The Ulster Rally last month saw both the Irish and British championships come together for the fist time this year. For a change the top fourteen cars were exclusively R5 machines with no World Rally Cars in sight! I have to agree with the opinion expressed by Desi Henry that the World Cars should be banned from competing in the Irish Championship in which they can't score points anyhow! Of course these machines have already been excluded from the British series.
Despite the absence of WRC’s there was still some confusion when the final results appeared. Jonny Greer and Sam Moffett finished third and sixth respectively on the road BUT as both drivers were either not registered or used the wrong tyres they were absent from the BRC results. It was as if they didn't exist. Greer got a mention on Motorsport TV’s coverage of the British Championship but Moffett wasn't included at all.
Surely regulations for both championships should be the same. I was also surprised to find out that right hand drive R5 cars have not yet been homologated. Therefore drivers like Garry Jennings have been put off changing over from their World cars. Wouldn't it be great to see the likes of Donagh Kelly, Jennings, Declan Boyle etc out there competing in similar cars as everyone else. Then we would see who the best drivers are! Mind you R5 cars don't come cheap and many clubmen are unable to afford them. Perhaps we need a more acceptable class of car in which all competitors could compete!
For personal reasons I was unable to help out on the Ulster this year but I know lots of BMMC/BRMC Marshals were out for the two long days of competitive action, covering everything from fire points in the service park through stage marshalling, timekeeping, rescue and radio cover.
Two weekends after the Ulster we were out in force on the latest round of the Northern Ireland Championship, Enniskillen MC’s Lakeland Stages Rally. This popular loose surface event based in Enniskillen and utilising the usual Co.Fermanagh forest tests of Lough Navar, Big Dog and Ballintempo was also the penultimate round of the Irish Forest Championship.
A huge starting list of no less than 100 cars headed into the 5.42 miles of stage one, Lough Navar. Then there was Big Dog’s shorter but challenging 3.35 mile test. By the time the competitors reached my radio point at the finish of the long 9-mile Ballintempo that start list was reduced to just 79.
No major incidents but a roll or two was the order of the day. Six retired on stage three and then a further 3 on the final test. The weather was cloudy and quite cold but largely dry. Most of the drivers said the three stages were in good condition and the event was enjoyable.
Lots of BMMC/BRMC Marshals were on duty covering timing, rescue, radio plus stage marshalling. For me a round trip of 218 miles meant an early start and late home but the company at the stop line of SS3/6 was good with timekeepers from Sligo and our own Peter Caldwell marshalling. At the end of the final stage six we had 71 finishers although only 68 made it back to the finish ramp back in Enniskillen.
Winners of the Lakeland Stages were Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton in their Ford Fiesta R5. Jonny Greer (who won here in 2012) and Kirsty Riddick were 31 seconds back in second with the Citroen DS3 R5. In third was the winner for the past two years, Josh’s older brother Sam with James Fulton co-driving. In fact Sam beat Josh on both occasions, by 21 seconds in 2015 and then as the result of a tie-break last year. This time Josh got his revenge! Sam had been down to drive the family WRC Fiesta but switched at the last minute to his Fiesta R5, just so that the siblings could have a competitive battle in similar cars!
Derek McGarrity was out in an ex-works Skoda Fabia R5 for the first time. It took some time to get used to the new car but he and Noel O’Sullivan finished fourth 1 minute 24 behind the winners. Just to highlight how quick the new R5 cars are becoming, the top four finished ahead of five WRC’s led by 2011 winner Kenny McKinstry in fifth place with Kenny Hull on the pace notes in their Subaru Impreza S14.
All this leaves the Northern Ireland Championship finally poised. With two scheduled rounds left Greer and McGarrity are separated by just six points. McGarrity leads with 40 while Greer has 34. With regard to the Valvoline Irish Forest Championship, Sam Moffett looks home and dry with just the Bushwacker this month to round off the series. Sam is on course to become the first driver to win the Irish Tarmac, National and Forest Championships in one season.
Some of our radio crews are heading down to this two-day tarmac event. A round of the South East Stages Rally Championship the rally always attracts a large entry from mainland UK. 122 cars are listed to start the 15 stage rally. Apparently marshals are well looked after by Wexford M.C.
Sorry but I am afraid I will always call this event the Manx Rally. Still don't known why they changed the name! No matter. The 3-day rally hosts the final two rounds of the British Rally Championship and will see a showdown between Freddy Ahlin and Keith Cronin for the title. Young Ulsterman William Creighton should secure the junior title. I know some marshals from BMMC/BRMC Northern Ireland are going over to cover timekeeping and stage marshalling on the event, good luck to you all!
Yet another Targa event here in Northern Ireland. I will be timekeeping as will other club members. Based at the sponsors A29 Service Station on the Dungannon Road, Cookstown. The entry list is full with 80 competitors taking part on this lanes type event. Sign-on from 8am with a 10.30 start.
Based at the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh, County Tyrone, this gravel event is the penultimate round of the MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship and the last round of the Irish Forest Rally Championship. The stages are well known and in the west of the county. We have been asked to provide timekeepers, rescue and radio cover as well as stage marshals. Omagh Motor Club are the organisers.
Some of us are due to travel to Barcelona for this the eleventh round of the WRC. I hope we get to see Kris Meeke in action, although as I write this things are not looking good for Dungannon’s finest. Anyhow it will be good to see the new breed of World Rally Cars for the first time as they tackle this the only mixed surface event in the thirteen round Championship.
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.