Pre-event favourite, Andrew Nesbitt, overcame early pressure from Donegal's Paul Harris to win the Downhill Hotel Mayo Stages Rally, the Opening Round of the Dunlop Irish National Championship. At the end of the 8 Special Stages held in the North...
Pre-event favourite, Andrew Nesbitt, overcame early pressure from Donegal's Paul Harris to win the Downhill Hotel Mayo Stages Rally, the Opening Round of the Dunlop Irish National Championship. At the end of the 8 Special Stages held in the North Mayo region, Nesbitt, driving a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car (WRC), had over three minutes to spare over the gallant Harris. James Harrison (Escort Cosworth) took a superb third to finish the best of the overseas entries, a further 30 seconds back.
As Nesbitt, with co-driver James O'Brien, were using the event as a shake-down for the forthcoming Tarmac Series in Killarney in May, Paul Harris and Eugene O'Donnell now lead the Dunlop Championship and the concurrent Four Seasons Border Series held in conjunction with the main event.
"Drive of the Day Award" must surely go to Ballyhaunis crew Rory O'Connor and Francis Kenny, who had a tremendous run to come home 7th overall and win Class 13 in both Championships. Mayo & District Motorsport Club is proud of their fantastic achievement.
Paul Harris set the early pace recording the fastest time of 9.18 on the opening 10.35 mile stage at Attymass. Nesbitt, unhappy with the suspension set-up on his Subaru WRC was second on 9.25 with British entry Pete Doughty next on 9.34 in an Escort WRC. Galwayman, George Cullen, came in from the reserves to set 4th best time in a Subaru Impreza.
Nesbitt got to grips with the North Mayo terrain on Special Stage 2 at Bonniconlon, by pulling back 3 seconds on Harris with Cullen moving up to third, thanks to Doughty's retirement with gearbox gremlins. Rory O'Connor and Francis Kenny had a slight-off in their Escort Cosworth while in 6th place and arrived into Service at Asahi, Killala with oil dripping from the front right corner. Tubbercurry's Noel McCarrick (Subaru Impreza) took the lead in the Group N production class from Joe McHugh (Donegal) in an Escort Cosworth.
After making the necessary adjustments, Nesbitt moved into the lead at the restart at Killala when Paul Harris' Subaru suffered a slow puncture. Going into second service, the Keady, Armagh native was heading the leaderboard by 3 seconds. Third placed crew of George Cullen and Dermot O'Gorman lost some heart as the Subaru's clutch began to slip. Their worst fears were soon to materialise.
Watching close by was another British entry James Harrison (Escort Cosworth) who had quickly moved up to fourth, from an 8th place starting position.
Special Stage 5 in Lacken began without Cullen, much to the delight of the local supporters, with the O'Connor/Kenny partnership now 6th overall and leading Class 13. The race for the lead more or less fizzled out as Paul Harris rear left went flat, losing two valuable minutes. Noel McCarrick was giving his best to Joe McHugh for Group N honours and would continue the battle right up to the finish.
Harris did regain some pride over the final loop of two stages a repeat of 1 and 2 (Attymass and Bonniconlon) to pull clear of Harrison and secure the maximum Dunlop points.
In all, 26 local crews competed in the rally with James McGreal and Chris Mitchell the next best Mayo representatives with a Class 14C win and 47th position overall in a Nissan Sunny GTi-R. Just six seconds in arrears lay Adrian Lannon and David Lehane (Ballyhaunis) in a Subaru Impreza, 5th in Class 4 (Group N). Martin Withers return to rallying was met with some fraught moments but still finished just inside the Top 50 with new co-driver Keefe Kilcoyne also from Westport. Club Secretary, John Duffy (Crossmolina) with John Egan on the notes, arrived back at Rally Headquarters at the Downhill Hotel, Ballina in 64th place and 3rd in Class 14A in their thrusty Toyota Corolla. The Cleary brothers, Paul and Brian, from Kiltimagh, were next across the finish ramp with 3rd in Class 5 in a Nissan Micra. Tubbercurry's Anthony and Stephen O'Brien were pleased with 68th and 8th in Class 8, especially having experienced gearbox troubles in their Astra all day.
Below the 70 mark were Joe Heneghan and Mervyn Fahy (Ballinrobe) 11th in Class 10. Ford dealer Gerry Casey and Vinny Collins were 6th in Class 5 in their Ford Ka while Ballina Statoil Service Station owner Vinny Kelly with son Vincent (Talbot Samba) just missed out on a prize in Class 9. Rounding off the local contingent were Kevin Neary/Derek McCarthy (Ballina) Peugeot 205 - 13th in Class 10, Sean McHugh/Michael Haran (Bekan) Peugeot 205 GTi - 5th in Class 14 and finally John Rowland and Edel Cafferty (Crossmolina) Escort XR3i - 6th in Class 14A.
From 151 starters, 95 crews completed a most entertaining and exciting rally that brought out spectators in their thousands. The Dunlop Irish National Rally champions move to Galway for the second round on March 26th next.
Position Driver/Co-Driver (Address) / Make
1.. A. Nesbitt/J. O'Brien (Armagh) Subaru Impreza WRC 2.. P. Harris/E. O'Donnell (Donegal) Subaru Impreza 3.. J. Harrison/M. Gibson (Cheshire, UK) Escort Cosworth 4.. J. Gillen/S. O'Neill (Castlederg) Escort 5.. R. Breen/J. Purcell (Kilkenny) Subaru Impreza 6.. D. Cronin/H. Sullivan (Cork) BMW M3 7.. R. O'Connor/F. Kenny (Ballyhaunis) Escort Cosworth 8.. J. MacHugh/D. MacHugh (Donegal) Escort Cosworth 9.. J. McGurk/A. Kierans (Ballyjamesduff) Toyota Celica 10.. G. Allen/A. Johnson (Stewartstown N. Ire.) Escort