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WHITFORD WINS MICRA CHALLENGE…

Stephen ‘Weavy’ Whitford finally lifted the Micra Challenge winner’s trophy 27 years after his first attempt.

At a packed Down Royal venue in late November Whitford took the plaudits, receiving a warm reception from friends and fellow competitors gathered to mark the occasion. Whilst his original efforts were on a highly competitive UK championship and his recent win on the more modest NI based evolution there is something poetic about Whitford finally taking the award.

That original competition included such names as Mark Fisher and Geoff Jones as well as Matthew Humphris who sponsored this years’ NI Challenge through Humphris Rallysport. With co-driver Jonny Hart alongside, Whitford was the class of the field with his main challenger being Philip White/ Brian Rowan until they spectacularly crashed out of the Down Rally bringing their season to a close.

The season also demonstrated that the Micras are a great little car and shouldn’t be overlooked especially when starting your motorsport career. As Whitford said during his winners’ speech, rallying is expensive but the Micras are a great way of keeping the costs under control and yet delivering fun and adrenaline. It’s hard to argue with the latter when you consider that Whitford/ Hart won the fastest two-wheel drive award at the Race & Rally Bishopscourt event in March.

At what was a highly enjoyable awards evening supported by many well-known rally personalities past and present, there were a number of well-deserved awards. The first and most poignant was the Drew Wylie Award, given to Peter Dowds. Nominated by Ballynahinch and District Motor Club, the award was in recognition of Peters behind the scenes efforts to get the Challenge up and running – a key contribution being the highly popular Micra Challenge YouTube channel and persuading the BBC’s Stephen Watson and his crew to prepare videos covering each of the Challenge events.

Sean Foy and Clodagh Mc Morrow were delighted to accept the runners up award with Clodagh being particularly pleased to achieve this in her first year of competition. The crew had been outside podium places but a strong finish on the final gravel rounds proved enough to take second overall.

Third place awards were given to Jack Shields and Ashley Boulton although Jack was unable to accept in person as he is recuperating from a recent operation. Jack and Ashley had a great season – a second place finish on the Bushwhacker Rally being the highlight.

The Engineering Excellence Award was given to rally veteran Derek Crossen. Derek utilised the expertise of family engineering business Crossen Engineering to design and manufacture a new quick-rack for the Micra as well as other much needed parts requested by fellow competitors.

Peter Dowds received his second award of the night – Best Newcomer. Peter was a fierce competitor in the driving seat and powered his Kit Car to competitive times on both tar and gravel in his first full season of competition. Alongside co-driver brother Steven, Peter started the year strongly but work commitments giving two dropped scores left them in fourth.

The final award of the evening was for Best Overseas crew which went to Dominic Hodge and Stefan Arndt. This crew were the first ‘visitors’ to support the Challenge and they were duly rewarded with a third placed finish on the Down Rally. Dominic travelled from England to attend the Awards night and also did a sterling job in tackling the venues Guinness stocks.

Finally, thanks to sponsors Humphris Rallysport, Matcon Shopfitting and Millers Oils with particular thanks to Stephen Watson for hosting the night and Gary McCutcheon for organising video compilations.

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Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.