McCLOSKEY ENDS SEASON TIED FOR FIRST Connor McCloskey, partnered by Damien Connolly, ended their 2006 rally season tied for first place in the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge Junior category. The season finale was a debut on Wales Rally GB for...
McCLOSKEY ENDS SEASON TIED FOR FIRST
Connor McCloskey, partnered by Damien Connolly, ended their 2006 rally season tied for first place in the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge Junior category.
The season finale was a debut on Wales Rally GB for the youngster from Kilrea in Northern Ireland and it wasn't without its difficulties. With just a small amount of testing and a two month gap since Rally Yorkshire, Connor approached the UK's round of the World Rally Championship with some trepidation.
The 220 mile event was also a scoring round of the British Rally and Mitsubishi Evolution Challenge Championships which the pair has contested all year and they opened their account well. The ceremonial start in Cardiff on Thursday evening attracted thousands of spectators to cheer the crews on their way, but the action started in earnest on Friday morning. After the first loop of foggy stages in the south Wales forests, they had nearly halved their seeding number, lying 45th overall against the best drivers in the World. The next test followed without incident but on stage five, disaster struck. A right rear puncture caused suspension damage which left them limping through nearly thirty miles of stages and a twenty mile road section before service in Swansea.
"The rear suspension arm was damaged but the lads managed to change it well within the half hour service." explained Connor, "But we dropped around six minutes. The worst thing was that we had got inside the top forty and were moving steadily up the leaderboard as we gained confidence."
By the re start on Saturday the crew had re-focussed on finishing the event and they had good runs through the renowned Crychan and Epynt stages. "We had picked up speed again and were going at a sustainable pace," said Connor, "So I was mad at myself when we went off on the Halfway stage. The pacenote was "keep left for square right over crest" but the car went light and we ended up hitting the bank on the left hand side. It pitched us up into the air on the nose of the car so I was glad when it landed back on its wheels." He continued, "We lost about two and a half minutes and picked up some front end damage."
Back at service the damage was found to be mainly cosmetic and they continued without drama to the final stage of the day in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. "We had a great time," said Connor, "although apparently the exhaust came adrift at the start and we dragged it round the stadium. The spectators loved it but I have to apologise to the marshal at the finish as we nearly knocked her off her feet with it!"
Sunday saw the crew running 60th on the road where the conditions were far from perfect. The wet weather throughout the event had meant the forestry roads had cut up so they drove cautiously, trying to avoid the rocks. Lying second in the Evo Challenge category they entered the penultimate stage with one goal, to get to the finish. Unfortunately one of the rocks on the inside of a corner snagged the suspension and broke the steering arm forcing them into retirement.
However the FIA regulations allow for competitors to take a time penalty for missed stages, so they still classified as finishers in 49th place. The second place in the Evo Challenge was enough to level them on points at the top of the Junior Championship, but a tie break gave the win the rival Philip Morrow who won the opening round in May.
"Today has been a disappointment but we have had a great season." said Connor, "It has been an excellent opportunity to compete against some of the best drivers in the country and on this event, the world. We have built a foundation for next season's campaign and I am particularly proud to have contested Rally GB. It was undoubtedly the toughest event that I have done and we both enjoyed the experience immensely." he concluded, "I have been very fortunate to have had the support of the Fisher Foundation this year and I would particularly like to thank them for helping me during the season. I wish whoever takes the award for next year every success."
Connor and the team would like to thank Egger (wood based panels), The Fisher Foundation, Euro Components, KBB Doors, Pirelli and Shell Racing Fuels for their continuing support in 2006.