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A Tale Of Three Rallies

During September I officiated on three different rallies. To begin with on Sat.1st we had the Lakeland Stages event. Run by Enniskillen Motor Club this was round five of the MSA Northern Ireland Championship and the penultimate round of the Irish Forest (gravel) Championship. I drove 114 miles from base in Bangor Co.Down to cover radio on the start line of stage three and six at Ballintempo. Rory and Duncan from BMMC/BRMC were covering rescue. Peter Caldwell was marshalling at the finish of the stage.

A great entry of 97 competitors meant we were set for a long day. Ours was the longest stage at 8.80 miles. In all there were twelve tests. Two runs over Lough Navar and Big Dog being the others. All of the classic gravel stages were in the area of County Fermanagh near Derrygonnelly, around 18 miles north of Enniskillen and close to Lower Lough Erne. The service park was in Enniskillen.

Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton set the pace and led from start to finish on the stages. Their lead was 41 seconds coming off the final test, but there was drama when their Fiesta R5 cut out on the road section back to the finish ramp in Enniskillen. Four minutes were lost and the crew incurred a penalty of 40 seconds but they somehow managed to push the car into the final control. Unbelievably Moffett and Thornton had won the rally by ONE second from Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan in a Skoda Fabia R5.

That victory by Moffett/Thornton sealed the 2018 Irish Forest Rally Championship for the Monaghan pairing. Vivian Hamill and Andrew Grennan were third in their new Fiesta R5. The 2-wheel-drive category was won by Comber’s David Crossen and Aileen Kelly in their Escort Mk.2. Frank Kelly was second also in a Mk.2 while young Jordan Hone came home third in his little Opel Adam R2. With regard to Ballintempo we had a few cars off but nothing serious on both runs. A total of 90 went in to SS3 and then 79 on SS6. Seventy cars were classed as finishers. Good weather prevailed throughout.

The second event for me last month was the A29 Targa Rally. This was Cookstown Motor Club’s second Targa of the year and based at the sponsors petrol filling station on the Dungannon Road. Victor and I made the journey on Saturday 15th for the 08.30 sign-on. After breakfast we headed out to our test location somewhere between Cookstown and Dungannon. The short but complicated mile long stage was run three times during a long day for us. This test was not very popular with competitors. The cars arrived at 10.45 for the first time round. By the time they had cleared us for the third time it was 6pm. The weather was good with only one shower of rain. John and Anna Hughes were timing one of the other tests. There were 73 starters but only 47 made it to the Cookstown finish after a total of 15 tests. Winners were Trevor Ferguson and Raymond Donaldson in one of the many Mazda MX5’s.

Then on Saturday 22nd September, Victor and myself made the annual journey to Omagh for the Bushwacker Rally. The event was the final round of the Irish Forest Rally Championship and the penultimate round of the MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship.This year we would be timekeeping on the two Carrickaholten stages.

The Bushwacker, otherwise known as “The Tyrone Grand Prix” always attracts a huge entry to the classic gravel tests in West Tyrone. This year was no different with a total of 110 competitors starting. In all there were 11 stages, five in the Lough Bradan forest complex plus four in Killeter Forest as well as Carrickaholten. The service park had returned to Aghyaran GAA Community Centre for the first time in years! The Bushwacker is one of my favourite events, in fact I haven’t missed it since 1983!

We are always well looked after by the organisers Omagh Motor Club and particularly by the McAleer family. Declan was Chief Timekeeper, Ronnie the COC and not forgetting Dessie the zero car driver. Ronnie McAleer’s sons Jonny and Mark were competing in their little Vauxhall Corsa. They finished a credible 72nd overall.

A huge breakfast on our 8am arrival at the Silverbirch Hotel sign-on was a good start. Mind you I had to leave home at 6am but it was worth it. Dinner was also provided after the rally at 5.30 pm. In all I covered 220 miles on the day. Apart from us, other BMMC/BRMC members were covering rescue, radio, timekeeping and stage marshalling.

Carrickaholten Forest is a further 21.5 miles from Omagh and not far from my old home town of Castlederg. We arrived in good time at the stop line which was in an excellent location. The first car would start the 2.96 mile stage at 10.47 and the last of the 108 still in the event a couple of hours later. Fastest time was 2.57 minutes, recorded by the Fiesta R5’s of Josh Moffett and Barry McKenna. There were no incidents to report on SS3 with only one retirement due to mechanical issues.

For the second run Carrickaholten was reversed. Again there were no problems with 93 cars in and 93 out. This time the stage was 2.90 miles long and Desi Henry set fastest time at 2.47 minutes. The only shower of rain all day came on the second run, otherwise the weather was good with the sun even making an appearance.

The winners of the Bushwacker 2018 were the new Irish Forest Rally Champions, Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton. As on the Lakeland the Ford Fiesta R5 pair led from start to finish. Second went to the Fiesta R5+ crewed by Vivian Hamill and Andrew Grennan while last years winners Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan were third in their Skoda Fabia R5. Desi had been in contention for the lead but he dropped to seventh in stage six with gear selection problems. Lots of time was lost, but with the car sorted a late charge netted the final podium slot.

Former NI Champion Connor McCloskey was fourth in a hired McKinstry Motorsport Subaru S14 WRC. Gone are the days when World Rally Cars dominated the Northern Ireland stages. R5’s appear to be the cars to have these days! The 2-wheel-drive category was won by the new British Historic Rally Champion, Omagh’s Paul Barrett who had none other than Gordon Noble co-driving in his Mk.2 Escort. Shane McGirr was second in his Starlet and David Crossen third in his Mk.2.

One noteworthy result was that of young Austin Snow and old stager John Henderson. Austin is the son of a former Irish Tarmac Championship regular and round winner Gabriel Snow. This was the first time I have seen the Omagh driver on the gravel stages. The Mitsubishi Evo 9 crew finished a very creditable 19th overall and 5th in group N from a seeding of 40. Stephen Whitford / Stephen Dodds brought out the gloriously sounding David Greer Motorsport prepared 2-wheel-drive Toyota GT86 for a rare gravel appearance and finished the rally in 42nd place.

Although Derek McGarrity retired his Ford Focus WRC after stage three on the Bushwacker, the Glengormley driver has been crowned Northern Ireland Champion for a record eighth time. With one round remaining he cannot be caught in the points table. Only a win by Desi Henry or Alan Carmichael (he finished 11th in his Mini WRC) would have seen the Championship battle carry on until the final round, The Tyrone Stages later this month.

Here’s the thing. If Desi Henry had registered for the Northern Ireland Championship prior to round two the Tour of the Sperrins back in May things could have been so different. He won that event in his Skoda Fabia R5 and so missed out on 12 maximum championship points! Henry’s priority at that time had been the Irish Tarmac Championship but then his challenge fell apart. He didn’t do round three the Mourne Rally but did finally register before the fourth round the Down Rally in July. In hindsight Desi regrets not focusing on the MSA Northern Ireland Championship from the start of the season! It just goes to prove, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Rally Diary

Sat. 13th October
Donegal Harvest Stages Rally

This is the final round of the Triton Showers Irish National Rally Championship. Declan Boyle is favourite for the title as he only has to finish in the top eight to beat his only challenger Josh Moffett. A Boyle success would of course deny Moffett the chance to equal his brother Sam’s 2017 treble of Irish Tarmac, Forest and National titles. Still two out of three ain’t bad I suppose! On form Josh has already clinched the 2018 Irish Tarmac Championship and the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship. Both Josh and Declan are in Ford Fiesta WRC’s. The rally is organised by Donegal Motor Club and runs out of sponsors Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey. Some of our club members will be marshalling and carrying out other official duties.

Sat. 13th October
Loughgall Targa Road Rally

Organised by North Armagh Motor Club and sponsored by Ballylisk Car Sales, this Targa event will start from its base at Loughgall Football Club, Co.Armagh and all tests are within the nearby Loughgall Country Park. BMMC/BRMC members will be assisting with timekeeping and marshalling. Sign-on from 8am. Rally starts at 10.30.

Sat. 20th October
Tyrone Stages Rally - In Benone!

The seventh and final round of the MSA McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Organised by Cookstown Motor Club we will be providing timekeepers and other officials for this tarmac rally which uses 14 stages totalling 44 miles on private roads in the Magilligan area of Co. Derry. Rally HQ and service park will be located at the Benone Tourist Complex. Although Derek McGarrity has already won the overall championship, some of the various classes have yet to be sorted out. Bonus championship points will be awarded. Rally starts at 10.30.

Sat. 3rd November
Glens of Antrim Rally

No information is available for this Mid Antrim Motor Club organised event as I write. The Glens of Antrim this year was scheduled to be a reserve round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. If the Tyrone Stages runs ok this month then the Glens will not be a Championship event. Whether the rally still goes ahead is anyone’s guess! I presume the stages will be gravel based. Check the Mid Antrim MC’s website (which hopefully will be updated) or the ANICC site nearer the date if you require sign-on information.


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