GASS IMPRESSES IN FIESTA DEBUT

Darren Gass and Conor Foley had an impressive debut in their new Fiesta Super 1600, taking second in class on the Galway International Rally this weekend.

The seventeen year old took time off from his 'A' Levels and helping to run the family business to contest the first round of the Irish Tarmac Championship in County Galway. He was partnered for the first time by Conor Foley and the newly acquainted crew set off with a finish in mind.

"We took delivery of the new Fiesta from M-Sport on Monday and tested with WRC star Roman Kresta on Tuesday. The car felt great straight out of the blocks," said Darren, "and it was good to have the experience of Roman to help with the set up. With just a day's worth of miles under his belt, the game plan was to get to the finish unscathed and the pair drove over the ramp in Eyre Square in Galway City with as their goal.

The first day comprised eight stages around Portumna in County Galway and the pair got off to a cracking start. Second in class after stage two, the Crozier Motorsport team checked the car over at service and pronounced themselves happy. The second loop of stages totalled 25 miles and with perfect cold and overcast rally conditions, tyre choice was easy; Kumho slicks were bolted on all round and despite the roads being quite greasy, they arrived back at service still smiling.

"We've gone for a low gear ratio," explained Darren, "and she's topping out at about 95 mph. It is fantastic up through the gears but the long straights are losing us time." He continued, "We can still take time off Brian O'Mahoney in the class but we could be further up the overall leaderboard with more top speed."

After a further four stages and one service, the crews headed back to Galway for the overnight halt, having exceeded their expectations with a sizeable class lead and 25th overall from 150 starters. The re-start saw them running much earlier on the road after the traditional re-seeding, so they arrived ready for action at the first stage on day two at ten past ten. The nine-mile stage should have seen them cross the finish line at around eight minutes later but the seconds ticked by and there was no sign of the Castrol backed machine.

Just over three minutes later than expected the pair emerged, obviously frustrated. "We went off on the last square left of the stage." rued Darren, "We just went in a bit quick and spun with the back wheel in the ditch. The bumper has a little crack in it but the front wheel ended up off the ground and we couldn't get any grip." When the stage was re-run later in the day, the timesheets showed a loss of three minutes fourteen seconds, dropping them one minute 23 seconds behind the new class leader, Andrew Bushe.

At service after the first two stages Darren was still upbeat. "There's plenty of mileage to go and we can take the time back if we push." And push they did, beating Bushe by 33 seconds on the first stage after service in Ballinsaloe. Stage twelve was cancelled and the pair took another eight seconds back on stage 13 to leave them just 42 seconds adrift of the Peugeot driver.

The brakes were bled at service and they set off into another loop of three stages. Stage 14 went without hitch but disaster stuck on 15. Darren shook his head while explaining at service "It was the same stage as our first spin, but this time we hit a bank on another square left. It bent the rear axle and we lost another three minutes." He continued, "We had to crawl through the next eight mile stage and the back wheel was all over the place so we changed it after the finish."

Having lost a further two and a half minutes, the team worked flat out to try to keep the Fiesta in the rally. One stage remained before the finish in Galway and it was a nervous time. Crossing the flying finish of the last stage Darren could take solace in the knowledge that he had got straight back on the pace, stopping the clock 52 seconds before his nearest class rival and regaining four places overall.

34th overall and second in class was scant reward for the youngster, who proved again that he has the pace to shine. With nearly two months before the Circuit of Ireland and a month before a possible assault on Rally Ireland, Darren has plenty of time to refine the car's settings, but the aim for Galway was to finish and learn--.mission accomplished.

Darren would like to thank Castrol, Kumho Tyres, Millview Fuels, Dalzells of Markethill, EMC Autopax, PIAA, AC Vehicle Components, Sligo Pallets, Alpha Cam, Crozier Motorsport Engineering and ID Graphics for their continuing support.

-dgr-