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From Pentti Airikkala to Craig Breen

The Belfast Telegraph International Ulster Rally 1979 was a two-day event. The rally, a round of both the Tudor Tarmac and Sedan Products Open Championships, started from Craigavon Leisure Centre at 4pm on Friday 19th October. It ran continuously for 24 hours finishing in Larne at 4pm the next day. There were 26 different closed-road special stages covering most of Northern Ireland.

This was my first experience of motorsport marshalling. My next door neighbour at the time Neil Boulton was an experienced rally marshal and timekeeper. He asked me to help him on the Ulster on Friday night. Basically Neil showed me the ropes on the stop control of SS 3 Carnanee near Belfast International Airport. That was the extent of my training. Next day I was left on my own to man the stop control on one of the final tests. Luckily my brother-in-law helped out.

The 1979 Ulster was won by Pentti Airikkala and Risto Virtanen in a Vauxhall Chevette. They were followed home by Dealer Team Vauxhall/Castrol team-mates Jimmy McRae/ Frank Main in a similar car. Stig Blomquist and Bjorn Cederberg brought their Saab 99 Sedan Turbo home in third ahead of Ernest Kidney and Nicky Moffett’s Escort.

Among the retirees were Henri Toivonen and Phillip Boland. Their Total Oil backed Escort RS 1800 ended up in a field on SS2. Malcolm Wilson /Terry Harryman were forced to retire their similar Total Oil Escort after an off on stage four. Russell Brookes and Paul White crashed their Escort out of the event on SS12.

There was huge entry list of 130 competitors. Clerk of the Course was Roy Sloan while Bill Reilly was Chief Timekeeper.

Fast forward 40 years and I was covering a mid-point radio point on the 2019 Today’s Ulster Rally. After running as a two-day rally since it started back in 1976, this year the competitive element of the event moved to one single day, Saturday 17th August. There were just 10 daylight hours of action. A total of 9 stages, three repeated three times all in Co.Down near the Newry HQ, was the extent of the new set up. The event was the penultimate round of both the British Rally Championship and the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.

Our stage was the longest of the rally. At 13.45 miles, SS2/5/8 Bronte Homeland would take no prisoners. A mixture of fast sections and narrow slippery technical roads the stage would catch out some of the top crews. Our location was at junction 19, a chicane 10.88 miles into the test. This particular stage was last used on the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 2014 when the event was part of the European Rally Championship for the first time.

Four Hyundai i20 R5’s started the Ulster Rally and three of them crashed out on our stage. James Wilson (SS2) and Tom Cave (SS8) both removed wheels in their heavy accidents but thankfully no injuries were incurred. Cave was chasing Edwards for British Rally Championship points and had been lying third at the time. The third i20 was driven by Alan Carmichael in the National section of the event. Alan went off on a right hand bend on SS2 and was unable to continue.

In complete contrast, Craig Breen led from start to finish in the fourth Hyundai i20 R5. He and co-driver Paul Nagle, fresh from finishing seventh on Rally Finland two weekends previously, sealed the 2019 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship on the Ulster. The Waterford/Killarney partnership have an unassailable lead with one round still to run. The final round of the 2019 ITRC, the Cork 20 Rally, takes place on Saturday 28/Sunday 29 September.

The first Hyundai win ever on the Ulster Rally was perhaps a forgone conclusion but well deserved.

Second were BRC top runners Matt Edwards/Patrick Walsh in a Fiesta R5 while Callum Devine/Brian Hoy had another great result to claim third place overall and second ITRC crew to finish. Former Northern Ireland Champion Stuart Biggerstaff had a great win in the Ulster National Rally. This was only his second rally in the McKinstry hired Fiesta R5 and the Kinallen man, with the experienced Anthony Nestor co-driving, beat the on-form Escort Mk.2 of Damian Toner by 7 seconds. David Condell was third in his Escort. He and Toner will go head-to-head for the National title on the Cork 20 this month. There was also a great win for Stanley Orr/Graham Henderson in the Historic section. The Ford Escort Mk.1 crew from Northern Ireland took maximum points in the British Historic Rally Championship.

There were 102 starters and just 67 cars crossed the finish ramp in Newry on Saturday evening. The new look Today’s Ulster Rally was a great success and the weather had been excellent all day long.

Earlier last month we attended the Dogleap Rally run by Maiden City Motor Club. At the last minute Victor and I agreed to help with radio cover on the single venue event. The clubman rally took place on the runways of the former Shackleton RAF base in Ballykelly, Co.Derry. We hadn’t been here for some years but the place looked just the same. Due to be developed for housing in the future the airfield complex is still available for motorsport on certain days of the year. 57 cars started the six-stage tarmac rally, by the end of the day there were 46 finishers. Winners were Aaron and Noelle McLaughlin in a Ford Fiesta R5. The rally ran to schedule with no major incidents and the weather was dry for most of the time with just one heavy rain shower.

Rally Diary

Sat. 7th September
Lakeland Stages Rally

Organised by Enniskillen Motor Club this gravel rally is round five of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship and the final round (7) of the Irish Forest Rally Championship. We are covering rescue and providing radio crews on this event based in the usual forests near Derrygonnelly in Co.Fermanagh.

No less than 99 cars appear on the Trailer Parts and Spares sponsored Lakeland Stages entry list headed by Sam Moffett in his Fiesta R5, Desi Henry is at 2 in a Fiesta WRC while third on the list is Vivian Hamill’s R5 Fiesta. Derek McGarrity in a Fiesta WRC is at 6 and Kenny McKinstry in his first appearance driving a Fiesta R5 starts at number 8. Championship contender Derek McGeehan starts at 10 in his MINI WRC.

Sat. 14th September
Cookstown MC Targa Rally

Starting and finishing from the A1 service station Dungannon Road, Cookstown this is the club’s third Targa Rally this year. We have been asked to provide timekeepers. The event is sponsored by a local company, Finch Retail. Sign on from 8am. First car leaves start at 10.00.

Sat. 21st September
Bushwacker Rally

Omagh Motor Club are the organisers of this classic gravel rally. Sponsored for the eleventh year by Castlederg firm McKelvey Asbestos. Based at the Silverbirch Hotel, Gortin Road, Omagh. Round six of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship always attracts a huge entry. The stages are in West Tyrone and include Lough Bradan, Carrickaholten and Killeter Forest. We will be covering rescue, radio points and timekeepers. Sign on at the hotel for breakfast at 8am. Dinner will also be provided after the event.

Sat. 5th October
Laharna Lanes Rally

Larne Motor Club are organising this annual Targa Rally sponsored by Autodock. No other details at present. If you are available to assist the club contact is Chief Marshal Derek Dixon.


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