'Seconds' decide Border Championship as John Kelly takes title. A nail-biting finish to the 2002 Four Seasons Hotel Border Rally Championship was expected but no-one could have forecast the twists and turns to the story that unfolded at the ...
'Seconds' decide Border Championship as John Kelly takes title.
A nail-biting finish to the 2002 Four Seasons Hotel Border Rally Championship was expected but no-one could have forecast the twists and turns to the story that unfolded at the Donegal Harvest Rally, in Buncrana.
After the previous round in Sligo, there were three crews from Monaghan and one from Donegal in the running for Ireland's most popular Clubman's Championship. Trevor Lancashire and Noel Hall (Escort MK II), former Border Champions were strong favourites to lift the Derryveagh Crystal Perpetual Trophy for a second time. Fellow Monaghan clubman John Kelly from Emyvale emerged as Trevor's nearest challenger after a series of consistent results behind the wheel of his blue Toyota Corolla, while newly crowned Dunlop National Champions Niall Maguire and Paul McLoughlin were also in with a shout. Also in the hunt were John and Brendan McElhinney from Donegal competing in a Class 1 Suzuki Swift.
Throughout the weekend, the tension among the leading contestants was palpable. The first twist in the tale was the late withdrawal of Paul Harris and Victor Hunter from Class 8, thereby reducing Maguire and McLoughlin's potential Class winning score to 9 points. With only four starters now in their class, their hopes for a maximum 10 pointer required to win the Championship went out the window.
At that point in time, Noel Hall had practically won the Navigator's title but his team-mate Trevor Lancashire still had a battle on his hands to take the drivers honours. Trevor and Noel started off steadily but before the end of the first loop of three stages, it all went horribly wrong. With the accelerator sticking open on a fast downhill section, Trevor was unable to take the bend and crashed at high speed. Both required medical attention but thankfully were not seriously injured, just some bruising and damaged pride.
Nevertheless, their chances for the overall title were still alive. The McElhinney brothers were in contrast having a good day. After early class leader Paddy Walker retired, John and Brendan went on to win their category by 56 seconds and score the all-important 10 points. Enter John Kelly from Emyvale, County Monaghan. The Stages Rally 'Rookie' had to win the ever competitive Class 16 to snatch the title. A tall order for the young man in his first year 'on the black stuff' especially when he was up against experienced 'quickmen' such as John Ward, Paul Docherty driving similar rear-wheel-drive Corolla Twin Cams. It turned out to be an epic ding-dong battle right from the off. On the first stage, Kelly dropped 4 seconds to Ward and was down 2 on Docherty. He equaled Ward on Special Stage 2 and gained 5 seconds on Paul. Special Stage 3 and Special Stage 4 were cancelled. On Special Stage 5, John Ward was fastest of the Class 16 field by 19 seconds with Docherty 3 seconds better than Kelly. Going into the final stage, Ward was leading by 23 seconds with Kelly and Docherty tied on second in Class. It was all down to Special Stage 6 -- the fight to the top of Mamore Mountain. Again Ward was quickest but more importantly John Kelly bettered Paul Docherty's time by 3 seconds to put him 2nd in that class.
However, the story took another turn. At post event scrutiny, John Ward was excluded, presenting John Kelly with the class win and along with it the prestigious 2002 Four Seasons Border Rally Championship title. The unfortunate Trevor Lancashire secured 2nd position overall with John McElhinney third. Trevor will however be awarded Brian McGrath Memorial Trophy for winning Class 12.
The Navigators Title went to Noel Hall with Brendan McElhiney second and Mayo- domiciled Donegal native Paul McLoughlin third.
"At the end of the 2002 season, we salute the efforts of John Kelly and acknowledge the quality of his performances throughout the year," says John Duffy, Border Championship Registrar. John did not get an entry in Mayo, so he depended on five rounds and not the full compliment of the Championship six events," added John.
En-route to the title, he used three different navigators -- Sean Sherry (in Monaghan), James O'Reilly (Newry and Donegal) and Mark Tierney in Sligo and Cavan. In the Sligo Stages Rally, he finished a credible 25th overall. Class wins were achieved in all the rounds he contested. Some results for a driver in his first year in serious rallying in a standard production Class 16 car, with the odds stacked against him.
A worthy Border Champion.