Ulster Rally review- with Art McCarrick
August 29, 2013 by Art McCarrick
In normal circumstances, a win of 1 minute 18.7 seconds on a round of the Irish Tarmac Championship would be considered comfortable but Garry Jennings had to dig deep to claim his first Ulster Rally win and his second championship victory this season. Many struggled on the tough stages in Fermanagh and Tyrone but it was the most innocuous of stages that nearly brought about the downfall of Jennings.
There’s a well-worn cliché about spectator stages in rallying. You can’t win a rally on them but you can lose it and the St. Angelo Airport spectator stage just outside Enniskillen almost called a halt to Jennings’ rally, not once, but twice. On stage 4 Jennings had to throw his Impreza WRC sideways into some bales resulting in the loss of the boot lid and spoiler to avoid a frontal collision and on stage 10 his car developed a worrying engine issue which caused concern in the Jennings camp until the car eventually completed the final stage of the rally.
And Jennings win was all the more remarkable as he found himself 19.4 seconds off the lead after the opening stage of the event. At least he was able to continue after stage 1 which was better than Declan and Brian Boyle who recorded another early retirement with turbo problems in their Impreza WRC.
It was actually Derek McGarrity who set the early pace on stage 1, Topped Mountain, powering through the wet conditions in his recently rebuilt Ford Focus WRC with Sam Moffett trailing by 14.3 seconds in the McKinstry run Impreza. It wasn’t until stage 5 that Jennings eventually pulled back the gap to the leaders and took a lead he was never to lose. Sam Moffett, who was fresh from an encouraging mid week test in the Subaru that brought him to victory in Donegal, was keeping in touch with the leaders lying 13 seconds off the lead after the opening quartet of stages. Indeed Moffett even scored a fastest time on stage 3 but just as he appeared to be getting into a rhythm, the gearbox in the Subaru was getting out of rhythm and he retired after stage 5. Speaking back in service afterwards Sam said, “I doubt I’ll take the car (Impreza) to Cork but I know I’m fit to live with the top men now, we were having some cut but these things happen I guess.”
McGarrity ended the first day only 11.3 seconds behind Jennings after a time consuming stall but he vowed to push for the victory on the final day. The opening run through the Sloughan Glen stage on Saturday though, was to prove pivotal in the fight for the lead. McGarrity spun and Jennings was fastest extending his lead by 29.3 seconds, a devastating margin over the 13.81 mile test. Not content with that, Jennings then took a further 16.5 seconds off McGarrity on the next stage heading back to St. Angelo Airport service with a 57.1 second lead. Behind Jennings and McGarrity, Donagh Kelly was having a steady run in his Airtricity Focus WRC with Kevin Flanagan on the notes and was holding third place keeping their championship challenge alive. Jennings arrived into service with a minor brake problem that was soon cured but on the following run through the St. Angelo spectator stage there were worrying sounds coming from the Voodoo backed Impreza.
Nearing the end of the stage the Impreza appeared to go off a cylinder. It seemed water was being sucked into a cylinder and the car then sutomatically switched into safe mode to preserve its expensive engine. With another stage to go before service Jennings and co-driver Rory Kennedy carried out emergency repairs on the car on the road section to stage 11. With the water in the engine having disappeared, Jennings and Kennedy topped the car up with water and radweld, turned down the anti lag and crossed their fingers. Even with an engine that wasn’t 100% Jennings took another 10 seconds off McGarrity but at the end of the stage the Impreza refused to fire up. It resulted in Jennings arriving into service 3 minutes late and clocking up a 30 second penalty, halving his lead. The reply was emphatic. His team did all they could in service to keep the Subaru running and forgetting about potential issues under the bonnet, Jennings took 29.1 seconds off McGarrity over the second run of Sloughan Glen, cancelling out his time penalty in one fell swoop.
McGarrity decided it was time to hold station, a decision aided by a big overshoot on Sloughan Glen while trying to regain his lead of the day before but it was always just a little too far out of reach. Behind him Donagh Kelly was setting some impressive times and he took his first fastest time on the penultimate stage of the rally on the final run around St. Angelo resulting in a strong third place finish. Group N was a straight shootout between Josh Moffett and Stephen Wright with Wright holding the advantage after Friday but an errant turbo pipe early on Saturday morning saw Moffett take the showroom lead. His winning margin from Wright was over 2 minutes in the finish but Wright still leads the championship heading to Cork on 51 points. However, with Josh Moffett on 43 points, Sam Moffett on 30 and with Wright yet to drop a score the points and a half on offer in Cork could be crucial in deciding who the Group N honours go to. One thing is for sure though, it will definitely be going to Monaghan.
Jennings meanwhile took another fastest time on the final stage (he was fastest on 10 out of 15 stages) to cap off a memorable home win. Speaking at the final passage control Garry said: “We lifted the heads earlier on because we had real problems. We got some radweld, filled it back up with water and we haven’t stopped it since but yeah it’s fantastic. It’s definitely been hard fought, we were 3 minutes late into service and we got the penalty but we came back out, took 30 seconds back on the next stage and that’s the way to do it.” The win was Jennings’ third international win and he completed a unique double becoming the first driver to win both the Ulster Rally and Rally NI. It was also a special event for co-driver Rory Kennedy who leaped from the car at the end of stage 15. “I won this rally 22 years ago with Bertie Fisher, to do again sitting along with another Fermanagh man is brilliant. He coped brilliantly this weekend.”
Jennings will have to cope with more pressure on the season finale in Cork where he will arrive as championship leader. His lowly sixth place finish in Galway will be his dropped score barring a disaster in Cork but Jennings will be only too aware that Cork has a habit of providing a sting in the tail for championship front runners with names like Fisher, Coleman, Meagher, McKinstry, Nesbitt, Finlay and Donnelly all falling foul to the rebel county roads in the past. While Jennings will head to Cork as favourite, Donagh Kelly and Derek McGarrity could take the championship if things go their way but their quest for crucial points may be thwarted by Declan Boyle and Daragh O’Riordan if both enter and get a result.
In Rally NI Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss took a brilliant maiden British Rally Championship win. Pryce was ninth after stage 1 but began to carve his way up through the field and with rivals Alastair Fisher, Tom Cave and John MacCrone hitting trouble, Pryce held a 4.4 second second after day 1. Pryce built on his lead throughout day 2 eventually taking a 50.9 second win from Jukka Korhonen with Mark Donnelly taking third and finally showing signs that he is beginning to get to grips with his Citroen DS3 with some rapid time on the Saturday. Billy Coleman Award winner Daniel McKenna took fifth overall and was leading R2 car but it was another R2 car that took the rally by storm. Jon Armstrong came roaring out of the blocks and even took a fastest BRC time in the little Fiesta on stage 2, ending the first day third overall. Armstrong’s drive unfortunately ended with a roll on stage 9 but the Kesh teenager showed enough promise to earn a Pirelli Star Driver nomination, a fitting reward to a fantastic drive. In the Ulster National Rally Derek McGeehan took his Mini WRC to victory, pulling away from Frank Kelly’s Escort when the rain came. Ryan Barrett and Barry Ferris triumphed in the Ulster Historic Rally in their Escort while the Ulster Challenge Rally 1 was taken by Ross Hunter with Galway’s Dean Raftery taking the Ulster Challenge Rally 2 win on the Saturday.
Images from Art McCarrick/Ditchslapped.