Connor McCloskey Rally Ireland summary

McCLOSKEY'S TOP TEN FIGHTBACK Connor McCloskey and Crawford Henderson gamely fought back to an excellent tenth overall after losing time early in this weekend's Rally Ireland. In only the second running of this new rally, the pair was out...

McCLOSKEY'S TOP TEN FIGHTBACK

Connor McCloskey and Crawford Henderson gamely fought back to an excellent tenth overall after losing time early in this weekend's Rally Ireland.

In only the second running of this new rally, the pair was out to put in a good showing, as the eyes of the rallying world tried to gauge the FIA's response to the wannabe WRC event. Following a good recce, the pair overcame the bumps that caught out many others on the opening two stages. They made their intention clear by setting 12th fastest time, moving to eleventh overall by the first service at Enniskillen airport. Only routine maintenance was required and the nineteen year old from Kilrea set off for a re-run of the seventeen mile first stage.

Part way through the run they ran wide on a slippery four left and clipped a bank, stopping shortly afterwards to change what they thought was a puncture. With both crew out of the car, Connor spotted the problem. "We were ready to change a puncture but when I looked the wheel was absolutely full of muddy clay," he explained, "The mud was getting onto the tyre but it was still inflated and there was no damage. Two cars passed us before we cleared the mud and got going again, so I reckon it cost us nearly two and a half minutes."

Stopping mid-stage had dropped them to 21st overall but with the drama still on their minds, they managed to take back some of the lost time on the next stage, moving back up four places before returning to service. Having pronounced the car fit and healthy it began to rain heavily and the crew opted for a wet pattern Pirelli tyre for the final two stages of the day. However, they underestimated the low temperature and had to tip-toe through the first of the pair, having chosen too hard a compound. "We managed to push a bit harder on the last stage," said Connor, "because the roads were more abrasive, so we were really pleased to get to the overnight halt unscathed."

Day two began very early and the rain continued. A 6.30am tyre service preceded five new stages, the first of which was the fourteen mile Leitrim test. The Fisher Foundation Award winner was straight on it, posting an eighth quickest overall time and moved the youngster up to twelfth place. "We pushed really hard in the first stage of the day," explained Connor, "and we took one of the jumps a wee bit fast. I had to back off after we landed because I though we must have broken something, but these Evo 8s are pretty tough and it was fine at service."

Back at Enniskillen the crew had good reason to be pleased. The car had held together and the momentum had continued on the following stage, leaving them tenth overall with three stages remaining. On any other rally it may have been a quick sprint to the finish, but the total mileage was similar to a single day club event, so a level-headed approach would be required.

Despite admitting to backing off a little too much for the jump on the re-run of stage seven, Connor and Crawford were still ninth quickest, retaining their overall position. Just two stages stood between the Egger backed team and the finish, but ninth place was tantalisingly close. Just over twenty seconds behind Paul Harris in a newer Evolution Mitsubishi, the pair pushed a little harder, taking 6.3 seconds back on the penultimate stage.

With just eight miles remaining, the margin was too much and Connor decided to ease back. "We'd been steadily reeling Paul in all day," said Connor, "but he spotted us catching him and responded, then we ran out of stages. It has been a fabulous event and we're only disappointed that we could have been eighth without the early time loss. I suppose the story is the same throughout the field so I'm really pleased to finish in the top ten on an event that deserves a place in the World Rally Championship."

The next event for the team is even closer to home. The Circuit of Ireland's new base is in Connor's home county of Londonderry and takes place over the Easter weekend in mid April.

-cmr

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