Dungiven driver – Kevin Lynch ( partnered by Francis Regan ) steered his ex-Petter Solberg Subaru Impreza S9 to a convincing victory on the Dublin Crystal Easter Stages. Former NIRC sponsor, Kieran Shaw set a blistering pace on the opening St.Angelo Airfield spectator stage – four seconds faster than Lynch, but fell victim of rocks midway through the second test ( Doon I ), damaging the steering and front bumper of his ex-Italian tarmac championship winning Impreza WRC’99 to leave the KBB Doors backed Subaru trailing Lynch’s KPL liveried S9 by some ten seconds at the interim service near Scotstown in Co.Monaghan. Lynch turned up the pressure through the difficult nine miles of the Fardross stage ( SS 4.) to extend his lead over Shaw ( partnered by Crawford Henderson ) by twenty-three seconds, and a further seven seconds on SS 5 left the KPL crew smiling at the main service after SS 5. at Lackaboy just outside Enniskillen. Dickie Curran / Gary Lyons ( Mitsubishi Evo VII ) set the pace from the outset in the Grp.N category with Seamus Donnelly / Billy McCullins initially best of the rest until their Subaru Impreza suffered brake problems to leave Dickie fighting it out with his son, Micheal – partnered by Fabian McShane in another DGM run Evo VII. Donnelly, meanwhile secured third spot in the class to fend off the challenging Superdrive junior championship drivers – Johnny McKenna and John McGlaughlin, both in Evo V’s and navigated by Frank Conville / David McElroy respectively. The latter two crews were harried throughout the day by Pomeroy’s Stephen Moore/Greg Shinnors in their ex-Sean Devine Impreza.
Rodney White / Sam Mc Mullan in their immaculate 2.0 16v Sunbeam lead the two-wheel-drive contingent at St.Angelo but fell victim of gearbox gremlins on the Doon Stage, the gremlins multiplied which resulted in the Crumlin crew’s demise on the Fardross test. Dunfanaghy’s Pat Bonar / Derek Montgomery ( Escort RS ) followed on from their top ten placing on the rally last year to set the pace only to suffer terminal transmission woes too in Fardross. Fermanagh crew – Brendan Campbell / Ciaran McAnespy ( Escort Mk.II ) took over the lead in the two-wheel-drive battle and won convincingly from Gary Price / Sam McDowell – also mk.II mounted. Price, who hails from Co.Antrim fended –off the challenge of fellow county man , Alistair Cochrane who had Geoff Patterson reading the pacenotes.
Frank Wray / Joe McNulty were unbeatable in the ‘non-turbo’ grp.N class and ended the day almost two minutes ahead of Andrew and Steven Casey , also Honda Civic mounted. The latter coming out tops after a nip and tuck battle with the Peugeot 306 of Peter Thompson / William Donnell to settle the runners-up class position.
Class three was the domain of Vauxhall Corsa crew – Gary Mills / James O’Reilly who had a winning margin of over three minutes from Nova mounted, John Mc Gauran / Paul Mason. ‘New face’ on the 1300 cc scene – Robert Haslett ( navigated by Eugene O’Kane ) lay second in class until SS.3 where their one and only BMC Mini Cooper on the entry list ‘rolled’ after under-steering of the road due to mud trailed-out by the preceding eighty-plus cars. Robert, son of NIRC regular-Roy Haslett, managed to get the Cooper back on all four and remedial work at the interim service allowed him to continue. However, a bridge on the infamous Fardross test soon claimed the red/white BMC’s attention for the rest of the day !. Eugene, who was the winning Tracker-Clubmans series navigator last year had never been in a mini before nor had he ever been rolled!
Class Four saw John Devlin / Mark Wills ( Sunbeam ) as the meat in a Vauxhall Nova sandwich. Lisburn’s Jonathan Armstrong / Paul McGee ( Nova GSI ) came out tops, nineteen seconds ahead of the Chrysler, whilst Simon Gordon / John Patterson finished third albeit two and a half minutes in arrears of Devlin / Wills… all the class 4. competitors relishing the early departure of the championship-class leader…. Brian Black with transmission woes in his r.w.d. Toyota Starlet.
Conor Kelly / Davy Vance ( Nissan Sunny ) took the laurels in the 16v.1600 category after a battle with Mark and Rory Doyle ( Peugeot 106 GTI )… the former crew, going home with a slender seven seconds margin after almost fifty competitive miles. Dermot O’Hagan / Martin McGarrity ( 106 GTI ) finished in third spot with almost a minute to spare over another 106 mounted crew- newcomers, Gareth Hoare / Richard Beattie who had shown Colin Britton / Kenny Hull (206 XS ) the road home.
With Pat Bonar on his way home, Armagh’s Brian Armstrong showed his ‘tarmac pedigree’ to lead home the 2.0litre ‘pinto’ brigade with his mk.II partnered with Dominic McArdle. Phillip McConnell / Sinead McCafferty (mk.II RS) pushed the Armagh pilot and secured second spot ahead of NIRC combatants – Drew Stewart / Steven Park, also mk.II mounted.
Meanwhile, the leading pack remained much the same to the finish with only Dickie Curran coming under any pressure… not from the Grp.N contenders though… but from double NIRC Champion, Denis Biggerstaff who was becoming accustomed to the finer points of Kenny Mc Kinstry’s Subaru Impreza WRC ably navigated by Kenny’s regular ‘notes-reader’- Noel Orr. Nevertheless, Curran “senior” managed to hold station to secure third overall whilst Curran “junior” slotted in behind Denis to complete the top five.
The NIRC now heads for the forests on the 21st. May with the Magherafelt club’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally based in Maghera. Derek McGarrity still leads the championship by one point from Kevin Lynch and Kieran Shaw who share second spot on thirty-one points. Rumour has it that Derek Mc Garrity and Eugene Donnelly will resume their Circuit of Ireland battle in the Sperrins Forest. I can’t wait to see that spectacle.