2007 Circuit of Down Rally Report

12 October 2007

When I write these longer reports for the website, my aim, whether or not I achieve it successfully, is to write an objective report, and therefore I always refer to myself in the third person. But maybe you can indulge me on this occasion, when I finally attained my goal of winning this championship.

It has been a long road, since being introduced to concept of a Navigation Rally at Queen's University Motor Club. I went through their rallyschool in 1993, and then competed, as a driver, in their practice events and clubman status events before entering the 1995 championship in Class 3, driving for David Jobling in my mighty 956cc Renault 5, complete with most of its 42bhp. We had a good battle that year with Simon Jamison and Kathryn Millington, but just lost out on the class. The championship coordinator at the time, Philip Murray, would often ask us how we got on at the end of rallies. He suggested I should maybe try the other side of the car as he felt I knew more about the route instructions we had just used than was normal for a driver.

So the next year, I tried a bit of navigating for John Lindsay in his Nova. In our first two events we won class 3, and I thought this game wasn't overly difficult. I wish that thought had never crossed my mind. The other young navigator starting out that year was Glenn Patterson, and after those two events, he won the next 4 in a row to win the class for that season. So we were 2nd in the series by the year's end. Our promotion to Class 2 didn't see any change in form, as Glenn and his dad, Eric, romped to the title with 7 class wins in the 8 events. We were 2nd. Again. In fact, between March 1996 and November 1997, a period covering 1½ seasons, two different classes, and a move to a Mini, John and I finished 2nd in class in 12 consecutive rallies!

For 1998, Eric and Glenn moved up to Class 1 and left John and me to fight with Gary Sheridan/Richard Hicks for Class 2 honours. After a tense final round decider, I won the navigator award, but John lost out for the drivers' title after missing a round earlier in the year. So I had finally managed to win my class. The reward was a move to Class 1 for 1999, at which point my form just nose-dived. We struggled to finish in the top 5, even though when we competed in Class 2, we managed a few top 3 overall finishes and led a couple of rallies at the half way stage. After the summer break of ‘99, John decided to take a break from competing, so I teamed up with Willie McKeown, although it did mean competing in another Mini.

In 2000 and 2002 (2001 was wiped out by Foot and Mouth), our results generally got worse, finishing 8th overall on both occasions, but at least we picked up our first rally win in Enniskillen 2000.

At the start of 2003, Willie debuted the Corsa, we won first time out, and from then on we were regular rally and title contenders. Unfortunately our maturing of form coincided with a new pairing entering Class 1: Phil and Alan Dorman. Over the next four years, the championship followed a remarkably similar pattern. We had good early form, won Enniskillen's round, let at the summer break on three occasions, and then the Dormans just dominated the second half of each season to take four consecutive championships.

2007 was always going to be a different year. With the Dormans retired, there was clearly a chance for the rest of us. After 3 victories in the first five events (and not winning Enniskillen!) maybe this was our chance. Dungannon turned out to be very telling. We didn't have a great run, which was nothing new in Dungannon, but all our championship contenders had a worse run. With Leslie and Lewis sliding off the road and into retirement, Gary and Lloyd not finishing after a holed radiator, and Eddie and Barry having an even worse run than us, we escaped with a second place finish and a healthier championship lead. From there, it was a matter of a tidy run in Armagh, and then victory was ours after Newry.

In the end, it was very odd to spend so many years attempting to win the championship, and when the moment came, I was 39000ft above the Atlantic Ocean on my way home from a business trip.

I should of course thank Willie. The Corsa he built has served us very well, and he has a great ability to remember directions and keep an eye on our required schedule when I'm too engrossed in the route instructions to remember to check. And of course, he is no slouch when it comes to making up time after my frequent errors. The odd minute or two pulled back can sometimes make a big difference to a result.

Sorry for this long-winded ramble. If you've persevered this far, then it's now back to business...


In the Circuit of Down rally, Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane led from start to finish and dominated in a fashion not seen since two weeks earlier when they dominated the Orchard Rally from start to finish. The rally was run further south than in previous years, using roads around Forkhill, Slieve Gullion, Crossmaglen and Newtownhamilton.

The first top crew to make a slip was Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd. The only result that could have kept them in the championship battle was a win, so when they went wrong on the very first section, their title aspirations looked bleak. Willie McKeown enlisted the help of a certain Alan Dorman in place of his regular navigator. After a brief detour off route on the second section, they suffered a puncture right after the start of the fourth stage, and picked up expensive penalties at the next 3 controls.

Sheridan/Cochrane led at half way, but they were being pursued closely by Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart. This state of affairs continued into the second half until Murphy/Taggart turned unnecessarily while on the correct route, with the resultant time loss costing them any chance of victory. They did finish second, which was their best finish of their year so far. Sheridan/Cochrane continued their excellent run of form to the end of the rally to win on 12 marks, a full 18 ahead of second place. This was after a very dominant win in the Orchard, and they also were looking in a very strong position in Dungannon until a leaking radiator caused them a non-finish. So it has been an almost Dorman-like performance since the summer break. Unfortunately for them, a couple of lower finishes earlier on in the championship dented their chances in the title fight, but they are most definitely the crew of form at the minute, and may yet pass Young/Boyd in the fight for runners-up spot.

Young/Boyd finished 3rd and the new partnership of McKeown/Dorman were 4th. This is McKeown's worst result of the year so far, so it does show that good navigators are hard to come by.

In a class full of family-based crews, the best of the Semi-Experts were Leslie and Gareth Hawe. This crew is no stranger to good results, but this was a rare triumph outside of their home territory of Dungannon. Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell were only 2 marks behind the Hawe's, and had been leading them going into the final section. Their score of 36 was good enough for 6th overall, but was only 6 marks more than Murphy and Taggart who finished 2nd. Gary and Robert Milligan also had a poor finish, as they were leading the class up until the start of the last section. But a wrong departure from this control and lots of time lost in trying to correct themselves left them 3rd in class and 7th overall.

The Novice Class was full of "what-ifs" as so often happens in this class. One missed control cost Rodney and Helen Ferguson the win. They were 3rd. David and Kyle Preston made very few errors but just lost out on the class win by a mere 2 marks. But they have the consolation of not being able to be caught in the Novice Championship. Class winners on the night were Andrew Mairs and Ian Campbell, which is the first time they took the class honours.

Neil and Rebecca Fletcher took another Class win amongst the Beginners, bringing their ubiquitous Mk I Escort home ahead of Denis Morton and Barry Gilpin, who had reversed their usual roles for this rally.

All three championship classes are, subject to marshalling points, now decided. The only battles are for the lower placings and the team award, although after Newry this seems destined to be won by North Armagh Motorcycle and Car Club.

Patrick McCollum

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