ALMC Stages Rally 2014

July 7, 2014 by Leo Nulty  

This year the ALMC Stages Rally moved its headquarters to the centre of County Meath and the historic town of Trim. The organising team were very excited about the stages they selected and the compact route on offer to competitors and they weren’t disappointed with the response, a great entry of top UK and Irish crews was received.
Trim castle provided a magnificent back drop to the ceremonial start on Saturday night and a great chance for the locals and visitors to get up close to the crews and the fantastic mixture of cars on display. A lot of the conversation at rally HQ, the Castle Arch Hotel, centred around the weather conditions and if the sunshine would prevail throughout Sunday. The 3 stages of Bective Abbey, Galtrim and Rathcore would prove to be challenging stages in any conditions but beyond most predictions the weather turned out to be mixture of sunshine but with sporadic showers and even thunder and lightning. The changing conditions were to catch out a number of crews on the day.
Predictions also varied around which top ten crew could take the top honours. Current point’s leaders in the REIS MSA Asphalt Rally Championship, Steve Simpson & Patrick Walsh were coming to keep up the championship pressure on point’s front runners and nearest rivals John Stone, Darren Atkinson and Damien Cole, last year’s championship winner. This year the rally line up included Simpson, Cole, Stone, Atkinson as well as Irish Tarmac Champion Gary Jennings, Graham Coffey, Alex Laffey, Hugh Hunter, Irish National Forestry Champion Michael O’Brien and Meirion Evans, son of 2012 winner Melvyn Evans. 2WD entries from Frank Kelly and Adrian Hetherington added to a great atmosphere on Sunday morning as the crews headed out to Stage 1 Bective Abbey in the sunshine.
Fastest out of the blocks was Hugh Hunter & Andy Marchbank 7 seconds faster than Steve Simpson and Gary Jennings. Damian Cole was 4 seconds a drift with Mick O’Brien only a 1 second behind him. Frank Kelly was also showing us his pace on the stage 2 seconds behind in 6th. A tight battle was unfolding as the crews moved on to Galtrim with Hunter fighting to try and open a gap and Jennings taking a lead now on Simpson. John Stone also started to find his pace and went into Stage 3 after an equal stage time to O’Brien. Stone had tried hard on the ALMC Stages over the years but finishing wasn’t coming easy to him.
By first service in Trim we had a new rally leader in Gary Jennings. He had a blistering time in the Impreza S12B before the halt and was looking good to build on it on SS4. That was until Simpsons collision with a chicane led to the stage being cancelled and the battle moved on with 3rd now filled by John Stone in the Fabia WRC. O’Brien, Cole and Kelly were also holding firm, as was Kelly as the top 2wd. The rally sadly lost Adrian Hetherington in the 2WD category when he had to pull out with bale related damage on Stage 2.Changeable weather conditions were starting to be a factor for the crews by the afternoon. Going into Stage 6, at Rathcore, Jennings was down to a 3 second margin on Hunter but 43 seconds behind was Stone. O’Brien, Cole and Kelly were within 14 seconds of 3rd place Stone and no one was prepared to shake loose. Peter Taylor, Alex Laffey and Merion Evans were all within 6 seconds of Kelly’s time and the spectators could sense the last loop was going to be a maximum committment from all the top crews. On Stage 6 Jennings pulled in with an oil light that was going to be too risky to ignore, Taylor retired with a broken drive shaft that severed a brake line and Hunter was now pulling away from the pack with 50 seconds to spare on Stone.
Stage 8 saw us loosing Merion Evans to an off, he had climbed to 7th at this point and seemed on a mission to gain even more places. Hunter added 6 seconds to his lead and it was looking like it would be enough to secure his victory with one stage to go. Stone in 2nd had 7 Seconds over O’Brien with Cole 1 second adrift of him. Laffey put in great times too, in the immaculate Fiesta R5+, on Stages 7 and 8 to go ahead of Kelly and take 5th place going into Stage 9.
The last stage was going to need everything from Stone, O’Brien and Cole to get that 2nd or 3rd place spot. Hunter and Marchbank had to get to the finish in a decent time to ensure a victory. The last stage, Rathcore, proved to be the place for a spectator. Cole was to set fastest time over the 17km stage, 1 second faster than O’Brien but enough to secure 2nd place. Hunter was 10 seconds slower than Cole but he was well aware of the margin he could drop and still win. Stone had taken 4 seconds off his previous run on the stage but it wasn’t enough against the charge of Cole and O’Brien and he finished 4th with class honours. Stone and Williamson were delighted all the same with a strong finish as ALMC was starting to look like a rally they couldn’t seem to finish over the past four
years. Cole and Edmondson’s attack was enough to get second place and those valuable championship points. Forestry master Mick O’Brien with John O’Brien on notes had put in a great performance to secure 3rd place. Alex Laffey and Jack Morton were delighted with their solid performance on the day taking 5th and class honours. Frank Kelly and Jackie Elliot were 6th fastest on Stage 1 and put in a fantastic effort to stay in that position until the end, taking the 2WD honours. Graham Coffey and Jenny Gaebler finished 7th overall, a great climb back from 14th after Stage 1 and 2.
Hugh Hunter and Andy Marchbank are the new ALMC Stages Rally 2014 champions with a 54 second winning margin. Joining them in the celebrations, at the Castle Arch Hotel, were Junior category winners and local crew Brian Brady and Leonard Tuite. Top ladies prize winner was Cathy Sewart with Martin Haggett on the notes. Historic category winners were Christopher Lloyd and Frank Curtin in their MKII Escort.

ALMC Motor Club and Cusack Hotel Group would like to thank all those who assisted with the organisation and running of this great event, including all competing crews, marshals, stage residents, sponsors and spectators.

ALMC Stages Rally is the 4th counting round of the REIS MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and the Loughran Signs Midlands East Rally Championship.

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