer R5’s steal a famous victory? Only time will tell the outcome. One thing is certain, Donegal Motor Club will look after all their marshals regarding food and free accommodation!

Saturday 7th July
Loughgall Country Park Rally

North Armagh Motor Club will run this annual non-championship event. The Rainbow Communications sponsored rally is a single-venue six-stage tarmac event. Should have a good entry usually around the 60 mark. We will be covering radio points as well as providing stage marshals.


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