Cookstown’s Glenn Allen has finally broken his duck in the Pacenotes MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship, as he secured victory at Saturday’s McGrady Insurance Bishopscourt Stages Rally! With Damien Connolly calling the notes, Allen steered his Toyota Corolla WRC to the top of the podium and emerged victorious by just 9.7 seconds. In a day long battle, it was a closely fought affair which went down to the wire between the Cookstown crew and Dromara father and son team, Denis and Stuart Biggerstaff.
A bright sunny morning greeted competitors as they arrived at County Down’s Bishopscourt Race Circuit, but dark clouds quickly descended when Kieran Shaw and Crawford Henderson had an incident during the opening stage. Their Subaru left the road after a jump, hitting a row of tyres. While little damage was inflicted to their car, one of the tyres hit a member of the media. An ambulance was summoned and the injured party was taken to hospital with a broken leg.
The times for the opening stage were scrapped so it was stage two before the event was underway, and current champion, Kevin Lynch, set the pace in his Ford Focus WRC. Navigated by Francis Regan, the Dungiven driver emerged from the test 2.2 seconds clear of both Denis Biggerstaff and Glenn Allen, who tied for second.
Lynch has not registered for this year’s championship, and he merely entered the event to get some test miles under his belt with his new car. The past three seasons have seen the normally unflappable driver secure countless victories, but that was behind the wheel of a Subaru. His relative lack of experience with the Blue Oval is proving to be a challenge, and it showed in his driving as he made a small mistake during stage three.
That allowed Dromara’s Biggerstaff crew set fastest time, halving Lynch’s lead. Glenn Allen and Damien Connolly were just two tenths slower, while fourth placed Stephen Moore and fifth placed Raymond Johnston were just a few seconds adrift.
All was set to change though, as stage four proved unlucky for the leading KPL Focus. A fuel pressure problem forced Lynch to return to service after just one lap of the stage, automatically handing him a maximum time. Fastest over the test, Glenn Allen and Damien Connolly snatched two tenths of a second from Biggerstaff, allowing both crews to share the lead with two stages remaining.
While Lynch decided to head home, another thrilling N.I Championship battle had developed at the top of the leaderboard. Round one of the Pacenotes backed series saw one of the closest fought affairs in recent years, and round two was proving to be every bit as exciting!
In one corner, Denis and Stuart Biggerstaff were in their 1998 specification FeckinWhiskey.com Subaru Impreza WRC. It was only recently that Biggerstaff, who is a former N.I. Rally champion and British Rallycross champion, realised that his car had been hiding a fault since he purchased it almost three years ago. It had caused some difficult handling characteristics, but now that it was back on song, so was the former champion!
In the other corner, Glenn Allen and Damien Connolly were equally as hungry for victory in their BA Components Toyota Corolla WRC. The crew have played second fiddle on so many occasions during the last three years, and had yet to score a maiden championship victory. When Kevin Lynch announced he was moving on from the series, Allen had hoped victory would swing his direction!
With both men on equal times, they entered the penultimate stage of the McGrady Insurance sponsored event with a renewed determination. After Allen accelerated out of the blocks, midway through the stage it looked like disaster was about to strike the Cookstown man. He left his braking too late for a chicane, and realising he had no option, he accelerated across the grass! As it turned out, the incident worked in his favour, and he emerged from the stage 8.9 seconds clear of the Biggerstaff team!
Biggerstaff knew he could not take so much time out of the leader in one deft swoop, and had to hope that Allen would encounter some sort of problem during the final stage. Allen hit no so such troubles, and equal fastest time with Raymond Johnston <font size=”2″>was enough to secure his maiden 2007 championship win by 9.7 seconds</font>. On this occasion, the car in front was definitely a Toyota!
Denis and Stuart Biggerstaff were forced to settle for second, and it may be the last we see of the popular team in this year’s series. Denis has entered the UAC Easter International Rally, so will miss the third round of the championship. Combined with retirement at the opening round, he is really on the back foot if he does decide to contest the remaining championship rounds after Easter.
Meanwhile, the battle for third between Stephen Moore and Raymond Johnston also went down to the wire. Round one winner Moore and Tony McHugh consistently had the edge over Johnston all day. Entering the final stage, they were 5.4 seconds ahead but a spin saw them lose 20 seconds, handing Johnston and Fabian McAleer the final podium position. Moore and McHugh finished fourth, while Gary White and John Patterson completed the top five in their Escort Cosworth.
Sunoco Fuels Production Category
The battle for production category honours, also known as Group N, was just as intense. The spectacular Richard Cathcart had returned in his Subaru, and he fought tooth and nail with category sponsor, Jim Crozier, throughout the day. Fastest on the opening stage, Cathcart and navigator William Mavitty grabbed the advantage ahead of Kieron Graffin and Liam Reid, while Crozier and Laura Marley were a close third.
Graffin dropped some time over the following test but Cathcart was fastest once again. He started edging away from Crozier, and despite a few tyre hopping and ‘two wheeling’ moments, it was Cathcart who came through to secure the victory. Eight seconds adrift, Crozier and Marley had to settle for second, while Kieron Graffin and Liam Reid secured third ahead of current champion, Stanley Ballantine, who had Richard Hyland in the passenger seat.
Superdrive two wheel drive
Another sponsor was in the thick of the action in this category as Fintan and Cormac McGrady gave Camillus Bradley and Danny O’Neill a run for their money. Both crews were piloting Mark 2 Escorts, and when Bradley had a slow start, it was McGrady who headed the two wheel drive category.
Mervyn Williamson and George Hamilton were also among the leaders, and held second ahead of Roy Haslett and Jim McSherry. Then it was Haslett who moved to the top in his ex-Simmonite sisters F2 Escort, while Bradley set fastest time in his Escort. Another quickest stage time saw the Draperstown preparation man move into the lead, while Fintan McGrady moved in front of Haslett.
Less than four seconds separated the two leading crews but now Camillus Bradley and Danny O’Neill were really on a charge. Fastest again through the final two stages, they sealed two wheel drive victory ahead of Fintan and Cormac McGrady. William and Gloria Smith came through the ranks to snatch third on the final stage in their Mini from Robert Erwin and Chris Ragg.
Results (Top 10)
1 Glenn Allen/Damien Connolly (Corolla WRC) 31m 18.4s
2 Denis Biggerstaff/Stuart Biggerstaff (Impreza WRC) 31m 27.1s
3 Raymond Johnston/Fabian McAleer (Impreza WRC) 31m 36.6s
4 Stephen Moore/Tony McHugh (Focus WRC) 31m 52.3s
5 Gary White/John Patterson (Escort Cosworth) 31m 57.4s
6 Richard Cathcart/William Mavitty (Impreza GpN) 32m 18.0s
7 Jim Crozier/Laura Marley (Lancer Evo 8 GpN) 32m 26.0s
8 George Robinson/Tommy Speers (Escort WRC) 32m 37.4s
9 Kieron Graffin/Liam Reid (Lancer Evo 8 GpN) 32m 51.3s
10 Sean McArdle/Thomas McArdle (Corolla WRC) 32m 53.5s
Round 3 – UAC Easter National Rally
Competitors are now looking forward to the first closed road event of the season at the UAC Easter National Rally. Due to take place over 07/08 April, the Easter event will be just as competitive! More information is available from the official championship website at www.nirally.com
words courtesy of Jonathan Macdonald / MediaJAM – Media Communications