2009 Circuit of Down Report

25 September 2009

Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum strengthened their championship lead with victory in the Circuit of Down Rally. Of the nineteen crews that started, five were in the Expert Class and all five had a genuine shot at winning the rally. Unusually all the Expert crews had sections they would rather have forgotten. This made for an interesting night as competitors had a reasonable idea that even though they had gone wrong at some point, they were never out of contention.


The rally started at Formula Karting in Newry on another clear and pleasant evening. In contradiction to the name of the event, the entire competitive route was run around South Armagh. The map boundaries for the event suggested a short route, but such is the number of tight roads in the area that 84 miles only gave us a sample of what was available. The most northerly part of the route reached Markethill while its western extremity skirted around Newtownhamilton and included a road through Few Forest that had never been used on a navigation rally before. When we got to that part of the route and saw what a challenging and bumpy road it was, we realised why this was only its first outing.


The first of the Expert crews to go wrong was last year's winners, Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane. They were 5 minutes down by the time they had reached the second secret check of the night, and although they had clawed back some of that lateness by the section's end, the next stage went no better and were another 8 minutes down by only the third time control of the event. At this stage they were in 10th place overall and looking down and out.


In contrast to this, the two crews at the top of the championship table going into this rally, McKeown/McCollum and Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd were both clean and only picked up minor penalties over the next three sections to open up a slender lead. The final section before relaxed caused problems for Young/Boyd: the instructions mistakenly gave the section length as being 7 miles even though the initial schedule we were given indicated it was 11 miles. This threw Young/Boyd who lost 10 marks as a result.


By the relaxed section, McKeown/McCollum were on 12, with Leslie and Gareth Hawe holding second after a steady run with 17 marks and Young/Boyd third on 18.


In the semi-expert class the crews were really racking up the penalties and it was William and David Howard who were leading at the break. Their score of 57 was 2 ahead of the local crew of Neil and Rebecca Fletcher, but unfortunately the Escort crew couldn't capitalise on their great start as the electrics were playing up in the car and they got little further after the restart.


John and Jonathan Henderson were lying third in class at this point in their Nissan Micra but they had a storming second half that was the match for anyone in the field and came home class winners by a generous margin of 50 marks. David and Kyle Preston were there or thereabouts at half way, but a wrong approach and a missed control contributed to a total of 170 marks and a second in class finish. Ken McDonald and Rachel Muldoon had an up and down night. A lot of sections were great, but others caused big problems, like missing one secret and having a wrong approach at two others. Third in class was their reward. William and David Howard had a nightmare of a second half and all their hard work early on counted for little as they ended up fourth in class.


Back at the head of the field, the Hawe cousins made a mightily costly error when plotting a reference around a tight triangle. They mis-plotted by a tiny fraction which led to a missed control and a 30 penalty that was the difference between their final 4th place finish and an outright win.


McKeown/McCollum's turn to struggle came on the tulip section. They plotted completely wrong which meant that they had visited the second secret without visiting the first. When they realised their error, they retraced their steps, avoiding that second secret check to get to the first secret, and then turned again to aim for the end of the section. All in all, 30 marks were dropped. With two sections remaining, Young/Boyd were back in the lead, followed by McKeown/McCollum, a quickly improving Sheridan/Cochrane, the Hawes and then Murphy/Taggart and all bar the Hawes were running within 1 minute of each other on the road.


Things were still far from resolved. Young/Boyd had two terrible sections, dropping 13 minutes late on the penultimate stage and missing a control completely on the final run dropping them from leading to 5th at the finish. The Hawes dropped a bit more time to finish 4th, with Murphy/Taggart claiming 3rd and after such a poor start, Sheridan/Cochrane claimed 2nd. But McKeown/McCollum held on to win for a second time this year and extend their lead in the championship with two rounds remaining.


The Novice class understandably found the route somewhat difficult and not a single crew escaped without at least one wrong approach or a wrong departure. Ian Hawthorne managed to get away from work a bit earlier, which is handy when work is in Leeds. The long trip was made worthwhile as he navigated Richard Beattie to their first win of the year. They fought closely with title contenders Andrew Hughes and Neil Anderson throughout the rally but the former crew just had the edge through most sections to claim a well deserved win.


Richard and Mark Hughes claimed third despite missing three controls and having to push their car out of a ditch the last road on their route. Barry Gilpin and Denis Morton struggled a bit in the later sections after a bright start where they led the class for the first five sections. They ended fourth in class, ahead of Ian and Aaron Johnston and Dara Fay and Trevor Cassidy. Raymond and Gareth Deazley pulled out at half way after Gareth felt unwell, but they still hold on to the lead of the class championship, albeit by a scant 1 point.


The Beginners' Class had an interesting pairing on the entry list. The well known driver Davy Aiken, more often seen in Rallycross and Stage Rally events, had a first time navigator with him for this rally. James McKee, who is odds on to win the top Navigators trophy in the Northern Ireland Stage Rally championship in his role as co-driver to Derek McGarrity, was sampling some real navigation and map reading skills for a change. Whereas the job of a co-driver in a stage rally is simply to sit in a seat and read a book, there is a little more to it on events such as these! By all accounts they had a great time and the records will say that on their first attempt they came away as class winners. Nobody need know there was only one starter in their class.


Patrick McCollum


Circuit of Down<br />Newry and District Motor Club<br />25 Sep 09


  1. Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum (Exp) (Vauxhall Corsa) 56 marks
  2. Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane (Exp) (Proton) 66 marks
  3. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (Exp) (Vauxhall Corsa) 68 marks
  4. Leslie Hawe/Gareth Hawe (Exp) (Renault Clio) 76 marks
  5. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Exp) (Vauxhall Vectra) 87 marks
  6. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (S-Exp) (Nissan Micra) 120 marks
  7. David Preston/Kyle Preston (S-Exp) (Citroën Saxo) 170 marks
  8. Kenneth McDonald/Rachel Muldoon (S-Exp) (Peugeot 205) 189 marks
  9. William Howard/David Howard (S-Exp) (Vauxhall Astra) 372 marks
  10. DNF Neil Fletcher/Rebecca Fletcher (S-Exp) (Ford Escort) DNF


  1. Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum (Vauxhall Corsa) 56 marks
  2. Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane (Proton) 66 marks
  3. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (Vauxhall Corsa) 68 marks
  4. Leslie Hawe/Gareth Hawe (Renault Clio) 76 marks
  5. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Vauxhall Vectra) 87 marks


  1. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Nissan Micra) 120 marks
  2. David Preston/Kyle Preston (Citroën Saxo) 170 marks
  3. Kenneth McDonald/Rachel Muldoon (Peugeot 205) 189 marks
  4. William Howard/David Howard (Vauxhall Astra) 372 marks
  5. DNF Neil Fletcher/Rebecca Fletcher (Ford Escort) DNF


  1. Richard Beattie/Ian Hawthorne (Citroën Saxo) 94 marks
  2. Andrew Hughes/Neil Anderson (Peugeot 306) 105 marks
  3. Richard Hughes/Mark Hughes (Vauxhall Corsa) 194 marks
  4. Barry Gilpin/Denis Morton (Rover 414) 222 marks
  5. Ian Johnston/Aaron Johnston (Nissan Micra) 227 marks
  6. Dara Fay/Trevor Cassidy (Suzuki Swift) 360 marks
  7. DNF Raymond Deazley/Gareth Deazley (Vauxhall Corsa) DNF
  8. DNF David Gibson/William Hamilton (Ford Focus) DNF


  1. Davy Aiken/James McKee (Mini) 656 marks
Posted by PMcCollum on 28/9/2009; Last updated by PMcCollum on 28/9/2009