2006 Jumping Jack Rally Report

27 January 2006

The Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Championship started with the Queen's University of Belfast's Jumping Jack Rally. Many familiar names gathered in Dundrod to recommence battle for the new season. The entire Expert Class from 2005 were there, although two of them were not competing. Triple champion Alan Dorman, and last year's runner up, Patrick McCollum, were running the rally on behalf of their club. The other Expert crews were Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane and double champions Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart, who were being given a golden opportunity to take an early lead in the championship. A new crew to the Expert class were James Woods and Chris Ragg, who were promoted to this class after finishing 2nd in the Semi-Expert Class in 2005.

Four crews entered the Semi-Expert Class, with 12 Novices and 4 Beginners, bringing the total to 23 cars. Together they had 100 miles of route ahead of them, where they would venture north towards Mallusk and south to Maghaberry, before running along the lough shore at Gawleys Gate and back to Dundrod.

The rally was held on a beautifully dry, if cold, night. There was no frost and the exceptionally clear night would have caused no visibility problems.

By the time the cars stopped at the first of two short competitive relaxed sections, the clear leaders were Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane. Even though they had a fraught start, when they could not find an open petrol station to feed their Vauxhall Nova, they were not unsettled and reached the first relaxed on 1 mark. But things were not as they seemed. For when they were driving along the relaxed section, they missed a turn and accidentally went on to the next competitive section, only realising their error when they clocked into a secret check. They turned and clocked out of the relaxed section with all the other cars, but when they came across the same secret check for the second time, they were penalised 30 marks for visiting a control twice. So, in the time it took them to cruise from one end of the relaxed section to the other, they went from a clear lead to a distant 5th place.

Remarkably, this handed the lead to the Semi-Expert crew of Hubert and Elaine Scott. This crew spent 2005 fighting in the Novice Class, and on this, their first rally after being promoted to the difficult instructions, they were leading. And they didn't even have use of their rally car for the night, instead having to use their "shopping car".

Things stayed fairly stagnant until the next relaxed section, although Mr and Mrs Scott did drop a few penalties when they were faced with a confusing set of map references where some references were to be avoided and others passed through. By the break, they held the joint lead with Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart on 13 marks. James Woods and Chris Ragg weren't doing anything stupid on the road, but they were picking up a lot of small penalties, some of which were due to easy driving as Chris was feeling quite unwell for a while. Their 19 marks had them in 3rd place at this stage.

The next crew to make a very costly error was Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart. They were out in a Vauxhall Corsa for the first time after competing in a Nova for many years. They turned left just after a Time Control instead of heading straight, and picked up 15 marks for their trouble. With the Scott's now racking up the penalties in a manner more in keeping with their Semi-Expert status, this left James Woods and Chris Ragg to assume the lead. They still, of course, had to get to the finish. This proved somewhat difficult for the crew in 2005, as they were beset by a myriad of transmission trouble in their 205 during the year. This time, the car ran without bother, and Chris didn't feel as bad as he had. When they reached rally HQ, they had no idea of how well they had done, but they had secured the first championship win of their career on a score of 37 marks.

This is the first time we have been able to congratulate a new winner since no less a crew than Phil and Alan Dorman won in Omagh in 2003, and looked what has happened to them since! The win for Chris also makes it the fourth year in a row that an ex-Clerk of the Course of the Jumping Jack has navigated his way to win the rally. Amazingly, this is also the first time a car not made by Vauxhall has won a NI championship event since October 2002 and so ends a run of 24 consecutive Vauxhall victories.

Murphy/Taggart finished second on 51. Their 15 marks for a wrong departure were enough to deny them of the win. Third were Hubert and Elaine, on 59 marks, just ahead of Gary and Lloyd, on 60. And of course, Lloyd's total of 60 could so easily have been 30 without that error in the relaxed section. It is quite common for navigators to lose concentration on relaxed sections, or the run back to the hotel, and they often take wrong turns, but it was extremely unlucky for Lloyd to end up visiting a control twice on such an occasion. It is very unlike Lloyd to pick up 30s. His normal form is to pick up slightly more penalties than others, but if they get 15s or 30s, then he steps in for the win. But, on this occasion, he was beaten by a crew using his own tactics.<br /><br />The Novice Class looks like it is going to be another year when the winner can come from any number of crews. At least five crews could easily have won the class on this occasion. James Nicol and Neil Ervine in their Peugeot 106 finished on 35 marks in 7th place, but this included a 30 for missing a secret control in the 2nd of three private farm lanes that had to be found in quick succession. Brian and Victoria Black drove their Peugeot 306 to 4th place on 19 marks, but 15 of them were for losing time on the penultimate section. Linda Kenneway, who travelled from Chester in England were she is currently studying to compete in this rally, and Rachel Muldoon, finished in 3rd place on 15 marks, but no less than 14 of these were for being one minute early at different controls. Gary and Robert Milligan had an excellent run in their Citroën Saxo, but ultimately their 8 marks were just a few too many to claim the win. The crew that did clinch victory were Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell in their Ford Sierra XR4X4. They only picked up 5 penalties along the route, and they were never more than 1 minute late at any of them. This was a very impressive performance, considering that the 100 mile route was punctuated with no fewer than 54 manned time checks, most of which were placed early in sections to really test the navigating skills of the crews.

Des and Ryan O'Loan, who were one of 10 crews made up of family members, won the Beginner Class by a clear margin. Their total of 85 marks was well ahead of David Wilson and Samuel Wilkinson on 191 and Isla Graham and Richard Finlay on 218 marks.

Normal service will be resumed on Round 2 of the championship, when the Dormans and McKeown/McCollum are due to reappear. Will James and Chris be full of confidence now, and challenge for another win? With five crews competing who are proven winners, it could be a difficult one to call.

Patrick McCollum

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