KELLY RE­TURNS TO RE­PEAT BIRR STAGES VIC­TORY

Motor Sport News - - Historics - By Brian Patterson Re­sults Pho­tos: Martin Walsh, Kevin Money

Or­gan­iser: Birr and District Mo­tor Club When: Fe­bru­ary 21 Where: Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Ire­land Cham­pi­onship: Top Part West Coast Rally Cham­pi­onship and Loughran Signs Mid­lands East Rally Cham­pi­onship Starters: 89 Stages: 6

Done­gal man Don­agh Kelly gave a clear in­di­ca­tion as to why he is the reign­ing Ir­ish Na­tional and Tar­mac rally cham­pion with his all-con­quer­ing dis­play on the dif­fi­cult Birr Stages Rally.

Kelly – co-driven by Conor Fo­ley – kept his Ford Fo­cus WRC on course over the sod­den and mud strewn roads to take a dom­i­nant win. Niall Maguire/ Enda Sherry and Paddy Mcveigh/ Gary Mcel­hin­ney, in their re­spec­tive Subarus, fin­ished se­cond and third, but never chal­lenged the Ford Fo­cus WRC in front.

Wet con­di­tions caused a headache for the driv­ers as they headed out of Abbeyleix for the open­ing loop of two stages close to Bor­ris-in-os­sory. Last year’s win­ner Kelly was im­pres­sive from the word go, open­ing up a 7.4s gap to Steve Wood in his Subaru over the nine-mile Oldtown stage.

On stage two, Har­ris­town, Kelly was fastest again but this time it was Mcveigh in his Subaru who was cred­ited with se­cond over­all and there was no sign of Wood at the fin­ish. On a nar­row muddy sec­tion he had got stuck in a ditch, also hold­ing up at least half a dozen other cars.

On the middle loop of stages, con­di­tions were still very wet. That led to lots of mud on the stages. Kelly, run­ning heav­ily cut tyres, was fastest through stages three and four. Kelly held a 51.4s lead over Maguire at se­cond ser­vice, with fel­low Subaru Im­preza driver Mcveigh a close third, only 3.7s back. Clon­akilty man Kevin Kelle­her was fourth in his Subaru, and then it was Enda O’brien and Barry Ryan, both in Ford Es­corts, driv­ing like he­roes in fifth and sixth.

Kelly was fastest again through stages five and six to make it a clean sweep of stage vic­to­ries, while Maguire and Mcveigh had a great bat­tle, with Maguire tak­ing se­cond by just un­der eight sec­onds.

Kelle­her was fourth in his Im­preza WRC but a fair way adrift (two min­utes) from the podium. O’brien was fifth and top two-wheel-drive ex­po­nent with his Es­cort.

Ge­orge Con­dell had been fastest two-wheel-drive car ini­tially with his Toy­ota Star­let, but had lost quite a few sec­onds in stage three with a spin and had dropped from fourth to eighth place. Such was the pace of the cars in the class that it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to re­gain lost time and he took sev­enth.

Trevor Mulligan, an­other Ford Es­cort Mk2 ex­po­nent, had been out­side the top 10 in the first loop. His cause was not helped by a small ex­cur­sion but he set a cracker of a time in stage three to nudge onto the leader­board and im­proved through the day de­spite ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent tyres.

Be­hind him, David Con­dell (Es­cort) and Kevin Bar­rett’s Im­preza com­pleted the top 10.

Shane Maguire in his Lancer led Group N at se­cond ser­vice, his ex­pected main op­po­si­tion Paul Bar­rett side­lined with a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem on his Subaru Im­preza. Daniel Cronin put his Lancer off the road, leav­ing Maguire to take the class win.

With 28s in hand, Pritchard was able to mea­sure his pace in the fi­nal stage in Caio and ar­rived at the fin­ish 13s to the good. El­liott was frus­trated to lose the time he did, but happy to have scored his best Red Kite re­sult for three years. The fi­nal stage charge put El­liott back ahead of Joe Price and Chris Brooks, who had briefly grabbed se­cond.

“We weren’t go­ing to beat Nick in there,” said Price who nev­er­the­less turned in a crack­ing per­for­mance to show this he is now one of the BHRC pace­set­ters.

Just as im­pres­sive was Ir­ish ace Paul Bar­rett with Welsh co-driver Dai Roberts who ped­alled their Pinto-pow­ered Es­cort with typ­i­cal com­mit­ment to bag fourth, well in touch with the top three.

An­other his­toric con­vert fast ris­ing to­wards the head of the field is Steve Ben­nett and, with M-sport’s Ian Tul­lie on the notes, he grabbed fifth on the fi­nal stage when a steer­ing drama slowed the Fiat 131 of Matthew Robin­son and Sam Col­lis. Nev­er­the­less, the pace of the Fiat on its first full rally was cause for much op­ti­mism in the Robin­son camp. “That’s a good start,” said Robin­son af­ter a strong run.

Just 20 sec­onds cov­ered the next four crews on a day when vis­i­bil­ity was a big prob­lem for the se­cond run over the high and open Route 60 stage. Si­mon Web­ster and Jez Rogers just edged Rudi Lan­caster and Ge­orge Gwynn, while Orr/weaver took Cat­e­gory 2 and ninth over­all. “A bit of a steady start but go­ing bet­ter in the af­ter­noon,” said Orr. Neil Wil­liams and Peter James wrapped up the top 10 in their Es­cort Mk2.

The Gib­bons father and son pair­ing had an anx­ious wait at the fin­ish for the ar­rival of Bean/smith­son. Head­ing for the se­cond Caio, the gap was just 11s and Gib­bons Sr was con­cerned that he might have eased back too much. How­ever, the Lotus Cortina never made it back af­ter a com­plete elec­tri­cal fail­ure stopped the car mid-stage. “I was giv­ing it a good go,” said Bean as he started his 56th sea­son of ral­ly­ing.

Among the classes, a stand­out per­for­mance came from Adam Mil­ner and Roy Jarvis who put their 1600cc Es­cort Mk1 into 13th over­all on the driver’s first rally in Wales. In­cred­i­bly, they only had one stage free of a per­sis­tent mis­fire and duly set a top 10 time over Route 60. Mil­ner fin­ished one place down on Class C5 win­ners Si­mon Tysoe/paul Mor­ris, who had a good day in their Es­cort Mk1.

In Cat­e­gory 3, Chris Skill and Tom Jor­dan (Ford Es­cort Mk2) topped the 1600cc divi­sion de­spite col­lect­ing a punc­ture on each visit to Crychan. Class D4 fell to Guy An­der­son and new co-driver Steven Davey (Tal­bot Sun­beam Lotus).

In Cat­e­gory 1, the late re­tire­ment of Bob Bean el­e­vated Bill Dou­glas and Dave Tearl (BMW 1800) into se­cond in the cat­e­gory as well as vic­tory in Class B4, while the new pair­ing of Phil Har­ris and Gra­ham Wild (Mini Cooper) added to Har­ris’ re­mark­able run of Class B2 wins.

TIME

50m15s +7s +30s +37s +42s +1m19s +1m33s +1m38s +2m14s +2m19s snow. Garry Pear­son set the fastest time in his Ford Fi­esta R5 by eight sec­onds from Arm­strong in the Subaru, with rel­a­tive new­comer John Wink match­ing Arm­strong’s pace in his E9. The stage was as far as fron­trun­ner Shaun Sin­clair man­aged. The Subaru’s head gas­ket had gone.

At first ser­vice, the talk was all about tyres. Pri­mar­ily, who had snow tyres, and who didn’t. Mike Faulkner was one of the have-nots: “Noth­ing we’ve got is work­ing, so we’ve bor­rowed some trac­tor tyres from Ivor Clark!”

Strath Rory is the most northerly for­est stage in the UK and here Mccul­loch set fastest time first time out in his newly ac­quired Lancer E9. He was a full 15 sec­onds faster than Macdon­ald, dis­plac­ing Mccom­bie for the rally lead. Dale Robert­son was still in the hunt, third quick­est ahead of ex-scot­tish cham­pion Jimmy Christie, while Milne rounded off the top half dozen quick­est through that third stage.

Al­though Mccul­loch now had a 42-se­cond lead head­ing to­wards the Scots­burn test, the ever-chang­ing con­di­tions were en­sur­ing that rally vic­tory pre­dic­tions were about as re­li­able as the weather fore­cast.

This time it was the num­ber 28 seed, Brian Ross in his Lancer E6, who set the best time from the num­ber 44 seed, Scott Mutch in his Subaru Im­preza. Christie was third quick­est, while fourth quick­est Robert­son had pulled back three sec­onds on Mccul­loch as Macdon­ald lost out by a fur­ther eight sec­onds to the rally leader.

Go­ing into the fi­nal 11-mile test at Raven Rock, it was get­ting dark and the fall­ing snow on the hills was get­ting thicker. Mccul­loch had a 51-se­cond cush­ion over Macdon­ald, surely that was enough?

The first five miles of the test were pretty much gravel, but the fi­nal six miles on the other side of the hill had snow. No tyre choice could be per­fect for this one.

Ral­ly­ing can be such a cruel sport, and so it proved. “I didn’t hit any­thing, I just felt it go down,” said Mccul­loch when the front near side tyre punc­tured. Macdon­ald could only man­age third fastest time be­hind Milne and Robert­son, while Mccul­loch dropped over a minute and a half to the fastest trio.

With the lead­ers through the last stage, the or­gan­is­ers were fi­nally forced to can­cel it due to the weather. For most of the 20-mile run back to the rally fin­ish, Macdon­ald and Fal­coner were un­aware of their fi­nal rally po­si­tion. They got the mes­sage three miles out so were pre­pared for the wel­come at the fin­ish.

For sure there was dis­ap­point­ment all round, from Mccul­loch and Robert­son to Milne about what might have been, but no-one be­grudged this pop­u­lar crew their first out­right vic­tory. As Macdon­ald was greeted by his peers and ri­vals, he laughed: “If I was in­suf­fer­able be­fore, I’ll be a lot worse now!” ■

Birr Stages Rally Shane Maguire headed up the Group N con­tin­gent in Ire­land

Bill Dou­glas/dave Tearl topped class in rare rally BMW 1800

Pear­son im­pressed in new R5

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