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February Makes Me Shiver

Those immortal words from Don McLean’s classic song American Pie would indicate that this month is never going to be a warm one! Slightly better than January, but only just. Looking forward though, there is usually a HINT of spring about to arrive towards the month end.

On the rally front the new season kicks off here in Northern Ireland with two events. The Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally is on gravel stages in Co.Tyrone while the Pacenotes Stage Rally takes place over the mostly sealed surface of the Kirkistown race circuit in Co.Down. Further afield the year moves up a gear with big events in Southern Ireland, Wales and Sweden.

The Galway Rally takes place on Sunday 10th February. Yes just one day this year for round one of the Irish Tarmac Championship. There are no less than 26 R5 cars entered. Seems most of the top drivers, with the notable exception of Garry Jennings, have gone over to this supposedly cheaper category this year.

Jennings is sticking to his Subaru S12B WRC with which he has won the last two Galway Internationals. The Fermanagh driver doesn’t like left-hand-drive cars and in Ireland only these homologated examples of R5’s are permitted to win the ITC. He is campaigning to allow right-hand-drive conversions the same privileges. Of course the World Cars cannot score IRC points so Jennings appears to have ruled himself out of a second Irish Tarmac title.

A total of 122 cars on on the Galway entry list. Having lost any hope of a World Championship drive this year, Craig Breen and his old friend Paul Nagle are the number one seeds in a Fiesta R5. They may do more ITC rounds if all goes well.

The British Rally Championship starts on Saturday Feb.16th with the Cambrian Rally in North Wales and should attract similar R5 interest. The big difference here is left and right-hand-drive R5 cars can win events and score points equally.

Great to see Kris Meeke start his new adventure with the Toyota Yaris WRC on the Monte. Sixth place and a power stage victory was a good opener to the season in a new car plus a new co-driver. The pace was there as Meeke declared “I love my Yaris”.

It Will be an interesting year with Ogier, Neuville, Tanak and Meeke the expected pacesetters. The next round is the snowy Swedish Rally on the weekend of Feb.15-17. How will the Toyotas go there? Ogier in his first event driving the Citroen C3 won the Monte by just two seconds from Neuville while Ott Tanak clawed his way back to third after a puncture in his Yaris. Sebastien Loeb in his Hyundai i20 finished a superb fourth.

Looking Back

February memories

30 Years Ago.......1989

Eamon Mathieson took his mighty Ford Sierra home built supercar to a dominant victory in Round 2 of the Kirkistown Winter Rallycross Championship. Only 30 cars turned up on a very cold late January Saturday. BMMC/BRMC provided the track marshals as was usual.

Mark Lovell won the Galway Rally in his Sierra Cosworth, but only after the engine of Frank Magher’s trusty Mk. 2 Escort cried enough while he was 4 MINUTES in the lead! Lovell caused something of a controversy when he “shovelled” grumpy Kenny Colbert’s slower Peugeot 205 out of the way on one of the stages.

The BIF Circuit of Ireland would start on March 25 from the Dunadry Inn and finish three days later in Dun Laoghaire. This was to be the 50th anniversary of the famous rally.

20 Years Ago.......1999

We ran a stage of the Mid Antrim Motor Club’s General Motor Works Rally in Tardree Forest. Although only point seven of a mile in length we managed to have plenty of marshals on duty. Former NI Champion Mervin Hill won the rally driving an ex-works Ford Escort Cosworth.

10 Years Ago.......2009

Derek McGarrity completely dominated the Eurocables Rally at Kirkistown to take the lead in the 2009 Hankook MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Four other former champions took part but it was McGarrity in the most up-to-date car in the event, a 2007 Subaru S12B, who proved to be too hot to handle on the day. Conditions were ideal, dry and spring-like which made for a fast and furious days rallying. A maximum entry of 120 competitors started the six stage event, including 11 World Rally Cars.

Second was Connor McCloskey in the same 05 Focus WRCin which he also finished second last year. Kenny McKinstry came home third in a similar car to McCloskey while Wesley Patterson was top 2-wheel-drive finisher in tenth with his Mk.2 Escort. I was marshalling and we had a long but enjoyable day at the chicane sector.

A fortnight before the Kirkistown rally quite a few BMMC/BRMC members assisted the MG Car Club with their Derek Walker Classic Trial. This was based at Delamont Country Park near Killyleagh in Co.Down. I was despatched to help run an autotest at a farm near Ardglass. 40 competitors took part on a dry but icy cold February Saturday.

No less than 100 cars were on the entry list for the 2009 Fivemiletown Spring Rally organised by Omagh Motor Club. The gravel event used the usual forests south of the Co.Tyrone town. Four of us were timekeeping on the eight stage rally. Only 58 cars made it to the finish of the popular event which was won by John Cairns in his Subaru Impreza.

5 Years Ago.......2014

For the first time ever, the 2014 Circuit of Ireland Rally in April was to include a town-centre special stage in Newtownards. The stage would close the first day of competitive action on the two-day European Championship event. A total of 19 special stage were planned all in Co,Down apart from two County Antrim Lisburn City Centre Power Stages. BMMC/BRMC marshals would be heavily involved with the Easter weekend event.

Rally Diary

Sat. 9th February 
Rosspark Hotel Targa Rally

Mid Antrim Motor Club are promoting this event. Based at the Rosspark Hotel in Kells near Ballymena. I think some of us will be assisting on this Targa Rally. A full entry list of 80 cars will take part. Sign-on is from 7am.

Sat. 16th February
Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally

We are due to assist with timing, radio, stage marshalling and rescue on this Omagh Motor Club gravel rally. As I write only 45 cars have entered but presumably the event will run. Check for times and further details on the club’s website. Although just a clubman event, running on the same day as the gravel Cambrian Rally (BRC round one in North Wales) may effect the entry.

Sat. 23rd February
Pacenotes Rally Magazine Kirkistown Stages

North Armagh Motor Club are the organisers of this first round of the Motorsport UK McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Six stages are planned at the Co.Down race circuit. Only a short gravel section on some of the tests otherwise the event is on a sealed surface. We will be marshalling and providing some of the rescue personnel. As I write only 22 cars have placed an entry so check the North Armagh website before you set out, just in case the rally doesn’t run! Sign-on from 7am.

Sat. 9th March
Bishopscourt Stages

Round two of the Northern Ireland Championship. Rathfriland Motor Club are running this six stage sealed surface circuit-type rally. We will be helping out with marshals and other officials. Sign-on from 7am.