2011 Firecracker Rally Report

4 November 2011

Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd won the Firecracker Rally, the final round of the 2011 McGrady Insurance Navigation Rally championship, but it was John and Jonathan Henderson wearing the biggest smiles of all by the end of the night as the popular father and son crew were named champions for the year and win the title of Ulster Rally Champion.


The Henderson's, from Loughgall, have been among the greatest supporters of navigation rallying for many years.  As a crew they have been competing in the championship since 2003 but before that John competed for a long time, primarily with Lloyd Cochrane navigating.  For as long as most of us can remember, John has campaigned a series of Talbot Sunbeams, although in recent times he has moved to a Nissan Micra.  He became Semi-Expert champion in 1995 and, along with Lloyd, progressed to the Expert class for the following year.  Once they found their feet in this class they started challenging for the overall title.  In 2000 they were second to Eric and Glenn Patterson after a costly non-finish in their local Orchard Rally and in 2002 they were runners up again to Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart.


Jonathan made his debut with his dad in the championship in 2003 and in their second year finished 2nd in the Novice class and were promoted to the Semi-Experts.  In their first rally in the higher level they remarkably won their class by quite a margin but were unable to repeat the feat for the rest of the year.  The next year, 2006, they won their class 3 times but as happens sometimes, John won the class for the year but Jonathan was 2nd.  They stayed in the Semi-Expert class for another 3 years, finishing a close 2nd in 2009 with 4 class wins and earning promotion to the top flight.  After finishing 4th overall in 2010, they claimed their first overall victory in this year's Erne Safari Rally and rounding off the year with two second places, John and Jonathan get the honour of having their names inscribed on the Northern Whig and Autosport Trophies respectively.  The Northern Whig trophy is the oldest perpetual championship trophy of all the motor sport disciplines in Northern Ireland Motorsport, dating back to 1959.


In the deciding rally of the year, fourteen crews gathered at Denis Biggerstaff's premises in Kinallen, near Dromara to start the Firecracker Rally on a calm, dry, clear and quite mild November evening.  The route went towards Banbridge and weaved its way between Donaghcloney, Blackskull, Dromore and finished near Hillsborough.


The early leaders were the Hendersons, but then came a section described by map references with the approach and departures swapped round.  While this caused Young and Boyd no problems at all, the Hendersons dropped time, but with a full 5 secret checks on this section, the penalties mounted at each one and the Hendersons dropped from 1st to 4th overall.  At this point, which was the half way break, Young and Boyd led on 16, with Richard Beattie/David Howard on 19, Robbie McClean/Lloyd Cochrane on 26 and the Hendersons on 28.  The champions to be were the class of the field in the second half, dropping only 2 marks and climbing back to second overall.  Young and Boyd dropped a little time on the sections containing the herringbone and unusual grid square route instructions, they were never headed during the run to the finish and ended on 25 marks, 5 clear of the next car.  This was their first win of 2011 and meant that all 5 rounds of the championship had different winners.  Third were McClean and Cochrane and that gave Lloyd enough points to finish runner up in the championship for the fourth time.  Maybe we should call him the Stirling Moss of Navigation Rallying: the best navigator never to win the championship!


In the Semi-Expert Class, Andrew Hughes and Neil Anderson led up until that map reference section, where two missed controls and a wrong approach really destroyed their low scoring run.  The Vauxhall Nova crew of Ciaran Carey and Rachel Muldoon's smoother run through that section was instrumental in winning the class on the night, although David McElroy and Clive Latimer had already won the class in the championship.


The Novice crews are now getting quite low scores, so an early wrong approach for Ian and Aaron Johnston was something that could not be recovered from and so they finished 3rd in class.  Malcolm Johnston and Michael Gilmore in their Škoda Felicia settled into second in class and although kept edging towards the class lead they couldn't quite make it and ended up 8 marks down on Richard and Mark Hughes, who led practically throughout the whole night.  Philip and Kyle Somerville never recovered from 2 missed controls early on and finished 4th in the Novice Class. 


The top three Novice crews on the night also finished 1-2-3 in the championship, but in a different order.  Johnston and Gilmore won the class title, with the Hughes and the other Johnstons tied on second, but the Hughes claimed the runners-up spot thanks to two class wins compared with 1 for the Johnstons. 


The best of the Beginner crews on the night was Conor Quinn and John Gribben in a Peugeot 205, who led the class all night and finished ahead of Scott Walker/Ruth Barr and James Woods and Tori McMullen.  Clifford Auld and Suz Graham started, missed a few controls, and didn't finish.


The championship is over for another year, but with low entries this year and 4 rallies cancelled for the same reason, by necessity the 2012 championship may have a different look.  Talks will be taking place over the winter to come up with a plan for next year but there is a hope that with fresh interest from past, current and hopefully new competitors, the championship may be able to experience a renaissance in whatever format is agreed upon.




Patrick McCollum





  1. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Expert, Vauxhall Vectra) 25 marks
  2. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Expert, Nissan Micra) 30 marks
  3. Robbie McClean/Lloyd Cochrane (Expert, Proton Compact) 31 marks
  4. Richard Beattie/David Howard (Expert, Citroën Saxo) 38 marks


  1. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd (Vauxhall Vectra) 25 marks
  2. John Henderson/Jonathan Henderson (Nissan Micra) 30 marks
  3. Robbie McClean/Lloyd Cochrane (Proton Compact) 31 marks
  4. Richard Beattie/David Howard (Citroën Saxo) 38 marks


  1. Ciaran Carey/Rachel Muldoon (Vauxhall Nova) 34 marks
  2. Andrew Hughes/Neil Anderson (Peugeot 106) 105 marks


  1. Richard Hughes/Mark Hughes (Vauxhall Corsa) 32 marks
  2. Malcolm Johnston/Michael Gilmore (Škoda Felicia) 40 marks
  3. Ian Johnston/Aaron Johnston (Nissan Micra) 49 marks
  4. Philip Somerville/Kyle Somerville (Toyota Starlet) 123 marks


  1. Conor Quinn/John Gribben (Peugeot 205) 130 marks
  2. Scott Walker/Ruth Barr (Nissan Micra) 155 marks
  3. James Woods/Victoria McMullen (Peugeot 106) 156 marks
Posted by PMcCollum on 5/11/2011; Last updated by PMcCollum on 5/11/2011