2007 Tour of the Mournes Report

26 January 2007

The Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Championship started for 2007 with Rathfriland Motor Club's Tour of the Mournes.  Normally, it is Queen's University who kick off the season, but as the club wanted to move their rally further into February to avoid the exam season, then Rathfriland took up the mantle of getting the season up and running.

There was one particularly notable exception to the line up that gathered in Rathfriland.  The all-conquering Dorman brothers, champions for the last 4 consecutive seasons, have decided not to try and defend their title, which leaves what looks like a very open and unpredictable season ahead of us.  The Expert class had 5 entrants, all of which are proven winners, and included one previous champion in Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart, who won the title in 2002, as well as being runners-up three times between 1997 and 2004.  Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum are also three-times runners up in the championship, all of which occurred in the last 4 years.  Lloyd Cochrane, who has Gary Sheridan driving for him once again this year, has shown great form over the years and finished 2nd in the championship on two occasions.  James Woods/Chris Ragg turned up in a new car, having bought a Seat Ibiza the previous week.  I wonder was the choice of yellow an attempt to try and follow the example set by the Dormans?  This crew won more rallies than anyone other than the Dormans last year, so they have shown their ability to get the good results.  Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd didn't compete for all of last year, but they were always a constant threat and won at their home event in Omagh.  There was a genuine feeling that any of these five crews could be celebrating come the end of the year.

In the other classes, the three crews who were promoted out of the Beginner class, namely the Mitchells, Linda Kenneway/Rachel Muldoon and the Milligans will be attempting to take on the experienced Semi-Expert Crews.  And with the clearout of Beginner crews, it leaves they way open for new crews to shine in that class.

In total, twenty cars started the Tour of the Mournes, which as is usual for a Rathfriland Rally, took crews in two loops over the same area, this time to the north of the base village.

The first section to cause the crews difficulty was one where a not as map triangle, which is a reasonably rare thing in OSNI maps, had to be negotiated.  Both Murphy/Taggart and Sheridan/Cochrane missed the passage control which was placed at the point of the triangle.  Shortly after this, Woods/Ragg came a bit of a cropper, as they put their new car into a bank and into retirement due to radiator damage.  This left only McKeown/McCollum and Young/Boyd still reasonably clean.  They reached the half way halt on 1 and 8 marks respectively.  Unbeknownst to them, there was a threat brewing from the Semi-Experts, as Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell were only on 15 marks, on this their first time out in the championship with the difficult instructions.

The second half was reasonably uneventful at the head of the field.  Young/Boyd picked up a few more single marks, and then 6 in total on the last section, to leave them on 18 by the end.  It may have looked on paper that McKeown/McCollum were cruising to victory, but in fact they started to appear somewhat shaky near the end and Murphy/Taggart passed them on the road no fewer than three times during the last two sections.  But they held on to finish on 2 marks and took victory in the first round of the 2007 championship. Young/Boyd stayed in 2nd until the end, and the Mitchells continued their excellent Semi-Expert debut with 3rd place on 28 marks.  Sheridan/Cochrane finished next in their Proton with 38, and Murphy/Taggart were the only crew to clean the second half, which still only gave them 5th place.  William Todd and Maurice Cresswell, in the third red Corsa, were the only other semi-expert crew out on the night, and finished on 72 marks.

The Novice Class was led from start to finish by Brian and Victoria Black.  They were competing in a Citroën C2 for the first time, and used it to good effect.  Another Co Armagh crew, David and Kyle Preston had a very consistent run during the rally, and finished only three marks behind the Blacks on 17 marks.  Barry Gilpin and Denis Morton, who has returned to the sport after a break of over 10 years, had a good run to third in class, marred a little by a wrong approach to that control at the not as map triangle.  Kai Young/Jonny Elliot finished 4th in class, despite being perched on top of a bank, with no wheels of the Starlet touching the ground, Italian Job style, for the best part of half an hour during the early part of the rally.

The best of the Beginner crews was William and David Howard, who finished on 21 marks, which was well clear of Neil and Rebecca Fletcher on 65.

The championship continues in 2 weeks time, with QUB Motor Club's Jumping Jack Rally.

Posted by PMcCollum on 27/8/2008; Last updated by PMcCollum on 27/8/2008