DONNELLY FENDS OFF UNLUCKY, PUNCTURED HETHERINGTON
Organiser: Omagh MC When: September 24 Where: Omagh, County Tyrone Championship Northern Ireland Rally Championship Stages: 11 Starters: 92
The Bushwhacker Rally is ensconced in Omagh rallying folklore so it was a major landmark for Mark Donnelly and his co-driver Stephen O’hanlon to take a well-deserved victory in their Ford Fiesta S2000.
Adrian Hetherington/gary Nolan did lead for much of the day in their Toyota Corolla WRC, but had to settle for second at the end while Niall Mccullagh/ryan Mccloskey, in a hired Mckinstry Motorsport Subaru Impreza, had a strong run towards the end to capture third place.
The fast, open and smooth Bushwhacker stages have long been a great attraction for the drivers. That was again the case this year, even though it was a thoroughly wet day. Sadly chicanes are a necessary evil nowadays to keep average speeds down, but still the drivers enjoyed the rally. The stages were short, which meant that only a second or two split the top drivers throughout the event.
Hetherington and Donnelly set an equal fastest time on the opening stage. On the very fast second stage, Lough Braden North, Hetherington edged ahead. It was then nip and tuck between the two, Donnelly perhaps hampered by the lower top speed of his S2000. On the other hand, the car might have been more nimble through the tight chicanes.
At first service outside Castlederg, Hetherington had 7s in hand over Donnelly, with Martin Cairns in his Fiesta WRC a solid third, but 25s behind the flying Corolla WRC.
Through the early afternoon stages Hetherington kept his lead fairly constant, and was 10s ahead going into SS 9 Slieveadoo. Unfortunately for Hetherington his Corolla WRC incurred a puncture, the flailing tyre wrecking a mudguard before stage finish. He did well to only lose 20s. In SS10 Glenderg, Donnelly was fastest, which meant victory was his. There were 11 stages due, but the final one didn’t run as a tow truck slipped into a ditch and it was unsafe to run past the obstacle.
While all the drama was going on at the front, Mccullagh, in only his second outing in a WRC car, was closing in on the leaderboard. He had lost time in stage four when he out-braked himself on a six-right into a square-left and stalled the Impreza. During the afternoon Mccullagh set a couple of fastest times, which meant he jumped Cairns for the final podium place.
Darren Mckelvey had a fine run to fifth place in his Lancer, while Pat O’connell in a similar Mitsubishi made the trip from Tipperary worthwhile by taking sixth. Seamus O’connell was top two-wheel-drive in eighth overall.
Those not so fortunate included Patrick O’brien in his Mitsubishi Lancer, whose woes included breaking a driveshaft, which brought the car grinding to a halt in stage three.
Coincidentally, and rather spookily, his brother Francie in his Ford Escort broke down at the exact same corner, also with a broken shaft!
Also out with a broken driveshaft was Kyle White in his Citroen C2R2 Max. Both Josh Moffett and Paul Barrett were non-starters.
Liam Regan hasn’t driven on a rally for two years and was going well on this one until his unique Peugeot 206 4x4 lapsed onto three cylinders for three stages. Liam fixed the problem at service and finished 17th.
Derek Mcgarrity’s Ford Fiesta WRC suffered intermittent ECU problems. He kept going and finished 10th, but still should be on course to claim another NI rally champion’s title. Derek’s young son Michael was competing in a Fiesta R2 and spent 3m in a stage three ditch and finished 58th.