2007 Firecracker Rally Report

2 November 2007

The Ulster Automobile Club's Firecracker Rally brought the 2007 Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally season to a close, and fittingly the top three finishing positions in the rally reflected the top three in the championship. Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum rounded out their victorious year with their fourth win of the campaign, but only after a tie-break with Leslie Young and Lewis Boyd was resolved by the further cleaner rule.

Twenty cars took to the start of the rally, which began just outside Hillsborough and covered 86 miles of County Down. The first half of the rally was quite low scoring, with the only expert crew to pick up any significant penalties was Clifford Auld and John Lindsay when they failed to find a secret check that was on a private lane through a farm.

When the competitors reached half way, McKeown/McCollum were still clean, with Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane on 1 mark and Young/Boyd on 2. The section that caused the most problems for the Experts was between TCL and M, where the route was defined by a mixture of little pieces of information displayed in a grid format. McKeown/McCollum managed to do an extra 2 mile loop before catching on to their mistake, by which time they had picked up 4 marks. Sheridan and Cochrane were originally correct, but stopped and turned when suddenly they weren't sure of where they were meant to be heading, and collected a total of 12 marks in this section. Only Young/Boyd got through relatively unscathed when they picked up just a single minute penalty. This moved them into a 1 mark lead with only the final two sections left, but they managed to drop a minute at the third secret check in the very last section to drop them into a tie of the lead; a tie that they had to lose as McKeown/McCollum had kept penalty free for 60 miles as opposed to 8 miles for Young/Boyd.

The Semi-Expert Class was won by a returning Rachel Muldoon, who was navigating for Malcolm Johnston this time in his Skoda Felicia. They enjoyed a clear victory in the class by virtue of the fact they kept to the correct route for the entire rally. They may have picked up lots of small penalties in nearly every section, but all their class rivals picked up at least one "30" and a "15", and so effectively ruled them out of a chance of the class win. Leslie and Gareth Hawe did have an excellent second half, scoring a miserly 3 marks, but the damage had been done and they trailed Johnston/Muldoon home with a gap of nearly 30 marks. Gary and Robert Milligan got third in class.

The Novices have now got to the stage where many of them can sustain a very low score over a full rally, and as such this is often a very difficult class to win. The victors in this instance were David and Kyle Preston, who confirmed their status as Novice champions by obtaining the lowest score of any crew in the rally with a total of 3 marks. Not far behind them were Barry Gilpin and Denis Morton on 6, and just behind them were Kai Young and Jonathan Elliot on 8.

The Beginner Class was a more clear-cut affair. Even though they missed that secret check through the farm, Neil and Rebecca Fletcher had a winning margin of no less than 110 marks. Ashley and Wayne Boulton were the best of the rest, with Colin McDowell and Raymond Kelly coming home third in class.

The three class winners in the championship had all been decided before this rally, with David and Kyle Preston winning the Novice Class, Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell (who was Clerk of Course for the Firecracker) dominating the Semi-Experts and Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum finally ending the domination of the (retired) Dorman brothers by winning the overall title. One class was decided at this rally. North Armagh were practically assured of the team award for the year going into this rally, but when only two crews turned up and with Queen's crews finishing 1st (McKeown/McCollum), 1st (Johnston/Muldoon) and 3rd (Young/Elliot) in their respective classes, it is QUB Motor Club who remain the only club to win the team award this century.

Patrick McCollum

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