2009 Firecracker Rally Report

6 November 2009

The scene was set. It was a cold and wet November night, the championship had raged since January and after 8 rounds, 700 miles of rallying through six counties the title now was going to go to either reigning champions Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum or to Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd. Fittingly they started as numbers 1 and 2 on the road. Could this be a classic contest, where the two top crews of the year rise to the occasion, duel along the lanes and roads of mid-Down and claim the title in a blaze of glory? Not a bit of it! One of the crews was poor, the other was worse. The pair of them spent the whole night turning right when they should have gone left; heading off in one direction, only to turn and correct themselves; missing roads; spending eternities struggling to work out route instructions and generally performing with generous levels of ineptitude.


There were some startling performances in the rally. Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart in their Vauxhall Corsa were virtually uncatchable on their way to victory from a highly impressive David and Kyle Preston, but the big winners were Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum, whose bad run on the event was cancelled out by an almost equally poor showing from Young and Boyd, meaning the two point advantage they held in the championship race at the start of the night was maintained to give them their third consecutive Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Champions title.


Twenty cars started the rally near Dromore and then drove towards Banbridge and Katesbridge, then up over Slieve Croob before finishing beside Dromara. The rally was well thought out and run by Aaron Mitchell and the UAC team. It was made up of lots of short sections, with interesting, different and clever instructions that kept the navigators busy all night.


The early leaders were Leslie and Gareth Hawe. It's hard to believe that the Dungannon cousins were still a Semi-Expert crew 12 months ago. They were promoted to the Expert Class this year and were immediately fighting for wins. Over the course of the year, they won twice and proved themselves as serious contenders for the title in the not too distant future. They led the rally right up until the point, with four sections to go, that they got a map trace to solve. The Hawes didn't notice that the trace was mirrored, even though this written on the instruction, and took the first right turn at a crossroads. This brought them immediately into the Time Control for the end of the section. They suddenly realised they should have turned left at that crossroads, only to return to it 6.5 miles later from the other direction and turn into the control. But the damage was done. Visiting the control twice earned them a 30, which, along with the 7 penalties for taking so long to find the first secret, gave them no chance of the win. Mind you, they were in good company. The same error was just one of the many indiscretions made by Young/Boyd and McKeown/McCollum, with John and Jonathan Henderson also slipping up at the same point.


Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart had no problem here. In fact, at TCD they were on 8 marks, but over the final 12 sections they only dropped a scant 2 marks, compared to the next best crew over the same portion dropping 25 marks, to finish the year with an emphatic victory. This was the 3rd victory of the year for the North Armagh Motor Club crew. Considering that they had been champions twice in the past, it was remarkable that in the previous four years they hadn't claimed a single win. This latest victory also pushed them up to runners up spot in the championship, only 2 points behind the champions.


The Prestons needed to win their class in this rally to claim the Semi-Expert title. They did so in style. The Hendersons and Prestons had shared the class win in every round so far, and it was a case of whoever won the class on the Firecracker would be champion. In the previous round, the Hendersons upped their game to claim an excellent second overall. Not to be outdone, the Prestons did exactly the same on this rally. They were actually ahead of Murphy/Taggart after 3 sections, and even if they fell back a little after that, they still finished on a mighty score of just 29. The Hendersons duly finished 2nd in class, both in the rally and the championship.


Ken McDonald and Rachel Muldoon weren't caught out by the tricky map trace instruction, but some heavy scoring elsewhere, including a tough final section, gave them 3rd place. Their problems on the last section were only minor compared to that of Neil and Rebecca Fletcher. Maybe it was due to the unfamiliarity of them actually reaching the final section that put them off, but the 103 marks they picked up in this section alone dropped them from a fantastic 3rd overall to a less satisfying 8th. William and David Howard had a great rally for the majority of the night, but an early 30 and another poor last section dropped them to 9th overall at the end.


In the fight for the Novice championship, only a win for Raymond and Gareth Deazley combined with a poor result from Andrew Hughes and Neil Anderson would deny the latter crew the title. Hughes and Anderson kept up their end of the bargain by finishing an uncharacteristic 5th in class, but the Deazleys did not capitalise, finishing just one position ahead of them and giving Hughes and Anderson the Novice title for the year. Clive Latimer and David McElroy won the class on the night, which was their second such win this year. It brought them up to tying with the Deazley's for second in the Novice Championship, but the Deazley's got the position due to having won the class 3 times over the season.


Richard Beattie and Ian Hawthorne finished second in the class, which is their best finish to date, while another QUBMC crew of Richard Swanston and Karen Fisher were 3rd. Malcolm Johnston and Michael Gilmore missed two controls which contributed to a 6th place finish in class. James Woods and Ciaran Carey had a bright start to the rally and in fact jointly led the class after 5 sections, but it wasn't to last as they unfortunately crashed out.


Two crews from the recent Circuit of Ireland Retro competed in Class 4, with Raymond Kelly and Philip Stevenson winning convincingly in their Triumph Vitesse from the MGA of Conn Williamson and Maurice Eakin.


Brian and Ruth Barr also had a convincing win over Brendan and Russell Mullan in Class 5.


In the race for the club team championship, North Armagh Motorcycle and Car Club won for the second consecutive year, and by a large margin from Queen's University Motor Club.


The championship looked like it was going to be a close battle for most of the year, with four different crews winning rallies. This proved the case, as incredibly only 2 points covered the top three places. Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd tied for 2nd in the championship with Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart, but the latter crews' three wins over the year gave them the nod from the twice winning Omagh crew. Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum are now three time winners of the championship. This is by no means a unique feat, as it has happened four times previously for drivers (RBG McBurney 1965-67, Tim McKie 1995-97, Eric Patterson 1998-2000 and Phil Dorman 2003-2006). Of course Phil won four times in a row with his brother Alan navigating. I wonder are they now nervous? Alan still maintains he will not return if he sees his record of 4 in a row being under threat. Only time will tell...


Patrick McCollum




  1. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (Expert, Vauxhall Corsa) 10 marks
  2. David Preston/Kyle Preston (Semi-Expert, Citroën Saxo VTR) 29 marks
  3. Leslie Hawe/Gareth Hawe (Expert, Renault Clio) 47 marks
  4. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Expert, Vauxhall Vectra) 61 marks
  5. Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum (Expert, Vauxhall Corsa) 66 marks
  6. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Semi-Expert, Nissan Micra) 71 marks
  7. Ken McDonald/Rachel Muldoon (Semi-Expert, Peugeot 205) 84 marks
  8. Neil Fletcher/Rebecca Fletcher (Semi-Expert, Ford Escort MK1 Mexico) 143 marks
  9. William Howard/David Howard (Semi-Expert, Vauxhall Astra) 146 marks


  1. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (Vauxhall Corsa) 10 marks
  2. Leslie Hawe/Gareth Hawe (Renault Clio) 47 marks
  3. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Vauxhall Vectra) 61 marks
  4. Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum (Vauxhall Corsa) 66 marks


  1. David Preston/Kyle Preston (Citroën Saxo VTR) 29 marks
  2. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Nissan Micra) 71 marks
  3. Ken McDonald/Rachel Muldoon (Peugeot 205) 84 marks
  4. Neil Fletcher/Rebecca Fletcher (Ford Escort MK1 Mexico) 143 marks
  5. William Howard/David Howard (Vauxhall Astra) 146 marks


  1. Clive Latimer/David McElroy (Seat Ibiza) 20 marks
  2. Richard Beattie/Ian Hawthorne (Citroën Saxo VTR) 27 marks
  3. Richard Swanston/Karen Fisher (Peugeot 106) 28 marks
  4. Raymond Deazley/Gareth Deazley (Vauxhall Corsa) 39 marks
  5. Andrew Hughes/Neil Anderson (Peugeot 306) 98 marks
  6. Malcolm Johnston/Michael Gilmore (Skoda Felicia) 118 marks<br />DNF James Woods/Ciaran Carey (Peugeot 106) DNF marks

UAC Club Members (Non-Experts):

  1. Raymond Kelly/Philip Stevenson (Triumph Vitesse) 139 marks
  2. Conn Williamson/Maurice Eakin (M G A) 609 marks

UAC Club Members (Beginners):

  1. Brian Barr/Ruth Barr (Nissan Micra) 196 marks
  2. Brendan Mullan/Russell Mullan (Mini Clubman GT) 336 mark
Posted by PMcCollum on 15/11/2009; Last updated by PMcCollum on 15/11/2009