Last month we had the first two stage rallies of the year in Northern Ireland. First off was the Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally on Saturday 16th February. The Omagh MC gravel event ran over eight stages south of Fivemiletown in Co.Tyrone. Canned for the last two years due to lack of interest, this time the clubman rally ran with just 48 competitors.
For my contribution I was manning the radio car, along with my mate Victor, at the stop control on the final test of a four-stage loop. SS 4/8 Crocknagrally was just 3.15 miles long and the first run started at 12.45. Conditions were good, mild and dry, but the stages were slippery and very tricky following some overnight rain.
The first run ran without incident and by the end of this stage there were 38 cars still competing. Leading the rally at this half way point were Cathan McCourt and Barry McNulty in their Fiesta R5. They were 8 seconds ahead of Cathan’s brother Conor and Caolan McKenna in an identical car.
For me though the most interesting car in the event was in third position following stage four. Event sponsor Martynas Samsonas and co-driver Ervinas Snikas from Lithuania were in a glorious sounding 2-wheel-drive bright red BMW M3 E36 with a huge rear spoiler. Sadly they would retire on the next stage, ironically with gearbox problems (Samsonas supply gearboxes to the motor trade) Conor McCourt also retired his Fiesta on SS5.
Second time round only 31 cars finished SS8 the final stage of the rally. The only casualty was Cathan McCourt. Leading by 37 seconds the Dromore driver crashed heavily within sight of the flying finish boards. He was caught out by those slippery conditions handing the rally win to Niall McCullagh and Ryan McCloskey from Omagh. Their Mitsubishi Evo.9 finished 8 seconds ahead of the similar car of Michael Carbin/Conor Mohan from Monaghan. McCullagh set the fastest stage eight time which moved him ahead of Carbin and ultimately that unexpected victory! The rally ran to schedule all day and despite the large retirement rate there were no injuries reported.
The next event was a week later at Kirkistown race circuit. The Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stage Rally was round one of the 2019 Motorsport UK McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Organised by North Armagh Motor Club the rally attracted a start list of 72 competitors for the six stage event. I was stage marshalling along with a large contingent of BMMC/BRMC members.
Reigning NI Champion Derek McGarrity led the field away in his newly acquired Ford Fiesta WRC. Fastest on stage one McGarrity was chased by the R5 Fiesta of Stephen Wright and Alan Carmichael’s Hyundai i20 R5. Derek McGeehan was fourth in his Mini WRC while former champion Kenny McKinstry held fifth place in his Subaru S14 WRC.
As the day progressed McGarrity continued to dominate the times, seemingly cruising to yet another rally win. Then suddenly there was drama before the final stage. As the Glengormley driver accompanied by Kieron Graffin made his way into service after SS5 a fire broke out in the Fiestas engine bay which was quickly extinguished, but unfortunately the resulting damage could not be fixed in time and so they retired with just one stage remaining.
McGarrity’s shock exit handed the rally win to Monaghan’s Stephen Wright and Keith Rainey who had dropped back to seventh until the heavens opened prior to stage four and a correct tyre choice catapulted then up the leader board to second. Darren Gass, with brother Nathan co-driving, was a late entry in his new Skoda Fabia R5 and after a cautious start finished second as he set the car up for an assault on the Irish Tarmac Championship this year. McGeehan was third and McKinstry fourth. Best of the 2-wheel-drive entry were the 2018 champions, the husband and wife team of James and Heather Kennedy, who finished eighth in their Escort Mk.2. There was a huge variety of cars competing. For example all of the top ten finishers were in different types of machinery.
In total there were 62 finishers on what was a very cold but mostly dry (apart from that short heavy shower) last Saturday in February. Well done to all the marshals who braved the cold to keep the rally running on schedule without any major problems. The event started at 09.30 and finished at 16.15.
It was good to see a new winner of a Northern Ireland Championship round. Stephen Wright may decide to continue with this great series as he has no plans to contest any other championship this year. Sean Devine was competing at Kirkistown after many years away from the NI series in a new Fiesta R5. The Strabane man intends to do the full championship. He scored a good haul of points finishing seventh overall. Could be a great and competitive year ahead for the Northern Ireland Championship, let’s hope so.
We were timing an early stage of the Hills of Donegal Rally, round one of the Irish National Championship. The event was based in Ballybofey but was abandoned when a co-driver, Gerard Conroy was killed after the Ford Escort driven by his brother Noel crashed at the finish of stage seven. George Robinson and George Miller in a Toyota Starlet were declared winners.
Sean Haveron won the Eurocables Rally at Kirkistown driving his usual Ford Sierra Cosworth. There were a number of incidents including an overshoot at the finish of one stage which could have been more serious. 120 cars started the six stage event.
Derek McGarrity took a completely demoralising win on the second round of the MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship at Bishopscourt. He was fastest on all six stages and beat Connor McCloskey by 30 seconds at the end of the day. Third place brought Seamus Leonard into championship contention, while Trevor Moore won the hotly contested 2-wheel-drive award and Mark Massey the Group N section. McGarrity was driving yet another Subaru S12B WRC. Six of us were timing on a cold but dry day. 120 cars started at 30 second intervals which kept us very busy at the Co.Down race circuit.
Meanwhile Kris Meeke got his bid for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge back on track with a start to finish win on round two, the Rally De Curitiba in Brazil. After a disastrous first round, the famous Monte Carlo Rally, in which he and Paul Nagle crashed out while in fourth place, the young Dungannon driver was completely dominant on the gravel event last month which he said was fantastic. Kris is joint second in the 12 round championship which now heads to the Rally Azores on May 7-8.
Craig Breen won the Acropolis Rally in Greece, round three of the European Rally Championship driving the brand new Peugeot 208 T16 the Waterford man and his English co-driver Scott Martin finished just 8.1 seconds ahead of Frenchman Bryan Bouffier in his Citroen DS3 RRC. The next round of the ERC would be the Circuit of Ireland at Easter (17-19 April).
Round 2 of the Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Organised by Rathfriland Motor Club the six-stage rally takes place within the confines of Bishopscourt Race Circuit in South Co.Down about seven miles from Downpatrick. Marshals are required. Sign-on time 7.30-8am. The rally starts at 09.30. Expect around 70 competitors.
All marshals should attend this training day to keep their grades up to date. Jim Whitaker is the Motorsport UK licensed trainer. Sign-on 9am for a 09.30 start. Lunch provided. Venue is the Kirkistown Race Circuit in Co.Down. I always say “You learn something new every training day”
Round 3 of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. This closed-road event uses two stages run three times. They are located near Dunamanagh in Co.Tyrone. Rally HQ and the service park are located in Strabane at the Canal Basin. We will be covering radios and rescue as well as stage marshalling. Maiden City Motor Club are the organisers.
West Cork Rally 16-17 March ( Round 2 of both the British Rally Championship and the Irish Tarmac Championship)
WRC: Rally Mexico 7-10 March (Round 3)......Corsica 28-31 March (Round 4)
Please see the promotional video https://youtu.be/elCYxO77I-o
On Saturday morning at Autosport International we will be launching a new online training and accreditation scheme for Rally marshals, as part of the RallyFuture project to further enhance safety on UK stage rallies.
Hopefully you will already have been aware of the project through MSA publications or Regional Association meetings. However we felt it was important to write to you in advance of the launch, to ensure you are aware before we make the wider public announcement.
This new scheme has been several months in the making. Its purpose is to ensure that all Rally marshals have a common understanding of their roles and responsibilities, the management of spectators and how to handle an incident.
The training should take no longer than 45 minutes, including the assessments. It is important to note that the online training is a supplement to, and not a replacement for, the high quality face-to-face training sessions that are currently being delivered across the UK.
This year, the online training and accreditation is only compulsory for newly registering marshals. However please note that those marshals who are currently registered with the MSA will need to complete the online training before being issued with their 2017 Registration card. You will only need to complete this course once in your marshalling career.
There will be a buddy system for unregistered marshals, to help ensure we don’t lose opportunities to recruit new volunteers – further details will be released in due course.
More details will be revealed following the launch on Saturday. In the meantime, may we thank you for everything you do for our sport, which would not exist without you. Best wishes for the coming season.