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by Brian & Liz Patterson

Irish Notes 10th October 2018

When Sebastien Ogier brought his M-Sport Fiesta WRC into Llandudno last weekend as the winner of Wales Rally GB, his first remark was “That was a huge weekend”. The Frenchman said it with a smile and nobody could quibble that he had just won one of the most dramatic Rally GB events ever. It was a lengthy, tough, fascinating rally, with the closest of competition, just a handful of seconds splitting the best rally drivers in the world over the long weekend. Ogier endorsed his World Rally Champion credentials when he battled back from a broken gearbox situation with determination and a great turn of speed. Jari Matti Latvala in his Toyota actually squeezed into the lead a couple of stages from the end, but Ogier raised his game to dizzying heights to claim victory by 10 seconds. Esapekka Lappi, also in a Toyota, was 3rd, the cool young Finn giving the impression of learning all the time from the rally masters in front and behind.

Craig Breen seemed to be in with a chance of putting his Citroen into that podium place for 3rd, but a spin on the final morning very tricky Gwydir stage knocked that on the head. Throughout the rally Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin had been right on the case for the Citroen team, and 4th o/a was a good result, but still there was that little tinge of disappointment.

Not as much though as that endured by Ott Tanak: following victory on the previous three WRC rallies, the Estonian looked to be heading for his 4th in a row, but then dramatically pulled his Toyota into the road-side on the Sweet Lamb/Hafren stage. It seemed that the sump guard had been knocked askew on one of the jumps in Sweet Lamb and damaged the radiator. Ott really couldn’t have kept going with steam spewing out from under the bonnet. He made the most of a bad job, switching the engine off to try and save it for the Sunday power stage. As it turned out, in the race for bonus points, Latvala was fastest on Gwydir, by 0.8 of a second from Tanak, with Neuville 3rd fastest. This was where Latvala put on his huge charge to get ahead of Ogier. Tanak had his own battle, to get his Toyota to the finish before he could claim his four bonus power stage WRC points. That seemed to be a bit of a struggle, but he made it.

One couldn’t help but wonder whether Tanak’s shakedown stage mishap had any bearing on what eventually happened. The shakedown was through Clocaenog, which is always slippy and muddy. Ott was trying the windscreen wipers on his Yaris and, distracted, arrived into a very slippy and deceptive ‘6R’ too fast, his Yaris thumping into an earth bank so hard the rear of the car went several feet into the air. Spectators eventually pushed the car out, and he continued unabated, but the question mark will always be there, as to whether there was hidden damage, a weakness, in the area at the front of the sump guard.

On the subject of World Championship points, with two rallies remaining, Neuville has a small lead over Ogier, 7 points, with Tanak 3rd. Neuville lead the points before the rally, but the under the weather Belgian put his Hyundai off the road for around a minute, dropped many places, and then fought back to finish 5th at the weekend, 4 seconds behind Breen. The closeness of the competition is illuminated by Neuville’s small time loss dropping him half a dozen places down the leaderboard.

As well as the World Championship to fight for, it is renew contract time for many drivers, so they were all anxious to give a good account of themselves in Wales. The news is that Ogier is leaving M-Sport and going to Citroen, so after that momentous shift all should become clear, the jigsaw pieces will fall into place over the next few weeks as to what the line-up will be for 2019. There is nothing official as yet as regards Craig Breen’s plans, but the grapevine is hinting at a shift to M-Sport Ford, with whom he has had good relations in the past. All Craig will say is that he will be in the WRC. Kris Meeke has finalised the deal to drive for Toyota, which is good news for his Irish fans and should inject yet more interest in the 2019 WRC.

Drivers who did not have a good GB rally included last year’s winner Elfyn Evans. The Welshman’s Fiesta developed misfire woes on the Friday afternoon. He had to pull out for the afternoon, then rejoined on the Saturday morning under Rally 2 Rules. Understandably the fire that carried him to victory on his home rally this time last year didn’t ignite when he rejoined the fray.

A revelation on the rally was the performance of Finnish teenager Kalle Rovanpera. He appeared totally unflustered as he powered his Skoda R5 to 9th overall and a dominant RC2 win, against the toughest opposition.

Wales GB was a double header finale to the British Rally Championship and Matt Edwards in his Fiesta R5 took the honours in that department. Alex Laffey was 2nd. David Bogie could theoretically have taken the title, but David knew it was an unrealistic hope and he just went to enjoy himself. The Scotsman, with John Rowan co-driving, was on a great pace throughout, was 13th o/a in his Skoda on the final morning but was unlucky enough to spin the car on one of the narrow muddy tarmac sections in Gwydir, damaging the radiator in the process – end of rally.

Some of the drivers from here who did finish the rally included young Johnnie Mulholland, co-driven by Jeff Case in their Fiesta R2. They secured a BRC Cadet Cup win. Kevin Horgan/Liam Fouhy also made the finish, albeit in Rally 2. Cork man Kevin told us that he took a jump too hard in the opening Tir Prince spectator stage and broke his Fiesta’s radiator mountings. His three lads in service did their best repairing the damage but on the rough Friday morning stages the radiator broke loose again. It was back to service for more repairs. Kevin was able to contest the Saturday and Sunday stages in fine style. He recounted that considering he had only competed over a few miles of loose, on the Pirelli Rally, he found the experience of Rally GB a big learning curve, but was absolutely delighted with the whole thing, despite their own hassle plus all the rules and regulations. Kevin also remarked that the cancellation of the Manx, which was to be his joker rally as he knows the Isle of Man well, was a severe blow to his Championship aspirations.

A driver who did fall foul of the rule book in Wales was Adrian Hetherington. He had a very good run on the National part of the rally, and would have finished in the top six with his Mk2 Escort. But then he was penalised ten minutes for changing the rear tyres outside the specified zone. Adrian felt hard done by, that his Escort, with all that power going out through two wheels and not four, wouldn’t make it from one service area to the next. But the rules are the rules. He still won his class and said, “I’m not that annoyed, I was quickest two wheel drive. The Friday stages would have broken a dozer after the World Rally Cars went through, the Saturday stages were brilliant, very special.” Vivian Hamill also tackled the rally in his Mk2 and related afterwards – “Lost wipers on 29km stage Friday morning in heavy rain and slid into ditch for 20 minutes. On Saturday the engine was overcharging the battery throughout the day, which resulted in complete failure on start line of last stage! It was a great rally and great notes!”

On a slightly different note, the globe trotting Donegal co-driver Gary McElhinney, was out in Africa again last weekend co-driving for Ahmed Huwel in a Tapio Laukkanen prepared Fiesta. Ahmed/Gary won this Tanzania Rally in Dar Es Salam. There were unusual twists, such as having to take a packed ferry to get to the stages, and Gary driving the town stage on his own as Ahmed slept in!

Closer to home, Robert Woodside/Bruce Drummond in their Toyota MR2 took overall victory in the Autodock Laharna Lanes Rally. A close 2nd was Steven Cromie/Keilin Webb (Mazda MX-5), with David Crothers/Barbara Kane in another MX-5 3rd.

Looking forward to this weekend, there are two home rallies, the Donegal Harvest and the North Armagh Targa to keep us occupied. The Ballybofey based Harvest has a huge entry, with many crews on the reserve, and as it is the final counter in this season’s Triton National Championship a cracking battle at the front is on the cards. Declan Boyle in his Fiesta WRC is probably the best placed to take the title, with Josh Moffett, also in a Fiesta, and Joe McGonigle (Mini WRC) both ready to capitalise on any slip-ups by Boyle. There are a couple of drivers who, maybe will not upset the apple cart, but could unbalance the mix at the front. Those interlopers are number 1 seed Donagh Kelly in his fabulously successful Focus WRC, and Josh Moffett’s big brother Sam in a Fiesta R5. Donagh Kelly is on home ground for this event, while Declan Boyle is from not far away either, so to some extent the ball is in their respective courts.

TRITON TRIO (left to right): Declan Boyle, Josh Moffett and Joe McGonigle. Photo: Martin Walsh.

The three stages repeated three times are fairly technical, although not massively so, but still the co-drivers are going to have to work pretty hard to spit the requisite pace notes out right on cue. Conor Foley is doing the job for Donagh Kelly, Sam Moffett has Karl Atkinson, Josh has Keith Moriarity, Declan Boyle has James O’Reilly and Joe McGonigle has Ciaran Geaney. It is possible that the winner of the rally could come from outside the top five seeds – although there have been a couple of withdrawals from the top ten (McKenna @ 6 and Devine @ 7) Gareth MacHale has only been back for one rally after his six year rally lay-off, and already the old flair and speed is shining through and he starts at 8. Frank Wray is very much on home ground and David Bogie round off the top ten in his Mk2.

There are many facets to the rally – the 2wd battle for example should be fierce, with drivers such as David Bogie, Kevin Eves, Declan Gallagher, Jonathan Pringle and Gary Kiernan at the forefront. Chris Armstrong and Stuart Darcy will no doubt be in the midst of the 2wd fireworks also and either of these two could take the prestigious rally.ie award for best 2wd in the Triton Showers series. Everywhere you look in the 140 strong entry there is a promise of great rally battles. Jackson’s Hotel on Saturday evening is where the results will be finalised, and they should tell quite a story! The service area is at Stranorlar Mart and the finish ramp is outside Jackson’s, first car due 17.08. So huge is the entry that goodness knows when the last car will arrive in!

The final round of the McGrady Insurance NI Championship, The Tyrone Stages are reporting that entries are now coming in well. With the Harvest Rally this weekend and the Tyrone Stages next week, Cookstown MC are well aware that competitors are maybe holding off on entering. The club will try and accommodate anyone who gets in touch that may be interested in doing the rally, but can’t commit due to the Harvest. The club have extended some of the stages with some new mileage, with 14 stages totalling just over 40 miles, and a new service area just a stones throw from the stages. Entries are still available at www.rallyscore.net.

Meanwhile, the North Armagh Club has also received a massive entry, although on a smaller scale than the Harvest, for their Targa Rally, also this Saturday. The event is sponsored by Ballylisk Car Sales and is centred in and around Loughgall Country Park, with service almost next door in Loughgall Golf Club. The event is all tarmac, very compact. The one missing element is a few marshals, and the club would appreciate some more – if you can help, the man to contact is Barry Taggart at 07771 892423, or visit the club website – www.namc.com
Brian & Liz Patterson


2018 Patterson Agencies

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