2009 Tour of the Mournes Report

23 January 2009

The 2009 Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Championship season got under way in Rathfriland.  An impressive 25 cars gathered to commence battle in a championship that covers 9 rounds between January and November.

There was a sense that any of a number of crews could win any of the rounds.  In 2008, many rounds had a very slim winning margin, and with the same four main crews competing, there was no reason for this to be any different this year.

First away from the start were the current champions, Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum, who after winning the last two championships were hoping to make it a hat-trick this year.  Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane in their Proton were next up, and having won 5 rallies in the last two years, and in particular finishing last season so strongly, they were hoping to graduate from runners up to champions this year.  Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd are in a Vauxhall Vectra this year.  They were runners up in 2007 and are no strangers to winning rallies, so maybe this is to be their year.  Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart may not have won any rallies in recent years, but they did win the championship in 1995 and 2002, and were runners up on another 3 occasions, so it is conceivable that they only need one win to restart a championship run.

Last years Semi-expert champions, Leslie and Gareth Hawe could spring a surprise this year.  They are regularly winning “half rallies”, but haven’t yet strung a winning challenge over a full rally distance in the championship.  A victory is surely only a matter of time.  The same can be said of Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell.  The 2007 Semi-Expert champions did not compete in the second half of last year, but in 2007 they had some very impressive results and this year could see a breakthrough for them.

The rally route used Rathfriland’s favoured format of two compact loops over the same ground, with this year’s route covering the Slieve Croob/Rathfriland/Castlewellan area.  The night started out cold, and just got colder.  It has been many years since a rally was held on such a clear frosty night. 

The pre-rally prediction of the top four cars being difficult to separate proved true as after three quarters of the rally, only 3 marks were separating these crews.  One map trace section produced an extraordinary result.  All four leading cars left the control in the wrong direction and picked up a 15 mark penalty for their trouble.  What made it even more unusual was that no other crews in the 25 strong field made the same error.  It took Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane the longest from the top 4 to correct their error, and so put them out of contention after leading the rally up to that point.  The lead was now tied between Young/Boyd and McKeown/McCollum.  Both crews cleaned the next two sections which just left the final 7 miles to decide the rally.  McKeown/McCollum arrived first, but it was Young/Boyd who solved the clue quicker and went on to win the rally by a scant 2 mark margin.

Leslie and Gareth Hawe picked the second half of the rally to perform better.  But an earlier missed control put them too far down to make any impression on the leader board later.

David and Kyle Preston also had a shaky first half, but they scored the least from either the Expert or Semi-Expert classes in the second half to win their class.  Their class victory wasn’t assured until the very last secret check of the night, though, when John and Jonathan Henderson missed this control.  Ken McDonald and Rachel Muldoon had an entertaining evening in the Mark I Escort, and finished third in class.  Rebecca Fletcher’s first attempt at the difficult instructions had a rough start, as she and Neil missed a control in the first section.  After going OTL at half way, they called it a night and headed home.

Despite the freezing conditions, the Novice class was won on only 5 marks, of which 4 could be accounted for by clocking in early at controls.  Andrew Hughes and Neil Anderson were the winners, but it was a close run thing as both Clive Latimer/David McElroy in their Seat Ibiza and Ciaran Carey/Neil Ervine in their commodious Passat Estate finished on 8 marks apiece.  Many of the cars in Classes 3 and 4 reported spins, half spins and the odd brush with the scenery.  Hearing the reports from the competitors it sounded more like Dancing on Ice than a rally.  Richard Beattie and Ian Hawthorne had no problem getting the route on to the map, but failed lights severely dented their pace, and they dropped lots of small penalties to finish on 11 marks, but down in fourth place.

The Beginners class was won by Russell Allen and Mark Hughes in a VW Polo who finished 5 marks ahead of a returning James Woods, who had Isla Graham navigating in his Ford Escort diesel.

First blood in the championship race went to Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd.  No doubt they will be hoping that history will repeat itself this year: in each of the last 6 seasons, whoever has won the Tour of the Mournes has gone on to win the championship.  Time will tell.


Patrick McCollum




  1. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Expert, Vectra) 28 marks
  2. Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum (Expert, Corsa) 30
  3. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (Expert, Corsa) 47
  4. Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane (Expert, Proton) 49
  5. Leslie Hawe/Gareth Hawe (Expert, Clio) 56
  6. David Preston/Kyle Preston (Semi-Expert, Saxo) 68
  7. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Semi-Expert, Sunbeam) 83
  8. Ronnie Mitchell/Aaron Mitchell (Expert, Sierra 4x4) 93


  1. Andrew Hughes/Neil Anderson (Peugeot 306) 5
  2. Clive Latimer/David McElroy (Seat Ibiza) 8
  3. Ciaran Carey/Neil Ervine (Passat) 8
  4. Richard Beattie/Ian Hawthorne (Saxo) 11
  5. Barry Gilpin/Denis Morton (Rover 400) 15
  6. Raymond Deazley/Gareth Deazley (Corsa) 21
  7. Ian Johnston/Aaron Johnston (Micra) 26


  1. Russell Allen/Mark Hughes (VW Polo) 35
  2. James Woods/Isla Graham (Escort) 40
  3. Emmett Kelly/Dermot McCartan (Corolla) 58
  4. Andy Gilmore/Michael Gilmore (MG ZR) 58
  5. Mark Johnston/Simon Johnston (Corsa) 96
  6. Brian Barr/Ruth Barr (Micra) 100
  7. Ciaran Gribben/Paul Goodman (Almera) 128
Posted by PMcCollum on 24/1/2009; Last updated by PMcCollum on 26/1/2009