Strabane’s Sean Devine ended his year on a high with victory at last Saturday’s Glens of Antrim Rally, the final round of the 2006 Pacenotes Northern Ireland Rally Championship! Driving his Subaru Impreza WRC with Damien Duffin calling the notes, Devine arrived at the finish almost one minute ahead of Cookstown’s Glenn Allen.
The Mid-Antrim Motor Club event attracted a high quality entry for the end of season finale, although Kevin Lynch was one notable absentee. Fresh from clinching his third championship title at the Down Rally, the Dungiven driver decided not to compete at the Ballymena based event but it didn’t detract from the entry.
Former champion, Kenny McKinstry, was among the line-up in his Subaru Impreza WRC and it was the Banbridge man who took the early lead. Fastest on the opening two stages, McKinstry had settled into the groove very quickly, considering it was his first time on the loose for a few months.
While Sean Devine, Glenn Allen and Raymond Johnston tussled for second position, McKinstry and navigator Noel Orr held a five second lead going into the third stage. Unfortunately, it was Ballypatrick that marked the preparation expert’s downfall, as his Subaru skated off the road midway through the stage.
"I was just going a wee bit too hard," Kenny said, "that’s all you can put it down to. We were leading the rally at the time, not that that’s any good because you have to stay on the road! It was a 3 left over a crest but I hadn’t calculated that there was a jump on the crest and we just slid off the road. I was really looking forward to the event and I was just starting to get into it but that’s the way it goes."
While McKinstry was forced to the sidelines, Sean Devine and Damien Duffin were fastest on stage three to move into the rally lead. They were three seconds in front of Glenn Allen and Raymond Johnston who both tied for second position!
There was still a long way to go and two stages later, it was Allen who grabbed the lead in his Corolla WRC. Devine lost a few seconds during stage five, allowing both Allen and Johnston to move in front. Just one second separated the two drivers, and when Johnston was fastest on the following stage, it was dead level at the top!
Incredibly, both Allen and Johnston set equal fastest times through stage seven but the second run through Ballypatrick forest was to prove costly for Johnston. On maximum attack, the Enniskillen driver was caught out at a particularly slippery section of tarmac, and his Subaru slipped off the road and into a ditch.
Johnston’s demise allowed Allen to grab the event lead but he couldn’t afford to relax. Just six seconds in arrears, Sean Devine was still in the hunt and he equalled Allen’s fastest time through Ballypatrick. Then he sliced two seconds out of his advantage on stage nine, leaving four seconds between the two drivers with two stages remaining!
A superb showdown was set but Allen’s bid for victory ended with a puncture during the penultimate stage. Just a few miles into the long Slieveanorra test, a rear tyre deflated leaving Allen’s dreams of victory in ruins. He lost one minute during the stage, allowing Devine to relax through the final test and record his second successive Rally of the Glens victory!
Glenn Allen and Damien Connolly survived their puncture to take second position while John and Mandy McKeown were top local crew, finishing third overall in their Escort WRC. In sixth overall behind two Group N crews, James Murphy and John Brennan had a solid run in their Escort WRC.
<p align=”left”><strong>Group N / Production category
</strong>The battle for production category honours was also hotly contested with a number of men capable of taking Group N honours. David Crossen and Andrew Bushe were the surprise early leaders in their Evo 6 Lancer. Fastest on the opening two stages, they led the category by three seconds from Richard Cathcart and Aidan Friel. Cathcart grabbed the advantage one stage later, only for Crossen to reduce his advantage to just two seconds with another fastest time!
Unfortunately, Crossen’s rally came to an end after stage four, and another to bite the dust were newly crowned Pacenotes N.I. Group N champions, Stanley Ballantine and Richard Hyland. Their Evo 9 specification Lancer left the road during the fifth stage, hitting a couple of trees in Slievanorra and causing the cancellation of the test. Thankfully, neither crew member was injured.
Back at the head of the field, Richard Cathcart looked set to grab the category lead but when stage five was cancelled, he was awarded a nominal time for the test – some 36 seconds slower than John McGlaughlin! The Cookstown driver successfully completed the stage before Ballantine’s accident and all of a sudden, he found himself heading the tables!
Cathcart went on an all out charge or victory, setting a string of fastest times. Bit by bit, he started reeling in the Cookstown driver and by the time they reached the finish, he had nipped in front by six seconds! McGlaughlin and navigator David McElroy were forced to settle for second, comfortably ahead of Enda McNulty and Ronan O’Kane. John Walker and David Meeke were fourth in class ahead of Jonny Morrow and Jane Nicol, while Sean Foy and Gordon Buckley completed the top six.
<p align=”left”><strong>Superdrive sponsored two wheel drive
</strong>Mark Barnett put his Down Rally disappointment behind him with victory among the two wheel drive men at the Glens of Antrim Rally! It was a close run affair though, as Barnett and navigator Vincent Fergus almost saw the win slip from their grasp on the final stage!
Entering the final test with eight seconds in hand over Martin and Greg McCormack, Barnett eased off the accelerator during the closing miles – almost too much! McCormack was fastest by some seven seconds, closing the gap to just one second at the finish!
With Barnett and McCormack occupying the top two positions, Adrian Hetherington and Terry Walkinshaw were third two wheel drive crew home, finishing 12th overall in the process. James Kennedy and James McCullough were fourth ahead of Drew Stewart and David White, with William Carey and Jimmy Graham completing the top six.
<strong>2007 Pacenotes Northern Ireland Rally Championship</strong>
With the 2006 championship completed, plans are already in place for the 2007 series. Pacenotes Rally Newspaper has agreed to sponsor the popular championship for another year, and the series will kick off at Kirkistown race circuit next February.
1st (75) Sean Devine/Damien Duffin (Impreza WRC) 44.33
2nd (2) Glenn Allen/Damien Connolly (Corolla WRC) 45.27
3rd (7) John & Mandy McKeown (Escort WRC) 46.26
4th (12) Richard Cathcart/Aidan Friel (Impreza N) 46.49
5th (9) John McGlaughlin/David McIlroy (Lancer N) 46.55
6th (5) James Murphy/John Brennan (Escort WRC) 47.17
7th (36) Enda McNulty/Ronan O’Kane (Lancer N) 48.01
8th (26) John Walker/David Meeke (Lancer N) 48.49
9th (22) Mark Barnett/Vincent Fergus (Escort) 49.08
10th (39) Martin & Greg McCormick (Escort) 49.08
11th (35) Jonny Morrow/Jane Nicholl (Lancer N) 49.19
12th (24) Adrian Hetherington/Terry Walkinshaw (Escort) 49.37