Last month we had two major closed-road tarmac stage rallies in Northern Ireland. THE MAIDEN CITY STAGES RALLY took place on Saturday 6th April. This event was new to the Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
Based in the Co.Tyrone town of Strabane, the stages were nearby close to Dunamanagh. A total of six tests, two seven mile stages repeated three times (Curryfree and Altishane) were on the menu. A super entry of over 90 competitors had been assembled by the Maiden City Motor Club headed by Derek McGarrity’s Fiesta WRC. The rally was sponsored by Eakin Brothers through their Brian James Trailers franchise.
Victor and myself were covering a mid-point radio on the Altishane stage. The weather was excellent dry and sunny all day. Our location turned out to be outside the homes of well known competitors Sean Devine and his son Niall. Both were taking part, Sean in his Fiesta R5, while Niall, celebrating his 30th birthday, was driving a Mitsubishi Evo. Sean finished in seventh while Niall was ninth. Mrs. Devine and family supplied us and the sector marshals with tea and sandwiches during a break in proceedings.
Desi Henry in his Fabia R5 won the rally from Calum Devine’s Fiesta R5 while a sensational drive from Kevin Eves in his 2-wheel drive Corolla netted third place in the end. McGarrity was fourth but sixth was enough to give Derek McGeehan the Championship lead in his MINI WRC. There were 88 starters and 68 of them made it to the finish.
The next up was the UAC EASTER STAGES RALLY on April 19+20 sponsored by Wastewater Solutions. This was round three of the Irish Tarmac Championship but strangely NOT a round of the Northern Ireland Championship.
Of course the Ulster Automobile Club used to run the famous five-day Circuit of Ireland Rally over the Easter weekend. Something we will never ever see again unfortunately. A five day event in this modern era would be totally impractical to organise.
The 2019 Easter Stages consisted of fifteen short special stages totalling 78.35 miles in counties Antrim and Down spread over two days, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. BMMC were out in force covering rescue, timing, radio cover, stage marshalling plus providing fire cover for refuelling areas. Although the rally started from Antrim Castle Gardens the central service park and rally finish was in the Dundrod Motorsport Centre ( the pits and paddock area for the Ulster GP motorbike races) The weather on both days was perfect with record Easter temperatures recorded on the Saturday.
Victor and myself were once again covering a mid-point radio on both days. On Friday our stage was SS3/6 Lyles Hill near Templepatrick. At 4.51 miles long this was one of the shortest tests. Perhaps disappointingly only 65 cars started the rally and after stage six only 58 were still running. We had an uneventful day apart from one of the later competitors having an engine bay fire in his Fiesta. The remaining cars stopped and help extinguish the flames which caused quite a bit of damage. Both crew members were uninjured.
In Northern Ireland fire extinguishers are not a requirement at each stage junction on tarmac rallies, they are on Southern Irish events. Incredibly we had a second fire to deal with the next day as you will hear!
Day two and we had moved on to SS 7/10/13 Lonends which was actually only a few miles away. On stage for 06.15 we settled into our mid-point location at post 5 on the 4.65 mile test. The first run went relatively smoothly until car 70 passed in a ball of flame. Apparently the fuel cap had not been secured properly before the start of this the day’s first stage. The resulting fire looked severe but was quickly brought under control by following crews, marshals and spectators before the rescue crew, summoned following our radio call, arrived on the scene. Although shaken and feeling rather warm neither driver nor co-driver were injured. Their Ford Escort suffered rear end fire damage but it could have been a lot worse!
The following two stages were uneventful for us apart from one retirement due to mechanical issues and we were finished for 3.30pm. After stage 13 there were 61 cars still running. A few extra cars were competing in a Saturday only rally.
Unsurprisingly the winners of the Easter Stages Rally were pre-event favourites Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. Driving the same Ford Fiesta R5 with which they had tasted success in Galway and West Cork, the Waterford/Killarney pairing dominated the UAC organised rally, leading from stage two and fastest or joint fastest on nine of the 15 stages.
Second was the Skoda Fabia R5 of Desi Henry. Co-driven by Millstreet’s Liam Moynihan the local Co.Antrim driver had been third behind Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick until the penultimate stage, the longest at 8.74 miles. Henry was fastest on Lavery’s Bridge 3 and passed Greer’s Fiesta R5 to finish 4 seconds ahead of the Carryduff driver at the end of the final 2.76 mile stage. Callum Devine was fourth in his Fiesta R5 while Damian Toner was the leading 2-wheel drive finisher in 12th place.
Kenny McKinstry and Kenny Hull won the 11- car Saturday Rally in a Subaru S14 WRC. There were 47 finishers in the main Easter Stages Rally while just 6 cars finished the Saturday Rally.
30 Years Ago........1989
Kenny McKinstry driving a Mk.2 Escort won the first two rounds of the 1989 MSA Adair-Singleton Northern Ireland Rally Championship. We were running a stage on both the all-night North Ulster Car Club’s Conecrusher Rally in Co.Derry and then the RUC Motor Club’s Carryduff Forklift Stages held in Co.Down. Both events were gravel-based rallies. Although the second one had some short sealed surface tests.
20 Years Ago.......1999
We were timekeeping at the Ballycastle Rally which saw only 34 cars competing on the 8-stage tarmac event. Trevor Moore won in his Escort Cosworth from George Robinson. Star of the day had been Andy Hawthorne in his self-built 2 litre mid-engined Vauxhall Nova. Unfortunately Andy crashed out from second place.
10 Years Ago.......2009
On the final Saturday in May we were timekeeping on four stages of the second round of the ANICC 2WD Rally Challenge. Based at the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle the Mid Antrim Motor Club event would use a total of 8 stages using the tarmac drives of Ballycastle and Ballypatrick forests. The rally was won by George Robinson in his Subaru Impreza S6 WRC. Top 2WD finisher was local man Declan McNaughton in his Escort but the top points scorer was Michael Conlon in fifth. Andrew Bush still led the Championship despite not taking part in Ballycastle.
We covered all the finish time controls on the five-stage tarmac Tour of the Sperrins in Davagh Forest. The Magherafelt and District Motor Club event was round four of the MSA Hankook NI Rally Championship. Derek McGarrity came from behind to win by just 1.3 seconds from the well driven Mk.2 Escort of Declan McNaughton. Conditions were atrocious with heavy rain all day.
BMMC member Billy Stevenson driving his 1959 Ford Popular 100E, the oldest car in the event, finished an incredible 10th overall in the Historic Rally Car Challenge at Loughgall Country Park. A total of around fifty cars took part. The seven-stage rally was part of the Festival of Motorsport organised for the third year by North Armagh Motor Club and Armagh Lions Club. Three of us were on timing duties on what was a changeable day weather wise.
Monday 6th May
May Day Stages Rally
Enniskillen Motor Club are the organisers for this annual single venue stage rally. Based at St.Angelo Airport near Enniskillen we are providing rescue cover as well as stage marshals. Sign-on is early from 07.00.
Sat. 11th May
PPP Group Targa Rally
This Targa event is organised by Magherafelt and District Motor Club. The base for the rally will be the Elk Inn Complex, Toomebridge. Marshals and timekeepers are welcome. Sign-on from 07.00.
Sat. 25th May
NAMC May Targa Rally
North Armagh Motor Club are running this event sponsored by Burkes of Cornascriebe. We normally support the event with marshals and timekeepers. Based at Loughgall Football Club sign-on is from 07.00.