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by Brian & Liz Patterson

Irish Notes 19th June 2019

Spanish eyes were smiling last weekend when Dani Sordo in his Hyundai scored a momentous win on Rally Italia Sardegna. Sordo and his co-driver Carlos Del Barrio had driven a great rally, but went into the last stage 29 seconds or so behind the brilliant Ott Tanak in his Toyota Yaris. On what had been a tough rally with lots of upsets Tanak had driven ‘out of his skin’, shrugging off his own order position as well as the generally difficult road conditions, with Sordo the only driver who looked as if he could upset Tanak’s apple cart. Then on the final stage, the Power stage, Tanak was expected to just do enough to cement his victory. However, as so often happens in rallying, there was despair for Ott as his Yaris power steering system cried enough and he lost minutes in the stage, to finish 5th.

Andreas Mikkelsen seemed to get a new lease of life on the Sunday and he was fastest on all four stages, including the power stage. He finished 3rd o/a to make it two Hyundais in the podium places. The space in between was occupied by the Fiesta WRC of a delighted Timo Suninen. This was the best WRC rally so far for the young Finn, and surely it was no coincidence that he switched to a new co-driver, the experienced Jarmo Lehtinen, for this one.

Outside of that top three Elfyn Evans was 4th, Ott Tanak as already mentioned was 5th and Thierry Neuville, after a struggle of a rally, never comfortable with his Hyundai’s handling over the tough terrain, was 6th.

All the way through the event the story was about dusty roads with rocky abrasive surfaces. World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier really struggled with his start position and then broke the suspension on his Citroen on two different occasions. He did manage 2nd on the Power stage which salvaged a few Championship points. Latvala was going great guns, matching Tanak’s pace, until he rolled his Yaris. He managed to get going, minus the Toyota’s windscreen, got that replaced and then went off again. Kris Meeke had, by his high standards, a quiet rally, slipping to 6th and then dropped another couple of places when his Yaris sustained a puncture. Behind Meeke, in 9th, was RC2 winner Kalle Rovanpera/J Halttunen in their Skoda R5 – another superb drive by the young Finnish driver. Dundalk’s Brendan Cumiskey went to Sardinia to compete in the new Hyundai R5 but didn’t get started because of some technicality with the fire extinguisher system.

The overall standings in the World Rally Championship are: Tanak 150, Ogier 146, Neuville 143, Evans 78. The next round of the WRC is Rally Finland on 1st – 4th August.

Also last weekend was the Motul Rally van Wervik, always a good warm up for Ypres, and Marty McCormack & Barney Mitchell were 6th overall in their Skoda R5. Marty did have a 30s road penalty and without that he would have been 4th, just behind ‘Fast’ Freddy Loix in a Skoda R5. The rally was won by Sebastien Bedoret/Thomas Walbrecq, also in a – yes you’ve guessed it – a Skoda R5. Marty wasn’t one bit worried about the road penalty or the result: he was there to enjoy it and get in the frame of mind for Ypres, a rally he loves. We caught up with him when he was back home and enjoying a circus in Draperstown with some of the much younger McCormack clan. He told us “ I was really pleased with the way Wervik went. I hadn’t sat my ass in the car since West Cork, we had no testing for Belgium and I was 2nd fastest on the first stage, beat Fast Freddy. There was heavy rain early on and then it dried out, so I was able to drive the car in all conditions. I even had a slide and a spin on the 2nd stage. Overall the rally was very relaxed, very enjoyable. I am really looking forward to Ypres now, love rallying in Belgium.”

Looking forward to this weekend, there are not enough superlatives to encompass the quality of the entry for the Joule Donegal International. Just about every current top driver in Ireland will be in the Letterkenny line up on Saturday morning. There is a queue of drivers in the running for the total prestige of a Donegal International Rally victory. Perhaps the crew at the top of the queue is Craig Breen/Paul Nagle, both on a rest year from the World Rally Championship. Craig, current leader of the Irish Tarmac Championship, has opted to forego the ITC points this time, in order to drive a World Rally Car Fiesta this weekend instead of an R5. He was testing the car on Monday, and one of his mentors, James Coleman, reckons he is in great form. An interesting comment from James, who is also CoC of the Ravens Rock rally next week, about Craig, was “Living the dream, once Donegal is over he is off to Ypres. It is the best thing ever for him, a year out of WRC, lots of different opportunities and experience. He will come back stronger.”

First of all though is the little matter of trying to win Donegal. Many have tried – and failed. It is not an easy rally and the competition is fierce – Sam Moffett, Declan Boyle, Donagh Kelly, Josh Moffett, Garry Jennings, three times winner Manus Kelly – these are just a few who really could win, who have the pedigree. Yes, the Tarmac Championship contenders such as Josh Moffett and Alastair Fisher are slightly handicapped by the fact that they are in R5 cars and not WRC, but still it is possible that an R5 car could win. Indeed, the latest R5 cars are so advanced that there is very little difference between their performance parameters and an even slightly older WRC car. There are loads more drivers apart from the few mentioned here, who could be there or thereabouts after the three days of action. It will be interesting to see just who.

Then there is the race between the ‘modified’ competitors. For many this is as interesting a part of the rally as any. Some supremely talented drivers have entered this year in Mk2 Escorts, Darrians, Corollas & Starlets: just look at some of the drivers – Tarmac Championship modified champion Kevin Eves, former champion Declan Gallagher, Scottish Champion David Bogie, rally sponsor Ian Barrett, Wexford rocket James Stafford, Gary Kiernan, Frank Kelly, Damien Gallagher, Brian Brogan and many more. There is a massive amount of rally talent in modified cars: Some would say the beating heart of Irish rallying.

Then there are the Historic competitors, the Junior category and the special personalities such as Ken Block: it really is looking as if it will be a very special Donegal International. They are all special of course, maybe this one just a bit more so.

On the news front, the Ulster Rally (16th 17th August) has announced that it is moving its base to Newry and has also unveiled a new sponsor – ‘Today’s’ – the local convenience store chain. The event, much streamlined for this year, is a round of the British Rally Championship and the Irish Tarmac series.

Not so far away now is the Ravens Rock (29th/30th June). James Coleman is the CoC and he has picked three brilliant, very challenging stages, each run three times. The stages are on the Youghal side of Dungarvan and the roads involved are of ever changing character. The drivers, not to mention the co-drivers, will not be bored, that is for sure. Just a pity the Triton Showers series rally is the same weekend as Ypres, which means Craig Breen will be in Belgium, not Waterford. Some consolation for Craig will be that he is to drive the new VW Polo Gti R5 on the Belgian classic. Definitely living the dream!

More news on Ypres next weekend, but something of note in the meantime is that young Marty Gallagher will switch from his own Peugeot 208 to one of the EDSL run Ford Fiesta MK8 R2T for the fourth round of the BRC.He will be joined by regular co-driver Dean O’ Sullivan.
in Belgium. The following weekend (6th July) the North Armagh MC is running the always popular Loughgall Rally, with stages along the lovely roads of this scenic Loughgall park.

On slightly different theme, David, our youngest son, who usually works on the WRC, decided to miss Sardinia so that he could tackle the Tour Divide on his bicycle. This is an interesting challenge, involving riding the bike from Banff in Canada down to Mexico, along a designated route over mostly gravel tracks down the length of the Rockies, with no outside assistance. The route starts through the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and then goes through the US states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The riders will have climbed in total about 200,000 feet, which sounds like a lot of puffing and heaving to us. It involves 16 plus hour days, with ‘Grizzly and Mountain Lion’ density! It is supposedly not a race. David has allowed himself 22 days to complete, and the best in the world will do it in 18. The start was last Friday afternoon and as of last night David had covered about 700 miles.

He stopped at a little country store in Ovando where Kathy Schoendoerfer befriends the riders and he managed to send a message on his phone – ‘Monday was tough ride in the heat …but ok, lots of riders saddle sore and chaffed, me too, due to heat. Cheap motel tonight in Lincoln to get hygiene and re-administer all kit. Early start in dark tomorrow, some big climbs before Butte. It seems all climbs are 10 or 20 miles long and high altitude. Montana is cool but remote, I don’t see anyone on the trails for hours and hours, then a racer appears either behind or in front.
In a western bar for burgers, everyone drunk and with guns and shooting pool for dollars..
All the re-supply places are small and closed – except Ovando where they watch the dots coming then open everything up, even the jail, where riders sleep – but it makes Straid look like the metropolis. Pissed rain last night through Flathead forest, slept in abandoned wood shed, bear shit everywhere – trying to take care of legs and not push, and care in the downhill – loaded bikes are like rally motorbike – they don’t change direction good or like leaning over!
Gave transmission a clean up in hotel – shame about the towels.
Jamie Hayes passed me across a flat plain in TT pursuit mode – aero bars and tri-suit on, made me feel like a goon in my trainers and baggy merino wool T shirt on straight mountain bike bars – nonetheless she fair brighten up your day when she goes by!
Richmond Peak was mega, but too cold on top to get phone out for pic!”

Well that is a bit different….. certainly makes a change from “Not quite in the rhythm’, or ‘bad road position, nothing I can do! Or ‘wrong tyres’!

Finally this week Plum Tyndall and Esler Crawford are launching a new 80 page book – ‘Heroes of the Hills’, about the winners of the Donegal International Rally (1972 – 2018). The book will be launched before start of this year’s rally at 9am. at the An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny on Friday 21st. June. RPM’s Alan (Plum) Tyndall and Ireland’s acclaimed photographer Dr. Esler Crawford who have been enthusiastic followers of the Donegal Rally since its inception have combined to put into words and pictures, a record of the winners in the rally’s forty-six year history. The book will be for sale during the rally weekend priced at £15.00 (€19.00).

Cheers, Brian, Michael & Liz Patterson


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