2007 Donaldson Fuels Rally Report

30 March 2007

Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum extended their lead at the top of the Energia Navigation Rally championship after winning the Donaldson Fuels Rally. The Cookstown Motor Club event started just south of Davagh Forest and used the roads of south Derry and east Tyrone to sketch out a 100 mile route that did a complete loop around Cookstown.

Not many of the twenty-five cars that started the rally knew what they were in for as they left the first time control, but they were entering quite simply the most difficult rally of the year. The opinions were starkly divided between those crews who relished the challenge and thought that all rallies should be like this, and those crews that were thoroughly miserable after losing so much time trying to decipher the unfamiliar route instructions and then spending so long on the wrong route.

Most crews got through the first section without too much difficulty, but that all changed as soon as the second section started. The crews were meant to visit a secret check and then immediately turn right into a private lane. Of the twenty-five cars, only five managed to avoid a wrong departure at this point. The only Expert crew to get it right was McKeown/McCollum, but then at the other end of the lane, they took a wrong exit and headed off in wrong direction for 2 miles, partly negating any advantage they had built up. Leslie Young/Lewis Boyd were the only crew from either of the top two classes to arrive at TCC on time. TCC-TCD didn't cause just as many problems, but to get to TCD, crews had to get through another private lane. Not only was finding the entrance to these lanes difficult, but once in the lane, working out the difference between dead ends and through routes was equally difficult. Many crews met with a closed gate or two before landing back out in the safety of the main road. Only two crews out of the entire field managed to finish this third section without losing time, namely the Novice crew of Kai Young/Jonathan Elliot in their rear wheel drive Toyota Starlet, and McKeown/McCollum.

By the time crews reached the half way halt, McKeown/McCollum held the lead on 13, ahead of Young/Boyd on 26, then Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart (39), James Woods/Chris Ragg (42), Ronnie/Aaron Mitchell (78) and Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane (79).

If it wasn't enough to cope with the level of difficulty of the rally, the relaxed section was only 15 minutes long, as opposed to the 30 minutes that is normal. This meant that not a single car in the entire field started the second half on their original due minute.

The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with almost every crew picking up penalties in almost every section but there were no changes in position in the overall battle. Two cars didn't make it through the second half. Leslie and Gareth Hawe, after doing so well to win a recent Dungannon clubman event, took the ford a little too enthusiastically to the detriment of their Renault Clio's engine. Clifford Auld and Rachel Muldoon handed their time card in at TCK. The combination of stopping to be sick, already on 166 marks from the first half, flirting with being OTL and still six sections to go was just too much and they retired.

The rally finished at TCR, for the second rally in succession, with McKeown/McCollum scoring 30 marks. 17 marks back were the Omagh crew of Young/Boyd. Former champions Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart had their best finish of the year, with 76 marks earning them third place.

The Semi-Experts was won again by Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell, having initially dropped to fourth in class after missing an early secret check. They won by a massive margin of 65 marks from Gary and Robert Milligan.

In contrast, the Novice class was won by the smallest of margins. They had a slightly shorter route and supposedly easier instructions, but they had never met any instructions like these, so the winning crew of Brian and Victoria Black finished on 74 marks, just a single mark ahead of Kai Young and Jonathan Elliott. We have to go back as far as the first round of the 2004 championship to find a higher score for a Novice class victory, when John and Jonathan Henderson won their class in the Jumping Jack rally on 105 marks.

Rodney and Helen Ferguson were third, but they were left to rue an expensive mistake in the first quarter of they rally where they missed two controls that cost them 60 marks out of their total of 87. Nigel Campbell and Colin Harkness weren't far off the pace, and finished on 90 marks in fourth place, with fifth going to Richard Beattie/Ian Hawthorne.

There was only one competitive crew in the Beginner class. Raymond and Gareth Deazley finished on 91, with their closest rivals finishing on 277.

With the championship now breaking for the summer, there are two crews that are starting to put clear water between themselves and all others in the title race. Not much separates McKeown/McCollum and Young/Boyd, with them sharing four wins out of the five rallies held so far. Things are much more clear-cut in the Semi-Experts. Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell are miles ahead of their nearest rivals, and indeed they lie fourth in the overall championship. Brian and Victoria Black have a healthy lead in the Novice class, but David and Kyle Preston have won the class a couple of times, and Rodney and Helen Ferguson have won a couple of rallies overall in the past, so things may close up in the Autumn. In the Team championship, North Armagh are currently leading, but they haven't had held their own round yet, where they do not score points, so with this taken into consideration, it is basically neck and neck between North Armagh, Omagh and Queen's.

The romers are now put away until we meet up again in Dungannon in September.

Patrick McCollum

Posted by PMcCollum on 27/8/2008; Last updated by PMcCollum on 28/8/2008