2007 Orchard Rally Report

28 September 2007

Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane won the Orchard Rally, the latest round of the Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally championship. Twenty-seven cars left the Armagh headquarters and competed along the unique network of tight and twisty roads that are scattered across the south Armagh countryside. The rally route was confined to an area bounded by Armagh, Markethill, Whitecross, Newtownhamilton and Keady. No other area in the championship has the high concentration of lanes, with hard to find junctions. It is often the case that the correct route uses lanes that are no more than gravel tracks that seem to lead up a dead end at a farmyard or cottage. It can test the confidence of the navigator in their belief that they are on the right route. Crews often feel like turning when in a farmyard, but at times, if they persevere, and drive round the side of the buildings, they can find the lane continues and indeed they are on their intended route. This can have the opposite effect, when in fact they are on the wrong route. The navigator can insist they keep driving, right up until that awful point where there is only a closed gate in front of them. Then it's time to turn.

Sheridan and Cochrane were never headed in their Proton Persona. Not only were they only crew to get the route completely correct with no 30s or 15s, but they never dropped more than 1 minute behind schedule at any time, and so finished on an impressive score of 9 marks, a full 25 ahead of the next best. Such was their dominance in this event, that they won (or jointly won) every single individual section bar TCC-TCD, and they only dropped 1 mark on that stage. Surprisingly this is only Lloyd's third championship win, the previous one being in Omagh in 2005. They are often challenging for wins and regularly finish well up in rallies, but they just aren't yet in the habit of winning. They are now the fifth different crew to win a rally this year, and we still have two rallies left to run. The last time there was this number of different winners was predictably before the dawn of the Dorman years, in 2002.

Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum extended their championship lead by finishing second. They had only been 3 marks off the lead at the half way halt, but a wrong approach at the very start of the second half sealed their fate. Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart made the same error as McKeown/McCollum, which was in addition to picking up a heavy score when they failed to spot a left turn just after TCE. Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd's challenge effectively ended when they missed a control mid way through the first half. They had a good run in the second half, bettered only by Sheridan/Cochrane, but they had lost too much ground by this time and a fourth place finish was their reward. James Woods and Chris Ragg had a nightmare of a rally, which started with two missed controls on the first section. They didn't improve much, dropping masses of time on most sections, and finished a distant 7th overall.

Gary and Robert Milligan picked up their first Semi-Expert win ahead of regular class winners Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell. The Mitchells missed a control completely in the first section, but from here the two father and son crews matched each other almost penalty for penalty until three sections to go. The Milligans tried to lose the lead they had kept for so long by turning up for TCM 13 minutes late and then dropping another 8 marks on the final two sections to the Mitchells' zero. But they just held on, and won by 111 marks to 115.

David and Kyle Preston were best in class amongst the Novices, which moved them into the championship lead in their class. They were lying 4th in class with 8 miles left to run, but when both Barry Gilpin/Denis Morton and Andrew Mairs/Ian Campbell got a wrong a Wrong Departure this moved them up to second. They only won the rally at the last possible moment, after Richard Beattie and Ian Hawthorne threw away their lead by clocking into the very last control 8 minutes late. It finished Preston/Preston, Beattie/Hawthorne, Gilpin/Morton, Rodney and Helen Ferguson and then Mairs/Campbell in fifth.

The best of the Beginners were Raymond and Gareth Deazley, making it three classes out of four to be won by a father and son crew. They had a very clear win, as they finished on 79 marks, 53 ahead of Keith and William Neil in second.

With North Armagh being the host club, they were not eligible for team championship points, and so Queen's University Motor Club took full advantage to move into the lead for the first time this year. But their lead is extremely slender at only 3 points. North Armagh last won this award in 1998, so they will no doubt be keen to steal the title off those pesky kids.

Patrick McCollum

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